THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
13th February, 2014 0
While the challenges facing Saginaw County over the upcoming year are numerous and well publicized, there also exist a vast array of opportunities and promise that are often not so readily promoted by the mainstream news media. Indeed, it was this ‘Field of Potential’ that Saginaw County Commissioner Board Chairman Michael Hanley focused upon in his 2014 State of the County address, which he recently delivered at the Dow Event Center.
Last year when Hanley and I sat down to discuss the State of the County there were several troubling areas that the Board was working to address. In 2013 the general fund budget amounted to $44.27 million dollars and consisted of revenue from property taxes comprising $23 million of that figure; with legacy costs comprising around $11 million per year, or approximately 50 percent of the revenue derived from property taxes. Additionally, Saginaw County’s current unfunded accrued pension liability is hovering around $60 million dollars, based on current market value according to current County Controller Robert Belleman, who previously served as Bay City Manager.
Under Public Act 34, the County was able to issue Pension Obligation Bonds and use the proceeds to pay all or part of the costs from this Unfunded Pension Liability; however last year there were no takers. This year that scenario has changed, as recently the bonds indeed did sell, which creates considerably less stress upon the county coffers.
Additionally, this year a new Committee is being formed that will be chaired by Commissioner Jim Theisan to work with various municipalities throughout the county in order to ascertain how more savings can be given to the workings of government through the development of more collaborative structure.
Of course, many troubling issues continue to surface: the recent plant closing of TRW, which will cost the City of Saginaw 600 jobs and approximately a million dollars per year in property tax revenue, coupled with the budgetary woes of the Saginaw Public School system, which will result in the loss of 53 teachers at the same time Governor Snyder has proposed sending the city more police officers.
But as Hanley noted to me: “People often see the darkness, but you also need to look at the light. When the two are put together you get various shades of grey and it’s from there that we move forward.”
What follows is a transcript of highlights from Chairman Hanley’s address. His points are well-taken and we hope you find this as illuminating about Saginaw County’s future as you find it informative about where it presently stands.
“Last year, all of our labor contracts expired on September 30th. Our labor/management benefits committee reduced our health plan options from 7 to 3 to reduce costs. We’re told that this and a reduction in insured employees will result in overall savings of about a million dollars this year.
We’ve approved contracts covering about 70% of our unionized workforce as we speak. The last 2 years, giving a 1% raise in the first year, with another 1% possible if we have sufficient reserves in the second year. I want to thank Saginaw County’s labor unions and our employees again, for working so constructively with us as we confront these challenging economic times.
We balanced our 2013/14 budget with the use of almost a million dollars in reserves. The saved health insurance money will likely reduce that total. We on the commission were preparing for a very tough time with the budget this year, but yesterday we learned that the Governor’s budget proposes a Revenue Sharing increase of $915,000 to Saginaw County. So it looks like we’re not going to have to make any major cuts if any at all this year, but given what the county’s been through for the last several years, I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed.
In 2013, we tried to sell the bonds I told you about last year, to make our unfunded pension obligations more manageable. But it wasn’t pretty.
We were the first local government to submit our “Comprehensive Financial Plan” to the state on February 22. They approved it 5 ½ months later, with no changes to the original submission. Unfortunately, during our wait, Detroit filed for bankruptcy and the municipal bond market tanked.
We were finally able to sell the bonds about 3 weeks ago. The interest rate was higher than before the bankruptcy, but we still were able to reduce our annual payout by about $230,000 for the next fiscal year and our total payout for pensions by over 15 million dollars over the next 15 years.
Our other unfunded legacy cost is retiree health insurance. We have a reserve fund to cover only about 14 million dollars of the total of 148 million in potential liabilities. We’ll continue to explore ideas to deal with this challenge this year.
Last year we met a few times with our counterparts in Bay and Midland Counties to talk about potential areas to work together. This year those efforts will continue and intensify with our new Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee. This Committee will reach out regionally but also internally to our cities, townships, villages and school districts. Jim Theisen chairs this committee and I very much look forward to working with him and others to find ways to collaborate for the good of our communities.
Oh, by the way, our board has a Democratic majority and Jim happens to be a Republican. I hope his appointment, as well as Dennis Krafft’s continuing Chairmanship of the Budget Audit subcommittee of appropriations send a message to county residents that our County Board acts in a bipartisan way whenever we can.
Sadly, we got some gut punches last year. Just before Christmas, TRW announced the closing of its Saginaw Operations, meaning 600 jobs will be lost. Still, Saginaw Future is hunting for new jobs every day and we’re hopeful that this will be a comeback year for jobs in Saginaw County.
2013 again saw too much violent crime, largely concentrated in a few neighborhoods in the City of Saginaw. In response, state and local agencies banded together for the best team effort ever. It yielded many convictions and we hope because of this, we’ll see less violence this year.
It’s important to note that violence in the city is violence in the county and violence in the region. It leaves physical victims, but it’s also a crime against all of us and our communities, because it harms our reputation and our ability to attract the good jobs we need so our children can stay home or come home after college, to work and raise a family.
Let me know if you agree that violence ANYWHERE in Saginaw County is not tolerable and it must stop NOW!
Saginaw County’s people have dealt with adversity many times in our history. From the early years of settlement near the malarial swamps on the banks of the Saginaw River, to the lumber boom and bust, through the great depression, too many wars, from the rise of the auto industry to the globalization of trade, we’ve had our peaks and valleys. But we don’t give up and we won’t be defeated. To quote the great 20th century American industrialist Henry Kaiser, we believe that “problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”
We in Saginaw County can be our own worst critics, and in truth, some of us are far worse than others. Those of us who can’t resist occasionally peek at the comments on m-live from those ANONYMOUS harshly negative bloggers. Their common theme seems to be “why would anyone want to live in Saginaw?”
I want to answer that question by talking about Saginaw County as a part of our region. The Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance formed almost 10 years ago and initiated a branding campaign that challenges us all to celebrate our assets and think regionally. Our region is like potluck picnic, with every locale contributing something unique to the meal.
Let’s talk about what Saginaw County brings to this party. When I listed all the assets I could think of as part of this speech, it took 18 minutes to read. I’m not going to punish you that long, so you’re getting copies of the list along with bookmarks with historical facts about Saginaw County, and you’ll see pictures on the PowerPoint as I run through a few on the list. How about these?
The Saginaw Art Museum, The Saginaw Children’s Museum and The Castle Historical Museum. The Temple Theatre, beautifully restored thanks to the Shaheen family, the largest restored historic theatre north of Detroit in eastern Michigan.
The Dow Event Center - the largest stand-alone entertainment complex north of Oakland County in east Michigan. It’s home to The Saginaw Spirit Hockey Team, The Saginaw Sting Indoor Football Team, and top notch Rock and Country Concerts and Comedy and Broadway Shows. And the new First Merit Event Park across the street with all the potential it promises.
The Saginaw Children’s Zoo is one of only five accredited zoos in the state and the only one north of Royal Oak in east Michigan.
The newly renovated Hoyt Park with statewide softball tournaments, a renovated warming house, sledding and the skating rink is back. Thanks to Dow Chemical, Dick Garber, Friends of Hoyt Park and all the donors and volunteers who made all this possible.
The Japanese Tea House and Garden is the ONLY authentic teahouse in the entire Midwest and ranked in the top ten best in the world outside of Japan.
The Andersen Enrichment Center. The Saginaw Farmers Market. Jazz On Jefferson. The Cinco de Mayo parade and festival, The Lawn Chair and Saginaw Riverside Film Festivals, The Old Town Motor fest and Easter Egg Hunt PRIDE’S Friday Night Live, Holidays in the Heart of the City, Christmas Parade, and Ice Blast Festival cosponsored by the Spirit, The huge WKCQ County Music Festival and The Saginaw Area Fireworks, the largest fireworks display in Michigan on July 4th.
A conservative estimate of total attendance at all these events and attractions is over a million good times per year! And that’s just inside the City of Saginaw.
By the way, I contacted the Sheriff to ask how many arrests were made at these events and attractions last year. The answer I got was a hand full, with not one single assault.
NOW, THE REST OF THE COUNTY HAS:
Michigan’s number one tourist destination – Frankenmuth, with all of its festivals, and its year round attractions of Main Street shops, the River Platz, the WORLD’S BIGGEST CHRISTMAS STORE - Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, The Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s restaurants that draw countless visitors on an annual basis!
Frankenmuth has got to be the number one consumer of chicken per capita in the world!
The Birch Run/Frankenmuth exit is the second busiest tourism related exit on I-75 from top to bottom, second only to Orlando, Florida. The Birch Run Premium Outlets and the Expo center alone draw 300,000 people per year!
And there’s MORE. Festivals and events like, the Greek Festival and Party on McCarty at the Soccer Complex in Saginaw Township, the largest in the region and host to state and regional tournaments, the Shields Festival and Picnic In the Park in Thomas Township, Bridge Fest in Bridgeport, the Fourth Of July Parade in Birch Run, Hemlock’s Sawdust Days, Santa’s Village/North Pole USA and the Saginaw County Fair in Chesaning, The Mid Michigan Old Gas Tractor Show in Oakley, the Freeland Walleye Festival, the only downhill ski hill in the region in Tittabawassee Township, and last but not least, we bring the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the Lower Peninsula!
I count 60 entertainment and cultural assets to love in Saginaw County! And that’s just on this list; there are lots more on your handouts! We bring a real feast to the picnic!
We also have more economic assets than can be covered here. Saginaw County is the home of Nexteer’s World Headquarters, a 10,000 plus employee company with plants on five continents.
Combined employment for Covenant, St. Mary’s, HealthSource and the VA hospital, (the only one north of Ann Arbor in the lower peninsula) is about 7,500 people, making us the region and northeast Michigan’s health care hub. And TWO CMU Medical School campuses are being built this year! CMU’s is 1 of only 6 medical schools in the state.
Then there’s the miracle mile on South Washington Avenue next to downtown Saginaw that’s added millions of dollars of investment and about a thousand jobs in the last 15 years through the vision and leadership of Dr. Sam Shaheen and Dick Garber and others like AT&T, and the Bay Road Shopping Corridor that last year became the location of the ONLY Cabela’s Outpost in Michigan. The Bay Road corridor is also the home of the Morley Companies with their 1,750 employees and they’re hiring 300 more right now!
We’ve got Saginaw Valley State University, one of Michigan’s 15 public universities, plus Davenport University, and coming soon the new Delta College satellite campus, and again, the CMU Med School! CMU offers other academic programs here, as does Northwood University.
We have some of the best K-12 schools in the state and athletic teams that have won far more state titles than our student population would suggest we could.
So to the anonymous m-live bloggers, that’s why people want to live in Saginaw County, and are proud to call it home. That’s why young people come for college and stay for careers. That’s why when people’s careers bring them here they stay when they retire. Saginaw County is a sparkling gem in the crown of the Great Lakes Bay Region. Michigan has 83 counties. Think of all the other counties that would love to have our assets. Put them all together with the rest of the region and they bring a great sense of optimism about our future!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the State of Saginaw County is great today, and our best days are yet to come!
On behalf of the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners and all of our residents, Thank you, and God bless you all.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)