Here’s everything you need to know from Wayne County Executive Warren Evans’ county address

ayne County last summer entered into a consent agreement with the state of Michigan's treasury department in an effort to avoid a potential bankruptcy. Under the consent agreement, county executives would have to work quickly to steer the county back on track.

Months later, Evans tells residents during Tuesday night's State of the County address that Wayne County is ready to be released from the consent agreement, a request he expects will be made soon. Thanks to a number of cuts across departments, "we will not need an emergency manager and we will not be going bankrupt."

Here are some other key points from last night's address.

Budget cuts and cleaning up a financial mess

Without calling him by name, Evans laid blame on Wayne County’s financial health on his predecessor, Robert Ficano. "Wayne County had been insolvent for years and things were getting worse." The county has yet to recover from the 2008 economic downturn, but legacy costs for retirees, a decline in property tax value and failed economic development plans led to the county's $100 million deficit, a yearly structural deficit of $52 million and $1.3 billion in health care liabilities – not to mention a $900 million shortfall in the pension fund.

To make up for some of the losses, the county brought in a team of financial experts – Evans specifically cited Tony Saunders, a 29-year-old Detroit native who is now the county's chief restructuring officer and CFO – to see where cuts could be made. As a result, the county finished fiscal year 2015 in the black for the first time in eight years; health care liabilities were reduced from $1.3 billion to $471 million; and the accumulated deficit and structural deficit were eliminated? How? The Sheriff's Department reduced its operational budget by $2 million, the Prosecutor's Office’s budget was balanced, the Register of Deeds' Office was reorganized, and the County Clerk and Treasury departments are undergoing reorganization.


The county also resolved a lawsuit with 4,000 of 5,000 retirees over health care benefits and reached new collective bargaining agreements with 12 of 13 labor unions to reduce legacy costs. The county is not quite out of the woods; it still must spend millions to finish an incomplete jail in downtown Detroit and make repairs on other jails and the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.

Moving things around and building partnerships

Evans announced the county's intent to move the juvenile court division into Cadillac Place, the state-owned building in Detroit's New Center (also known as the old GM building, also known as where the Secretary of State and other State of Michigan offices are). Moving into the state-owned building will save the county money, and is a signal that the county is open to working more with the State of Michigan to cut costs. (Evans noted early in last night's address that purchasing the Guardian Building years ago was a financial mistake.)

Within the juvenile division, Evans announced a new job-training program for at-risk youth. "Our failure to identify and effectively treat these youth has harmed generations, while nearly bankrupting state and local governments," Evans said. The county is partnering with Black Family Development, an 38-year-old organization that empowers at-risk youth, for the program, which will emphasize career readiness and placement services.

Evans also noted the importance of Southeast Michigan county governments working together to ensure the region's success — and wasn't afraid to announce he borrowed some talent outside Wayne County’s borders. Evans cited Deputy Wayne County Executive – "a Republican that works for Brooks" – Bob Daddow for his assistance in steering Wayne County’s recovery. Daddow was a member of a county subcommittee that "spent countless hours providing his expertise to this critical transition issue. Wayne County will always be grateful to him."

A significant number of the county's population is without health insurance; 11 percent of Wayne County is uninsured, representing 25% of uninsured residents statewide. Evans says the county has partnered with Beaumont Health for the recently opened Wayne Health Center to rectify this. The center primarily serves western Wayne County, which is hardest hit. Half of the 112,000 residents in Westland, Wayne, Romulus and Inkster are low-income, and there is only one primary care doctor per 4,100 residents in those four cities. The county has also partnered with the University of Detroit Mercy to offer dentistry services at the Wayne Health Center.

Fixing the roads

Evans said that because of the county's limited resources, repairs would be prioritized on the hardest-hit roads across the county, including a one-mile stretch on Conant Street in Hamtramck (also known as Bangladesh Ave.) that hadn't been repaired in 39 years. The county is also working to fix a drawbridge on Jefferson Avenue between Detroit and River Rouge and Ecorse. "We are fixing the damn bridge!" Evans said.

Can't fix the property tax

Despite Evans' best intentions, he admits the county is hampered by its reliance on property taxes for revenue. Under the thumb of state law, the most the county can do is "operate within its means." From 2008 to 2014, the county received $418 million less dollars in property tax receipts, exacerbated by financial crises over those years. "Local governments can't sustain that kind of loss without significantly affecting the quality of the essential services they are required to deliver," Evans says.

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