State of the County 2014

2013 Driving Progress

Chairman Woronchak, Wayne County Commission members, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, elected officials, fellow citizens…

Good evening, and welcome to the State of the County address.

I also want to welcome those who are listening to us live on WJR-760 AM, or viewing the streaming video on the Wayne County website,

We look forward to continuing our work with Detroit and its new Mayor, Mike Duggan... and the City Council.

Detroit has had some tough times, but it’s on its way back and I’m confident that Mike will speed up the city’s revival and take it to new heights.

Thank you  Haddi El-Hasan for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

And thank you, Mayor O’Reilly, for that warm welcome.

You’re doing a great job here in Dearborn.

Before I begin... I would like to take a moment to recognize all of the men and women in uniform who serve our community.

If you’re a member of our local police, Sheriff’s or fire departments, or serve in the military, I thank you for your efforts on our behalf.

I am proud to tell you that Wayne County gives special recognition to the first responders in our community who have given their lives in the line of duty.

Last year, I instructed my staff to develop a memorial for First Responders in Hines Park.

The memorial, which was dedicated in October, bears the names of fallen police, fire and EMS first responders from our county’s 43 communities.

It’s our way of honoring and remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our community.

Construction of the memorial was funded through the county parks millage.

To raise funds for its maintenance, we organized a running event that will be held annually.

I’m pleased to report that the first Heros on Hines Half Marathon and 5K Run was held last October, and it was a great success.

More than 1,100 runners participated and helped this very worthy cause.

Tonight I am reporting on the State of the County from the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn.

Besides the fact that it’s a great facility, we chose this site for a couple of reasons.

We want to encourage everyone to take advantage of the many historic and cultural attractions that we have in Wayne County, such as:

• the Automotive Hall of Fame,

• The Henry Ford which is next door,

• Motown Museum,

• Detroit Institute of Arts,

• Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History,

• and the list goes on and on.

We also want to pay tribute to our automotive heritage that is such an important part of Wayne County’s past, present, and future.

Our County is closely tied to the auto industry - it is our largest employer.

It’s what brought so many of our families, including my own, here in the first place.

My grandfather started working at the Ford Rouge Complex not far from here, as a proud member of Local 600.

Like the auto industry, Wayne County has had its share of adversity.

But, in life, the question isn’t whether or not you will get knocked down...

Everybody gets knocked down.

The question is whether or not you get back up.

Wayne County has gotten back up.

Like the auto industry, we’ve fought back from adversity and are moving forward again.

We’ve restructured... reorganized... and rededicated ourselves to serving the people of this community.

Vision, Challenge, Change: Fiscal Update

This is my 12th State of the County address.

As I have said, I’m a fighter, and a stubborn one at that.

I fight for the families of Wayne County, the people who live, work, and play here.

Through the years, I’ve endured what some believed were knockout punches… but it would be a mistake to count me out.

The fight isn’t over... and I am still standing. 

Since I became County Executive, the biggest punch we’ve taken by far was the Great Recession that began in 2008 and its drastic effect on families.

Since then, property tax revenue in Wayne County has declined by nearly 30%, which has resulted in $106 million dollars less in revenue, this year alone, for our general fund. Since 2008, we’ve lost $353 million dollars, total, in property tax revenue.

This is important because it has a direct effect on the services we provide to our customers... you - the citizens of Wayne County.

Property values are on the rebound in Wayne County, as median sales prices rose by 45% last year.

But even with such an increase and those that are anticipated in the next few years, our revenue stream will remain flat because of caps put in place by Proposal A and the Headlee amendment.

Because of these caps, it could take Wayne County 20 years to recover from the housing market collapse.

This isn’t a problem that is limited to Wayne County, it affects every local government in Michigan.

In 2013, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority listed 182 cities, villages and townships as Eligible Distressed Areas, and there were six Michigan cities with Emergency Managers.

Last year in my State of the County Address I emphasized that the system of funding municipal government is broken.

We held public forums, met with editorial boards...

and worked with mayors, supervisors, and the Michigan Association of Counties...

calling for a restoration of lost revenue sharing.

Revenue to the state from income and sales taxes has increased... while revenue to local governments, coming primarily from property taxes, has remained flat.

I’m pleased to say that the cause I helped lead has been heard, and partially acknowledged in the Governor’s proposed state budget.

If that budget is passed, the county expects to receive at least $12 million dollars in additional revenue sharing next fiscal year.

We’ll work with the commission to allocate these resources, concentrating on core mandated services to lessen the negative impact of cuts.

In the past few years, I have led major efforts to reduce costs, streamline operations, and balance our budget.

Such as:

• Cut employee salaries, including my own, by 10%.

• Reduced the work force by more than 1,300 positions.

• Reduced the number of my own at-will employees by 40%.

• Cut health care costs per employee in half.

• Eliminated the 13th check to retirees.

• And reduced operating expenses by 20%.

Last year, I asked my staff to dig deeper in finding additional ways we can cut our expenses.

Our new Chief Financial Officer, Mark Abbo, developed a deficit elimination plan, which we unveiled last week.

The two goals addressed in the plan are the elimination of both the accumulated and annual structural deficits.

To eliminate the accumulated deficit, we are recommending including the  unrestricted portion of the Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund in the County’s general fund balance.

We also propose reorganizing and recapitalizing the County-owned wastewater treatment facilities.

Eliminating the annual structural deficit is a multi-faceted task that encompasses many areas of County operations.

It includes savings generated from:

• Revisions to pension and health care plans.

• Reductions in County-wide levels of compensation.

• Changes to employee work rules.

• Re-prioritizing the service levels provided by the offices of the Prosecuting Attorney and Sheriff.

• A reduction in the number of Circuit Court judges.

• And better utilization and leasing of County-owned facilities.

We continue to be creative in cutting expenses.

We haven’t just been cutting back – we’re moving forward.

We are looking forward to working with:

• labor,

• county-wide elected officials,

• the courts,

• the Board of Commissioners,

• the 43 communities within the county,

• and the State of Michigan to get input and approval for this plan.

We will be meeting in the coming weeks to share our plan in detail with them.

One critically important step forward toward financial stability was the signing of Act 172 into law last November.

This new law addresses the “budget by lawsuit” culture that made it possible for independent, elected officials to sue if they were dissatisfied with budgets passed by the Commission.

These lawsuits have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

As a result of a three-year effort led by my Lansing team with support from Chairman, Gary Woronchak, Commissioner, Shannon Price and other allies around the state such as the Michigan Association of Counties, this new law should make such lawsuits rare and more defensible.

As a result of my continuous expectation that my staff continue to be creative in cutting expenses, we have reduced the accumulated deficit by 36% from 2010 to the end of the last fiscal year.

That is more than $100 million dollars.  

Projects and Progress: Major Project Summary

If you had a chance to go to the North American International Auto Show this year, you saw one of the projects I am most proud of... the newly renovated and expanded Cobo Center, which is a huge success, more beautiful and functional than ever before.

If you remember, I took the lead in pursuing this effort in the region and in Lansing.

You don’t have to take my word for it:

•  You might find this hard to believe, but in the heat of the debate a few years ago, Free Press business writer, John Gallagher, actually wrote... and I quote -- “Beginning with a plan put forth in late 2006 by Wayne County Executive, Robert Ficano, an expansion of Cobo has been a major point of regional debate.”

• And Daniel Howes of the Detroit News, writing about Cobo Center in 2011 wrote:

“In Wayne County, Bob Ficano is showing the kind of business savvy not often found in a Michigan Democrat with deep union ties. He’ll go to China to stump for jobs where others cannot utter the word except as an epithet...he’ll confront labor to balance his books...he’ll back regional solutions if that’s the best way to get moving.”

You know a project is successful when everyone steps up to take credit for it.

I don’t remember it having as many supporters when I was fighting to make it happen.

Back then, a lot of people were saying the auto industry wasn’t going to survive, so why bother fixing up Cobo?

Others were suggesting the show move to Chicago, or Los Angeles... or rotate to different locations.

But we hung in there, and kept fighting... and now Cobo Center will continue to be a source of economic benefits and civic pride for the City of Detroit and the entire region.

Another project I am very proud of is the Aerotropolis, the business enterprise zone running along I-94 & I-275 between Willow Run Airport and Detroit Metro.

Aerotropolis, which was recently renamed Vantage PORT, provides companies with a comprehensive, integrated offering of facilities, amenities and services, including close proximity to two major airports, so they can conduct business on a global scale.

It’s an ideal location for companies that are concerned about logistics and time.

As with the Cobo Center expansion, I took the lead in advocating for the Aerotropolis... which required the cooperation of two counties and seven municipalities.

We had to fight to overcome criticism and skepticism with this project, as well.

But in the end, the necessary legislation was passed, and today this area is at the center of the State’s growth, adding more than $300 million dollars in new industrial and manufacturing investments since 2012.

The one thing that is common to all of these and other success stories we’ll talk about tonight - is regional cooperation.

Some people believe our communities can succeed individually and in isolation from one another.

They’re wrong.

Others take comfort in the fact that their side of the boat isn’t leaking.

They’re wrong.

As a region, we need to come together for the advancement of everyone.

Along with Cobo Center and Vantage PORT, the Regional Transit Authority that was established last year is another good example of how regional cooperation helps us all.

I was happy to see funding for the RTA in the Governor’s budget.

Efficient and effective public transportation is important to the economic development of our region and our state.

As I said earlier, in addition to our successes, we’ve had challenges.

Last year, the team building the Wayne County Jail told us they would be going over the initial budget projections.

The first thing I did is stop the construction before any additional monies were spent.

I worked with the team to drive the costs back down to the initial projections.

When that didn’t happen, I asked the team to evaluate new economic opportunities that were not available back in 2010 when the project began.

The Downtown landscape has changed a lot since then... and we have to change with the market.

We are working on a plan to move the justice facility to an existing location on Mound Road.

This will allow the current facilities and land to be sold, bringing in private investment dollars and tax revenue.

I also instructed my staff to file a lawsuit to recover the taxpayer’s money from the contractors involved.

We are working with state and city officials and Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures to turn this challenge into a win-win-win for

• taxpayers,

• downtown,

• the Mound Road neighborhoods,

• and private businesses in Wayne County.

The Detroit Mound and Ryan Road neighborhood is expected to benefit with more than 9,000 temporary and 5,500 permanent jobs and over three-hundred-eighty million dollars of economic impact through the construction and operations of the consolidated jail and justice complex.

Two of the partners who are working with us on this project are with us tonight.

Harvey Hollins from the State of Michigan and Eric Larson from Rock Ventures.

Thank you both for joining us.

In my job, like any other job, there are challenges and opportunities.

It is how you take advantage of those challenges that ultimately defines success.

In this case, I have raised the bar on accountability and the need to fix the problem... so the region can move forward.

Safety, Health and Welfare: Review of Services Provided

Big projects make big headlines.

But what often gets overlooked are the day-to-day efforts that make life better in our community.

I am so proud of all of our employees, who work hard every day to fulfill our mission of serving the people of Wayne County.

Whether it’s buying back guns to reduce violence in Detroit…

delivering home meals to feed our seniors...

or providing medical care to children…

our employees work on the front lines and behind the scenes, helping to ensure and enhance the safety, health, and well-being of our citizens.

I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about a few of the successes they achieved in the past year.

In 2013, Children and Family Services served at-risk and adjudicated juveniles through a variety of innovative, efficient, and nationally recognized programs.

Health and Human Services opened Wayne County’s first Federally Qualified Health Center in Hamtramck, helping families get the quality care they need regardless of their resources.

They also launched the Health on Wheels program, using mobile health vans to provide medical services throughout the county.

In April, Health and Human Services held its annual “Cover the Uninsured Event” at Cobo Center, which provided medical and dental services to the uninsured, underinsured, and unemployed.

They also promoted the Affordable Care Act to County residents and encouraged them to get health insurance.

Wayne County Head Start opened its third full-service dental clinic in 2013.

These clinics are housed in Head Start sites and offer dental service to 3,700 children and their families.

In 2013, our Land Resource Management Division conducted cleanups at 63 illegal dump sites and scrap tire collection events in 10 communities.

This marked the ninth year of their Household Hazardous Waste collection program.

More than 700,000 pounds of hazardous household waste was collected in 41 communities.

People often take clean water for granted... but it doesn’t just happen by itself.

In 2013, our Water Quality Management Division continued its ongoing efforts to find and correct improper connections of sewers to waterways.

More than 200 commercial and municipal facilities were inspected to identify and eliminate illicit discharge of sewage into the County’s rivers, lakes, and streams. 

While we are on the subject of clean water, I am proud to report that in 2013 Wayne County’s Downriver Wastewater Treatment Facility earned the prestigious National Association of Clean Water Agencies Platinum award for the third consecutive year.

The 2013 award was labeled “Platinum 7” in recognition of the facility’s outstanding compliance – 100% – with its National Pollution Elimination System permit for seven consecutive years.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the future of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department.

A regional authority solution that brings all the interested parties together and works for everyone makes the most sense.

As I said earlier, we’ve made great progress with regional cooperation...

we know it works...

we need to keep the momentum going.

Providing and maintaining infrastructure is an important part of our operations.

That includes the upkeep and expansion of nearly 6,000 miles of county roads. 

We completed a number of road construction and repair projects in 2013.

Perhaps the most notable of these was the completion of construction of a two-year, $8 million dollar project at Bellville and Ecorse Roads.

We worked with the Van Buren Township Downtown Development Authority to significantly improve safety deficiencies and create better access in that busy corridor.

Given the weather we’ve had this winter, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank all of our road crews for the job they’ve done keeping our streets plowed and salted.

Sometimes that meant working long, late hours in tough conditions.

We really appreciate the work you’ve done.

To oversee snow and ice removal, traffic monitoring, and salt trucks, a year ago in December... we unveiled a new Command Center at our Central Maintenance Yard in Romulus.

This state-of-the-art center, one of the first of its kind in the country, lets our staff take road hazard calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Another first-of-its-kind system, which we introduced two years ago, is our Compass web site.

Compass shows people the location of salt trucks and roads that have been plowed when it snows – in real time.

In December, we launched a new application that allows people to download Compass to their smart phones or tablets.

This app got RAVE-reviews when the big snowstorms hit.

In fact, our Compass program earned a prestigious 2013 Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.

When we remove the snow... we are confronted with our next big challenge..


Despite severe budget constraints, we are going to do our best to fix the damage caused by this extreme and severe winter. 

When you talk about infrastructure... we have to include the new bridge.

It will make our county the largest international crossing between Canada and the U.S.

It will provide a major economic boost not only for the City of Detroit and Wayne County, but also for the entire region and state.

We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to keep moving this project forward.

Economic development is critically important to me, and I know that the well being of our county and its citizens ultimately rests on the economic foundation that we build.

As I told you, I’m a fighter, and one of the things I fight the hardest for is jobs.

In 2013, we continued to focus on economic development, and once again, I’m pleased to report we continue to be successful.

Jobs and Growth: Economic Development Summary

If you’re going to call Michigan the Comeback State, then you have to call us the Comeback County, because we’re leading the way.

Since 2009, 38% of all investment in the State of Michigan happened in Wayne County, and 43% of all the new jobs in the state were created here.

Since fiscal year 2012, Wayne County has attracted more than $1.3 billion dollars in new investments (that’s billion with a ‘B’).

Those investments include:

• A $550 million dollar investment by Ford to upgrade their Flat Rock Assembly Plant, which also added 1,400 new jobs.

• $71 million dollars to construct the Gateway Marketplace, on 36 acres near the old State Fairgrounds.

• Z-Y-N-P International Corporation, a global automotive supplier, is adding a new R&D center in Romulus that will generate up to $9.5 million dollars in new investment and add 51 jobs.

• NOVO 1, a company that provides contact-center services, has made a $1 million dollar capital investment in equipment as well as additional training and call center space in Highland Park.

• Detroit Thermal Systems, a leading minority-owned automotive supplier, is investing more than $27 million dollars in Romulus.

• Automatic Data Processing is building a $3.3 million dollar “Digital Marketing Innovation Center” in downtown Detroit, bringing another 150 jobs to what’s become a growing tech hub...

• And Campbell Ewald moved into Ford Field downtown with their 500-plus jobs.

I am going to keep working tirelessly to grow Wayne County’s economy and add more jobs.

Whether it’s Cobo Center bringing in new visitors to the region,

Vantage PORT attracting new investment from global businesses,

or our growing health care industry emerging as a world-class center of medical excellence,

Wayne County continues to lead the way to good jobs and solid growth.

Conclusion: Proud Past, Bright Future

As I mentioned earlier, this is my 12th State of the County address.

I have been a public servant for more than 30 years.       (emphasize) What first inspired me to serve my community all those years ago still inspires me today... the people who live here.

People who work hard...

who take care of their families...

who care about their neighbors and their community.

I wanted to help them make our community a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

This isn’t just rhetoric – it’s reality.

We have a wonderful example of what I’m talking about here with us tonight:

Ryan Bridges... can you stand up, please?

Ryan grew up in Wayne County, went to Cass Tech, Michigan State for a Bachelor’s Degree... and Wayne State for an MBA.

He now has a full-time job working in Wayne County.

His parents won’t have to get on a plane to visit him or their grandchildren because he had to go somewhere else to find opportunity.

He found it right here – in Wayne County... and that’s what we want.

Like I said, I’m stubborn... I’m a fighter.

I grew up in a union family, and I learned early on that sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in.

That’s something I’ve always done...and always will do.

I led the fight to expand Cobo Center, and keep the Auto Show in Detroit, where it belongs.

I fought to bring jobs and investments into our county.

I fought against the Right to Work law… and I continue to fight to guarantee collective bargaining rights for working men and women, and to raise the minimum wage.

Tomorrow, I’ll be fighting for equality when I sign an executive order expanding Wayne County’s policies of non-discrimination to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity.

When the auto industry was under attack in the United States Congress... I fought to make our voice heard.

Back in 2009, when American automakers faced bankruptcy, I raised private funds to run ads in the states of Senators who were criticizing loans to the industry.

The ads emphasized the importance of the industry, and what it has meant for creating the middle class... and enhancing the quality of life in America.

When the industry came roaring back, I ran privately- funded ads... in these states... explaining that the loans worked... and paid big economic dividends.

It proved it was the right thing to do.

I am so proud of the way the auto companies, the UAW and all organized labor, and government at all levels worked together to save this iconic American industry.

We showed the world what resilience, perseverance, and collaboration can accomplish.

I am going to keep fighting for the people of this community.

I am committed to making Wayne County a great place to conduct business, pursue an education, build careers and raise families.

To do that, we’re investing in economic and community development, education, and quality health care.

We’re also leveraging Wayne County’s assets:

- diversity,

- a highly-skilled workforce,

- nationally recognized health care facilities,

- and educational and business growth opportunities.

Like the auto industry, Wayne County has had challenges, but we are roaring back.

Today, we are more accountable and transparent than ever before.

We’ve implemented rigorous new ethical standards, and launched a new web site that has been rated as the best in the state for transparency.

We’re adding new jobs and investment,  and leading the way to future growth.

We’re coming together with our regional neighbors to find new and better ways to serve our citizens.

There’s a lot more work to do, and I look forward to doing it.

I am honored and humbled to have the privilege of serving our community and citizens... and I’m excited to be involved in the progress we have achieved.

The State of the County continues to improve, and our future looks bright.

My thanks to everyone here tonight and all of you listening and watching... for your interest in Wayne County.

God Bless you... and God Bless Wayne County.

Good night.