One Down.

[Updated] On Friday, former Shiawassee County Administrator, T. J. Clark checked into the Lapeer County Jail where he will serve 30 days for “using public money for personal use, contrary to state law.”

The question is, will those who were in charge of his spending be held accountable?  Has the county made changes to how they regulate the spending of “Special Revenue” funds to prevent appointed officials from writing blank checks for whatever they’d like?  Has the County made any efforts to spending from these funds more transparent?  I think you’ll find that the answer to all of these questions is “no”.

There are funds missing from this years budget that we voted to approve last year.  The county is looking to more than double what we are paying for E911 charges on our cell phone bills, and yet all accounting of what these funds are being used for are hidden from residents.  Look at page 18 (special revenue funds) of the 2016 adopted budget budget (page 21 of the pdf), then ask your commissioner these questions:

  • Who approves how this money is spent?
  • Are the same people who write the checks, also approving the spending?
  • Who audits this spending?
  • How can I see how my money is being spent?
  • Are you taking taking back the county’s current contribution to these services and using it for something else?
  • Who makes sure that my money is being spent wisely?
  • What is the treasurers role in ensuring that our tax dollars are spent wisely?  (Hint: He doesn’t have one.)

I don’t think you’re going to like the answers.  When I asked last year, I didn’t like the answers.

I believe that T. J. is just the tip of the iceburg, and hope that our county makes changes to these special revenue funds to encourage transparency and checks and balances.  Unfortunately doing this would open them up to a lot of well deserved scrutiny.  As taxpayers we should know what every cent of our money is being spent on regardless of which fund it comes from.

I’ve contacted Hartmann Aue asking him for more visibility/transparency into these funds as well as for information on the “missing millage” and will update this post when I hear back.

What the Owosso Bond Issue Means for Our Commission

A school district within a highly supportive community.  A private foundation offering to throw in a Million dollars if it passes.

It sounded like a no brainer, but it was rejected by a landslide.  So why bring this up on this site?  Simple-the Owosso bond is a clear sign to our commission that there is no support in the community for higher taxes.

The commission is now faced with a choice, either:

  • Try for a tax increase that is destined to fail…or
  • Get real.  

Our commission needs to open the budget, make responsible cuts, take money from the DTRF, and get some cops on the road.  We are paying way more than we need to for courts and public safety yet we’re getting no road patrol!!!  Why don’t our tax dollars buy us the same basic government services that other counties enjoy?

In the Argus Press, and Durand Independent I‘ve asked the commissioners to re-open the budget and find money now.  The meeting is next Thursday…let’s see if they will….

Quick Update on Organizational Meeting

On January 7th the Board of Commissioners met to select a new chairman and select committee chairs.  Some GREAT things came out of the meeting.  The board chair is Hartmann Aue, and the finance chair is Jeremy Root.  In other words, the two most important positions on the board are now controlled by newly elected commissioners!

Let’s hope that the goal of these two is to crack open the budget and make a serious effort to at least partially restore our public safety.  There are plenty of smart people in this county who will be willing to help you in this task!  There will also be \people within the county who will try to deceive you on certain things: we will help you cut through their web of deception and get down to the facts!

I’ll be reaching out to both Mr. Aue and Mr. Root over the next few days to get their vision for our county.  I would encourage all of you to do the same.  Click here for commissioner contact info.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words [Updated 12/15]

action-louder-than-words

[12/15-Updated to reflect that the county is track to make a $413,000 profit this year.  No cops-just cash!]

Today I’m here to ask you to stop listening and start looking.  We’ve heard a lot of talk from our county commissioners lately, but at the end of the day Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

So what have we seen over the past year?

  • We’ve seen an exaggerated millage-2.5 million dollars to cover a 1.5 million dollar need.  A commissioner tells me that the reason for this was “so that other departments wouldn’t have to make cuts”.
  • We’ve seen commissioners vote to keep their pensions.
  • We’ve seen commissioners NOT release budget information to local officials, myself, and EVEN EACH OTHER.  Commissioner Schneider filed a FOIA request to see how veterans funds are being spent because he can’t get straight answers out of the commission.  They tried to publicly shame him for this at the last meeting.
  • We’ve seen commissioner Plowman refuse to answer the very simple question “What is the amount of our deficit?”
  • We’ve seen our commission decide to most likely make a $413,000 profit this year, instead of putting a few more cops on the road.
  • We’ve seen members of the public and community belittled by the commission for asking questions.
  • We’ve seen two commissioners (Holzhausen and Schneider) take a vote of NO CONFIDENCE against FINANCE  and administration chair Plowman and commission chair Bartz.  
  • We’ve seen serious discrepancies in numbers reported to the state versus numbers represented in the public.

Actions speak louder than words.  My requests for detailed budget info to be posted on the county website still have not been fulfilled.  

This is why we need to petition the state for a Preliminary Financial Review-If they won’t give us transparency then we will take it.  When we are done a comprehensive, unbiased report will be posted on the State Treasury Website for the world to see.  Once we identify the truth, we can remove those who have been untruthful.

Make your actions speak louder than words.  Help Us By:

  • Spreading the word!  Let your friends and neighbors know that the commission eliminated your road patrol due to a “deficit”.  The only problem is they either don’t know, or refuse to answer, how big that deficit is?  The safety of our children has become a political game.
  • Get a copy of our petition and start collecting signatures!

Now, let me answer a few questions that people are asking:

1. “Couldn’t this result in us getting an EFM, and all sorts of bad things happening to county employees”?  The short answer is No.  You do realize that as of right now our county is on track to MAKE around $413,000 this year.  We don’t have a deficit.  In fact, we may have a lot more money in our fund balances than the commission is letting on to.

2. “Then why are you you using the EFM law to do this?”  I’m using it for something that nobody has every used it for- To fix the transparency issue in Shiawassee County.  The state will come in and perform a complete audit, find all the money, and post their findings on the treasury website.  When it’s revealed that our County is doing just fine, those who spread “doom and gloom” will be held responsible for their actions.  When we’re done, we won’t have to recall them, they’ll resign.

The Budget Hearing [Updated]

I managed to get both ABC12, and WEYI25 to the budget hearing-click on the links to see their stories.  Here were the highlights-the meeting started with open discussion of the budget:

  • The commissioners took a beating for not cutting their pensions and healthcare during this trying financial time.  They made no comment.
  • When asked about their failure to be transparent throughout this process, they stated that they were extremely transparent, and that they would be happy to share any of this data.  I pointed out that I had requested our budget data around 10 days ago and copied the entire commission on the message and have yet to receive a response.  They had no response.
  • During discussion they stated that it was irresponsible to take money from the fund balance.  On this point, I am somewhat willing to agree.
  • The claimed that too much bad data is going around and that we should all attend the meetings so we know “the truth”.  I stated that their meetings are during the work day so that doesn’t work well for most of us.  I was basically told that they are too busy attending other local meetings at night.
  • During discussion they were extremely concerned with taking too much out the the Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund because the balance must stay positive at all times.  I corrected them and told them that many other counties do not have positive balances at all times in these accounts and are doing just fine.  I also pointed out that this fund averages $765,000 per year in profit and has a present balance of about $8 million dollars.  They had no response.
  • I asked them about this:

4Million

-vs-

GF Balance

Notice the total fund balance in Shiawassee county Citizens Guide, a report that is sent to the state by our County each year-It’s 4.8 million dollars.  The second is one that the county uses for budgeting purposes-it’s 1.4 million dollars.  So where exactly did that 3.4 million dollars go?  Are there multiple fund balance accounts that we don’t know about?  The commissioners answer-no. 

Overall it appears that Schneider and Holzhausen may be on our side.  Call these guys and tell them to keep fighting for us.  This from an earlier argus-press article:

One county commissioner’s request for a vote of no confidence against Chairman Jeff Bartz and Finance and Administration Committee Chairman John Plowman was turned down with little discussion during Wednesday’s committee of the whole meeting.

“This is something that has been brought to my attention many times by people in the public, and they’re not happy with the board of commissioners,” Commissioner Les Schneider said Wednesday. “I move that because of a recent offense within the board of commissioners, I ask for a vote of no confidence for the board of commissioners and finance chairs. The reasons are their direct involvement with the situations involving the county administrator and the county budgets.”

The motion was supported by Commissioner Gary Holzhausen, but received no discussion from others.

Holzhausen and Schneider were the only two votes in favor of the motion.​

Most importantly, I announced the Preliminary Financial Review petition in front of the commission.  They had no response.  I’m going to make some very small changes to the wording on the petition.  If you’re interested in circulating it, click here.
UPDATE: After I left the meeting apparently a FOIA request was read aloud in front of the public and the commission.  This is not normal procedure as FOIA requests are normally between the county and the person who requested the date.  This request was different though-It was submitted by commissioner Les Schneider who was trying to get detailed budget information on how the veterans budget was being spent.  Members of our own commission can’t even get budget information.  We need to stop this insanity!

A Small Victory!!!

kid-superhero

Great News-the pressure is working!

[UPDATE-Never mind-they changed their minds]

My friends at the argus press reported that:

During a budget work session Monday, the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners moved money among line items within its 2015 budget proposal in an attempt to reduce the impact of cuts that have been projected to the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office.

The county’s initial $15.1 million draft budget presented last month slashed the sheriff’s office budget by $1.5 million, but commissioners Monday decided to take more money out of their already depleted fund balance and delinquent tax fund, and use potential savings in other areas that could free up as much as $780,000 to go back into the sheriff’s budget.

“This is called moving the chairs on the Titanic,” Commissioner John Plowman said, cautioning that the moves are only temporary fixes. “We’re moving them from one side to the other, but the Titanic still sinks. Eventually, 2016 will be even tougher.”

My question would be how come most of the chairs are still being moved from public safety?   I’m looking forward to seeing the what the proposed budget actually looks like if the commission shares it at the Thursday meeting.

The changes proposed Monday will increase expenditures to $15.6 million for 2015. The increase comes from taking an additional $300,000 from the county’s delinquent tax revolving fund (the original draft budget was already using $451,000 from the fund) and $200,000 from the county’s fund balance.

Here’s History of the Fund Balance.  It is our County’s savings account.  When it’s empty bad things happen.

Treasurer Tom Dwyer, who has routinely cautioned commissioners against taking too much money from the delinquent tax revolving fund, said Monday that he could “live with” them taking $751,000 from the fund in 2015, but said that much will not be available in future years.

Here’s the History of the Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund looks like.  Check it out for yourself.  It averages $765,000/year in profit.

“Everybody thinks that there is $8.5 million sitting in the delinquent tax fund,” Dwyer said. “As of Dec. 31, 2013, that was what was available in the delinquent tax fund. But what you need to keep in mind, in May we pay out the delinquent tax funds to all the different units. … All those taxes that are turned over delinquent to us are paid out to those local entities. The last two years it’s been about $4,166,000 each year. That comes out of that money.”

The other $4.3 million, he said, is needed for cash flow purposes while the county waits for taxes to come in.

A source who is familiar with the county government tells me that what Mr. Dwyer is trying to say here is that we must keep around 4.3 million dollars in the fund so that we don’t have to borrow money to cover the time period between when accounts go to collections and when we collect the money.

“Usually in June and July the county’s general fund balance is in a negative figure. Sometimes it’s up in the $3.5 to $4 million range. Those funds that are in that delinquent tax fund are available so we have a positive figure in our pool of cash. If those funds are not available, you’ve got problems,” Dwyer warned.

Plowman also said the county budgeted for an increase in employee health insurance costs from Blue Cross Blue Shield, but he was surprised to learn recently that costs are actually expected to decrease slightly, resulting in $130,000 in savings.

Commissioners hope to save an additional $100,000 next year after making the first step in increasing employee pension contributions. Another $50,000 was realized from “miscellaneous other savings.”

Even with the changes, the sheriff’s office will still see $720,000 in cuts from its $6.4 million 2014 budget.

Just to be clear, this is still a huge cut directed targeting public safety.  We just went from a 23% cut down to a 12.5% cut.  But this is while other departments receive not more than 5% cuts.  Unless your counting “Recs and culture” that didn’t receive a true “cut”, they just didn’t budget to do a big project this year.  So again, why the targeted attacks against public safety? 

“I don’t wish to stand here in front of you and look a gift horse in the mouth, but I don’t want anyone to walk out of here this evening after this discussion with false impressions of what $780,000 is going to do for the sheriff’s office budget,” Undersheriff Doug Powell told commissioners during the county’s Finance and Administration Committee meeting later in the day.

“Will it restore some jobs? Yes it will. But I don’t want anyone to walk out of here tonight thinking this is going to restore the current road patrol as it currently exists today because it will not — $1.5 million would do that. … $780,000 back into our budget is less than adequate and below serviceable levels for what this county deserves and needs.”

I really need to know how many jobs that this will be.  My estimate would be 7-8 by the time your factor in equipment costs, but I’m not sure.

Commissioner Bob McLaren voted against advancing the new budget during Monday’s meeting, stating that he was vehemently against taking money from the county’s fund balance, which is projected to be down to about $945,000 — or about 6 percent of the county’s expenditures — at the end of this year. Taking another $200,000 would bring it down to about 4 percent, he said. Financial officials recommend a fund balance of 15 to 20 percent of a municipality’s expenditures.

The Governor says “If you haven’t felt it yet you will”.  If he’s right, our property values/tax revenues should start climbing any day now.  And for the record, I’m vehemently against paying for the pensions of part elected officials.  According to a recent Argus Press article, so are a vast majority of Shiawassee County Residents.

“If we don’t meet a bill, how long does it take Gov. (Rick) Snyder to assign someone to handle our job because we failed to make a payment,” McLaren said. “We are running awful close. It’s time we quit.”

Great question Mr. McLaren, but if you don’t adequately fund public safety we’re going to take care of that for you anyway.

The county’s 2014 budget was balanced at $16.8 million, but officials pulled $1.2 million from the delinquent tax fund and another $250,000 from the fund balance, which commissioners previously said was not available for 2015. Plowman said that combined with new rules that require the county to make an additional $500,000 payment toward pension liabilities and other increases in overhead, the had a $2.163 million deficit to make up in 2015.

Please prove it.  Release the 2014 Amended budget to the public as requested by me and many others.

A public hearing is set for 4 p.m. Thursday, after which the board will vote on the budget.

Ladies and Gentlemen-get the word out-fill the Surbeck building on 12/11 @ 4PM!

Meanwhile, celebrate small victories because the pressure we’re putting on the commission will brighten the holidays for 7-8 individuals who put their lives on the line to keep us save everyday.

SmallVictories

Still Waiting for Transparency

ShiTransparency

As you may know, Jiquanda Johnson from Mlive Media group recently interviewed Commissioner Nordbeck as part of her story on the road patrol cuts in Shiawassee County.  I sent her a thank you email for running the interview and asked her one last question: “Did the anyone that you spoke to address any of the concerns with transparency?”

She responded:

The commissioner I spoke with said that if someone requested the budget they could get a copy.

Really?  That’s odd because my sources indicated that they have requested this information on multiple occasions and have gotten nothing!   That being said, since commissioner Nordbeck stated that, it seemed like an invite to me.  On 12/3 I sent the following email Commissioner Nordbeck and CC’d the entire County Commission, and the mlive reporter:

Subject: Request for Publication of Budget

Hi Commissioner Nordbeck,

Thank you for taking the time to speak with Jiquanda Johnson from Mlive about our budget crisis.  As you are probably aware, the people of the county have some concerns about transparency of the current budgeting process.  In speaking with Jiquanda, you stated that all we need to do is request a copy of the budget and we will get it.  This email serves as a request to do exactly that.  I would like a copy of the:

-2014 Amended Budget

-The latest copy of the 2015 Proposed Budget Detail

It would be wonderful if this could be posted on the county website so that everyone in the community could easily view it.  Otherwise, I would be happy to post it on the saveourpolice.wordpress.com site.  (PDF preferred).

Please CC Jiquanda on correspondence regarding this request.

Thank you for any help that you can provide, and for any efforts that you are making to save our road patrol,

John

saveourpolice@yahoo.com

P.S.  I would be happy to update the site with any progress that the commission has made in saving our road patrol.  Please feel free to share any updates that you have.  

Now, you would think that:

  • Given all the claims that the county is hiding something, and how heated this issue is becoming in the community, commissioner Nordbeck would at least respond back saying “they’re working on it”
  • Given my P.S. line above, some random commissioner would respond back saying they are fighting to save our road patrol, and that public safety is important to them.
  • Given that I copied Jiquanda Johnson, the mlive reporter, on this the commissioners would know that “the media is watching” and respond back to my request.

But Guess What?  No Response!  Nothing!  An email sent to all commissioners on 12/3, and still nothing!

I’m very disappointed in them.  We deserve better.

In speaking with a deputy the other night, there is some interest in recalling the commission.  This isn’t a step that I want to take, but given the lack of transparency that I’m seeing, perhaps we should consider it.  At least then we wouldn’t be paying for pensions and benefits for folks that don’t work for us.

Detailed Budget Leaked!!!

Whatcha' Gonna' Do When They Come For You..

I received a wonderful gift in my email last night.  A Draft Copy of the Detailed Budget.  Don’t get too excited-This appears to be been last revised in November of 2014.  Judging by how the “work packet” is arranged, it appears that this was the meeting where the commission told the Sheriff that he was losing 23% of his budget.

Click Here to Download the Draft Copy of the Detailed Budget

The person who was kind enough to send me this info believes in Transparency.  Here’s a great mlive article on what that means: A Michigan township sets the standard for government transparency.  If you’re a member of the County Commission, you could learn a lot from this article!

In case you’re keeping track of the Lack of Transparency in our Shiawassee County Government, here’s what they still owe you:

  • The most recent copy of the Detailed Budget.  I’m hoping that my actions compel them to post the latest copy of this on their website immediately.  One paragraph from now things are going to get really compelling….
  • The amended copy of the 2014 budget.  How can you amend the budget without sharing it with the public?  Does anyone know if that’s even legal?
  • An explanation of why these cuts are truly necessary.  The commissioners should be out in the community explaining why these cuts are necessary, right?  Silence isn’t working very well for Bill Cosby, and it’s not going to work for the commission either.

Let’s hit some of the highlights of the detailed budget:

  • They ADDED EMPLOYEES to several departments.  That’s great news-unless somebody is robbing your house, because your safety is not as important as their pet projects.
  • They Decreased the amount that they take out of their fund balance (savings) by $270,000...There goes 1/4 million dollars!!!
  • The Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund is another money maker for the county.  Last year it made $1,223,631.  From this, the commission transferred $1,200,000 to help fund the county.  This year they decreased the amount that they take from that fund by $748,470.  There goes 3/4 million more!  This Fund currently has $8.5 million dollars and has averaged $765,000 per year over the last 10 years.
  • Knowing that without a road patrol, the court house would be much less busy; they slashed Attorney Fees, Court Fees, and Processes serving by a total of $309,000.  There goes more than 1/4 million.
  • They decided to create a “capital projects fund for infrastructure” in the amount of $504,926.  There goes a 1/2 million more.  Worse yet, check out page 28 to see what projects are More Important than the safety of your family.  Here are few examples:
    • A 1.3 million dollar air conditioner for the courthouse!
    • A $119,000 generator for the courthouse!
    • New Carpet, New Lighting, and $450,000 in roof and sheet metal repairs on the courthouse.
    • Refurbished elevators, generators, and much, more!
    • You’ll notice that some of these were listed as “low priority items” yet they seem to have been funded anyway.
  • If you’ve been keeping track we’ve made it to a 1.8 Million Dollar “Deficit” just in those few items.  In my mind this budget has clearly been manipulated to create a deficit!

“It’s a HUGE deficit. Huge!!”

Now is the time to act!  Call your county commissioner!  Demand transparency into the budgeting process!  Tell them that Public Safety, not Air Conditioning, should be their priority.  Tell everyone you know what is going on in Shiawassee County!  Send this website to your friends.  Hang flyers in public places.  Volunteer to circulate the EFM Petition if the commission continues down this path of destruction!

Together we can make the County Commission fix this!

Something About The Budget Smells Funny

quote-don-t-cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face-proverbs-309392

As pointed out by Owosso Mayor Ben Fredrick, the proposed budget doesn’t quite smell right.  Check out this graph that shows how much our county spent each year, and how much of that spending was “deficit” spending.

Interesting

A few things to point out:

  • In 2010 we actually made about $200,000 which we deposited in our fund balance.  We’re going to spend it over the next few years.
  • From there on out our deficit held steady around $250,000/year until 2014.
  • In 2014 our county government blew their proposed budget by overspending on Health & Welfare and General Government to expand our deficit to $505,000, otherwise this number would have been right around $250,000 as well.

So here’s my question, based on the chart above Shiawassee County has a deficit of:

a. $250,000-$500,000   -or-   b. $2.163 million dollars

If you choose “b”, there might be a seat waiting for you on our county commission.  Now, a followup question.  Based on your first answer we should cut public safety by:

a. No more than $250,000.  -or-  b. $1.5 million dollars.

If you picked “b” you really should consider running for office.  You’re obviously smarter than the rest of us.

Time for the bonus question!   Based on the graph above and the proposed budget why is the county having to cut spending so much?

a.  Because the County Sheriffs Department Generates a Substantial amount of revenue for the county.  -or-

b.  Because it’s just the right thing to do.

If you answered “a”, you’re right again!  Notice a few huge decreases in the proposed budget:

  • 4% less state Revenue and Grants-I’m sure this probably includes the SRP grant I mentioned yesterday.
  • 11% less in Fines and Forfeitures.
  • 17% less in Charges for Services citing a reduction in court charges.  Makes sense-they’ll be a lot less people going to court.

The County Commissioners are so intent on punishing the voters of this county that they would “cut off their nose, to spite their face.”

I should note that all these numbers are available from the county website, so feel free to do this same exercise yourself.

Meanwhile, help out the cause by sharing this site with your friends.  Together we can fix this!

Also feel free to contact me at anytime if you’d like to share something privately.   I can be reached at:

Email Me Anytime

Email Me Anytime

The Sheriff Called Me Back

Today I spoke with Sheriff Braidwood-he apologized for the lack of call back.  He seemed pretty disheartened by the budget situation and said the the public would have to “feel the pain” before we would find funding.

The Sheriff claims that the county “is broke” and that “there’s no money to be found”.  This obviously differs from Owosso mayor Ben Fredrick’s assessment of the budget situation.

He also told me that he felt that the millage was handled poorly, and that he didn’t see the petition language until the week before it was due.  This was also the theme when I asked him about the lack of detailed budget: he stated that he hasn’t even seen his budget yet.  It seems that with no county administrator, things aren’t getting done in a timely manner.  The county has become reactive instead of proactive.

When I asked him about MCL 51.76.  According to him other sheriffs have tried to sue the county for funding but there has always been a question in the courts as to what “adequate” means.  He was also concerned with the county having to deal with the legal costs involved in doing this.  In other words, Option 2 has been eliminated from our plan below.
He agreed that cutting our road patrol will roll out the welcome matt to criminals and predators.  When asked about how state police coverage would compare to our existing patrols he stated that the state police have really stepped their patrols to help, they couldn’t do this for long.  In other communities they have done the same thing, then slowly reduced patrols as other communities needed their help.
In a nutshell-I talked to a disheartened man who was stuck in a no win scenario.   I will update a few sections of this blog later tonight to included his comments.  I feel sorry for both the Sheriff and all of the public safety workers who will lose their jobs.  I just hope the Sheriff doesn’t stop fighting for us!
I told him that we are here to help, and to please let us know what we could do.