PRESENTATION by Char Sumney
(DAMONS) - MAY 26, 1998 and
Good morning/Good afternoon:
I feel very fortunate to be here as Chairperson of the County Board of Commissioners; because, as Chair, I have the opportunity to see, hear, and be a part of many issues in which this community is involved. In many instances, these community issues reflect various matters the County has on its table, either for the present or the future.
For the most part, County Government does not deal with specific neighborhood concerns and issues. Rather, it deals with subjects which cross not only neighborhood lines but the political lines of the various units of government in the County and, at times, the southwest region of the State.
As one of 25 municipalities in the County, Kalamazoo County spends about $85 Million, owns over 2500 acres of land, and operates from nine primary and three leased facilities which represent a replacement cost of well over $120 Million. County Government is among the top ten employers in the County with about 900 employees and an annual payroll exceeding $32 Million.
Unlike our cities, County Government is not chartered; and for the most part, it does not decide what its responsibilities are or will be. County governments throughout the State are in fact endowed with literally thousands of statutes, various State Constitutional provisions, and volumes upon volumes of case law -- all of which dictate to a large extent what its responsibilities are.
About one-third of the County revenue comes from property taxes. The Countys tax base is $5.1 Billion; and, with a levy of 6.14 mills, about $35,000,000 is used by the County to fund a variety of services.
While the County provides five beautiful parks, operates the Airport, and funds many other activities, its primary emphasis is on Human Services and Law Enforcement. I want to take just a few minutes to highlight these two important areas.
When it comes to Human Services, Kalamazoo County is unique. It stands out. Only two counties in Michigan have consolidated human services programs into a single department, and Kalamazoo County was the first to take such action. County HSD continues to operate with an extremely efficient ratio of services to administrative cost.
The Human Services Departments budget is approximately $25 Million with 15% coming from the County General Fund, 75% from federal and/or state grants, and 10% from fees or third party payments. A few years ago, to create a one-stop shopping concept, all human service programs were moved to the Nazareth Campus on Gull Road.
HSD is composed of many different programs which are very significant to the community.
Poverty is one of the major causes of family deterioration. In 1993, 17.4% of Kalamazoo Countys children lived in families with incomes below the poverty level. HSD operates several programs for low income individuals. For example, Head Start which not only prepares children to compete at the same level with other children when they enter kindergarten, but also works with the parents by helping them become more productive citizens. Currently, more than 610 children are enrolled in the Countys Head Start program; and, from past experience, these children will do very well when they enter the public school system.
Another program, the Emergency Overnight Shelter, was established in 1989 as a result of a community-wide effort to provide shelter for the most vulnerable of all homeless people. The shelter program provides specialized assistance for men and women, whether it is providing a place to stay while they save enough money to pay their first months rent or an array of services including substance abuse treatment, job training, and more.
The Care-A-Van program provides door-to-door transportation for low income, elderly, and disabled individuals to seek medical care, attend school, go to work, etc. It carries more than 100,000 riders per year and is a partnership between government and the private sector. Although the County administers Care-A-Van, it contracts with a private for-profit organization to operate the system.
HSDs public health programs work hard to assure a healthy community. Much of the increased life span that developed countries have enjoyed is a result of local public health programs that have controlled contagious diseases, improved sanitation, and assured safe water supplies and food purity. The public health component is made up of a number of programs and services aimed at protecting people from unsafe or hazardous conditions, along with promoting good health and preventing disease.
The Countys disease surveillance program follows up on reported cases of communicable diseases and works to prevent outbreaks. For example, last year there was an Hepatitis A outbreak in the school lunch program caused by the consumption of contaminated strawberries. The public health nurses spent over 150 hours identifying and providing preventive Hepatitis A shots to over 490 students, staff, and parents who may have eaten the contaminated fruit.
HSD also operates a Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program for low income women of 40 years and older. Based on last years data, the County anticipates screening over 1100 women during 1998. Based on the number of lives that have been saved, this program has paid for itself a thousandfold.
In addition to preventing epidemics, HSD also works to protect the communitys health by maintaining clean and safe air, water, food, and facilities. Last year, 1,200 parcels of land were inspected for the installation of on-site waste water disposal systems. There were 37 suspected cases of food borne illness investigated which involved more than 160 people who became ill from dining out. Every six months, restaurants are inspected to assure the safe handling and preparation of food.
The Household Hazardous Waste program allows residents to rid themselves of hazardous waste such as oil based paints, pesticides, aerosols, solvents, car chemicals and corrosives without damaging the environment. Uncontrolled dumping of these materials can easily destroy the drinking water. All but three municipalities in Kalamazoo County are a part of the Household Hazardous Waste program, and resident participation in this service has continued to rise every year for the past seven years. In 1997, the program served 1,686 customers, including 1,655 households and 31 agricultural businesses such as farms, greenhouses, and golf courses.
The County also works to create partnerships and strengthen the resources of the community. Over the past few years, HSD has brought in more than $8 Million in grant funds to assist in this area. No one organization working alone is going to solve the communitys problems -- success will come only through collaborative actions.
Federal, state, and local governments have a legal responsibility for the safety, health, and well being of the community. The Michigan Constitution indicates, "...the public health and general welfare of the people of the state are hereby declared to be matters of primary public concern." By statute, the Countys human service/ public health programs are a partnership between local and state government.
If you would like to learn more about the array of these programs, contact the Human Services Department or inquire at the end of this discussion.
The second major area of County responsibility is Law Enforcement. Under the Michigan Constitution, County Government functions in large measure as an "umbrella" government. That is, it is tasked to provide on a county-wide basis government services which the drafters of the Constitution felt must be delivered to the entire county in a uniform fashion without regard for the distribution of population or level of local government in place.
Human Services operates like that; however, Law Enforcement with its elected Sheriff, Prosecutor, and Judges is an excellent example, as well. For instance, the framers of the Constitution could have left the business of providing a jail to cities, villages or townships; however, in many cases, the local unit would not have the tax base to support an effective facility and the volume to justify the operation or obtain any of the economies of scale. Instead, this function has been assigned by state law to each county.
In keeping with this approach, the Constitution and State Law dictate that the County play a broad role in the delivery of law enforcement services. This is done through general operating funds and the law enforcement millage, both of which are county wide property taxes.
The County is required to finance the operating costs of the 9th Judicial Circuit Court. The Court has recently been reorganized as a result of a change in state law, and is now comprised of two divisions -- Trial Court, which tries all felony criminal cases, and Family Court, which handles all crimes committed by juveniles. In addition, the Circuit Court is responsible for the operation of the Juvenile Home and a variety of programs aimed at improving kids who come in contact with the Court.
Under another recently approved merger, the County has undertaken the support of the consolidated District Court. The District Court has a very important role in criminal justice as all felony cases being there before being transferred to the Trial Division of the Circuit Court. District Court also handles from start to finish all misdemeanor criminal cases as well as civil actions under $25,000.
Office of the Prosecuting Attorney:
All criminal violations of state law are dealt with through the County Prosecutors Office. In addition, the Prosecutors staff is responsible for the enforcement of all child support orders issued by the Circuit Court Family Division.
The Sheriffs Department and Jail:
The Sheriff is responsible for providing police services to all County residents who do not live in a village or city which has its own police department -- about 80,000 people. It is the only agency providing law enforcement patrol on County lakes. This year, the Department will respond to more than 32,000 requests for services.
As noted earlier, the County is required to provide a jail, which is an important component to the Countys criminal justice system . A "jail" in Michigan is defined as a facility designed and approved to hold inmates for up to one year. The cities of Portage and Kalamazoo both have "lockups" which are facilities to hold people for up to but not more than 72 hours. Everyone who is awaiting trial and has not posted bond or been denied bond remain in jail until trial. Thus, the Jail holds people every bit as dangerous as are held in any State prison. It is the ONLY place the courts can sentence a person who is found guilty of a misdemeanor -- drunk driving, domestic violence, assault, shoplifting, and a host of other crimes significant to the quality of life in the community.
In addition, the Jail is critical to the Countys efforts to expand sentencing options and make maximum use of community corrections alternatives to jail and prison. Such programs as adult probation, drug courts, and community work programs require effective, and in many cases, the only effective way to do that. When people are turned away from jail because it is overcrowded, it weakens the very programs that are designed to reduce jail usage. Consider the fact that there are more than 500 people in the local community corrections programs, many of whom would otherwise be in jail. Criminal justice professionals feel that most local community corrections programs are at "saturation" levels.
The Sentencing Guidelines legislation currently moving toward passage would require that a significant number of people convicted of felonies be dealt with at county level. This would further impact the jail population in a jail that is already 26 years old and badly overcrowded.
And, importantly, the County which funds 50% of the $70 Million or so that local government spends on law enforcement is involved in planning for the capital and facility needs. Currently, that planning surrounds the concept of central booking/jail consolidation and central arraignments through the District Courts. This in itself involves minimum security inmate holding for pretrial detainees which now account for more than 60% of the Jails capacity. Bringing the concept on line will take many years and would put the community in the position of adequate facility response for the next 40, 50, 60, or even perhaps 75 years.
As County Board Chair, I have two goals for the remainder of the year. First, to see the Law Enforcement Millage renewed. You will have an opportunity to restore it on August 4, which will be the third renewal/restoration. At 1.45 mills, it will be the first time citizens will be asked to renew it for less mills.
Second, to see the retention of a new County Administrator to help guide the Board and support the many departments, courts, and elected officials.
Kalamazoo County is a good place to live, work, and raise a family. I am proud to call it my home. I am also proud to represent the citizens and the County Board as its Chair.
Thank you for inviting me here today, and I hope you have some questions to which you wish me to respond.