The new roster of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners has been seated and standing committee assignments have been made for the new two-year term.
Commissioner Jim Runestad (R-Waterford, White Lake) will be serving on the Finance Committee and the Planning and Building Committee, and will chair the Public Services Committee.
Commissioner Christine Long (R-Commerce, Milford, Wolverine Lake) will chair the General Government Committee and serve on the board’s Finance Committee.
Commissioner John Scott (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield) will attend Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) meetings, serve on panels that will oversee job evaluations and the sanitary code, and the county’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Perhaps most importantly, he will be the chairman of the Human Resources Committee and serve on the General Government Committee.
In a time of shrinking revenue, a labor- and personnel-intensive service organization like a county government is going to see some rough times, according to Scott.
“I want to keep the budget balanced without raising taxes, cutting services or laying people off,” he said. “It will be a challenge.”
He said the county’s tax revenues will continue to drop and it could be years before they rise to pre-financial crisis levels. This is because of the way tax collection is structured in the state. The taxable value of property continues to drop, driving down the amount of tax revenue county properties generate for the day-to-day operations of the county government — but even if taxable values climb back rapidly, the amount of tax money generated won’t rise more than 5 percent a year, and almost certainly by less.
However, the county is well-placed to weather the storm.
“We’ve reduced personnel through attrition, the employees have taken pay cuts and we’ve gotten rid of county cars for elected officials,” Scott said. “We’re going to watch the spending and keep cutting back.”
Commissioner Marcia Gershenson (D-West Bloomfield) will be the minority vice-chair of the county board’s General Government Committee — a position she held last term — and will serve on the Public Services Committee. She said her main tasks will be to help balance the budget and try to bring jobs to Oakland.
“We have lending programs for small businesses,” she said. “The banks haven’t eased lending so we will have to expand our microlending programs to help out.”
Government doesn’t really create jobs, she said, but it can change the environment in ways that help existing companies create new jobs and attract new companies to the county. She said she would press the county to do more local purchasing where possible to help those companies that have been in Oakland County for a long time.
Commissioner Shelly Taub (R-Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) will be the vice-chair of the Finance Committee and sit on the Public Services Committee, as well as serve as the Republican Party Caucus chairwoman. Again, the budget is the big concern, according to Taub.
“Oakland County is the only governmental unit in the United States to have a three-year rolling budget,” she said. “We’re balanced through 2013 but 2014 is going to be tough.”
She said she doesn’t expect the state to return revenue sharing funds to the counties and Oakland has to be ready for that. She said that lack of funding from the state is going to present a giant hole in the budget in coming years.
On another tack, she said county residents can look forward to a new push to regionalize the Detroit water and sewer systems that serve much of the metropolitan area.
Commissioner Tom Middleton (R-Waterford) is going to serve again as chairman of the county board’s Finance Committee and will serve on the Human Resources Committee. He said the committee chairmanship comes with positions on committees dealing with drain and retirement issues, but finance is the most important one in his eyes.
“It’s the main job of the commission,” he said. “I enjoy doing the others but finance is the big one.”
And there are big problems coming. He said another 5 percent has to come out of next year’s budget and he, like others serving on the commission, said he doesn’t think that state revenue sharing is going to come back in 2015 and the hunt will be on to replace $25 million the county will miss as a result.
“Home values are not coming back yet. (Property) assessments are still dropping,” Middleton said. “The county is going to have to live within its means.”
Commissioner Philip Weipert (R-Walled Lake, Wixom) was assigned to the Public Services, Planning and Building, and Human Resources committees.
Commissioner Robert Hoffman (R-Highland) was named to the General Government Committee.