Tough challenges face Wayne County
Dear Constituent, This year begins my fourth two-year term on the Commission. For about one-half of the readers of this newsletter, I have been representing you for six years. For the other half, this is the first year I am representing you. The re-districting that took place two years ago changed almost half of the 1st District. Please see the map at the right, which composes District 1 until the next redistricting takes effect in 2023.
The new term has brought additional responsibilities for me. I remain the Chair of the Health & Human Services, as well as sitting on the Economic Development and Audit Committees. New this year is my appointment to Public Services and the Special Committee on Senior and Veteran's Affairs. I am delighted to have been appointed to the Special Committee. Last year the Auditor General presented a report to the Audit Committee where he discovered that there was about $4 million collected from the Soldier's and Sailor's Relief Fund, that is levied on your county tax bill, that had been collecting dust in a neglected account. This money by law must go to indigent veterans or their surviving spouses. Given the ever increasing shakiness of county finances, I did not want any of the 'found' money going to any other purpose than was stipulated by the voters. My time on the Special Committee will be spent ensuring that we have a plan for this money so that it is taking care of our indigent vets and nothing else.
Additionally, the Chair of the Commission asked me to head up the effort of converting the Detroit Wayne County Mental Health Agency into an Authority. Please see a short description of this change elsewhere in this newsletter.
Wayne County is experiencing its most challenging year in a long time this year. I think it is also safe to say that next year (our fiscal year begins October 1) will be even more challenging. Aside from all the high profile news reports, several other difficulties are facing us. Changing from a Mental Health Agency to an Authority looms large, so does a pension fund that is only 50 percent funded, so does still falling (but leveling a bit) tax revenues, so does a $200 million accumulated deficit, so do soaring health care costs, and the list goes on. In addition, the State of Michigan hired an audit firm that took a close look at our books from August through December last year. I have just received a copy of that report and am digesting it. You can see a copy of that report by going to my website: www.waynecounty.com/commission/district1.htm.
As a public official that represents you, my commitment is to diligently work towards pragmatic solutions to the county's problems. Last year I authored our deficit elimination ordinance that has slowed, but not stopped, the flow of red ink. I have been opposing with my votes a number of 'business as usual' items, including last year's budget which will miss by about $35 million this fiscal year. Getting the change from an Agency to an Authority for mental health services will be very important to get right. In my next newsletter I will reserve space for discussing the budget for next year.
Finally, I look forward to all the new constituents. My office is a full-service office and we expect to hear from you as well as seeing you at your local community group. Although I live in the 7 Mile-Kelly neighborhood, I grew up on Lakewood between Charlevoix and Vernor. I feel like I'm coming home as the lower eastside is a big part of the district. Many challenges lay ahead, I look forward to working with you to solve problems big and small, and I remain optimistic that we as a city, a county and as a region have much brighter days ahead if we all put in the work.
Wayne County looks to create greater awareness in aiding Autism
Autism continues to be one of the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the United States, affecting more youngsters annually than diabetes, cancer and AIDS combined.
Statistics show one in every 110 children, including one in every 70 boys, are stricken with this disability that remains without a cure and often unaccepted by insurance providers.
Simply put, an autism diagnosis is made every 20 minutes in the United States.
In an attempt to create greater awareness and pursue avenues in acquiring treatment, Wayne County has partnered with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to develop a "Roadmap" for families seeking information and assistance for children who are affected with Autism.
By visiting the county's website at www.waynecounty.com, information can be obtained dealing in such areas as screening, diagnosis, treatment, directory of service providers and insurance coverage.
"Autism is a lifelong disability and disorder but you can take steps to limit the severity and enable these individuals to experience greater success in life," said Jamesena Ingram, one of the area's foremost experts on autism and founder of Autism Compass Consulting which is also partnering with Wayne County in an attempt to raise awareness, increase sensitivity and improving diagnosis and services to those affected.
"April is Autism Awareness Month and we need to create a culture of better understanding across the board."
According to Ingram, early diagnosis is critical in determining an early intervention strategy.
The average age of those diagnosed with autism is seven and parents, day care employees and even pediatricians are urged to be alert of signs that may indicate a youngster is affected by this disorder.
"The first matter that needs to be addressed is getting them to the right individual and appropriate facility for treatment," Ingram said.
"When seeking treatment you must be certain it is evidenced based practice where multiple studies research each case and determine which direction of therapy to pursue."
County programs offer help for local veterans
The Wayne County Veterans Affairs Department provides support services to Wayne County honorably discharged veterans and their families. Services available include:
Veteran Financial Hardship Services: The Veteran Financial Hardship Services Program provides temporary emergency financial assistance to income-eligible Wayne County honorably discharged wartime veterans, their spouses and dependent children. It is designed to help families meet their immediate needs.
Veteran Support Services: County programs offer help for local veterans The Veteran Support Services Program provides application assistance to Wayne County eligible veterans and their families for job referrals, Veterans Administration compensation/disability services and burial assistance. Veterans can apply for assistance so they can receive additional benefits and work to secure employment.
For more information, contact Wayne County Veteran Support Services at (313) 224-5045 or view the information by website at www.waynecounty.com.
Major changes coming to Wayne County community mental health governance
The Detroit Wayne County Mental Health Agency delivers services to 70,000 developmentally disabled (DD) and severely emotionally disturbed (SEDS) citizens across the county. The Agency is a $700 million a year operation, the bulk of that money coming from the State of Michigan in the form of Medicaid dollars. The lame duck session of the Michigan Legislature last December passed a bill to change the Agency from a county agency into a free-standing authority beginning October 1, 2013.
In order to transition from an Agency to an Authority, the Wayne County Commission needs to pass an enabling resolution that will deal with transferring the physical and monetary assets as well as employees to the new entity. As the Chair of the Health & Human Services Committee, I was tapped by Commission Chair Gary Woronchak to lead this effort.
What this means is that the money that used to flow through the county to the Agency will no longer Major changes coming to Wayne County community mental health governance be there as the dollars will now flow directly to the Authority at the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1, 2013. This will leave an enormous hole in the county budget as well as severely impact our cash flow. This will create a greater need for the county to secure short-term cash flow financing to meet our operational demands. This change will also remove approximately $30-50 million of hard dollars out of the county budget. Needless to say, this will be a huge challenge for the Commission as we go through our budget deliberations this summer. On top of all our other fiscal troubles, the county will be very challenged to meet our obligations in light of this change to mental health.
The services to our vulnerable citizens should not be affected at all as we undergo this change. I am taking my role very seriously in writing the enabling resolution so that we can get the Authority up and running on October 1st with all of the resources it needs to serve citizens.
Sewer improvements slated for October
The Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods are part of the Northeast Sewage Disposal System (NESDS). A giant sewage pipe runs from Macomb County under the Pointes and delivers the sewage to the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant. Along the way there is a pump station on Marter Road at the county line, a Harper Woods connection at Mack and Cook Road, and another pump station at Chalfonte and Kerby.
Major improvements to the current NESDS facilities were last made nearly 20 years ago in the early 1990s, and much of the equipment has now reached the end of its useful life. In 2009, Wayne County prepared a Project Plan and submitted it to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in order to qualify for a low interest State Revolving Fund loan to finance needed improvements to the NESDS facilities. In 2011, Wayne County and MDEQ agreed under an Administrative Consent Order that improvements to the NESDS facilities will be completed by Sewer improvements slated for October October 1, 2015. The total cost of this important infrastructure upgrade is $15.2 million.
Pumps, valves, meters and controls at all the facilities will all be replaced or upgraded. Of particular interest to residents that live near the Kerby Rd. Pump Station is that there will be a complete replacement of the odor-control system. My office has been receiving calls over the years. Hopefully, the phones will quiet down once these upgrades are finished this fall.
Construction will begin in October 2013 and will last approximately 2 years. The system will remain operational during construction, and most of the work will be completed inside the facilities. At the Marter Road Booster Pump Station, bypass pumping outside the facility is required for approximately one month in order to construct some of the hydraulic improvements to the facility. Traffic will be maintained on Marter Road during this period.
Good news about Mack Avenue!
Finally, Mack Avenue from Cadieux to Moross is slated to be repaved. A little patience is required however, as the job is slated for 2014. The repaving was approved earlier this year at the Wayne County Federal Aid Committee that met at the Ford Mansion on Lake Shore. Road projects are big and complicated enough that approval takes place at least a year before it occurs.
A hang-up on getting Mack repaved has always been that the policy of the Detroit Federal Aid Committee was to not put money into border roads. Without a commitment from Detroit, the project could not go forward. Former State Rep. Bledsoe and I spent a fair amount of time encouraging Detroit to put up the money. This year it happened, the first commitment by Detroit to a border road in seven years.