|L. Brooks Patterson was first elected Oakland County executive in 1992. Prior to that he served as the Oakland County prosecutor for 16 years.|
L. Brooks Patterson and E. Wadsworth Sherrod III are competing in the Tuesday, Aug. 7 Republican primary election for Oakland County executive. The winner will move on to the Nov. 6 general election and face the Democratic candidate. The county executive serves four-year terms and is currently paid $173,500 annually.
The following are questions we posed to Patterson, and his responses to those questions.
BUDGET: The county board approved a proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year in 2011 as part of the three-year budgeting process calling for $784 million in spending, down from $796 million in the current fiscal year. Now county commissioners are starting the legwork on finalizing the FY 2012-13 spending plan. What are your top spending priorities? Where do you feel the county can scale back its budget? And what new or resurrected programs would you like the county to fund?
PATTERSON: (My) 2013 Recommended Budget continues to place public safety as the top spending priority. The administration of justice (Circuit, Probate and District courts) and law enforcement (Sheriff and Prosecutor) account for 55 percent of general fund spending. The next largest component is directed to health and human services, with the Health and Human Services Department and Public Services Department accounting for the next 19.18 percent of general fund spending. Considered together, over 74 percent of general fund spending is directed to services dedicated to protecting residents’ health, safety and welfare.
Oakland County has been in continued reduction mode for more than a decade. Because of its multi-year budgeting and five-year economic forecasting, (my) administration anticipated the need for budget reductions and took actions, often years before others admitted the need to do so. Each year the county-wide elected officials have shown leadership over their own operations when asked and reviewed their operations and made cuts and restructurings where possible. Primary reductions have taken place in the areas of employee position count, salary levels, employee benefits, and retirement costs. The 2013 budget continues this approach, with employees having base salaries frozen and increases in health care service co-pays and prescription co-pays being advanced. The benefits changes alone will save another $850,000 for taxpayers.
In the five-year period from 2007-2012, property values in Oakland County fell by more than 34 percent. Currently, property tax revenue represents 46.5 percent of the total amended FY 2012 GF/GP (General Fund/General Purpose) budget; in comparison, 60 percent of total GF/GP revenues in 2008 came from property taxes. The effect of the declining real estate market has been a total reduction of over 26 percent in the county-wide taxable value since 2007. Against this backdrop the administration is not recommending “establishing new or resurrected” programs. However, it is noteworthy that (I have) maintained a significant level of customer service for residents through innovation. The county’s elected officials already implement nationally recognized programs of excellence. The recommended budget supports their continuing efforts to reorganize and streamline their operations within existing resources.
ECONOMY: The county has not been immune to the effects of the economic cataclysm that rocked the state, national and international economies to their cores. However, some encouraging data is emerging suggesting that the economy is, however slowly, on the rebound. What, as county executive, would you do to ensure that Oakland County’s economy remains on solid footing as we proceed into the 21st Century? What do you see as the county executive’s role in helping to create jobs for Oakland County residents?
PATTERSON: (My) vision is to diversify jobs in Oakland County from a manufacturing-based to knowledge-based. (My) Automation Alley, Emerging Sectors, Medical Main Street, SBA Loan Program, Main Street Oakland County, and Business Retention Service initiatives are geared toward the goal of making Oakland County “recession resistant.” Since each program’s inception, more than $4.4 billion in private funds has been invested creating 66,000 jobs and retaining 18,000. (University of Michigan) economists Fulton and Grimes forecast Oakland County will create 34,000 jobs in the next three years — moving the county toward “full employment.” To attract job providers, (I have) programs to ensure a well-educate and highly-skilled work force, a fiscally stable government with the lowest effective operating millage in Michigan, and a quality of life that is second to none.
POLITICAL RELATIONS: A contentious redistricting process last year has strained some relationships between Republicans and Democrats on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. Explain how you will work with not only members of your own party on the county board, but also members of the opposition, to get things done for the good of the county in a bipartisan manner.
PATTERSON: This administration has always worked to promote good government. We adopt best practices that have either been created here or that have been copied from others who blazed the trail. One issue dispute in a two-party system does not indicate an on-going contentious atmosphere. The existing, long-term, proven bipartisan atmosphere at the operational level of county government is best illustrated by the degree of mutual support and cooperation exhibited by the six county-wide elected officials (two Democrats and four Republicans), the courts, and the Board of Commissioners in developing, implementing and executing successive and successful, balanced three-year budgets. This almost unique to Oakland County teamwork proves in a way words cannot that the county already works together in a bipartisan fashion to deliver good government.
REGIONAL COOPERATION: There are often calls for more efforts toward regional cooperation in the metro Detroit area, including on mass transit efforts. Explain why you do or don’t think additional cooperative efforts between Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties, and the City of Detroit, are needed in order to move the region forward.
PATTERSON: (I have) one regional rule: If an initiative is good for Oakland and good for the region, we support it; if it is neutral to Oakland and good for the region, we support it; if it is bad for Oakland, we oppose it. No county has provided more support for regional initiatives:
• This administration formed the Transportation Authority to provide funding for SMART. Oakland has provided more financial support for SMART than any other.
• At the administration’s urging, voters approved the Detroit Zoo tax; none has provided more financial support.
• We supported giving voters the chance to say “yes” to the DIA.
• We supported Cobo Hall expansion, but only after corruption was crushed and fair governance procedures were established.
• Oakland County developed, financed, and regionalized the CLEMIS public safety consortium.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the county, and how do you propose to address them?
PATTERSON: The three most important issues are jobs, jobs and more jobs. Our position is simply stated: Everything starts with a job. Residents with jobs can provide for their families. They can secure a place to live, support their schools, neighborhoods, local businesses, churches and community. They pay the taxes that support government and all of its functions: Roads, sewers, courts, police, fire, public health, etc.
(My) job creation and retention initiatives such as Automation Alley, Emerging Sectors, and Medical Main Street are diversifying the jobs base to the point that Oakland County no longer is solely dependent on the performance of the auto industry. (I) expect to achieve “full employment” for Oakland County in the next 18 months.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
PATTERSON: Proven performance: Under (my) leadership, Oakland County has maintained its status as a fiscally stable AAA county and built up budget equity of $201 million throughout the “Great Recession.” (My) job diversification initiatives have seen more than $4.4 billion invested creating 66,000 jobs and retaining 18,000. County job growth the next three years is conservatively forecast at 34,000. Oakland County is consistently ranked among the most digitally-advanced counties in the nation. And, the county has a quality of life that is second to none thanks to (my) initiatives that support active and healthy lifestyles. County government also is transparent so residents may remain informed and make good decisions about their leaders.