The Wayne County Commission voted 14-0 Sept. 17 to approve a $1.56 billion balanced budget for Wayne County for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.
The 2014-15 adopted budget was $1.68 billion, meaning that the 2015-16 budget was reduced by about $120 million, or more than 7 percent.
The Commission's Committee on Ways and Means held seven hearings between late July and early September in which each department gave feedback about its proposed budget. The committee met again Sept. 16 and gave a recommendation to the Committee of the Whole, which on that day sent the proposed budget for the full Commission for a final vote.
"The committee, Commission staff and administration worked very hard together to craft this budget, which addresses the county's precarious financial position head on," said Commissioner Joseph Palamara, D-Grosse Ile Twp., Committee on Ways and Means chairman. "There were some difficult decisions to make, but we've made them in the course of righting the county's financial ship."
The budget was adopted under the parameters of Wayne County's consent agreement with the state of Michigan, which went into effect Aug. 21. The agreement, approved by the Commission on Aug. 13, came on the heels of Gov. Rick Snyder declaring a state of financial emergency in Wayne County.
The consent agreement is in effect for at least three years, including two years after the state treasurer declares that the county's financial situation is stable.
The budget - which the administration said will eliminate structural and accumulated deficits that were $52 million and $88 million, respectively, at the start of this calendar year, but have since been reduced, and aims to shore up a pension system that's 47 percent funded - factors in several money-saving measures, including a reorganization plan that was unanimously approved by the Commission. The biggest part of the plan was the creation of the Department of Health, Veterans and Community Wellness, which merges services that were offered by several other departments and divisions under one umbrella, with the goals of improved customer service and reduced costs.
The budget also reflects some employee pay, benefits and pension reductions starting Nov. 1. And, it reflects the elimination of retirees' health care. They'll receive a stipend instead.
The departments taking cuts in the budget are: Corporation Counsel; County Clerk; Health, Veterans and Community Wellness (based on budgets of previous departments and divisions); Homeland Security and Emergency Management; Management and Budget; Personnel and Human Resources; Probate Court; Prosecuting Attorney; Public Services; Register of Deeds; Retirement Commission; Senior Services; Sheriff's Office; Technology; Treasurer; and non-departmental.
Also taking reductions are the County Commission and 3rd Circuit Court, which are separate branches of county government.
The only department that didn't see a cut was the Executive's Office, and that's because several positions were transferred from other departments' budgets, administration officials said, in the name of furthering transparency.
A major reason for the county's financial distress is a significant drop in property tax values since the 2007-08 fiscal year. That year, the county collected $389 million in property taxes. In 2015-16, the number is projected to be $266 million, or a reduction of nearly 32 percent.