State of the County
Warren C. Evans
March 14, 2019 at 7:00 PM
Ford Community and Performing Arts Center
Thank you all. Thank you so much.
I appreciate all of you and thank you very much, all of you, for being here this evening. From the bottom of my heart. It's significantly important. I'd like to take a couple minutes, before we get into the rebuild of Wayne County, to acknowledge some people that are here in the crowd tonight. First of all, Alicia Bell and County Commissioners in the first row here. Would you please stand up and let everybody recognize the group. Alicia Bell and most of the contingency of Wayne County's legislative body that's a part of the team that has, that ought to be able to smile and be happy about a number of the things we've done over the last four years.
I also would like to acknowledge the other county elected officials that are here. I believe Sheriff Benny Napoleon is here. County Clerk Cathy Garrett. Wayne County's Register of Deeds Bernie Youngblood. Thank you so much.
Also my colleague from Macomb County I believe is here. County Executive Mark Hackel. And my friend and mentor for many years, the mayor of the city of Detroit, Mike Duggan. And we also have the Attorney General for the state of Michigan, the people's lawyer, Dana Nessel. Dana's a Wayne County resident and she's spent plenty of time as an assistant prosecuting attorney in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. I'm very happy to have had that acquaintance with her for many years.
Okay. Let me just double check and make sure I didn't miss anybody. I know I always do, but hopefully nobody will sue me. Okay.
The Wayne County Recovery
Part of my talk with you today, and I break where we've been in Wayne County up into two categories. The first four years, very much the recovery years. I think we've done a great job with recovery. Now we're in the cycle to try to rebuild Wayne County. We've got a lot of challenges, but we've come a long way. I think one of the things that I would like for folks to put into perspective is not only did we as a team accomplish what we've accomplished to date, but we did it with about 100 million dollars less every year than we had in 2007. That's a significant issue. Not just, I mean, we can pat ourselves on the back about how much better we did what we did, but the reality is it also indicates how poor public funding is and how difficult it is for counties, particularly, to go forward even when property values come up, because of Headlee and Prop A and limitation on the increase in property taxes.
So we've done what we've done with 25% less money, or 100 million dollars a year for the last four years. We haven't increased taxes at all. And you all know that the cost of doing business goes up every year. So that has been in impediment to our continued growth and sustainability over a long period of time. We're doing more with less. And as I've said, we've done it with no new taxes.
We also had to demonstrate, and still do, a continued commitment to making sure that we stay on the straight and narrow with respect to the unfunded liabilities that we face in Wayne County, both our retirements and healthcare. To give some idea, our initial indebtedness, when I took office, was 2.3 billion dollars. In the last four years we've reduced that number to 700 million. Significant reduction, but 700 million's still nothing to sneeze about, right?
So in 2015, Wayne County's pension funds were funded at 45%. At the close of last year, we're at 61%. Great number. The reality is, we need to be at 80%. And 80% is basically the minimum that is generally looked at as a responsible, significantly well-funded pension system. So we've got a long way to go. I'm not gonna be comfortable until we hit 80%. And as I said, that 8% is gonna take probably a decade, at least, of continued focus on making sure we do the little things that are important before we get grandiose with other things.
While balancing the fiscal reality of where we are today, we gotta keep in mind that we have several challenges that we have to deal with and balance the equities, really, all of the time. One is because of the fact that Wayne County employees probably hadn't had a pay raise in 10 years, and by the way, this year they did receive the first pay raise, general pay raise, in 10 years. But what that created for us was a problem retaining talent and good people. We didn't pay a significant enough wage to bring new people in, and we had talented people who were with the county that, quite frankly, at some point made the decision that I've gotta go where Mark Hackel pays more. Or Brooks Patterson pays more. I mean, it's a common decision that people have to make and the reality is, it has caused a significant problem.
Not just plow drivers, snow plow drivers, as an example, significant example of that. Mechanics that fix the heavy equipment. The deputies in the sheriff's office. In all of those cases, we have made allowances and scraped together funds that allow us to try to begin to rectify that problem, but Rome wasn't built in a day and the problem's not rectified. But we are clearly working at it.
A current example of that is the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. I gotta say, I think we have the best prosecutors anywhere. Wayne County is the training ground for good prosecutors for the state of Michigan. Everybody who has any idea that they may have an interest in the criminal law, that comes out of law school, thinks very seriously about going to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to be able to hone their skills, become good lawyers on your feet. I mean, when you get in that shop, and I spent a couple years there, when you get in that shop, things are rockin' and rollin' on a very, very regular basis. And most young people out of law school are willing to commit a couple years to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. They're not really thinking about salary and those sorts of things. They're thinking about honing their skills.
But boy, after two or three years in that office, and you're starting to get a little cocky, you've got a little swag in your step, and you know you've learned a lot. Now you look around and realize that our competitive counties, Oakland and Macomb, are paying 10 to 30,000 dollars a year more than we were able to pay in Wayne County. It's hard to retain people like that.
So we sat with the Prosecutor and said, "How do we try to help you with this? We know we need to make some commitment to start, try to get that process going." The Prosecutor and I sat down and we kinda came up with a 1.5 million dollar package. Gets her eight more prosecutors. She's certainly understaffed. But that's not the key issue here. The key issue is retention. So we're able to build in incentives so that people who became skilled in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office could see a career path and stick it out and stay.
The truth of the matter is, I don't even think Wayne County prosecutors need to make the same thing. I mean they do. But they'll stay in Wayne County for a little bit less. It's too exciting to leave. But 10 to 30,000 dollars doesn't keep you anywhere. And so we understand that is a significant issue.
The Tax Foreclosure Challenge
With all those issues, we also can't rebuild Wayne County without taking a serious, serious look at foreclosures. Property foreclosures. Wayne County's primary source of income is property taxes. Obviously we're interested, as all county officials are, are interested in the ability to collect taxes and be able to use those taxes to provide the quality services we think that our citizens deserve.
What's clear is the current system is not really working. We've gotta find a better way to deal with foreclosures. We're far better off, fiscally and morally, with people in their homes. I think we all understand that.
I also think we all understand that it's a difficult process. It is an emotional process. It is a complicated process. It is a process dealing with large volumes. And there's no easy solution. But what I am committed to doing with the Wayne County Treasurer is to actually just sit down with the players that are necessary, certainly what the Treasurer thinks are necessary, to try to do what we can to carve out some changes to the process that will be beneficial to all of us. I mean, what do we need the process to do?
We need the process to protect those occupants of the house. To be able to protect renters. To curb blight, which is a big part of that whole process. And to get houses back on the market before the cost of rehabbing is so exorbitant that it doesn't make any sense. And trust me, from my perspective, the foreclosure process starts way before the auction. I mean, you scramble at the auction to try to be equitable. Sometimes you hit the nail on the head, sometimes you don't. It really starts way before that. Even the mortgage foreclosure process has holes in it.
Lots of times houses sit out there with no one in them for significant periods of time for a number of reasons. And what happens automatically when that happens? First group of scavengers come in, take the hot water heater, furnace, whatever else they can get. When they finish scavenging, the next group comes in and takes the aluminum siding, the face brick on the house and many of the things on the inside. That's what blights and hurts neighborhoods significantly. And from stem to stern, there are really weaknesses in the process. I'm committing to work with whoever will sit down and work hard on it to try to figure out how we make that better.
There's a lack of moral consciousness in the process. There're speculators and slum lords who do very well in the process. And I think there's some changes that are reasonably easy to make. For example, property is bought at auction. You paid the back taxes. We need to have a mechanism that looks one year out after that and figures out, okay, have they paid the taxes for the next year? It doesn't make sense to pay the old taxes and then let the process roll for three more years to go back into foreclosure the next time.
I'm not suggesting I have all the answers. I'm suggesting that I know the weaknesses and many of us do too. It's the ability to sit down and try to figure them out. Or the speculator comes in and buys the house and rents it out to an unwitting renter who doesn't know that the property taxes aren't being paid. And three years later, that renter has been lining the pockets of the speculator who bought the house, and three years later is out on the street again because the property has been taken for back taxes again. We can do better. There needs to be less of a lack of moral consciousness in the whole process, and I think we can do more.
Over the last two years, we in Wayne County, the Wayne County Land Bank, have made a good faith effort to help prevent properties from going to auction. It's not a panacea. It's not an end all. But the process, which is called action before auction, came about because of the need to try to improve the system. We wanna protect people in the homes, right? We want quality investments in those homes, right? And we wanna make sure that the taxes get paid if at all possible, because we live off property taxes. Okay.
The Wayne County Treasurer has done, I think, significant work over the last several years in reducing the number of homes that go to foreclosure. I don't think there's any question about that. The numbers have gone down. They're still in thousands, unfortunately, but they're significantly less than they were several years ago. That is accomplished in large part by the use of payment agreements that allow folks to have an adjustment in the time and the amounts that they need to pay, to pay the back taxes, with the idea that we wanna keep them in their homes. No question about it.
But remember, they still gotta pay the current taxes while they're trying to catch up the others. And so the question that I can't answer but the benchmarking I would like to see is, what is the success of the payment plans? We need to know. Are we really helping people to stay in their homes? 'Cause if we are, God bless it. I'll be the first person to say it's the most wonderful thing in the world. But if we are not, and we're kicking the can down the road only to have it foreclosured a couple years later, we need to know that too. I think that analysis is something that we need to spend more time looking at.
So the Wayne County Land Bank, I think, can be a tool for strengthening our tax base and rebuilding Wayne County, but it's not gonna be the end all. But it's a tool. And it's a tool that's put 1200 properties back on the tax rolls in the last four years. That's worth noting. And 75% of those properties were outside of the city Detroit. People always mentally wanna equate trouble with Detroit. Broke with Detroit. No, broke is a condition and Detroit is not the only place that has significant numbers of people who are having significant difficulties. Hopefully, with the things that are going on, and we'll talk about later some of those things, at least start to change.
Community Development Block Grants
Another way for us to continue to rebuild Wayne County is to deal more effectively with the community development block grants of CDBG dollars. As most of you know, those are dollars that are designed for distressed communities. They're Federal dollars that are designed to go to distressed communities to help deal with poverty and help deal with housing issues. For 40 years in Wayne County, it's been a political mess because there's always this political argument that says distribute the money by population. The way the money should be distributed is where it's the most needed.
And that's been the 40 year fight. This year we have recommended those specific changes. They will be going to the Wayne County Commission very soon. I'm hoping that the 15 Commissioners who represent all 43 communities will see the wisdom in those changes. Now I gotta tell you, not everybody agreed. But a lot of people did. And so we're making progress. Not everybody's gonna be happy, but nothing worth having, everybody's happy. Just doesn't happen.
So think about it. It is a solution, I think, to a problem that is important. We talk about poverty. We talk about opportunities regularly. Well, this is an opportunity to do something significant with millions of dollars of CDBG dollars.
Fixing Wayne County's Roads & Bridges
There's no portion of the rebuild of Wayne County greater than our roads and bridges. Wayne County has the oldest and largest system of roads and bridges in this state. It all started here. The first mile of cement road was Woodward between Six and Seven Mile in 1909, 110 years ago. The first freeway in the United States, actually, was the Davison Freeway, the beginning of the Davison Freeway. We have the oldest infrastructure, and the oldest infrastructures are always the ones that take the most repair. And so think about that as we're all thinking about how we get better road funding. We're arguing about which way to pay for it and all of those things. We have an infrastructure problem here. It's critically important. And we're still, Detroit's still the center for commerce and travel. Wayne County's still the center for commerce and travel.
Where else do you find four professional sports teams? Where do you find another international border? Where do you find another world-class airport? Our roads get more use than anybody's. They get more truck use than anybody's. And as a career cop, they get more overloaded truck use than anybody.
As an example of just how significant it is for us here in Wayne County is we have three projects that we need to do now. That the collective cost of those three projects is a hundred million dollars. The Miller Bridge in Dearborn, the Dix Bascule Bridge in Detroit, and Haggerty Road that runs through Livonia, Canton and Van Buren townships all need significant repair. A hundred million dollars worth of work. You don't get that out of your yearly allocation of 51 road funds. We have to have an influx of cash to allow that to happen.
And something else that's important, I think, for you to understand and appreciate is even the formula by which the decisions are made about how our roads are funded are ridiculous. Funding is based on linear miles. One mile of road the funding. So if you have a four-lane road, remember I said linear mile, not lane miles. So if you have a four-lane road in Livonia, it's the same amount of money as a two-lane road in Oscoda. It makes no sense. There's nothing in the formula that deals with the deterioration of the roads based on their age, or based on truck traffic. None of that fits into the problem.
And so if we got, in Wayne County, a tremendous influx of road dollars, under this formula we're still getting hurt. We need a significant influx and we need some logic, something short of lunacy, in the evaluation process so we can figure out what we're doing. I just can't call it anything else but that. It's just, it's lunacy. With so many needs and so little funding, we always have to fight for money, but I will tell you we have started to think about the problem much differently. We have a consultant now that has come in and is looking at our roads from top to bottom. What roads do we have? What's the level of road degradation here, there, the other place? With an idea to actually put some science to the process and say here's what you got. My Roads Director, Bev Watts, says this is what I can spend. What are we gonna do first? And how are we gonna do it?
I mean, most people think well, we just take the worst roads and we'll fix them and keep fixing the worst roads. Let me tell you. With the road funding that we have now, if we spent it all the best we could possibly spend it, we still are losing ground every year in terms of the conditions of roads in Wayne County. And so that's not really helping us. We have to get to the point where we're using some money for reconstruction. We have to use some money on the preventive end. What about the roads that we just paved two and three years ago? Sealing those roads is a million dollars less than rehabbing and rehabilitating the other ones. So there has to be a mix here that makes some sense for us going forward. And I absolutely thank the governor for at least saying I'm not gonna use a band-aid approach. We need to fix roads.
We can argue all day about how to pay for it. And we will. But it needs to occur. We need to fix roads, and we don't need to keep spending the money we're spending now only to have our system of roads actually getting worse every year, 'cause we can't even get to ground zero.
Still Fighting For Transit
Next issue. Transit. Kinda ties to roads. If more people were on, were using transit, we wouldn't tear up the roads so much. Well, we haven't forgotten about transit. And even though we lost last year, we really didn't lose. 'Cause everywhere I go, I hear people more and more engaged about the issue of transit and being far more positive about transit as an issue than they did before. I mean, we didn't get it done, but we will get it done. We all know that one of the big rationales always for transit is, you know, we attract talent that way, right? And it'll grow our tax base, and seniors helping to maintain their independence, and all of that is absolutely, absolutely true. What we don't talk about nearly so much is the component of social mobility and inclusion that a transit system causes.
Mayor Duggan has got tremendous projects going up in the city Detroit. We have a lot of projects going up in Wayne County, and I'll talk about some of those later. And what we always say is we need workers. We need workforce people to be able to come and handle and do these jobs. But we all have car keys in our pocket. And we leave here, we go get in the car, start the motor, complain about the rough roads, complain about the insurance rates, but we drive where we're going. You have no idea how many young people in this county don't have any reasonable opportunity or mobility. If they get on a series of buses, it might take them two and a half hours to get to work, two and a half hours to get home from work. You work there eight hours. You're a single mother with children. Is there anybody confused about why there may be family dysfunction in the house? It's absolutely ridiculous.
And I know, 'cause I tried it. I took a bus from Grand River near the Motor City Casino, wasn't in the casino by the way, but happened to be near the casino. And took a bus to the Best Buy in Novi, ostensibly to look for a job. Two and a half hours to get to that place, including a mile on Novi Road where there's no sidewalk, where you had to walk because the bus didn't take you that far. Cars whizzing by you 80 miles an hour. I don't know if I have the commitment to go to work every day under those circumstances. We need to understand that many, many of those kids that I hear people look around and say, "Oh man, they don't wanna work," and "I'm not sure they wanna work." Under those circumstances, you wouldn't wanna work either.
We gotta have a transit system that puts our money where our mouth is, creates opportunities for kids to be able to get to workforce development programs, to be able to get to work, to be able to look for a job, to be able to get to the doctor. That's all real. And we need to look at it like it's real. And quit looking around for excuses to say people don't wanna work. People do wanna work. We don't give them a damn chance.
Also remember that for every dollar that we spend on transit, we get four dollars back into the economy. That's something to think about. Somebody's gotta build the transit system, don't they? I mean, it creates job opportunities. It creates investment. It creates mobility. It creates all the things that I think we really wanna have in a community.
Rebuilding Manufacturing For The Mobility Age
As we rebuild Wayne County, we also have to think about the significant changes that are going on now in our automobile industry. Jobs are becoming more advanced and technical. And we need to evolve in order to stay competitive. Did you hear what I said? It's now gonna take more training. Somebody's gotta program the robot, right? But we still got the transit problem that doesn't get them to the job. We're still not looking at the whole picture, the way the picture oughta be looked at.
But despite the rapid pace of change, Wayne County is positioned to do great things in mobility. Manufacturing still has an automotive future in Wayne County. As automotive companies are investing in mobility, they're investing in Wayne County's rebuild. Mayor Duggan mentioned at a couple of press conferences last week about major investments in the city of Detroit. FCA Mack Avenue Engine Plant will now be an assembly plant. Significant reinvestment in Jefferson North assembly plant. Lot of investment. I think roughly two billion dollars if I'm not mistaken.
But more importantly, 5000 jobs. I said this the other day and a few people laughed, but it's a quote from Mayor Coleman Young, who was a mentor to me and a friend in my early young years. He kept saying, "It's very, very difficult for one to be able to make chicken pie out of chicken feathers." I have to say, as it relates to FCA and Ford headquarters and Ford's train station, Mike Duggan's done a pretty good job of making chicken pie out of chicken feathers. Ford's investment in the train station, Ford's investment in its world headquarters, another two billion dollars, and another 5000 jobs. It's significant.
Another part of that, that I think really ... will turn out to be true is I've always seen Michigan Avenue from downtown almost all the way out to Ann Arbor is like this golden route that it's not quite golden yet. But I think with the work that's gonna go on at the train station, you're gonna see a lot of adaptations that help to facilitate the ability to go from Michigan Avenue from Detroit to Dearborn to Aerotropolis to Ann Arbor and places beyond. I'm very, very excited to be in a part of a county where that kind of growth is occurring.
DTW & Aerotropolis: World-Class Logistics
There's also no greater opportunity to rebuild Wayne County than near our world-class airport. And we have a world-class airport. We really, really do. DTW ranked one of the best in the world and received, just recently, the Airport Service Quality, ASQ, award. It's an award given to the airlines that has the best record in terms of departures and arrivals. And that's competing with an awful lot of good airports. DTW won that award, and we're very, very happy about that. I think they deserve great praise for it.
That airport supports over 86,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of 10.2 billion dollars on the economy. No fleas on that. DTW had 35 million passengers last year, up a half a million from the year before. And have not had that many passengers since the beginning of the ... our economic downturn in '07.
Having a world-class airport also positions Aerotropolis to being a world-class logistics and distribution hub. And for those who don't know what Aerotropolis is, we always drop those names like everybody's supposed to know. It's two counties, Wayne and Washtenaw, and involves four communities that are right around the airport. The job of Aerotropolis is obviously to try to market those properties and build Wayne County's economy. Aerotropolis has over 6000 available acres for development. You're not gonna find that in any other airport in the country. And it's a public-private economic development partnership that I think has great potential. Since 2017 we've had 400 million dollars of investment in Aerotropolis and have created 2600 jobs.I'd like to thank our partners at Aerotropolis for the work that they've done collaboratively with us. It is definitely paying dividends.
Michigan International Tech Center
Another innovative partnership that can help the Wayne County rebuild is the Michigan International Tech Center, which is development, ostensibly for research and development that borders Plymouth Township and Northville Township. It's actually near Beck Road and Five Mile. It's the redevelopment of the old Detroit House of Correction. It's been an eyesore for a long time, and unfortunately I've been around long enough to remember taking prisoners there on a daily basis, when they had 1100 prisoners in that facility. But it's been an eyesore for a number of years. It is not what either Plymouth or Northville want.
Kurt Heise, the Township Supervisor of Plymouth, and Bob Nix of Northville Township have both worked very, very hard to try to get this off the ground. We think it's a research and development area that will help with mobility. It'll help with airport-related businesses. It's ideally located and situated for the upswing in our entire region. And I'd like to thank them for the work that they're doing on it and to pledge our continued assistance with them. County's portion of that deal is to the infrastructure work. We need to provide the roads. We need to widen the roads. And we need to do the things that will help get that project up and off the ground.
Detroit Regional Partnership
Also I'd like to take a second to talk about the Detroit Regional Partnership. It is a new partnership, public and private, that's mission in the world is to sell this region internationally. Somebody needs to do that. I think they're ideally situated to do that. I'd like to thank DTE Energy and its CEO Gerry Anderson for doing the heavy lifting to get that organization off the ground. I'm a board member. I'm happy to be there. And I think it can do great things. Our vision in Wayne County has always been back to basics. We've gotta fix what's here first. We've gotta take care of the businesses that are here. We have to do those kinds of things. We can't cruise at 40,000 feet and sell the region to the world. But the partnership can, and I'm sure that they will.
Reactivating County-Owned Real Estate
Now the sobering reality is our municipal finance system is over reliant on property taxes. You heard me say that a bunch of times tonight, right? Property taxes. We live off property taxes. We need property taxes. While we're continuing to streamline our assets in Wayne County, we're also putting properties, old assets, back into public use and putting them in a position where they will get on the tax rolls. Examples are McLouth Steel. Just this last year, McLouth Steel was sold to Crown Enterprises. It takes an eyesore there in Trenton for so many years and starts the process of getting it back in service. A lot of work that needs to be done, but I think we got the right partners to do it. I wanna thank Trenton and everyone involved in trying to make that happen. I mean, you have no idea what a boost that's gonna be to the city of Trenton and the surrounding communities, if we can make that work.
Also, Eloise. The old Wayne County property on Michigan Avenue near the corner of Inkster. County owned it. Again, I'm old enough to remember when Wayne County General Hospital was flourishing there and D Building, the mental hospital, was active. I've seen it go down over the years. I've seen it be underutilized, misused, vandalized. And we found an opportunity to take that property and put it in the hands of a developer who's gonna create senior housing on that area in Westland. We're not making any money on the deal, but the property will be back on the tax rolls. And senior citizens will have a good place, an opportunity to live there. It's another example ...[inaudible 00:40:35]. It's another example of using common sense to get things moving and not forgetting that the fundamental reason for any of us to be here in government is to take care of people. Any time we forget people in the equation, we've strayed off the reservation. We've got some problems. It's about people. And when we can create a revenue stream in terms of taxes and also create housing for people, we're doing the right thing.
Also doing the same thing with 511 Woodward, which is the sister building to the Guardian Building. For the last four years, that building's been empty. Just sat there. We found a buyer for it. We've sold for it for more than the appraised value. And we'll have some great tenants and some great opportunities there. The downtown Detroit partnership will be located in that building. And there's several other opportunities.
And then, of course, Wayne County's Criminal Justice Complex. And you always get mixed feelings there, because there's always people that say, "Oh shoot, we have to build a jail." None of us want to build a jail, but none of us runs the world. Jails have gotta be there and when a jail's there, I'd rather have a state-of-the-art jail that actually dealt constructively with people's issues and needs than three broken down jails that Sheriff Napoleon can hardly keep up with because of their conditions. It's just reality. So we're building the Criminal Justice Complex, which will be a jail. It'll be headquarters for the Sheriff. There'll be headquarters for the Wayne County Prosecutor. And there'll be a new Juvenile Detention Facility.
Once that project's done, the old hulk that you saw in the video that's been torn down will be the next development in the process. Mayor Duggan hasn't told me what's gonna be there yet. But trust me, it'll be significant. And then as a part of the deal, Wayne County's Land Bank had the old AMC Headquarters on Plymouth in Telegraph. As a part of the deal, that property went to the city of Detroit, and I'm sure that sometime in the future you will hear about some development on that site, which will help to create some energy out in the neighborhoods that may be sorely lacking.
Meals On Wheels
In order to rebuild Wayne County, we have to get healthy. Wayne County is the 83rd healthiest county in the state, and one of our most significant demographics are seniors. Now it's hard to get worse than 83rd out of 83 counties. But part of the way you do that is to improve health, obviously, recreation and nutritional services. For 30 years, Wayne County's been involved in a program that we call Meals on Wheels, where we've provided food to people who need it in 34 basically western Wayne and downriver communities. That program has lacked funding since the day I became County Executive, and I remember many meetings where we sat down and figured out how we could scratch out some money to try to keep it afloat. 'Cause it wasn't something we're obligated to do but something we all felt morally obliged to continue.
We eked along. It actually got to a point where we had about 550 people on the waiting list. We put our heads together and said, "We're gonna have to have a fundraiser." So we had a fundraiser last year. Raised $115,000. And now we have nobody on the waiting list. And the program is working better. Again, public-private relationships can work. We've talked about them a lot tonight, and it's really important that we continue to realize that.
We also can't talk about Meals on Wheels without recognizing the army of volunteers that make it work. The meals we deliver oftentimes are really the only outside contact many of the people who receive the meals actually get in the week. Our volunteers do a great job. There're more than 800 volunteers overseen by Wayne County Senior Services. In 2018, we served over 790,000 meals. Some of those halal meals. Nobody else does that. I'd like to thank the Senior Alliance in the Detroit area on Aging for their collaboration with us all of these years. And our Meals on Wheels staff and our volunteers. And if some of them are here and I know some are, would you please stand and be recognized. You've done a great job.
Fighting The Opioid Crisis
There's also a significant threat to the health of people in Wayne County that comes from the opioid crisis. Everybody knows about the opioid crisis now, because it affects every community, right? If it was just in the poor community, you don't hear quite so much about it, do you? But it is an epidemic, and it's one that the county got involved in trying to work through, oh year, year and a half ago, when we joined with Oakland County to file suit against the drug manufacturers for the abuses that come from the opioids epidemic. Not only does it destroy people's lives, but it has counties paying significant amounts unnecessarily from our budgets with respect to hospitalization and a number of other things. I mean, it's just, it's a crisis and it needs to be dealt with.
Well, we now have a second leg to try to deal with the opioid crisis. And that is what we call a peer recovery program. And the peer recovery program has participants again, the Conference of Western Wayne, Growth Works, Saint Mary's of Livonia and about 18 participating public safety agencies, police and fire. And it's based on using peer recovery folks to be able to interact with folks who are suffering from addictions. And if anybody in here knows someone who suffered from an addiction and if you don't, I think you're lying, because I think we all do, 95% of the time they don't wanna hear anything about recovering from the problem.
But there comes that moment of clarity when the person realizes, "I gotta do something about this. There's an opportunity for me to get my life back on track," and that's when a peer recovery coach better be there. 'Cause that's a fleeting time, it's a fleeting thought and peer recovery coaches are available 24/7 to reach out to that person wherever that moment of clarity occurs. Whether it's in jail. Whether it's ... wherever it is, a hospital, wherever it is. Their job is to get there and to deal with it.
One of those peer recovery coaches is here today. His name is Patrick Stropes. A very brave peer recovery coach. I've talked to him on a number of occasions. I don't think he would be upset with me telling you that he is, as the other peer recovery coaches, has had addiction related issues, and he'll fight those the rest of his life. But he spends 90% of his life helping others who are having similar problems. That's just the great thing. I think he's a great guy. He's here with us tonight. Patrick Stropes, would you please stand up and let people recognize you. Lot of good people in this world, if we can just harness them, right?
Wayne County Parks' 100th Anniversary
Wayne County Parks are a key part of our community, our health, and our rebuild, and have been for a hundred years. 2019 is the centennial celebration of Wayne County Parks. I'm a park nut. I love parks. Doesn't have to just be a Wayne County Park, just parks. But I betcha there's not an acre of a Wayne County Park that I haven't either hiked, walked, kayaked, or ridden my horse. Parks are huge in my world in terms of what they add to a community and how they help us invest in our own health, even though we don't realize it. And I'll talk a little later about how we plan to try to add to that going forward. But I'd like to take a second and I hope you all enjoy this short video. Thank you.
Watch Parks Video
I really hope you enjoyed the video. Before I say anything else, now that the lights are on, I can see Congresswoman Debbie Dingell here, who I didn't acknowledge earlier. Debbie, please stand up. I apologize.
Okay. Congratulations to our park team led by Bev Watts and Alicia Bradford. There are Parks employees here today. Please stand and be recognized. You do a great job.
I wish I had a camera, 'cause some of these parks folks back here really clean up well. The fun of the park doesn't have you all dressed up most of the time.
Parks play such a central role in our community. And while we've enjoyed the last 100 years of our parks, it's time to reimagine the next 100 years. I think it's a good break conceptually to have this as the centennial year, because it gives us a chance to look back and appreciate what the parks were for the last 100 years. But be at a transition point to understand that doesn't mean the next 100 years should look like the past hundred. Everything evolves, and our parks need to do the same thing.
Parks keep us healthy. They provide a clean environment and a clean ecosystem. But more importantly, they create a sense of place. A place I think we need to be to retain young folks and to help market our region to the world. The importance of parks and connectivity to the parks I don't think can be overstated. In re-imagining our parks, at least in my mind, the most critical thing we have to do is to connect parks. If you can think with me for a minute. So we got a map and on this map has all of Wayne County's parks. I don't mean just parks Wayne County owns. I mean all of the parks in Wayne County. Detroit parks. Wayne County's parks. Huron-Clinton Metroparks. And the parks in cities, in townships throughout the county. Now that you see all of them on the map, start seeing lines of connectivity between those parks, wherever they are.
Mill Run & Parks Connectivity
You can't go to western Wayne County now and ride a bike to Belle Isle. I mean, you can do it, but the chances of you surviving. And I don't mean violence now, I mean getting hit by a car or something. It's not gonna work real well. But I think that's the future of parks and connectivity. I mean the great thing about Wayne County is we got 43 different communities, all of them distinct, all of them have great assets, all of them have great culture. And that's what makes it great. But it wouldn't hurt to connect that system of parks to those cities so that people in those cities can access the parks easier, that downtown business districts can access the parks, that people can make more out of going downtown than just going downtown. The connectivity is important, I think, and in our next hundred years what I'm interested in doing is making us much better connected.
This past year there were many park projects that we're very proud of. And as the part of the big picture, we'll talk about a particular park project in a little while, but I want you to see it as much more than just any one project. It's a series of projects. And so work that's happened in the last year on Elizabeth Park Greenway. Clark Park in Detroit, in southwest Detroit. We're starting to make investments and try to create connectivity and energy in our parks. And I think that's huge.
As part of our commitment to parks, Wayne County this year is gonna spend five million dollars on park projects. Not just renovation, but retooling, adding to parks. About 3.3 million of that is gonna be in Nankin Mills, in Hines Park. We're gonna improve the animal habitat. We're gonna create new exhibits. We're gonna remodel it so that the public space there is more accommodating for people who wanna use it.
Now I'm gonna show you another video. I hope you like this video. In this video, you're gonna see me with black leather gloves on. I just want you to understand, it's not me trying to be cool. It was so cold in the barn when we did the interview that it was either wear the gloves or listen to my teeth chatter. I chose not to have my teeth chatter. Please look at and enjoy the video.
I hope you enjoyed the video. As I was talking a little while ago, I saw a familiar face. Mister Richard Cox, who's the owner of the Northville Mill and has purchased the Plymouth Mill. You got a chance to see what Northville looked like. I'm excited to see what Plymouth will look like. Would you stand for just a minute?
The Mill Run Project demonstrates how we plan to reinvent the parks for the next hundred years. Place making, park enhancement, create public access and redevelop the historic nature of those mills. I said the county can't do it ourselves, because we can't. I mean, we have a hard enough time providing the maintenance for the parks, and the upgrades that need to occur. A historic site is important, but it can't be our financial priority. And so those mills either die a slow death or they become a part of a turn around which is a public-private partnership. And hopefully you all will agree that that's an important thing to do.
Remembering Rev. Greg Roberts
I wanna take a moment to recognize that we lost a great community leader and part of our executive staff last year, Reverend Greg Roberts. His daughter, where's Jaren? She is here tonight. Because he was so important to us and because he stood for, in my mind, equality, equity, dignity, self-determination. There were very few words that don't, positive words, that don't describe Greg Roberts. He's dealt, for the last 30 years, with some real health issues before he died that would have overpowered a lesser man 30 years ago. He truly was a gift to the county and a gift to the state. He's worked in a number of capacities, doing outreach work at Benton Harbor, when Benton Harbor was going through its crisis. And obviously was very instrumental in helping us here.
And so we thought it made an awful lot of sense for us to create the Greg Roberts Legacy Award. So we did. We're creating this award in Greg's honor. And tonight I'm proud to announce the first recipient of the Reverend Greg Robert's Legacy Award. And it couldn't go to a more deserving person.
It's Doctor Charles G. Adams, the pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church. Doctor Adams is not here, but one of his deacons is here to receive the award for him. We took some pictures and did some stuff in the back, because I know all of you sitting here saying now how much longer are we gonna delay. Everybody's gonna come up on the stage and stuff. We've already done our thing. But Doctor Adams has been a tremendous man of the community and man of God for many, many years. His accomplishments are significant. He's one of the greatest orators that I've ever heard in my life. And his accomplishments are not only local but nation-wide. Been a real addition to our community. And by the way, he's been around a while too. He's been a mentor to an awful lot of leaders in this community. He was a mentor and advisor to Coleman Alexander Young, the longest serving mayor of the city of Detroit. And I gotta tell you, I beat on his door several times, asking for his advice and counsel, and he never turned me down.
Diversity Is Our Strength
All right. I wanna close tonight by talking about the strength of Wayne County. Ladies and gentlemen, diversity is our strength. And because it's our strength, it'll play a key role in our evolution from here forward. We have some of the most diverse communities that you can find anywhere. Detroit, Hamtramck, Canton, and right here in Dearborn. Strong communities that are diverse, and that diversity makes us strong. That diversity makes us smart. That diversity makes us better developed. It makes us more conscious. It does all of those things.
Unfortunately, our diversity is under attack at the national level. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported a 30% increase in US hate groups in the last four years. A 17% jump in hate crimes in 2017. We see the fear every day here in Wayne County. We have communities where parents are loath to sent their children to school because they fear immigration and naturalization related issues. Think about a community where you're scared to send your kids to school for fear of being deported. It is a problem in this county, and it's a problem that we in Wayne County see every day. We don't fear it. We fight it. But we're seriously concerned about it. There's no place that this hatred hits any worse than here in Wayne County.
Right now, while we're here, at Cobo Hall there's a group that's having a rally to find private funding to build a wall. And to talk about the need for a Muslim registry. Sure. That's ... how much of a juxtaposition can there be from where we are mentally to that is unbelievable. But it's something that, you know, I mean it's a reality in our world and it's something we in Wayne County have to be vigilant about if we believe, like most people talk, diversity and inclusion. In Wayne County we don't just talk about it; we do our best to live it.
So considering what's at stake, we've got a census coming, right? We need to count everybody, right? Wayne County will do what it can to help ferret out, find and count those people that are hiding in plain sight. We need to count everybody. Federal funding depends on our population count. Our representation in government is critical. I mean, first let's count them, but let's also try to get them registered to vote, right? We don't need to lose congressional seats at all.
I think, if you look at our area and you look at utility turn ons and stuff like that, I think that we are starting the upward spiral. I mean, it's gonna be slow. I'm not trying to confuse anybody that it's gonna be overnight, but I think we're at the end of the population loss, both in Detroit and in Wayne County. So we've got nowhere to go but up. And there are a lot of things going on that I think will help attract people to this area. I think we'll be able to attract talent. I think there are a number of things we can do. I just hope we don't forget that we also have people here we have to help. There's plenty of room for everybody. So participate in the census. Please participate in the census. Or xenophobia wins twice.
As I said before, diversity is our strength. I like saying that. [inaudible 01:13:54]. Wayne United is Wayne County's organization, internal organization, that deals with diversity and inclusion programs. And it'll help us tell the story of our diversity and the economic impact of our immigrant population. Wayne United led by Executive Director Zaineb Hussein has received the Gateways to Growth Challenge Award. Zaineb, I know you don't wanna stand up. Just raise your hand. She's so short that even when she stands up you didn't see her, right?
The Gateways to Growth Challenge Research Award is an award that will do data analysis and collection for us. The purpose of the award is for us to have some benchmark numbers where we can debunk myths that currently occur with respect to the impact of immigrants on our community. On Wayne County. And by the way, that immigrant thing, back up just a minute. I know they always tell me keep going forward, 'cause when I back up is when I screw up. But all those guys down at Cobo are talking about immigrants. And unless there's a room full of Native Americans, they're all immigrants, aren't they? So how does a bunch of immigrants figure out what other immigrants should be here? It just doesn't ring true to me. Sounds kinda, dare I say, racist? Just doesn't sound good to me.
But anyway, we got the Challenge Award. And we're gonna have the data and we're gonna debunk myths about what immigrant populations mean to this county. And Wayne United is also involved in much more than just immigrant populations. They're involved in diversity issues of every kind. It's about knocking down barriers to inclusion such as illiteracy. Wayne United partnered with a private non-profit called Books for a Benefit. Wayne County employees, a Wayne County book drive, the city of Detroit, southwest Detroit, the first library, and created a library for kids to go to, to read, to enjoy and to relax. And boy, I don't think, and I've been around our crew for a long time, I can tell you there wasn't ... everybody was warm and fuzzy when we created the library.
And it dawned on me going in to the library, the first library we created was at La Sed in southwest Detroit, and when I got in there and saw the furniture and the books and all of those things, it dawned on me that just because a kid can read or is trying to read doesn't mean the environment's there to read. The environment was there. You could see the kids enjoying it. You could see the kids picking up a book and traveling the world. And it just made you feel, just made you feel good. It was an opportunity for Wayne United and all of us to do something substantial. And by the way, that was in 2017. La Sed has contacted us and said you won't believe this, but we've seen a dramatic increase in both literacy and the fun and enjoyment and volume of reading that was occurring. We all know with everything that's going on now, the fundamental issue begins with literacy, right?
Last week we created the second library in Highland Park, a city that hasn't had a public library in 18 years. Same thing, except our staff got even better. They put furniture together. They painted murals. I thought it was gonna be their library when they finished. Kids in Highland Park appreciated it. We had the ribbon cutting. I think it's gonna do good things for the city of Highland Park. And we got lots more projects in mind.
And by the way, these weren't projects funded by some private company. There were county employees either bringing in the books or helping to buy the furniture and other related things. We practice what we preach.
Wayne County walks the walk, and when it comes to diversity, we will continue to do so. Diversity is our strength in Wayne County. My job, my job is to fight for diversity and inclusion. And quite honestly I don't care whose cages I rattle in doing it. It's what we need to do.
Four years ago, Wayne County's airport, to say it lacked diversity was an understatement. I don't know about you guys, but I'm really concerned when no public safety people look like me at all. And that was the reality at Metro Airport four years ago. I think statistically out of 100 officers, there were two of color. One being the chief, so you never saw the chief. That's a problem. And the next problem is there was nobody of color anywhere near the board room, and by of color I'm not just talking about black. When I say of color, I mean people that aren't white. And I'm not suggesting that there's a problem with people who are white. I'm suggesting that there needs to be some balance in the county with respect to the job. I saw a couple people look at me oddly. Please, don't ever for one minute think I think people of color need to take over the world. That's not my issue.
My issue is I need people in the board room, like my board room, who have a diversity of thought, a diversity of perspective. So when I make a mistake, it's much less likely that it's gonna be a stupid one. Because I'm gonna have input from everywhere. But the airport didn't have that. There was nobody in the board room that looked like me or many of you. That's what you call being at the table. If you're not at the table, you're on the menu. And nobody wants to be on the menu.
So now the airport is far more inclusive.
Wayne County 2022
Wayne County is gonna look a lot different in 2022. We'll have the Criminal Justice Complex done. We'll have downtown Detroit with many more skyscrapers and projects going on. We'll have more connectivity in our parks in Wayne County. And Aerotropolis, which is doing a great job now, will continue to do a great job and make Wayne County stronger and healthier.
Wayne County's rebuild is gonna take collaboration and innovation. We're poised to do that. Thank you so much for listening to me. I appreciate you being here. Go Wayne County. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. And God bless all of you.