The seven Democratic candidates for Livingston County Commission want to provide “Smart Leadership, Smart Growth” for the county’s future. The candidates, six of whom are challenging Republican incumbents, described a platform that includes making county government more transparent, requiring the county airport to pay for itself, improving county infrastructure and seeking realistic solutions to the county’s multi-million dollar debt crisis.
The Democratic challengers also pledged to make the county more welcoming to business with a “one-stop shop” for new companies, more promotion of local businesses, and an improved county website to showcase Livingston as a desirable place to live and work. In addition, they promised to protect funding for needy veterans and create an active parks and recreation department to improve the quality of life for Livingston residents.
“Livingston County is at a crossroads,” said Kelly Raskauskas of Genoa Township, candidate for County Commissioner in District 7. “The decisions we make now have a direct impact on our ability to succeed in the future.”
Raskauskas said there are many instances when the incumbents have not shown “smart leadership.” She cited the County Commissioners’ failure to adequately publicize the availability of $24 million in small business funding under the Federal Recovery Act; allowing the county airport to run up millions of dollars in operating losses, and finally the decision to back millions of dollars in bonds issued by townships for infrastructure in subdivisions that were never finished. The debt has put the county in a financial crisis, leading to requests for a state taxpayer bailout for one of the richest counties in the state.
Keith Tianen of Putnam Township, County Commissioner candidate from District 6, said another example of poor leadership was the incumbents’ failure to respond when MDOT threatened to close a portion of M-36 for a year, putting local businesses and 100 jobs at risk.
“The Republican incumbents sat on their hands when businesses and jobs were on the line, but I stepped up and worked with Stakeholders in Dire Straits to challenge MDOT’s project and forced it to change its plan and protect local jobs. Where were the Republican incumbents when local businesses needed their help?” he asked.
Dane Morris of Hartland Township, candidate in District 3, criticized the failure of the Commission to develop into parks two parcels of land that were donated to the county specifically for recreational purposes. “To let our current parks sit idle and unused robs our families and youth of the recreational opportunities that our community so desperately needs. To let these resources sit idle is an embarrassment and inexcusable,” he said.
The individual planks of the “Smart Leadership, Smart Growth” platform are:
— Stop bailouts for the county’s Spencer J. Hardy Airport, which has posted $4.7 million in total losses since 2000 and received $2.7 million in funds from the county budget. The County Commission should follow its own policy of requiring business-type operations to pay their own way. The money wasted on the airport could have gone to improve county roads, public health or other projects of benefit to all county residents.
— Improve county roads. The County Commission’s refusal to support more road funds has left Livingston County with some of the worst roads in the state – some 41 percent are in “poor” condition according to a November 2009 report from the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. As a result of county inaction, individual townships have been forced to ask voters to approve road millages.
—Improve the business climate with a “one-stop shop” for entrepreneurs; supporting local businesses and encouraging local businesses to work together,
—Support a study into the feasibility of WALLY, the Ann Arbor to Howell commuter rail line that has been endorsed by the City of Howell, Hamburg Township, the Howell Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce.
—Seek solutions to the county’s debt crisis brought on by excessive borrowing for unfinished subdivisions. Special meetings should be held to explain the issue to the public. The commissioners should immediately adopt a new borrowing policy to show they will no longer risk the county’s full faith and credit to support developer hand-outs.
—Insure greater transparency for commission business by using web, media, and other methods to inform the public, and soliciting feedback from residents at least once every two years on county business.
— Create an active County Parks and Recreation Commission that utilizes all of its properties and resources to the maximum extent so that families throughout the county have access to recreational spaces.
— Cut pension, health, dental, and life insurance benefits for part-time County Commissioners, whose annual salaries range from $15,325 to $18,114.
—Retain the levy that provides relief for needy veterans in the county, which the current Republican incumbents failed to levy for decades and then only reluctantly approved in 2009.
The seven Democratic candidates are: Thomn Bell, Oceola Township, District 2; Dane Morris, Hartland Township, District 3; Dave Berry, Conway Township, District 5; Keith Tianen, Putnam Township, District 6; Kelly Raskauskas, Genoa Township/Brighton City, District 7; Amir Baghdadchi, Hamburg Township, District 8, and Barry McBride, Green Oak Township, District 9.