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GUEST COLUMN: Commissioners show how NOT to handle a pandemic

Livingston County Commissioners put on a clinic this week on how NOT to respond to their constituents suffering through a pandemic.

They gave themselves a raise.

And then they bragged about how much money they have in the bank.

That they won’t spend.

Because they like having a AAA bond rating.

Seriously.

Meanwhile, too many of their constituents face a bleak Christmas, wondering how to put food on the table, keep the heat on, or pay their rent.

Their bank account balances have disappeared.

Their credit ratings are falling.

But they are so relieved that the county will maintain its AAA bond rating.

Not.

The facts are these:

• Commissioners voted 5-4 to give themselves about a 5 percent raise, scaled down from an original 8.4 percent pay hike.

• During the heated discussion, Commissioner Jay Drick said the county could afford the raise because it has $27 million in fund balances. That is approximately 50 percent of their budget, a level the county wants to maintain so it can keep its AAA bond rating.

Commissioners love having that AAA bond rating because it gives them a bragging point over other counties.

Somebody has their priorities messed up.

Earlier this year, Commissioner Wes Nakagiri bragged that Livingston County was the best place in southeast Michigan to live during the pandemic.

But when it comes to responding to the pandemic, it’s Oakland County that has bragging rights.

Here’s what Oakland County did during the pandemic:

• Gave up to $2,500 to any veteran impacted by COVID-19.

• Set up a $10 million grant fund for restaurants and bars impacted by COVID-19, using $3 million from their general fund and $7 million in federal CARES Act funding.

• Provided senior citizens a free one-year subscription to Shipt, which provides unlimited, same-day delivery from a variety of local stores.

• Offered a free kit to businesses on how to reopen safely.

You can find out more at the Oakland County website, https://www.oakgov.com/covid/grants/Pages/default.aspx

Somehow, Oakland County figured out a way to do all that without worrying about losing its own AAA bond rating.

Meanwhile, Livingston County commissioners gave themselves a raise.

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Rich:

    A bit late on the answer.

    I do not see a place where Judy discussed Oakland County Commissioner salary or their politics. Perhaps, I missed it and you can point me to where she discussed those two points?

    She did discuss what they were capable of doing in Oakland County to meet the Covid Pandemic head-on. Is it enough, probably not. All you did was expand the what-aboutisms and false equivalences.

    Quite honestly, I do not give a hoot (almost slipped there) what Oakland County does. I believe Livingston County is still the richest (in income?) in the state? Or is right up there. Even so, we do seem to get our priorities wrong.

    For years, Livingston County has had county roads in poor and fair condition (SEMCOG) needing repair. Years being 26 years for us. The last meeting I attended was when they were trying to decide whether the County insurance plan should cover an abortion for women. A tough question indeed and for “Wes” (who sponsored it) as a newbie then.

    The Board has a tendency to get its priorities mixed up. And isn’t it about priorities and not politics, which you have made the prime issue in your reply to Judy.

    Is it more important for a salary increase or to create a Covid policy? Is it important to fix a crumbling infrastructure? In 2007 57% of the county roads were classified as in Good shape. In 2018, 28% of the County roads are in good shape with 33% in poor condition and requiring major rehab. There have been some improvements in the last year That is what I presented in that County meeting.

    And now, here again they have their priorities a tad mixed up.

    If you go into government work, it is not about money for sure. As a Planning Commissioner and a Vice Chair on a Commission, you learn that real fast. I did it because I got tired of having our township making bad decisions. Meeting some cantankerous neighbors who were not afraid to let you know how angry they were was a test in being calm.

    Your last few sentences get to the issue at hand; but, you have twisted it around. “Let the constituents eat cake” in other words. And the attitude is an issue.

  2. And I thought I was the only one who findsour county policies were indefensible. It’s easy for government to keep taxes low, bond ratings high, and fund balances through the roof when they don’t do anything with their constituents’ money except vote themselves raises.

  3. Good points about Oakland County commissioners. And I agree that Livingston County government could do better things with $27 million in the “rainy day” fund. Hint: It’s raining. But do note that Oakland County commissioners are quite willing to pay themselves even when others are hurting. Earlier this month, they gave themselves a raise, thanks in no small part to the Democratic caucus who approved the raise by a 9-1 vote, with one of the Democrats saying she was upset that anyone should suggest that they should forego a raise just because others are suffering. Oakland County commissioners, by the way, are already paid more than $40,000 a year. Not too shabby. My point is that the raise for the Livingston County commissioners is a non-issue — it’s peanuts and the first raise since 2009. The bigger issue isn’t even that they mooch off the county for health insurance, although that’s ridiculous. The biggest issues, as you point out, is their failure to step forward and do something innovative, creative and helpful during this crisis. Their constituents are suffering and can’t pay their utlity bills? Here, let them burn some of these AAA bonds for fuel.

  4. I heard Drick’s soundbite about them being able to do it because they have a good contingency fund. Not sure they know the meaning of “contingency”. If I have a “rainy day fund”, I don’t just decide to raid the piggy bank. Why can’t such raises be public referendums added onto normal elections? Or why not do like other counties and help support troubled businesses, the pandemic and other unforeseen events are exactly what those funds are ‘supposed’ to be for. Answer: they serve themselves.

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