During the Thanksgiving holiday, I like to pause and appreciate the many blessings in life: my wife’s return to good health after serious illness, my children’s good health and happiness, a wonderful extended family and many friends.
I am also thankful for the position I currently hold. While I am elected by the residents of Clinton Township, I was also elected by my commissioner colleagues to serve as Board Chair. This expression of trust and confidence is humbling.
Commissioners represent every corner of Macomb County, and we are each very well connected within our districts. Commissioners also come from varied and diverse backgrounds; collectively we also represent public safety professionals, attorneys, business owners, the military, financial professionals, realtors, educators and political professionals. We are single, married, parents, grandparents and our ages range from 30 to 80 years old.
Our duties as commissioners are to represent our constituents’ concerns at the county level of government, to set the policy by which the county operates and to oversee the county’s finances and approve the budget. We trust the other county-wide Electeds and the departments which fall under them, to manage and administer in such a way that vital county services are carried out and are accessible to those who need them.
Board business is conducted in a public forum, and there is an opportunity at each for public participation. It is during these sessions that concerns are voiced, opinions are shared and comments are heard.
Recently, commissioners have heard an unprecedented number of concerns and complaints about the delay and lack of Clerk/Register of Deed’s Office services. We have been approached while we are out and about in our districts, and have heard from the public as well as employees during our meetings.
There has been such a tidal wave of concern, that we would be negligent in our duties if we did not take action. We voted to file a counter-complaint when the Clerk filed a lawsuit against us. We were later removed as a party in that suit, since a “board” is not considered to be an individual, but we continue to stand behind this effort. As actions pile up against the Clerk, court files are backing up, residents are still suffering with long waits for service, employees are forced to tolerate a heavy workload with inconsistent management and the Clerk seems to pick and choose which duties she will carry out.
Michigan law clearly states that a Board of Commissioners may require a report from a county elected official when there is concern about the county carrying out mandated duties and functioning in a proper manner. We are exercising our ability under this law. We have requested a report from the Clerk because we are deeply concerned; we want to hear directly from her about specific items so that questions may be cleared up.
Our top priority is to be a responsive and proactive advocate on behalf of our residents, the employees and most of the other elected officials in Macomb County who would like business to be conducted coherently and efficiently.
While the Board does not agree on every issue, and these differing opinions ensure that we provide a voice for all, we will stand together - with the support a majority of the countywide elected officials - to see to it that county government is functioning appropriately and properly.
I hope that you enjoy your Thanksgiving, however it is that you celebrate. I am thankful to reflect on my many blessings and for the opportunity to serve the public in Macomb County.
Social Safety Net
October 23, 2017: On Wednesday, October 18, 2017, I attended the Martha T. Berry Foundation’s “2nd Annual Foundation Dinner.” Proceeds from this event benefit projects and improvements at the Martha T. Berry (MTB) Medical Care Facility and provide quality of life essentials for residents who cannot financially provide for themselves.
The Board of Commissioners and MTB have a unique partnership. MTB was established by the Board in 1949, thanks to Dr. Henry G. Berry. The facility was named in honor of his late wife. Although County funds no longer subsidize operations, the commitment to the facility and its residents remains strong.
As a public facility, MTB helps ensure that a larger sum of federal dollars flows into the facility and these funds are utilized to care for our community’s most vulnerable. It fills a very important, and specific, niche within our county.
The partnership between the Board and MTB has been based on shared principles of dedication, respect and a fundamental interest in caring for others. The Board recognizes and commends the Human Services Board which oversees MTB, the MTB leadership and its employees for the concern and care they provide to those who may not otherwise receive it. After all, those that call Martha T. Berry “home” are not strangers, they are the frail and infirmed from our families and neighborhoods.
Speaking of being good neighbors, recently laundry workers at MTB found a roll of money totaling $2,150 in a sock that was mixed in with donated clothing. The workers reported their find to administration and the money was returned to the very grateful owner.
You can learn more about MTB by checking out Executive Director Kevin Evans’ updates to the Board on our YouTube channel.
It is no secret that our county is aging faster than it is growing. We have more individuals over 65 than we have school-age children. Many seniors are choosing to age in place to stay near their families instead of moving to Florida or the Southwest.
We need to preserve social safety net programs such as MTB to ensure our county’s residents always have a safe and secure place to live, regardless of their financial situation. The Board is committed to trying to work with our Office of Senior Services to recruit volunteers for Meals on Wheels, connect with residents who need chore services with providers, and ensure that seniors have access to flu shots. If you or a loved one are in need of any of these services, please call the Macomb Community Action Office of Senior Services at (586) 469-6999.
Oil Spill in Clinton Township
Aug. 15, 2017: This morning I joined Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller to inspect the cleanup work occurring at the Teske Drain in Clinton Township, West of Kelly and North of 15 Mile.
It is believed that a fire at an industrial facility in Fraser earlier this month may have led to oil getting into the drain system. The recent rains seem to have flushed more of it out. Thankfully, this residue was caught before it got to the Clinton River. Cleanup crews have been working diligently since last week to get this taken care of as quickly and effectively as possible, removing over 6,000 gallons of oily water. You can see in the photos where the boom prevents the oil from flowing down and the crews are pumping out the oil where it is blocked. They expect to keep the booms there for another few weeks just to be sure they’ve caught all of it.
The issue was noticed by a resident who saw the sheen on the water and could smell something improper. The resident called the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and they let our Public Works Department know.
This is a great example of residents and government agencies all working together to solve a problem. If you see anything you suspect to be a pollutant in our environment, please call our Macomb County Public Works Office on their 24-hour hotline, 1-877-679-4337. We all want to make sure we keep a clean, safe environment.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
On Tuesday, August 8th, County Commissioners from Michigan were invited to a special conference at the White House to meet with top officials from 14 different Federal agencies. I attended with Macomb Commissioners Jim Carabelli, Veronica Klinefelt, and Phil Kraft. The Federal government is inviting county commissioners from various states to get a sense of what problems are being felt hardest at the local levels.
We wanted to stress the importance of proper funding and maintenance of our roads and infrastructure, protection of our lakes, rivers and environment, and the economic and strategic importance of bringing the F-35 to Selfridge. We also discussed the opioid crisis and working to improve accessibility, affordability, and efficiency of health care.
We also learned about many things, both negative and positive, going on in Michigan. From infant mortality issues in West Michigan to NASA’s investments in local businesses to the $3.5mil in exports from Michigan farms, there is a lot of coordination required between federal, state, and local governments to ensure health, safety, and prosperity for residents.
After a day full of productive face-to-face discussions, we came away with new relationships and direct contact information for all of the departments. The White House followed up with each of us who attended to encourage continuing our dialogue. They were appreciative of our insight and plan to begin addressing our issues soon. We will be having bi-monthly conference calls, as they wish to stay aware of our priority issues. We look forward to continued conversations and improved coordination to benefit all of us!
15 Mile Sewer Collapse Update – New Pipe on Site
Yesterday morning, (July 6), I was with Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, Clinton Twp. Supervisor Bob Cannon, and Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols to announce the arrival of the new pipe that will be used to replace the collapsed pipe on 15 Mile Road and that will line an adjacent portion of the Interceptor to prevent any further collapse.
This new pipe will stretch nearly 4,000 ft. to repair and re-line the MIDD under 15 Mile Rd. Over 9 ft. tall and made in Texas, the pipe will begin to be installed in early August and we hope to have it operational by Labor Day weekend. This timeline is important so that 15 Mile can reopen to traffic from Utica Road to Hayes by the end of 2017. This is the reason crews will be working 24/7 to install the pipe.
I said it to the press on Thursday, but I can never say it enough: “Thank You” to all of the area residents for your patience and understanding. None of you asked for this, but you have complied with the water restrictions and tolerated inconveniences so that we can get this project done as quickly and efficiently as possible. This installation phase will be much quieter than the drilling, so hopefully no one will experience any issues with the around-the-clock work.
Metro Detroit Commuter Challenge
The South East Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) asked that individuals participate in the “Detroit Commuter Challenge” throughout the month of May. They’re encouraging residents to try alternative forms of transportation like carpooling, bicycling, or using mass transit because it alleviates traffic congestion and reduces our collective carbon footprint.
I’ve been trying to teach my kids the importance of both physical fitness and protecting the environment. That’s why we’ve been riding our bikes to school in the morning when the weather is nice! A group of kids from the school and parents often ride together to make it more fun.
This isn’t just something we should look into one month out of the year. Our team at the Board of Commissioners is thinking about better ways to commute. Be it walking to lunch or carpooling to the office in the morning, we can all take a few extra steps reduce our carbon footprint, save gas, and maybe get a little exercise in.
Earth Day: Protecting Our Environment
Tomorrow, April 22nd, is Earth Day. While I hope many of you plan to volunteer some time cleaning up your neighborhood, we need to keep in mind what we’re throwing away and how we dispose of things every single day.
This past Monday, the Board of Commissioners honored 125 schools in Macomb County for their sustainability practices and dedication to teaching students the importance of a “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mentality. It is wonderful to see so many young people with an interest in making our environment better.
Over the past few months, all of us have had a lesson in taking steps to reduce our water waste and use caution with how we dispose of certain items. From laundry to storm water to the Super Bowl Flush, the 15 Mile Sewer Collapse has, for the 11 communities in the MIDD and countless communities outside, taught us to be more mindful of our daily lives.
Please remember not to put wipes or anything else that doesn’t decompose down your toilets or sinks. Not only can it clog your own personal drains, but it puts stress and strain on public drains. If you’ve seen the news stories, then you know just how many problems the 15 Mile Sewer Collapse has been having. Screens get clogged and pumps get broken. Just imagine what that can do to our lakes and rivers over time.
As you enjoy this weekend, please remember: every wrapper thrown out of the car and every wipe flushed adds up. We have so many precious environmental resources in Macomb and Michigan, let’s put in the effort to keep them clean and enjoyable for decades down the road.
New MCC Office for Vets and Military Personnel
Commissioners Smith and Kraft in front of the new Veteran & Military Services Office at MCC
Commissioners Smith and Kraft with Dr. Jacobs at the kick off ceremony for the new MCC office
Commissioners Smith and Kraft speak with the County’s Chief Veteran Services Officer, Laura Rios
On Monday, March 20th, Commissioner Kraft and I attended the Grand Opening of the new Veterans and Military Services Office at Macomb Community College. This is a great resource for military personnel in the county.
Dr. Jim Jacobs, President of Macomb Community College, has worked hard to make the college a great learning environment for students and a helpful resource for the community. Speaking with him this week, it was obvious he was excited about this program. We spoke about how the office can function as a coordinating point of contact for individuals with the VA and all college processes. That includes utilizing scholarships and the GI Bill, signing up for classes, and putting together an education plan to get the individual to the end goal. MCC will also help connect vets to community resources to help with issues that are non-academic, and may be financial, personal, or medical. To learn more, you can visit the Macomb Community College website here: http://www.macomb.edu/future-students/apply-admissions/veteran-military-services/index.html
Many of our veterans don’t realize there are resources and talented people available to help them. Even though I’ve been a commissioner for more than six years, I learn about new programs and opportunities every time I speak with Laura Rios, the Chief Veteran Services Officer of the Macomb County Veteran Services Department, and I’m not the only one. Macomb County has a lot to offer to those who have served our country, from a food bank, MVAC, and access to health care and educational opportunities. Take a minute to visit Vets.MacombGov.Org to learn more and share with a veteran that you know.
Macomb County Gives Chances to Succeed
This morning I attended the 27th Annual Macomb Career Technical Education Awards honoring students from around the county who excelled in Career Tech programs. These programs range from Business Management to Renewable Energy to Automotive Technology and everything in between.
It is exciting to see so many students taking these opportunities to learn skilled trades. Many of them will be able to get good jobs right out of high school, enabling them to start their careers right away. Many others will likely go on to get a two- or four-year degree and this training provides them with valuable work experience as well as marketable skills.
Macomb County has a proud history of providing quality jobs on all levels. From a corporate boardroom to a car’s assembly line, we must make sure that all residents have opportunities for meaningful, well-paying work across the education spectrum. I look forward to working more with Career Tech and other local initiatives to continue providing great opportunities for our students to get good jobs here in Macomb and the Metro-Detroit region.
In addition to giving educational first chances, Macomb County is excited to give rehabilitational second chances. On Tuesday, Macomb County Police Departments kicked off their initiative Hope Not Handcuffs – a program designed to help those suffering from opiate or other addictions get help for free. The program is simple: just walk into any police station in Macomb County and say you need help and they will get a volunteer to you immediately. This volunteer will guide the person asking for help through the process of finding a treatment center. People can also seek help through the Online Assessment Form.
Too many families in Macomb, Michigan, and the nation have been affected by opiate addiction, especially in recent years. I am excited to see real initiatives that help get our residents back to being happy and healthy. Good government brings together bi-partisan, cross-department programs to impact and improve the lives of residents. Commissioners and I will continue working with other County departments, non-profits, and organizations to keep these programs moving and to find new, innovative, and effective ways to help our neighbors.
(Photos: Board Chair Bob Smith with Members of Clintondale Schools, Bob with Sen. Steve Bieda and Rep. Henry Yanez, Bob with Shannon Williams, MISD Career Tech Ed Regional Administrator)
WSU Cyber Security Lab Opens in Warren
Yesterday I was thrilled to attend the Grand Opening of the new Wayne State University Cyber Security Lab at the Advanced Technology Education Center (ATEC) in Warren. This building offers exciting opportunities for both students and local businesses.
Macomb Community College offers a partnership with WSU which helps move students into high-tech programs and careers and it's all just across the street from MCC South Campus. There, they have revolutionized instruction techniques to most efficiently teach students important skills; for example, what may seem like a game against a computer or other students is actually an exercise in learning system structure and finding potential security gaps.
Small businesses can tap into this advanced talent pool by having the ATEC students test the safety of their systems in a secure environment.
We live in an era in which technology is a routine part of an average person's everyday activity and new options to do more with it increase every day. With this type of technology growth also comes the need to protect information and data. A speaker at the event today stated there is a global shortage to fill about a million cyber security jobs. The auto and defense industries are two of the most in-need sectors and we all know Macomb County is a major hub for both.
We all have good reason to be excited about this program. It would be inspirational to see middle and high school kids getting excited about this and other tech-based future employment options. If you can get kids interested in math and science with an instructional tool that seems like a video game, it's a win.
I look forward to working with Wayne State, MCC, local school districts, and businesses to maximize this unique resource and help put our community on the forefront of cyber security technology and talent.
(Photo: Bob Smith is given a tour of ATEC by Michael Kelly, WSU Associate Director of Executive and Professional Development)
Updates on the 15 Mile Sewer Collapse/Sinkhole
As you know, the details regarding the sewer collapse in Fraser have been quickly changing over the past few weeks. The Board and I have been focused on the sinkhole and our next steps. Working with the Department of Emergency Management and the Department of Public Works, we are crafting solutions both in the short and long term.
We’re all talking about the pipe, but first and foremost we need to take care of the people.
Commissioner Miller spoke of looking to buy the houses and reimburse displaced families for any expenses incurred as a result of this collapse. The Road Commission has put up signs noting where roads to businesses are still open or where alternate access is available. Clinton Twp. has suspended some of their business sign rules to allow affected businesses to make patrons aware of all routes to access them. The County, Townships, and Cities are doing everything they can to alleviate the hardship caused by the sinkhole.
There is a possibility that 11 cities and townships may see rate increases as a result of the sewer collapse (WDIV story). This directly affects 10 of the 13 Commission districts. We are committed to keeping your rates affordable and finding alternate sources of revenue where possible to alleviate the burden on the residents. While we don’t control your rates, we are here to advocate on your behalf and make sure all costs associated with fixing the sinkhole and sewer line are accounted for in a transparent and efficient manner.
I was glad to see that a new bypass route for the drain has been proposed (Macomb Daily story). This will take time, patience, and cooperation between County government, local governments, businesses, and residents. By working together we can get this problem fixed as quickly as possible.
One of the issues that I am looking at, as we move forward, is the quality of our lakes and waterways in the future. With heavy rains and sewer usage, the drain system may need to be dumped into the Clinton River. Commissioner Miller mentioned that she had six locations prepared with disinfectant and cleaning materials should they have to discharge raw sewage into the river to prevent a backup into people’s homes.
I spent 25 years as a Clinton Township firefighter, 14 of which as a Fire Marshall. I know that these are tough decisions to make, but we need to assure the residents of the county that all necessary measures are being taken to keep our rivers, lakes, and streams clean. There are a lot of questions about the environmental repercussions that I’d like to talk more about with all the departments involved. I want to make sure that residents and visitors are able to fish, swim, and enjoy the natural beauty of Macomb County long into the future. Commissioner Miller expressed concern about the quality of more pipes in our system and we should all be thinking about safeguards to prevent future incidents.
One way we can all work together to help this problem is to conserve our water use and waste. If we can all reduce our own environmental impact by a little, it will make a huge impact on the temporary system and lower the chance that they will need to empty into the river. It’s the simple things like taking a shorter shower, not running a half-load of laundry, or turning the faucet off when you brush your teeth that will really help us all out. Besides, these are good habits to pick up to lower your own water bill. Many of our schools have already been working towards this. Check out our Green Schools Program to learn more.
As this situation develops, our Board will continue to work with each department to make sure that our residents are being taken care of, our infrastructure is safe, and our environment is preserved. Stay tuned to our blog and website, and the sites of our other county departments, for up-to-date information.
Board Chair Bob Smith
I’d like to thank my colleagues for placing their trust in me. I am honored and humbled by their show of confidence. I want them all to know that I will not let them down.
I would like to also thank and acknowledge my Board Chair predecessors: Kathy Vosburg (2011-12) and Dave Flynn (2013-2016).
I observed elements of strong leadership during both Kathy and Dave’s terms of service; such as:
- Standing up for the Board’s Charter-given powers and duties
- Insisting on transparency and checks and balances
- Practicing diplomacy
- Coalition building
- Bi-partisan collaboration
- Sound, pro-active policy-making
- Detailed budget review and accountability
- Communication and inclusion
These are all qualities that make for successful legislative leadership, and things that I intend to continue.
I’m a firm believer in setting goals. Goals are helpful in small things, like daily tasks and in larger things like school (especially law school), developing career paths, and in trying to be a good husband and father.
As Board Chair, I will to work collaboratively with the County Elected as well as county departments and agencies so that we – as a Board – help to meet the needs of Macomb County residents and employees. I also promise to keep everyone on this Board well-informed.
My goals are to:
- Increase services to those individuals who we owe an incredible debt to – our Veterans, by finding ways to increase appropriations to the Veterans Services Department,
- Continue to expand our performance-based budgeting and detailed oversight process by adding a Legislative Analyst position to the BOC staff in time for the next budget cycle,
- Learn to better address the needs of our county’s aging population by instituting the Commission on Aging in Macomb County, which will serve as an advisory council reporting to the Board of Commissioners, and
- Increase opportunities for more citizen involvement by providing more information about upcoming Boards and Commission vacancies and by holding events here at the BOC and in commission districts.
In closing, we will be a Board which is taken seriously as a co-equal partner in county government. We will continue to be active and proactive. We will vote on the items that come before us after serious deliberation, and we will proactively address those issues which are in our shared future with sound policy-making.
Again, to my colleagues, thank you for your trust. I pledge to work with you and for you as your Board Chair.
“Thank You” to Social Services/Human Services Board Chair Roger Facione
I was proud to present Roger Facione with a proclamation this morning in honor and recognition of his 18 years of service on the county’s Social Services/Human Services Board. Roger’s undeniable passion and commitment to the care and well-being of others has made him one of the most notable - and noble - civil servants in our community.
Roger spent countless hours of his time working on behalf of the residents of the Martha T. Berry Medical Care Facility and for the families served by Department of Human Services. His incredible work ethic and passion for serving others have guaranteed a positive, lasting impact on the residents of Macomb County.
It was inspiring to hear Roger speak about his experiences over the years and to reflect on what it meant to him, personally, to do this work. He stated how meaningful it was to learn about the important work that the Department of Human Services does and the care that is needed for at-risk children and families. He talked about caring for our county's most frail, and the quality of life they can enjoy thanks to the Martha T. Berry Medical Care Facility.
The Board of Commissioners is dedicated to maintaining these important human services for Macomb County residents and families. We appreciate all of the important, hard work that has been done by Roger Facione and the others who also serve faithfully and selflessly.
I wish Roger the very best in his retirement. He's made a positive influence on me as well as the rest of Macomb County.
Construction continues in the Administration Building
Structural, technological, and security changes are nearing completion in the Macomb County Administration Building as the $65 million Central Campus Project is headed into the third quarter.
The project includes needed updates to outdated county infrastructure and buildings and is funded through a combination of insurance proceeds from the Old County Building fire, General Fund dollars and municipal bonds at a low interest rate of about three percent.
Construction on the ninth floor of the building – where the Board of Commissioners hosts its meetings, conferences, and where BOC staff offices are located – began in May. Throughout the months, new walls and doorways have been erected, heating and cooling systems have been upgraded and workers are preparing to rebuild an efficient, professional Board Room that reflects the reduction of Commissioners from 26 to 13 which took place in 2011.
The renovation project will reconfigure the Board’s meeting space in the County Administration Building (built in 1998) to better accommodate county business and the public, while also adding an additional public meeting room for use by the Pension Board, Community Mental Health, Veterans Affairs and other official bodies. Project plans also include converting an existing conference room into a training room, adding one additional office within underutilized space and creating more efficiency within an existing work area.
One of the many benefits of the new space will be the ability to realize full functionality of the “BoardSync” automated agenda management system, a project which had been collaborated on with the BOC, IT Department and the County Clerk/Register of Deeds Office. Attendance, motions, discussion and content will be tracked through the system and available via any type of computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. In addition, live video of proceedings as well as recordings which correlate to specific agenda item dialog will be available, and commissioners will have the capability to vote online at the meetings. The public will be able to follow along with the agenda, votes, discussion and more in real time.
The Board is looking forward to the new software and renovated space, as its implementation has been a goal of ours for a long period. It’ll help the Board increase efficiency and transparency for the public. In conjunction with the newly completed parking structure, the renovations on the ninth floor will allow ease of access to the Board meetings, increased workflow, and unification of county departments/agencies.
Use the Olympics as inspiration to get active locally
Teams and individuals from the United States are gearing up for the Summer Olympic Games, which began last week in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and continue through Aug. 21.
Though the original Olympics began in ancient times, the modern Olympics we know today began in 1896 in Athens, Greece. The games take place every two years in different cities across the globe, alternating between winter and summer sports, and host thousands of male and female athletes.
Through the decades, the Olympics have represented national pride, team building and world peace. Countless athletes are afforded the opportunity to be the best and be recognized for it. The excitement never stops as teams and individuals strive for the gold, silver, and bronze medals.
The Olympics allows those of us watching at home to learn more about the world as we get a glimpse into the lives of athletes and their cultures. No matter which sport you’re interested in most, rooting for Team USA has become a favorite pastime for many families.
Did you know Macomb County has athletes who have participated and won medals in the Olympics? Here are a few of them and their accomplishments:
In the 1980 Winter Olympics, Mark Wells of St. Clair Shores took home a gold medal for ice hockey.
Warren resident Doug Weight received a silver medal for ice hockey during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Rachel Komisarz of Warren won the gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics for the 4x200 meter Freestyle Relay Swim competition, and also took home a silver medal the same year for the 4x100 meter Freestyle Relay Swim competition.
Ice Dancing pair from Royal Oak, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, received a silver medal during the 2010 Winter Olympics and won the gold medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
As the Olympics take place this month, let the games and athletes inspire you to get out and be active in Macomb County. Enjoy a round of golf, get out onto a kayak or canoe at Stony Creek Metropark, ride your bike on the Macomb Orchard Trail, or swim a few laps at the Warren Community Center pool. Take advantage of our resources while enjoying the last days of summer with friends and family.
Remember to VOTE on August 2nd
Employees Primary Election Day - Tuesday, August 2 - is right around the corner and it's a very important day for citizens to make their priorities known and to have their voices heard.
A lot of attention has been focused on the presidential election, but there are many important races and issues that will be decided locally on the August 2nd ballot. The majority of seats that candidates are vying for are either heavily Republican or Democratic. This means that whoever wins in the primary election will most likely be an easy winner in November.
Two very important issues being considered on Tuesday are the countywide proposal for a Veterans Millage and the Macomb County Zoological Authority Millage. In addition to these, and to selecting candidates for circuit court judge and congress, state representatives and county officials, voters in several local municipalities and townships will make decisions on funding for senior transportation, library services, parks and recreation programs, public safety, ambulance and advanced life support services as well as road repairs and changes to municipal charters.
Because of the increased national election media coverage, some people express "election fatigue" and as a result, they disengage from the process. But we must remember that the ability to vote for our leaders, express how our tax dollars should be spent and on the policies that affect operations of our cities, states and country is a valuable right and an important responsibility.
Your vote - and your voice - counts; please make sure to get out and exercise your right on Tuesday, August 2nd. If you need more specific information about what's on the ballot, visit the Macomb County Clerk's Elections website.
New Parking Structure Opens on Main Street
Employees and visitors to the Macomb County downtown campus can now park in the recently-completed structure located next to the Administration Building. The structure provides ample parking for employees of the three county buildings on Main Street as well as for the public and visitors. A new entrance which flows into a Welcome Center has also been created.
The new 600-space parking structure is a part of the $65 million Central Campus Project, which the Board of Commissioners approved in 2015. This project includes needed updates to outdated county infrastructure and buildings and is funded through a combination of insurance proceeds from the Old County Building fire, General Fund dollars and municipal bonds.
The Board of Commissioners is happy to have been a collaborative partner on this project which will have a lasting positive impact for generations to come.
The old parking deck next to the Circuit Court building is scheduled to close the first week of August and will be prepared for demolition at a cost of $15.7 million. The cost of maintaining and repairing the old deck was a significantly higher expense – $10 million more – than building the newer, increased-capacity structure.
As the Central Campus Project construction still continues, it’s exciting to see one piece of the puzzle completed and ready for use. This structure will be a convenient, updated place to park in downtown Mt. Clemens, with easy access to all county buildings and downtown businesses. Entrances and exits for the public are located on South Main Street, while employees will go in and out on Terry Street.
Check out all Macomb County Has to Offer This Independence Day
Macomb County residents have plenty of ways to enjoy larger public fireworks displays before and during Independence Day weekend.
The communities of New Baltimore, Mt. Clemens, St. Clair Shores, Shelby Township, Utica, and Centerline all have fireworks and other events during the weekend of June 24th.
Harrison Township will feature a fireworks display on July 1st and July 4th, as will Sterling Heights on July 3rd.
Of course, residents and visitors also will have the chance to visit a variety of food vendors, live entertainment, carnival midways, activities for kids, and more during each community-wide celebration.
I wish everyone a safe and enjoyable July 4th holiday!
Memorial Day is a Time of Remembrance
Although Memorial Day Weekend typically brings up thoughts of vacations, cookouts, and the beginning of summer, we also need to take a moment to remember those men and women in the military who bravely gave their lives to protecting this country’s freedom. We owe each of those individuals respect and gratitude.
To the families and individuals traveling this weekend, please be safe and aware on the roadways. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination and be patient with other motorists. To those of you who are staying local this weekend, I hope you attend one of the county’s many Memorial Day ceremonies and parades to honor those who have passed in the line of duty.
As we enter the holiday season it is hard not to think of what 2016 will bring. But, before we jump ahead of ourselves it is imperative to be thankful for all that we have and all that we have accomplished over the last year. I am thankful that I get to serve the residents of Macomb County, day in and day out. My life in public service thus far, while challenging at times, has always proven to be rewarding. This year, the Board of Commissioners have been able to accomplish so much, all with the residents in mind. Mine and my colleague’s final wish of the year though is for all of you to have a safe and happy holiday season. Let the presence of your loved ones be presents enough before you begin to prepare for 2016.
2015 BOC Accomplishments
- 2015-16 Board begins new term
- Flynn re-elected Board Chair for second term
- Board shows support of Macomb/St. Clair MiWorks Program
- Presentation given at a BOC meeting to highlight success rate
- Support continued through year with budget allocations
- Board passes resolution to issue up to $45 million in municipal bond to move Central Campus Project forward
- Project is comprehensive and strategic in nature and is in the best interest of County’s long-term future
- Standard & Poor’s assign the County a AA+ rating and Moody’s Investor Services assign it an Aa1 rating; stable outlook also given
- Arts and culture placed atop the OneMacomb priority list
- Staff member sits on Macomb County Arts and Culture Committee
- Staff member sits on DIA Community Relations Committee
- Office working on receiving external funding for cultural program
- Staff member actively involved in immigrant and refugee events and discussions
- First #FactSnack Book Drive sponsored through the Board office announced in conjunction with National Reading Day
- More than 1,000 books donated to Macomb County schools
- County Organization Plan adopted by the Board
- Support provided for the County’s pursuit of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge Grant and for the planning process to establish a new Jail Management Strategy
- Board’s Green Schools Program recognizes more than 100 schools at 7th annual award ceremony
- Approved Accelerated Millage Collection for St. Clair Shores to expand government efficiency
- Board hosts multiple information sessions throughout the County on Proposal 1
- Request from Emergency Management and Communications Department budget amendment approved to provide funding for the Fire Consolidation Feasibility Study
- Authorized the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development to apply for a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Clean Michigan Initiative loan of $1 million
- Board concurs in the recommendation of Steve Smigiel as Finance Director
- Board Chair Flynn and Commissioner Brown attend the Mackinac Conference to further promote and learn about regionalism, transit and other public policy initiatives
- BOC begins digitizing records to improve transparency and access
- Board honors 60 plus volunteers at annual Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony
- Approved the 2015-2017 Freedom Hill County Park Use License
- Adopted County's 2015-2020 Hazard Mitigation Plan
- Approved refinancing of $20 million in Drainage District Bonds for the North Gratiot Interceptor Drain
- “No Smoking” signs pop-up around County buildings following Board’s strengthening of No Smoking ordinance in 2014
- Approved $3 Million Bond Issue for Waste Water Improvements (Roseville, St. Clair Shores, Eastpointe)
- Appointed new Equalization Director Kristen Sieloff
- Approved acceptance of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Clean Michigan Initiative loan of $1 million for Utica ballpark soil remediation
- Legislative priorities for 2016 adopted; aides in budget process
- Board begins to vet 2016 budget
- Bassmaster Elite Tournament takes place at Lake St. Clair
- Board adopts 2016 budget
- Priorities include: Community mental health programs; veterans services; senior services; regional collaboration; cyber security.
- Macomb BOC and Health Department launch Mural Project to inspire healthy living choices
- Martha T. Berry celebrates 65 years of service; Board Chair Flynn invited to speak at event
- New DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons introduced to Board
- Approved renewal of intergovernmental agreement with local municipalities for dispatch and sheriff services
- Resolution Supporting NACo Stepping Up Initiative to reduce number of inmates with mental illness
- Approved the creation of one additional Circuit Court Judgeship in 2017 and a second additional Circuit Court Judgeship in 2019,
- Approved the agreement between Macomb County and St. Clair County Family Court providing detention services for all eligible youth as ordered by a St. Clair County judge or referee
- Campaign finance report e-filing comes to Macomb County through efforts initiated by Chair Flynn, Commissioner Marino and the Clerk’s Office
- Vet radio tower project recommended by Sheriff’s Department and Emergency Management
- Launch, in conjunction with Mount Clemens DDA, city of Mount Clemens, Macomb County Chamber and the Office of the County Executive, downtown Mount Clemens Visioning Project
My Time with Ted
Ted Wahby wasn’t just the Macomb County Treasurer, although that was his most well-known hat for the last 20 years, he was the true embodiment of Macomb County. A staple in the St. Clair Shores community as a business man, involved citizen and, most importantly, a father and husband, Ted took every opportunity he could to help the greater good. Although Ted’s life in public service technically started when he was elected to the Lakeshore Public Schools School Board, he had served the public long before that. Even while working in the private sector as the Vice President of Comerica Bank, a company he spent 31 years with, Ted was dedicated to feeding the hungry, providing Christmas gifts to those in need and so many more kind gestures that are inherent in a selfless man’s daily life.
Ted eventually took his commitment to the public good and made a career out of it, serving the city of Clair Shores for 14 years, 12 of which were spent as mayor, and then as the County’s Treasurer from 1995-2015. While serving as Treasurer, Ted’s actions again proved what a compassionate and giving man he was. It was through his actions that families delinquent on their taxes were given multiple opportunities to remain in their home. He understood how important it was for a family to maintain roof over their head, both figuratively and literally. As he positively impacted the lives of thousands of Macomb County residents through his tax foreclosure program, he also helped ensure the employees of Macomb County would receive the retiree healthcare they were promised through his office’s contribution of $30 million from the Revolving Tax Delinquent Fund to the County’s unfunded retiree healthcare liability. Also, it was in part because of Ted’s financial expertise that the services provided to Martha T. Berry Medical Care Facility residents went uninterrupted during their transition. Outside of County operations Ted also took to heart the service people received while in the hospital, whether they were patients or family, which is why he was the advocate for the Ted Wahby Cancer Center at McLaren Hospital. His commitment to philanthropy even infiltrated the staff of his office, as in recent years the Treasurer’s Department began hosting an extra Casual Day to increase monetary to donations to local charities.
Ted was truly a friend to the people of Macomb County, its employees and the Board of Commissioners.
In watching Ted operate as Treasurer in the 10 years I have been elected to office, I have gained a great deal of insight on how to effectively serve. In the countless hours I spent in his office we discussed the obvious-County operations and politics-but also the important things in life, like family. He showed me the importance of ensuring everyone receives the same treatment, especially the underserved, and it is lessons like this that are priceless. From providing me a solid understanding on the operations of the Macomb County Treasurer’s Office, to showing me how an elected official can leave such a deep imprint on so many lives, to witnessing the unwavering love a person can have for his family and community, Ted undoubtedly helped shape who I am today as a person and an elected official.
As County operations eventually begin to go back to “normal,” Ted’s absence will certainly be felt. While I can’t speak for others, I know the best way I can carry on his legacy of public service will be to listen to even the quietest voice when making decisions and offer support to any and all Macomb County residents through policy decisions and personal actions.
Ted’s legacy is one of dedication, public good and true family values, areas we can all aspire to better ourselves in, in his honor.
The meaning of Memorial Day is much more than the official start of barbeque season and the fashion world’s nod to wear white. Memorial Day exists so we can reflect on the sacrifices of every soldier who died in combat, from the Civil War to present day. This day is about actively taking time to remember all the men and women who fought for the freedoms that we have today. Many of these freedoms, such as freedom of speech or freedom of religion, are overlooked in our everyday lives because we are so accustomed to having them. However, our lives wouldn’t be what they are today if it weren’t for the brave soldiers of our past, present and future.
Having the courage to stand up and risk your life for the freedoms of others is a trait beyond commendable. Just in Macomb County dozens upon dozens of soldiers have lost their lives during combat. It is these lives, and the thousands upon thousands of others lost during a time of war, that we need to take time to remember and honor on Memorial Day. Clearly, these men and women were dedicated to service which is why I encourage each and every one of you to give back to those who have given so much for you. Giving back can be as simple as attending your communities Memorial Day festivities, or you can go one step further and volunteer your time.
If you’re interested in attending a Memorial Day event, there are several taking place throughout the County.
On May 24, St. Clair Shores is hosting their 63rd annual Memorial Day Parade. The event begins at 1 p.m. on Harper Avenue between Little Mack and 11 Mile Road.
Shelby Township will hold their 33rd annual Memorial Day Ceremony on May 24 at the Veterans Memorial at 52700 Van Dyke. This year the event will feature wounded soldiers discussing their experiences in the field.
The City of Sterling Heights will also recognize Memorial Day with a ceremony and parade on May 25; this will be their 36th annual ceremony. At 9 a.m. a ceremony will be held City Center Courtyard; the parade begins at 10 a.m. on Dodge Park Road.
Additionally, at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 25 the city of New Baltimore will hold its annual Memorial Day Parade, which will travel down Washington Street to Green Street, ending in front of City Hall for a special ceremony.
Finally, although the Eastpointe Memorial Day Parade has been cancelled due to lack of funding, a special ceremony will still be held at City Hall at 11 a.m. on Monday. City Hall is located at 23200 Gratiot Ave.
For volunteer opportunities, the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center is always taking applications; call 313-576-3332 to learn more. The Center is also always in need of hygiene products, refreshment supplies and recreational activities, all of which can be supported by donations. Movies, video games, books and phone cards are other donations appreciated by the veterans.
Other places to volunteer are:
Hope Center: A Fraser based non-profit with the County’s largest food pantry (586) 294-4673;
Vets Returning Home: A Roseville based organization focused on helping veterans transition into life after military, (586-285-5606).
No matter what you choose to do or how you decide to spend this holiday, please just take at least a moment to honor those who have given their lives for our freedoms.
This is the question those who supported Proposal 1 at the polls on May 5 whether you voted in favor or against the proposal. We all want to know what lies ahead.
Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure is not news, and really, neither is the fact that Proposal 1 was voted down since pre-election polling never showed strong support for the issue. The news we are now all waiting to hear is what the Legislature and Governor will do to address this issue.
The Michigan Senate just announced it will remain in session an extra 30 days with the hopes of hammering out some sort of solution to addressing our infrastructure needs. But, even with an extra 30 days there is no guarantee that a solid, concrete proposal will arise.
The House has also announced a road funding idea, which is yet to be brought before a committee for review.
The House Republican plan just unveiled calls for dedicating portions of the General Fund to fixing the roads, eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, generating additional funding from those who drive electric, diesel and hybrid vehicles, and reprioritizing restricted funds.
Of course this is just a single proposal from one chamber of one branch of the Legislature. More ideas are sure to fly and current proposals are sure to be thrown into the mix.
It is vital that our legislators put aside their differences and focus on one concept. Some localities, such as Ann Arbor, are even considering taking road funding measures into their own hands. According to a recent MLive article Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor is considering asking residents to support a local road tax to help ensure their roads can become or remain viable. In Macomb, Warren and Sterling Heights did the same.
I urge the Legislature to buckle down and find a solution to fix our roads. This solution doesn’t need to be as complicated as the last but it does need to have a sustainable funding source that will make our roads drivable, and most importantly, safe without taking away from important priorities such as education and mental health.
I look forward to seeing what the Senate comes up with in their extended session and can only hope they and the House draft something that is deserving of our state.
Spring has (almost) sprung yet again, which means we at the Macomb County Board of Commissioners Office are preparing for our annual Green Schools Ceremony. Each year, we invite all the schools that promoted environmental stewardship within their classrooms to be honored for their commitment to sustainable practices. This year we will honor more than 100 Macomb County schools, many of which are no stranger to going green.
For the past six years I have had the opportunity to not only witness this program grow, but also see the overarching affects it has on students, teachers and parents. By incorporating sustainable practices into the curriculum and students’ lives at a young age they are receiving the tools that will allow them to take reduce their carbon footprint, now and in the future. For example, many Macomb County schools now have their gardens which show students how to properly seed and care for plants-which includes learning about composting and what plants and vegetables are made for Southeastern Michigan. Here, students not only learn about the basics of science-photosynthesis and punnett squares-but they are also learning about the environmental and economic benefits of locally grown and sourced food.
We’ve been told time-and-time again that if we don’t change our daily lifestyles our environment will continue to deteriorate. From air pollution to the mass amounts of garbage landing in our landfills, there’s no question we need to do better as citizens of this planet. Of course change doesn’t come easily, which is why it is vital we continue to teach sustainable practices to the leaders of tomorrow. With more than 100 Macomb County schools being recognized as Green Schools, that means there is likely more than a 1,000 kids-just in this county-that are being taught how to be proper stewards of this planet.
It is programs like the Macomb County Green Schools Program that promote a better, cleaner tomorrow and I am proud to be involved. It is my hope though that people outside of the school systems are inspired by the green activities these schools participate in and incorporate them into their daily lives. Even if each person started with something small-no longer drinking bottled water or using recyclable grocery bags-positive changes for the future of this planet could be made.
To learn more about how you can make such changes visit our Macomb County Green Schools website at macombBOC.com and read about the Macomb County Green Schools Celebration, which will highlight various projects from Green Schools. Additionally, three speakers-Justin Schott from EcoWorks, Kathy Tisdale from South Lake Middle School and Kathy Klein from Waste Management-will be addressing attendees, who will include students.
The event will take place at 8:30 a.m. on April 1 at the Macomb Intermediate School District.
Just the facts, that’s the Macomb County Board of Commissioner approach to the increasingly debated Proposal 1. We know that a 100 word ballot issue may sound easy to digest but the explanation behind it difficult to truly dissect in even 10,000 words.
This is why we are collaborating to host several informational sessions on the issue throughout the County between March 23 and April 21. These sessions will detail the proposed sales tax increase with strictly informational presentations from the Citizens Research Council, Michigan State University, and the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments.
We will leave the detailing to the experts, but in a nutshell, the proposal is asking voters if they support amending the State Constitution to:
- Eliminate the sales and use taxes on gasoline;
- Increase the sales and use tax to 7 percent;
- Increase the portion of the tax that goes to the School Aid Fund and extending; those benefits to higher education and training centers;
- Increase the gas tax and vehicle registration fees;
- And, increase the earned income tax credit.
The House Fiscal Agency estimates that by increasing the sales tax to 7 percent about $830 million in revenues will to go to the School Aid Fund, the State’s General Fund and toward revenue sharing. Of course there will be losses of revenues in certain areas with this proposal too, such as the loss of sales tax revenues with the fuel tax exemption.
To learn more on Proposal 1 I encourage you to attend one or more of the following sessions:
March 30 (Monday): Proposal 1 Informational Session
6-8:15 p.m.: Roseville City Hall
29777 Gratiot Ave., Roseville
March 31 (Tuesday): Safe Roads Symposium
6:30-8:30 p.m.: Velocity Center
6633 18 Mile Rd, Sterling Heights
April 8 (Wednesday): Proposal 1 Informational Session
6:30-7:45 p.m.: Stahls Auto Museum
56516 N Bay Dr, Chesterfield
April 14 (Tuesday): Proposal 1 Informational Session
6:30-7:45 p.m.: Macomb Community College South Campus: John Lewis Center
14500 E. 12 Mile Road, Warren
April 21 (Tuesday): Proposal 1 Informational Session
9 a.m.: Macomb County Administration Building (Government Operations Committee)
One S. Main St., Mount Clemens, Ninth Floor
A short question and answer series will take place following the presentation as well.
Simply put, reading is a key to success.
With the basics of reading comes the ability to tell stories, solve problems, and comprehend the world before us. It also allows your vocabulary to expand and, best of all, your imagination to run wild. Tapping into that imagination then allows for those critical thinking skills and “outside the box” problem solving abilities that are touted in today’s workplace to be developed. With the crack of crisp book cover, a child can be taken from their bedroom floor to an underwater empire or onto a space odyssey exploration. This early introduction to depths of the world outside can later lead these children to become interested in saving our oceans or discovering what is beyond that second star to the right.
This introduction starts with family members reading to their children at a young age and then later ensuring those children take to time to hone their own reading abilities. We know that schools begin teaching students the alphabet and the sound associated with each letter in preschool and kindergarten and that the fundamentals of reading occur between first and third grade. But, the opportunity to read at home will give students a chance to read more of what interests them and teach them that reading isn’t just associated with homework and boring textbooks.
We at the Board of Commissioners understand the importance of reading and also know that having access to a fresh choice of books isn’t always easy. With decreased education funding and low income pockets throughout the area, we want to help ensure every student has the ability to read what interests them. This is a multifaceted approach though, in that the schools continue to excel at educating the students on the fundamentals of reading while family members also encourage students to read a book at home-proving it can be enjoyable. As you work to do this, we are currently collecting new and gently used books to donate to Macomb County schools in need of additional reading resources. We have six drop-off bins throughout the County and are accepting applications from schools through March 20 to be recipients of the donations.
It is important we all work together to make sure future generations not only have the capabilities to read about also the eagerness to open a new book. It is within the pages of books that ideas come alive and leaders are born. Books provide a free form and education while simultaneously setting our minds free. It is for these reasons, amongst many more, why reading needs to remain a priority in and out of the classroom.
Donate to our #FactSnack Book Drive today at one of the following locations:
Donate today at:
Eastpointe Memorial Library: 15875 Oak Ave., Eastpointe;
Fraser Public Library: 16330 E. 14 Mile Rd., Fraser;
County Administration Building: One S. Main St.-First Floor, Mount Clemens;
MacDonald Public Library: 36480 Main St., New Baltimore;
Romeo District Library: 65821 Van Dyke, Romeo;
Warren Civic Center Library: One City Square, Warren
A 300 word essay on why your school would benefit from book donations and what you do to encourage reading can be sent to Courtney.firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s cold. It’s icy. It sounds unappealing to leave the house to purchase ingredients for dinner.
This is a common side effect of the winter, but one we have all learned to deal with. Unfortunately though, leaving the house for groceries can be a difficult year-round task for about 21,000 people in Macomb County. According to the USDA, Macomb County has at least four food deserts where a total of about 21,000 people live. This means about 21,000 lower income people have limited access to a supermarket or large grocery store. That number probably puts into perspective just how important it is to learn how to grow and preserve your food and find less mainstream methods of accessing food.
Of course, these skills can’t be learned overnight and the importance of access to fresh and local food isn’t as well known as some would think. But, Macomb County has a great resource that is diligently working to provide the educational and outreach services needed to ensure all citizens have equal access to food.
The Macomb Food Collaborative and the Michigan State University Macomb Extension Office operates with the missions of providing access to fresh, fair and healthy foods for everyone. Since it’s the Macomb Food Collaborative’s inception, this organization has hosted conferences that show attendees how to grow and preserve their own food and access fresh food through farmers markets and local businesses. Currently, they are getting ready for their 2015 All About Food: From Farm to Fork event.
This all day event will feature keynote speaker Eastern Market Corporation President Dan Carmody. While the topic of Carmody’s presentation hasn’t been released, I can assume the importance of local farmer’s markets will be touched upon. Eastern Market is the largest farmer’s market in the country, remains open year-round, and offers the Double Up Food Bucks program, which allows SNAP recipients to receive double the amount of money to spend on fresh and local food. There is certainly a lot we can learn from such a successful and community-oriented non-profit. And, while the Macomb Food Collaborative may not be as large or well-known as Eastern Market, they are just as dedicated to ensuring resources are accessible to everyone who needs and wants access to fresh, local, and healthy food.
There is an opportunity for this Board, the Macomb Food Collaborative, the MSU Extension, and all others looking to support the local food movement and to take the growth of local food products one step further. With enough support anyone could take their home grown goods and try to sell them at local stores. This would not only support the local food mission but also provide another avenue for job creation. Safie Specialty Food Company, which is nationally known for its gourmet pickled products, started out of Chesterfield Township. Today, it is still based out of Macomb County but employs much more than the Safie family. Achatz Pies is similar, in that this now successful business operation started here in Macomb County (Armada to be exact) with the simple goal of making good pies with all local ingredients. Soon, people began to realize these locally grown and baked pies were much more than good-they were great. Achatz now has seven locations and maintains it commitment to the local food movement.
If learning more about boosting food access, growing and preserving your own food, and how to participate in and promote a local food economy interest you I recommend attending the February 10 Macomb Food Collaborative All About Food: From Farm to Fork Conference. It will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Macomb Intermediate School District [44001 Garfield, Clinton Township]. Additional workshops at the conference will include: genetically engineered and genetically modified foods, gardening, composting, food allergens, goats, school gardens, the Michigan wine industry and more. You can register at macombfood.org.
Being elected as Chair of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners for a second consecutive term is definitely both a humbling yet exciting experience. In my first term as Chair I promised to work hard everyday to ensure the Board would meet and exceed its responsibilities to Macomb County residents and employees. This is a promise I not only intend to keep, as well as expand on.
For the 2015 term there are several initiatives we will see through. These include:
- Bonding for retiree health care to be proactive in funding our unfunded liability;
- Continuing support of the Martha T. Berry Medical Facility and its employees;
- Taking an up or down vote on a space utilization plan that will redefine the footprint of our Mt. Clemens Campus;
This term will also allow for the Board to begin new initiatives as we continue our mission of serving the citizens of Macomb County by providing quality public services. For instance, as our elderly. immigrant, refugee, and veteran populations continue to grow we must find better ways to support them. Without question, diversity is happening in Macomb County, meaning we must further challenge ourselves to produce positive change in what is becoming the new Macomb.
We must also continue to advocate and educate on issues like transit, poverty, and mental health issues. By diving deeper into these issues we can begin to develop ideas and solutions to better the lives of our citizens. Additionally, widespread knowledge on these subjects can break down barriers with our regional partners, allowing a new era of collaboration.
I am also proud to see more community based initiatives arise from our office. For example, on March 2 the “#FactSnack Book Drive” will kick-off. We will be posting more details in the coming weeks, but expect to see drop-off bins throughout the County where you can donate books that will then be given to an area school that is in need.
Supporting our current and growing populations is important to me which is why I look forward to finding new and innovative ways to connect with the citizens of Macomb County.
Looking to the future with insight from the past
We can’t look onto the New Year without first highlighting what the Macomb County Board of Commissioners accomplished within the last year. Through healthy debates, goal setting, and a commitment to addressing the core issues citizens and employees face, we have been able to continue to push Macomb County forward. The establishment of a firm legislative framework and our ability to stand as a cohesive body has allowed us to exemplify these commitments:
- Keeping promises to our employees, as can be seen by the recent adoption of the resolution to bond for retiree health care.
- Holding ourselves and other county officials accountable, as can be seen by our thorough and methodical budget process;
- Promoting clean and green forms of economic development, as can be seen by the Board’s creation of the largest Property Assessed Clean Energy District in Michigan;
- Ensuring pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and public transit has safe access to thoroughfares throughout the County;
- Transparency and giving the residents of Macomb County the opportunity to have a voice at the table, as can be seen through our decision to join the Great Lakes Water Authority and the process that took us up to that final vote;
- Ensuring everyone has the equal opportunity to earn a living to support themselves and their family, as can be seen by our Human Rights Policy;
- Working together to best serve the residents of Macomb County.
Although 2015 gives us a chance to start anew these commitments will remain at the core of this Board. We will also continue to deliberate the investment in capital projects and Retiree Health Care come 2015. I look forward to addressing both of these items and ensuring that our obligation to employees, and to members of one of the most vulnerable population groups, is fulfilled.
Giving thanks to those who gave for us
There are currently 658,469 veterans residing in Michigan who deserve respect, not just on November 11. Although these veterans only represent a small percentage of our population, it is likely you know a handful of them. Today’s veterans may be a member of your family, your neighbor, a friend, a co-worker or a volunteer continuing to serve others. The latter is the case of Leonard Martin, a Sterling Heights resident who volunteered over 100 hours at Medilodge in 2013. Mr. Martin is a World War II veteran who landed in Normandy on D-Day. He fought for us on the frontlines, and while his service was more than enough he has continued to serve others at the local level. Mr. Martin is a perfect example on how our veterans are not only brave, but humble and big-hearted. They continue to give back to their country by not only protecting our freedoms but also being active members of their local communities.
As our veterans actively serve this country, we too should be active in showing our gratitude for their sacrifices, their bravery and their selflessness. Such simple actions can include volunteering at the local VA medical center (the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center is the closest one for Macomb County residents), donating to a local food bank that serves veterans or contributing to the Vets Returning Home non-profit agency located in Roseville. One Macomb County girl, Elizabeth Popovich, has taken it upon herself to collect donations so troops currently oversees can have a taste of home. The sweet treats she sends over are none other than America’s favorite: Girl Scout cookies.
On Veteran’s Day, we also need to honor soldiers who have already passed. As President Woodrow Wilson said when Armistice Day (now Veteran’s Day) was first proclaimed following World War I, November 11 was to be a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service." To show that pride, flowers can be laid on the graves on veterans or you can attend a Veteran’s Day parade.
There are dozens of ways to honor our current and past veterans and no matter how you choose to do it, I just encourage you take time out of your day November 11 to give back to those who gave or risked their lives for you.
Where and how to volunteer:
John D. Dingell VA Medical Center: call 313-576-3332. The Center is also always in need of hygiene products, refreshment supplies and recreational activities, all which can be supported by donations.
Vets Returning Home: A Roseville based non-profits seeking to help veterans transition into life after the military. The organization is currently seeking to donations to help sustain it until grant funds and corporate donations are in place. Call 586-216-8150 to help.
To donate Girl Scout Cookies overseas contact Elizabeth Popovich at email@example.com
For more information on how to support veterans in your community regularly sign-up here: http://www.volunteer.va.gov/apps/VolunteerNow/.
Please, don’t just pay your gratitude to veterans on November 11; they deserve much more than one day a year to be honored.
On Nov. 4 another General Election will take place, and it is yet another time to let our voices be heard. During the last gubernatorial election, voter turnout in Macomb County was 45.7 percent; a figure only slightly higher than the state voter turnout of 42.9. While 45.7 percent isn’t a small number, it can also be much higher. This is why I want to present the modest challenge of increasing Macomb County’s voter turnout for Tuesday’s gubernatorial election to 50 percent. Voting is a basic right of our citizenship and excuses like “my vote won’t matter” negate the founding principles of this country. In order for democracy to truly work, more than just a handful of people need to cast a ballot. If everyone who thought their vote wouldn’t matter took the time to become engaged in the political process, then the change they were hoping for may become a reality.
Actions speak louder than words, so rather than just praising or complaining about an issue, take the time to become educated on it and vote in the manner that best reflects your personal choices. With that in mind, I hope that we as a county, a state and a nation can see an increased voter turnout number on Tuesday and far into the future.
For those of you who will be heading to the polls on Tuesday, our office has received dozens of phone calls related to one ballot question in particular. It reads:
“Shall the County of Macomb elect a charter commission for the purpose of generally
revising the Home Rule Charter of the County of Macomb and framing and submitting to
the electorate of the county a revised home rule charter for the county under the
constitution and laws of Michigan?”
As most you know, the new charter was implemented for Macomb County government four years ago. With that new charter came a provision that four years after it was put into affect, the above question would appear before the voters; it will also appear before the voters every 10 years hereafter. Essentially, what this question is asking is if the voters agree or disagree with the charter currently in place.
A yes vote means you want to see the current charter changed.
A no vote means the charter will remain as is.
Other local initiatives on the ballot are:
City of Fraser: A $5 million bond proposal for the installation, improvement, replacement and reconstruction of city streets. If approved, the estimated millage levy would be about 1.97 mills.
City of Memphis: A 2 mill, 15 year millage for the purpose of improving, constructing and repairing city roads.
City of St. Clair Shores: Amending the current city charter to increase the street millage from .9830 mills to 1.25 mills for five years for residential street repairs and construction, street lighting and sewer repairs and construction.
Harrison Township: A 1.5 mill, 20 year millage request for the improvement of local roads.
Washington Township: A 1 mill increase of the current police protection millage. The township current levies 1 mill for police protection from the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department.
Armada Township and the Village of Armada: Increase the current 1.5 advanced life support millage by an additional 1.5 mills for the purpose of maintaining personnel, ambulances, equipment and housing for the fire department.
My Mayor: One of a Kind
The news of Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte’s passing struck a personal chord with me, as I am sure it did the thousands of other lives he touched-from his family, to the workers at Ford Motor Company, to the citizens of Sterling Heights. I first met Mayor Notte while interning for State Senator Mickey Switalski in fall of 2005. At the time, I was excited about a life in public service and really got to know Mayor Notte, not just as the mayor of the city I have lived in my entire life, but also as a down-to-earth guy. It was this lost art of truly connecting with others that allowed him to be able to walk into a crowded union hall, a group of high-level business executives, or a city council meeting and have the same memorable affect. He used those skills to be successful in every part of his life, especially in the public arena.
As someone who worked on the assembly line at Ford, Mayor Notte understood the people he was elected to serve, because he truly was one of them. I remember attending an event with him in March of this year, when the Chrysler Sterling Heights Assembly Plant announced the addition of 800 new jobs, and witnessing the warm reception he received from the audience. Among all the other dignitaries and elected officials at this newsworthy event, Mayor Notte received the loudest and longest applause, because the people knew that he personally experienced what they recently went through 20 years prior. If it weren’t for Mayor Notte’s leadership, those 800 jobs may not have been added and an economic lifeline in Sterling Heights may have been lost. It was issues such as this that positively impacted people’s lives because of Mayor Notte’s devotion to his community.
Also under Mayor Notte’s long tenure as mayor, he kept Sterling Heights as one of the safest communities in the country, along with one of the most fiscally responsible. Mayor Notte also understood the importance of quality of life amenities for his residents, which he continuously worked to establish.
Today, not only do we mourn the loss of a dedicated public servant, but a good man who we all knew and couldn’t help but love. He showed leadership in the tough times and made us laugh during the good times. In the spring of 2014 Mayor Notte was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, but he faced that challenge like he did everything else in life-with dignity, decency and the will to fight.
David J. Flynn, Board Chair
The budget process here in Macomb County is steadily moving along as we are preparing to make our recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year. To date, more than 20 hours have been spent hearing budget requests from County department to best understand their needs. With that said, while all department requests are valid, we will not able to grant everything asked for. Specific needs I see throughout this county are:
· Allocating funds to the Prosecutor’s Office to help organize a child abuse task force and communications on county-wide elder abuse;
· Providing Human Resources the means to start much-needed employee training programs on harassment, workplace violence and diversity;
· Supporting a state mandated program to educate parents who chose to not vaccinate their children by providing funds to hire two public nurses and a program assessor;
· Continuing to draw interest in Macomb County through added capacity. focused on business attraction and retention in the Planning and Economic Development Department;
Between these, and a few other requests, I feel such additions will continue to push Macomb County to the forefront of the region and state. Educating on vaccination, providing employees opportunities to enhance their skills, improving the service experience and promoting Macomb County are relevant and necessary conversations. If we don’t provide opportunities to start those conversations, the actions required to make them a reality will never occur.
I also want to applaud those departments that came before the Board to request what they deemed as necessary. As I said, we won’t be able to grant all requests, but going above and beyond to fight for what you feel is necessary is an attribute I value.
I also value the democratic process, which is why I want to make it clear that these are the sum of my recommendations. This Board is made up of 13 equal members and they have the power to make recommendations and amendments. On Sept. 8 the Board will continue to discuss possible budget amendments and on Sept. 11 the public is invited to comment on what will be the 2015 recommended budget. Also on Sept. 11 the Board will vote to adopt the 2015 Appropriations Ordinance.
I invite everyone who wants to weigh in on or learn more about the 2015 budget to attended one of the afore mentioned meetings.
Words are nothing without action
In the last month, victories have come in our regional transit world. The SMART millage passed, allowing for the only current regional transit system to keep rolling, and construction on the M1 Rail began. While these are steps to be proud of, the work to bring a robust transit system is nowhere near complete.
Currently, a group of transit advocates are preparing their second event in the Better Transit, Better Business series. The first event was held at the Detroit Zoo and called for public officials, such as myself, to discuss the importance of transit and what it would do for the is region. This meeting was energizing, and an excellent catalyst to again get this region excited about public transit. However, now I think we need to create action steps and not just talk about what transit could do for us. These steps should focus around campaigning for the Regional Transit Authority millage that will likely appear on a 2016 ballot and deciding what exactly it is we want out of this authority so many fought to have established.
It is time we mobilize the citizens and find out what is the best way to engage and educate them on this often stagnant topic. Without their energy, trust and action, the idea of a healthy transit system will likely continue to fall short.
So, as the people of Macomb County, I am asking you, what encourages you to join a movement? What outreach mechanism best educates you? How do you see yourself being involved in a transit transformation?
As the RTA is still seeking to establish its identity, we can’t let the fate of its mission crumble. We must prove that actions speak louder than words and ensure these messages reach beyond the already established group of transit activists.
No one expected their Monday blues to turn into a never-ending mess. The aftermath of this week’s storms have left thousands of residents across the region frustrated, distraught, confused and angry. Many are navigating insurance claims, struggling with buckets of bleach and experiencing the loss of personal property.
Whether you suffered damage to your vehicle or mementos of the past - several tips on how to best handle such a stressful situation have been circulating and are posted below.
A telephone hot line has been established in Macomb County following Gov. Rick Snyder’s declaration of disaster and a state of emergency was declared by County Executive Mark Hackel. For information related to Monday’s flooding, residents can call (586) 493-6767 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To report damage from the Monday storm, residents and business owners can visit http://oemc.macombgov.org and fill out a Damage Assessment Report Form. Hard copies are also available at all local government offices. Please note: this form does not serve as a mechanism to gain reimbursement or financial assistance; it is for informational reporting purposes.
There is also a damage reporting assessment center at the Southwest Health Center located at 27690 Van Dyke, Warren, 48093, for residents who do not have access to a computer or need assistance in completing the form.
It is also advisable for homeowners who experienced flooding to:
- Immediately contact their utility service companies for information and advice on safety measures;
- Not light a flame where gas or oil fired appliances are located before they are placed back in service;
- Not start an electrical appliance where the motors are submerged;
- Open as many doors and windows as possible to allow moist air to exit;
- Clean and disinfect all items that have been in contact with flood water;
- Not mix chlorine bleach and ammonia together to disinfect items, as this creates a poisonous gas;
- Boil well water for at least 10 minutes before drinking, one teaspoon of non-scented liquid bleach per five gallons of water can also be added to well water for drinking although the water must sit for 30 minutes before consumption;
- Throw away all food that came in contact with flood water, even if in jars and containers;
- Wash hands regularly.
Those in need of food or shelter can contact or visit the following organizations:
Emergency Food Program: Call 1(800)552-1183 or (586)469-6004;
St. Mark Church: 4401 Bart, Warren, MI. Community dinner meals are being served Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. through Aug. 29;
Salvation Army: 7423 E. 10 Mile, Center Line, MI. Community lunches are being served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday until September;
- Ongoing commodity food assistance: (Must meet DHS guidelines)
- Warren: (586) 427-0600
- Sterling Heights: (586) 254-1500
- Mount Clemens: (586) 469-7700
The Emergency Assistance Food Program: Monthly food distribution, must meet income guidelines.
- Warren, Eastpointe, Center Line: (586) 759-9150
- All other Macomb County communities: (586) 469-6964
- Utility assistance:
- Community Action Center (household income must be below 125% of poverty level)
- Warren, Eastpointe, Center Line: (586) 759-9150
- All other Macomb County communities: (586) 469-6964
- Clean up:
- Disaster Relief at Work (DRAW): Group of volunteers aiding Warren residents with clean up from flooding. Call Greg at (864)569-6249.
- Home repairs:
- State program that will restore essential services and correct unsafe conditions. Recipients must meet DHS guidelines;
- Warren: (586) 254-1500
- Sterling Heights: (586) 254-1500
- Mount Clemens: (586) 469-7700
- State program that will restore essential services and correct unsafe conditions. Recipients must meet DHS guidelines;
- Claims for basement flooding caused by sewage backups
- City of Warren: (586) 574-4670
- City of Eastpointe: (586) 455-3661 ext. 2221
- City of St. Clair Shores: (586) 447-3322
**All claims must be written and filed to your city within 45 days of the overflow or backup being discovered.
The Aug. 5 ballot may not have many candidates on the ballot, but there are at least two important issues Macomb County residents are being asked to vote on. Across the state, residents are being asked to vote on whether or not the personal property tax should be eliminated. Regionally, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) is requesting a millage renewal, with an increase. It is important to not only be educated on both these issues, and how they affect you, but to also to take the time to get out and vote on them.
Proposal One, if approved by the voters, looks to address two different problems, which are ultimately intertwined. By voting in favor of this proposal, businesses will not be overburdened with an unfair tax and municipalities will have a stable funding mechanism in place for local services. Currently, Michigan businesses must pay a tax on every piece of equipment they own; this is in addition to the 6 percent sales tax they pay when purchasing the equipment. This alone puts the state at economic disadvantage compared to others in the Midwest.
Although the personal property tax hurts local businesses, funds received from it are used to support local services, such as police, fire and education. Proposal 1 aims to provide 100 percent of the funding through the State Use Tax. Although local services would be supported through the State General Fund, these dollars would be made up for through the expiration of big business tax credits and the creation of an essential services assessment on manufacturing businesses. This proposal does on hinge on Lansing keeping its promises to local communities though.
(To learn more about Prop. 1 click here.)
Just as promoting economic development through competitive markets is important, so is public transit. SMART is looking to maintain its services and improve its fleet by seeking a 1 mill levy. Currently, the regional transit authority levies .59 mills a year for operations. Officials from SMART say that amount will not cover much needed capital improvements, which total about $73 million, while also allowing for services to be maintained. In Macomb County, there are currently 16 major routes that connect residents to places of employment, educational institutions and locations where social services are provided. In total, these routes provide about 2.8 million rides annually.
With only a week left before the Aug. 5 Primary, it is essential you take the time to learn more about these issues and then get out and vote.
Other Macomb County Ballot Proposals:
- Mount Clemens: charter amendment to increase maximum property tax rate to 20 mills for operations;
- Eastpointe: charter amendment to renew a 7 mill public safety millage;
- Chesterfield Township: Five year, 1.25 mill increase to current 5 mill police millage;
- Clinton-Macomb Public Library District: Eight year, .39 mill increase for operations;
- Harrison Township: 10 year, .5 mill increase for operations;
- Macomb Township: 10 year, 2 mill renewal for fire operations and equipment.
Fifty years ago this month the Civil Rights Act was enacted. While we’ve come a long way from segregation, there is still plenty of room for growth when it comes to equality, fairness and inclusiveness.
The late Bobby Hill, who served as a County Commissioner from 1990-2006, lived in a time where intolerance of differences was prevalent. And, although Hill himself experience imposed segregation as a child in the South, he did not carry bigoted beliefs or bitterness with him. Rather, he understood it was important to represent something wholly, meaning, he never stood for one person, organization or area. As a County Commissioner he knew it was his duty to represent the best interest of all County residents. Hill also exhibited this quality as an educator in the Mount Clemens School District, as a member of the Mount Clemens City Commission and as one of the brave men who fought for freedom.
Although we live in a different time than Hill did, it is still important we stand up equality and fairness for society as a whole. When making decisions, it can’t be based on how it will best benefit a group of interest or specific area. The bigger picture needs to be taken into consideration, and we as a Board are always to working to execute our mission of creating policies that protects and promotes the best interest of Macomb County residents.
Even though I did not have the privilege to serve with Bobby, I believe there is a lot to be taken away from his dedication to public service and his ability to push for what was right. We need to remember the challenges those before us faced and how they overcame them. The Civil Rights Act would not have been enacted if it weren’t for people with ability to step outside their comfort zone and fight for all of society. It is vital we continue the legacy of those like Bobby Hill and strive for a society based on equality and opportunity.
Macomb County taking all encompassing approach to roads, transportation
Three years in the making and Macomb County now has a Complete Streets policy to further efforts in bettering the quality of life for residents.
This policy has been something I’ve long been pushing for because of the importance of incorporating all modes of transportation in our infrastructure, making it easier to integrate into our everyday lives. From cyclists to walkers to public transit users and motorists, the Complete Streets policy passed June 19 will allow the County to incorporate everything from bike lanes to improved signage to curb extensions.
As we continuously try to improve lives of Macomb County residents we also need to take into consideration what will draw others here. It is no secret that more and more people, particularly the Millennials, are interested in making their homes in urban settings. While Macomb County has the perfect mix of urban, suburban and rural areas, a complete transportation network will provide many opportunities for our communities to become more interconnected.
Changes don’t happen over night though. In knowing this, we have placed accountability measures in the policy so we can track successes and improve upon less successful aspects. This will be made possible by reviewing the financial statuses and budgets related to Complete Streets projects, gaining feedback on projects from local municipalities and residents, and examining and implementing best practices and trends.
It is through such a comprehensive approach that I am confident this policy, which was created through collaboration with the Office of the County Executive and the Macomb County Department of Roads, is paving a positive path. I am confident in the vibrancy this policy will ignite in communities throughout the County and also encouraged that other municipalities will look to us when they feel it is time to forge their own “all modes of transportation” path with a Complete Streets policy.
Stronger meaning to Fourth of July than meets the eye
Independence Day is synonymous with fireworks, popsicles and barbequing to many. However, while families often gather together on the Fourth of July, there is more to this holiday than quality time and good food.
On July 4, 1776 our independence was declared from the United Kingdom of Britain. The battles leading up to this day and the signing of Declaration of Independence have paved a path for where we are today. Although our inalienable rights were listed on this historic document more than 200 years ago, these are what we continue to fight for today, as soldiers, as citizens and as local and federal government entities.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: these are the three thoughts that should cross one’s mind when they think of the Fourth of July. The ability for citizens to pursue their dreams is what this county’s identity is based on. There are countries across this globe that do not afford their citizens the same freedoms we have today.
Of course, the freedoms we do have today have not existed since 1776. Rather people in our nation’s history have had to fight expand the inalienable rights afforded to them, from emancipation, woman’s suffrage, civil rights and today’s debate on equality for sexual orientation.
Although the path today has not been perfect, I feel honored to call myself an American. There are hundreds of thousands of citizens across this country willing to fight for our freedom and we ought to honor them. Such a strong sense of pride, patriotism and perseverance would likely not exist in our hearts today if the groundwork had not been laid by our forefathers. But, let us not forget that in order to create a more perfect union the work is never finished.
With that said, Happy 238th birthday, America!
For those interested in celebrating with fireworks dates and times are listed below:
July 9 at Clinton Township Gazebo, 40700 Romeo Plan, Clinton Township.
July 19, New Haven High School, 57700 Gratiot Ave, New Haven.
July 20, 33000 Garfield Rd., Fraser.
All fireworks will go off at dusk.
Macomb County looking toward a financially, structurally sound future
Macomb County’s leadership does not need to solve all future problems right now. But it is our duty to address both immediate problems and ones with solutions in our reach, and such an opportunity has presented itself. This opportunity is two-fold, in that through the issuance of bonds the County could pre-fund its future Retiree Healthcare Annual Required Contributions (ARC) for the next 50 years, while also addressing needs in the 5 Year Capital Improvement Plan, which includes revitalization efforts in downtown Mt. Clemens.
With the retiree healthcare plan alone, a huge obligation would be shored up by issuing $270 million in bonds to cover our current unfunded liability. While there is risk in such a financing mechanism, I see this as the best option to ensure county employees will receive the healthcare they have been promised, the healthcare they have worked toward after a career of service.
By borrowing at a low interest rate (around 4 percent) and investing at a higher rate of return (7.5 percent) we will be able to pay down our debt service payment from the general fund. Also, the Retiree Healthcare Trust (VEBA) will receive a $30 million a year ARC payment from the Interim Retiree Health Medical Benefits Trust, which will be funded by $270 million in bond proceeds, $40 million from the general fund and $30 million from the Treasurer’s revolving tax fund. These one time contributions will allow for the $30 million to flow into the Retiree Healthcare Trust annually, which will then allow annual retiree healthcare premiums to be paid for the next 50 years.
This proposal not only shows a long-term consideration for county finances and promised employee benefits, but also cooperation. County Executive Mark Hackel and Treasurer Ted Wahby have collaborated to strengthen the investment needed to ensure future financial stability. Deputy County Executive Mark Deldin and Finance Director Pete Provenzano have worked in conjunction with the Board to ensure we have been fully informed and collaboration on these proposals has taken place.
Similar cooperation has taken place for the Downtown Revitalization Plan, which is part of the County’s 5 Year Capital Improvement Plan. Currently, there is a need for about $92 million in capital improvements over the next five years, which includes renovation projects of the downtown campus at $35 million, and a new parking structure costing $15 million.
By issuing a $25 million bond and utilizing an estimated $10 million in insurance proceeds, the County will be able to address these needs. Through effective space utilization we will able to create more synergy by renovating:
- The Administration Building;
- The Old County Building;
- Circuit Court;
- The Talmer Building;
- The Clemens Center.
Aging infrastructure will not receive a bandage, but a long-term investment that will save money in the long-run, while promoting cooperation with the City of Mt. Clemens.
We are at a time where we can take the future into our own hands and nearly ensure financial stability for years to come. By funding retiree healthcare into 2050 and addressing a large portion of our capital improvement needs, Macomb County’s leadership would be taking advantage of a solution for two looming problems.
In addition, these solutions will be realized while still maintaining a healthy general fund balance and financial outlook.
Memorial Day is a time where those men and women who fought for our freedom and families are to be remembered. Many associate this federal holiday with the start of summer, and while we are all eager to experience the warmth after a frigid winter, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to overlook the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Summer spans a quarter of the year, but Memorial Day is a single day devoted to honoring our fallen soldiers. This day exists so we can reflect on the sacrifices of every soldier who died in combat, from the Civil War to present day. The men and women of the armed services who died while fighting for our country were not just soldiers, but parents, children, teachers, police officers, firefighters and much more. Memorial Day is not only a time to remember their heroic actions, but also thank them. Through parades, displays of the American flag, visits to cemeteries or volunteering we can show our appreciation.
On Sunday, St. Clair Shores is hosting their 65th annual Memorial Day Parade. The event begins at 1 p.m. on Harper Avenue between Little Mack and 11 Mile Road. The City of Sterling Heights will also recognize Memorial Day with a ceremony and parade. At 9 a.m. a ceremony will be held City Center Courtyard; the parade begins at 10 a.m. on Dodge Park Road. For volunteer opportunities, the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center is always taking applications; call 313-576-3332 to learn more. The Center is also always in need of hygiene products, refreshment supplies and recreational activities, all of which can be supported by donations. Movies, video games, books and phone cards are other donations appreciated by the veterans.
Other places to volunteer are:
Hope Center: A Fraser based non-profit with the County’s largest food pantry (586) 294-4673;
Vets Returning Home: A Roseville based organization focused on helping veterans transition into life after military, (586-285-5606).
Let us not forget either about the issues veterans who return home face. In 2013 the veteran unemployment rate was 6.6 percent at the national level and 10.6 percent for the State of Michigan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As these statistics show, it is still a struggle for many veterans returning home to find full-time employment. There are various reasons for this, but one of them relates to the mental health issues many suffer from after war. With rates of PTSD remaining extremely high, it is vital mental health services be improved upon. The status of a veteran’s mental health, which often has the largest stigma connected to it, can also be correlated with the homelessness issue many veterans face. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 12 percent of the adult homeless population is made up of veterans. Of this number, 50 percent suffer from mental illness.
So, as we remember those died fighting for our freedom this Monday, we also need to remember those who have safely made it home or are still oversees. Yes, Veterans Day is another national holiday set aside to remember all those who fought for us, but our gratitude should not just be paid on designated holidays. Rather, we should take time on a regular basis to give back, even in small ways, to all those who have put their lives on the line for us.
Raising the minimum wage promotes social justice, economic sensibility
Opponents of raising the minimum wage claim small businesses, such as the “mom and pop” shops, will suffer while larger corporations will weather the storm. However, evidence from polling conducted by the Bureau for Labor Statistics and Huffington Post shows that many small business owners are not opposed to a minimum wage increase. This is in part because they either already pay their employees more than the current minimum wage, or at least understand the necessity for compensating properly. Small business owners said they often pay above minimum wage because they want their employees to live a life that doesn’t border the poverty line, a life where they can afford to buy the necessities and amenities, a life where they can afford the products they are selling, according to the national non-profit Small Business Majority. This was also the mission behind Henry Ford’s $5 a day move in 1914 and I think that message can be applied 100 years later.
When Ford’s employees began earning nearly double of what other workers across the nation were receiving he was providing them an opportunity to not only afford the products they were building, but those that their peers were putting out into the marketplace as well. In today’s society though, that task is growing more difficult as corporate profits and executives’ salaries soar while labor profits decline. With globalization, the decline of manufacturing and a change in the job market all contributing to an economic shift, there is still no excuse why everyone eligible to be in the workforce shouldn’t be making a living wage.
Here in Macomb County we adopted a policy in 2006 that requires all contractors we work with to pay their employees, at minimum, a living wage. Today that equals $11.46 for a two adult, two child household in Macomb County if the employer does pay health benefits, according to calculations based on the federal poverty level defined by the Department of Health and Human Services. So, as we push for wage equity in the County, the state should be taking a similar stand. It is important that we provide everyone with the equal opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.
Increasing the minimum wage will not just target one specific demographic. Rather, women, who typically earn less than men, will benefit; the growing population of immigrants in Macomb County, the state and the country will benefit; those with at least some college education will benefit; those supporting a family will benefit. By increasing the minimum wage in the State of Michigan, Macomb County’s economy will see a boost, reflective of a statewide movement. A minimum wage increase would create over 9,630 new full-time jobs and bring in $1.1 billion in new economic activity, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
If raising the minimum wage moves to the national level, by 2016 17 million Americans will be receiving higher wages. There will then be a spillover affect where current Americans who earn just above the minimum wage will also experience an increase as internal wage ladders are adjusted, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
With such financial benefits fewer people will need to utilize social services because thousands of people will be lifted from poverty. This in turn will promote more independence as more employees will be able to afford housing and food on their own, with less federal or state supplements. As financial independence grows from citizens across the state, or country, then fewer tax dollars will need to be spent on government support. Currently as these employees look to government for services like food and housing assistance, large corporations increase their profits. Essentially, the McDonalds of the world rely on the taxpayers to pay their benefits through federal assistance. Increasing the minimum wage will help decrease such subsidizing by providing employees with high enough wages for them to support themselves .
Raising the minimum wage promotes both social justice and economic sensibility. These are two concepts that should be promoted rather than denied and my increasing Michigan’s minimum wage citizens can be assured their best interests are still at the forefront of political matters.
The Detroit Institute of Arts remains one of our most valuable cultural assets, and recent attendance numbers from the DIA show I am not the only one to believe this.
In 2013 there were 59,430 general admissions into the DIA, equating to a $335,618 value. Of that, the highest admission category was adult residents and the lowest was seniors. Let’s not forget the under 18 crowd either, for they made up about 32 percent of admission to the DIA in 2013 between school and general youth visits.
When specifically discussing specialty student programs in 2013 there were 9,778 students who participated in field trips and 1,172 students we able to experience DIA art talks in their own classroom. It’s not just the students getting schooled on art and culture from our area’s experts either. The teachers have also been able to capitalize on new opportunities for professional development. In total, $94,203 was spent on school programs in 2013 by the DIA while the service agreement between Macomb County and the museums dictates only $75,000 be set aside for educational development. This means, Macomb County residents received almost a $20,000 more in school services than bargained for.
While students and teachers are capitalizing on the benefits the DIA has to offer, the Macomb County senior community was about $6,000 shy of utilizing the $50,000 the DIA sets aside for their services annually. With the Come Wonder Around senior program that offers complimentary transportation to and from the museum and a guided tour, I have to ask…why haven’t more seniors in the county utilized such a unique and wonderful opportunity?
In 2013 the DIA hoped to have 35 Come Wonder Around tours visit the museum, but only 28 did so; this equated to 1,025 seniors total. With exhibits such as the Samurai: Beyond the Sword and Let Me Show You What I Saw: American Views on City and Country 1912-1963 it’s difficult to imagine how Macomb seniors won’t be jumping at these opportunities this year.
The Samurai exhibit, which is only in town until June1, is a rare chance for all to learn the cultural and spiritual aspects behind the lives of Japanese Samurai. Or, the Let Me Show You What I Saw Exhibit highlights how lighting, weather, seasons, shadows, and timing can evoke certain moods and tones in an artist. In addition, the DIA’s mainstay exhibits range from Contemporary Art to European Art to Performing Art, and everything in between. Not to mention, Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” mural housed in the DIA’s Rivera Court has been deemed a National Landmark.
In 2012 Macomb County voters, along with those in Wayne and Oakland counties, approved a 10 year .2 property tax millage to support DIA operations for 10 years. While there were Macomb County residents who didn’t see the need to support this cultural institution, it appears the current numbers speak for themselves.
The DIA bolsters culture, history and artistic expression and I am beyond excited to see County residents receive such important experiences at one of our region’s most important assets. It is important we continue to stand by such institutions in the wake of the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings. With the state pledging $350 million to a rescue fund where $330 million was already been pledged by national and local foundations, support for the DIA clearly has no boundaries. Not to mention the DIA itself has pledged to raise $100 million to contribute to this fund, that will support Detroit pensions (money of which will support Detroit pensioners living in Macomb County) in return for the museum to become an independent entity in which its prized possessions can be safeguarded.
However, while the support spans the nation, the full monetary backing won’t go into affect unless a grand bargain is struck. And while we as residents of Macomb County had no control over how a resolution will be reached, we can continue to support the DIA by taking in live music while strolling exhibits on Friday nights, encouraging teachers to have their students spend a day at the museum and organizing senior trips in every community.
UPCOMING MACOMB COUNTY SENIOR EVENTS TO THE DIA
May 21 at 12:30 p.m. City of Fraser Senior Center Trip
May 30 at 1:30 p.m. Town Village of Sterling Heights Trip
June 20 at 2 p.m. Waltonwood at Lakeside Trip
July 10 at 10:30 a.m. Sterling Heights Senior Center Trip
July 31 at 12 p.m. Romeo Parks and Recreation Senior Center Trip
The need for a reliable public transit system has long plagued Southeast Michigan, a region in which Macomb County plays an integral role. While actions for the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and the M1 Rail Line and have been inching forward for years, neither are in the place to provide transportation in the next five years.
The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) though has provided services to residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties since 1995. Currently SMART levies .59 mills a year for operations. However, this regional transportation authority is looking for voters to increase that to 1 mill. SMART General Manager John Hertel is aiming to place request on the August ballot to maintain service levels. First though, our board, along with the board of commissioners from Oakland and Wayne counties, must approve the ballot language by May 13 to let the voters decide.
With SMART’s 1 mill levy, the additional revenues will be funneled to capital improvements, such as new busses. Currently, SMART is in need of 146 40-foot busses, all of which need to be replaced within the next five years at a cost of about $73 million, according to information provided by SMART.
In addition to a need for capital improvements, SMART services have been diminished. For example, since 2012, SMART bus services have been reduced by 22 percent and personnel has been cut by over 200. Also, in regard to personnel, in the last six years, administrative costs have been reduced by $11 million and union negotiations have saved SMART about $6 million annually.
With this I ask the question, what direction should public transit in the region move toward?
We are at a regional crossroads. With current and future public transportation options having the ability to expand, now is the time for residents of Macomb County, and Southeast Michigan, to take the initiative in pushing for a more comprehensive transit system.
For example, if a SMART mill request above 1 mill were approved, could there be opportunities for additional bus shelters to be built in the county, or for more routes to be added to the service?
Currently, there are 16 major/high-ridership fixed routes that connect residents to hundreds of Macomb County locations; these routes provide more than 2.8 million rides annually. Of those rides provided, 70 percent are used for residents to get to work and 20 percent are used as a service to get people to school.
Once the RTA is operational, SMART will most likely be the feeder system into our major corridors, pushing us closer toward developing a robust transit system.
In August of 2011, the Macomb BOC approved a resolution supporting the RTA. This too can be an avenue for transit growth in our region, but currently the authority has no chief executive officer, a $500,000 budget and won’t have an operational millage request on the ballot until at least 2016. How the federal dollars captured through the RTA will fit into SMART services and overall transit does need to be talked about though, starting now.
A future with a mass transit system means economic development and enhancement for personal opportunities, such as traveling to the places we work, schools we attend and entertainment venues we enjoy. In regards to economic development alone, for every public dollar invested in public transit, $6-$8 of private investment occurs. Also, for the eco-minded, 37 million metric tons of carbon can be reduced annually by each community that invests in public transit, according to American Public Transportation Association.
For us, and the region as a whole, to reap these benefits we need to continuously push for a robust transit system that will create economic opportunities and better our quality of life.
Almost everyone has something to say about this year’s severe winter weather – the snow, the ice and the frigid cold temperatures have hit hard; people are tired of it and looking for signs of a thaw, the promise of spring, and warmer days ahead. At this point, anything above 32 degrees feels tropical!
Since last summer and through the fall and winter, the Board of Commissioners has been working steadily within their role, as designated by the Charter, to affect positive change and also to reach acceptable compromise on issues with the Office of the County Executive. A major breakthrough toward this end was reached last week with the passage of amendments to the 2014 Appropriations Ordinance, the Quarterly Report Requirements Ordinance as well as the county’s Procurement Ordinance/Contracting Policy. What that all means is there is a greater level of accessibility and transparency of financial documents for the public, and solid accounting practices and policy to ensure smoother operations and, ultimately, service delivery.
Compromise, by definition, means an agreement is reached in which both parties make concessions – each side gives a little to gain a little. With meaningful cooperation, common ground is achieved for all parties. My goal is to encourage more collaboration in 2014.
The Board’s 2014 Legislative Agenda includes several important initiatives, all with an underlying theme: Investing in areas that have been underfunded for decades. Items on this year’s legislative priority list include: Capital Improvement Projects and corresponding oversight and funding mechanisms; Complete Streets policies; and expansion of services and delivery to our aging and increasingly diverse population sectors.
Work has already begun toward a cooperative and transparent approach to Macomb County’s Capital Improvement projects. Meticulous care has been taken to educate and include county-wide elected officials, department leadership, subject matter experts and commissioners in the process to determine priorities and to investigate options for funding mechanisms. I look forward to reporting our progress. These meetings are open to the public and your input is welcome.
Complete Streets policy is a public policy effort that has been introduced previously; I personally look forward to implementing this in Macomb County. “Complete Streets” are roadways designed/operated to be safe and user friendly for people of all ages and mobility levels regardless of the chosen mode of transportation (motorists, pedestrians, cyclists)
A “Complete Street” utilizes features such as transit shelters, bike parking, sidewalk extensions, on-street parking and mid-block crossing. Public Act 134 (2010) gives new project planning and coordination responsibilities to city, county and state transportation agencies across Michigan. The law further requires Complete Streets policies to be sensitive to the local context, and consider the functional class, cost, and mobility needs of all legal users.
Later this year, I plan to hold educational forums to let Macomb County residents know what “Complete Streets” policy means and the amenities that such policy can bring to enhance our communities. We’ll also hold public hearings to gain input.
The latest surveys indicate the largest growing population segment of Macomb County is age 60 plus. While we recognize this fact, at the same time we are making concerted efforts to retain and attract younger talent. We are also gaining additional diversity with large increases to ethnic populations. Effectively supporting services to a demographic range this diverse will require increasingly creative methods and expansion of communication modalities to reach all residents. I look forward to working with regional, and national, peers to learn best practices that have been employed elsewhere.
We’re all looking for a break in the freezing temperatures and I am happy to report there are signs thawing here in county government. I am encouraged by signs of growth and looking forward to increased collaborative efforts between the BOC and the OCE.