County Commissioners Set Goals For Rest Of Term
By Beth Milligan | May 16, 2019
Grand Traverse County commissioners hope to focus on a handful of priority goals in the remaining 18 months of their term, including identifying best uses for each county building, streamlining permitting to encourage more development and construction, identifying ways to improve county corrections, implementing a county vehicle replacement policy, and upgrading the county’s technology software and website to be more public-friendly.
Commissioners went through an extensive goal-setting session at their Wednesday meeting facilitated by John Amrhein of MSU Extension. Each commissioner was given ten colored dots to identify their top priorities among 53 placards listing possible county goals, with options ranging from expanding financial audits and funding the county’s pension debt ahead of schedule to increasing the county’s attractiveness as a workplace and scheduling commission teambuilding activities.
Commissioners first talked through the options before voting, with several board members sharing that managing the county’s fiscal health and pension debt were top priorities for them. However, commissioners also pointed out they had already put processes in place to address those issues. For example, commissioners voted in April to boost payments to Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) – the county’s pension provider – from a required minimum of $5.9 million annually to $7 million. Commissioners also agreed to make an additional one-time $1.5 million payment to MERS this year, bringing the county’s total contribution for 2019 to $7.4 million.
“I’m glad we’ve been aggressive on (the pension),” said Commissioner Bryce Hundley. “My concern with our overall outlook on the pension is just to make sure we keep it in perspective…(and) not have us get so focused on that that we lose sight of the things that the county can do for its residents.” Commissioner Betsy Coffia agreed, saying the commission has “already demonstrated” with its voting record this year that it’s committed to addressing the pension debt as a “foundational” issue for the board. Commissioners and staff agreed that the goal-setting session offered an opportunity to instead identify additional action items the county can focus on in the coming months and potentially allocate funding toward in the upcoming 2020 budget.
All seven commissioners agreed the county’s vehicle replacement and inventory policy needs to be updated – the only goal that received unanimous support from the entire board. According to Coffia, several departments have come forward with requests for new vehicles, such as Animal Control, the Commission on Aging, and Veterans Affairs. Confusion over how such requests are handled and inconsistencies in departments’ approach to replacing vehicles divided the board on approving the requests, Coffia says. “It’s been a point of confusion, and I think we should get on the same page on what our inventory is, what’s our plan for replacing vehicles, and are there vehicles that can be pooled and shared so it’s a clear and standardized process,” she says.
The next three goals to receive six votes each from commissioners included auditing all county facilities and buildings, streamlining permitting processes to reduce red tape for builders and developers (among other user groups), and creating a correctional infrastructure committee to “study how best to implement county corrections.” Commissioners noted some of those goals could allow them to achieve additional wins for the county; evaluating buildings, for example, could lead to identifying empty spaces that could be used for more beneficial public purposes. Coffia pointed to past discussion about converting the lower level of the Governmental Center into a daycare facility for employees as a type of outcome that could result from a facilities analysis. Using empty space for daycare could help address the region’s childcare shortage and also attract more staff to Grand Traverse County, another goal on the list, Coffia said.
Meanwhile, removing unnecessary red tape for permitting could allow builders to construct more residential developments and housing, helping address the county’s affordable housing crisis. Tackling county corrections – most notably, the potential construction of a new county jail – could simultaneously focus on addressing county mental health initiatives, another option on the list of goals. “Those two things go hand in glove,” said Commissioner Gordie LaPointe. “What you have in jail is a big mental health problem, to a large degree.”
Four commissioners also expressed their support for introducing a more user-friendly dashboard and county website that would help residents quickly find answers to questions they have about county business, as well as access financial reporting.
Several commissioners indicated to staff they’d be interested in using a community survey or having a public input session to also get resident feedback on goal priorities and spending going forward. County Administrator Nate Alger agreed such a process would be “beneficial,” adding that the county would be in contact with residents soon for census purposes and could use that opportunity to survey them about their priorities. “It would be beneficial to know where does the public see law enforcement, where does the public see the health department, where does the public see the court services, the Commission on Aging, parks, the various services that we provide,” he said. “It would be beneficial to see a ranking of interest.”
In the meantime, staff will take the top five goal priorities receiving support from four or more commissioners – a board majority – and develop an “action plan” for the commission’s review. That action plan will include more detailed information and staff analysis of each of the key issues, as well as recommendations for how to proceed, Alger said.