Can Evans save Wayne County?

Warren Evans_optWarren Evans has a tough assignment. A non-admirable one because the newly elected Wayne County Executive has to avert at all cost a titanic ship from sinking in the ocean. So the former top cop for Detroit and Wayne County has been in every part of the community making his case for keeping Wayne County financially solvent.
Evans just released what he described as his “Recovery Plan” to solve the country financial circumstances because the county has a structural deficit averaging $52 million for the last four years. His office said only extraordinary transfers from the County’s Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund allowed the county to eliminate its accumulated deficit in 2015. Without immediate action to rectify the factors that created this problem over that last decade, the fiscal crisis will worsen, a release stated. The county’s accumulated deficit is expected to grow $171 million.
“Wayne County’s financial state doesn’t allow us the luxury of time,” Evans said. “Our pension system, alone, is in worse shape than Detroit’s pre-bankruptcy. Our liquidity problems have not been addressed and we continue to hemorrhage cash. We cannot continue to do business as usual.”
According to the county, over 70 percent of the county’s current long-term obligations are for health care and pensions. The county is faced with $1.3 billion in unfunded health care liabilities and a pension system that needs $910 million to become fully funded. In comparison, Detroit’s pension system was 71 percent funded pre-bankruptcy and the county’s pension system is 45 percent funded.
Evans is also calling for operational restructuring initiatives to lower the cost of providing essential services to Wayne County residents and for reducing the county’s real estate portfolio. He said if fully implemented, his plan will save the county’s General Fund $230 million over the next four years. The Evans administration believes this plan is the first stage to resolve the county’s severe financial crisis.
“The proposed changes to pensions and health care are tough decisions and we understand and appreciate the concerns of employees,” Evans said. “At the same time we know these reforms are necessary for the county’s viability. Our focus is to create a financially strong county that best serves both our employees and our residents.”
Al Garrett, president of AFSCME Local 25, speaking for his members in the county said the county executive’s plan is incomplete.
“This plan does not speak to where they are going and where they are going to get revenue from. It does not tell you that revenue has diminished because of the property tax revenue,” Garrett said. “Their solution is to take it out of the employees’ dime and without any plan about how to get more revenues for the county. The county still has taxing ability for another two mill but yet there is no commitment from the county executive to use that.”
Garrett further described the plan as “another attempt to put the bandage on the problems of the county,” and that the leadership of the county is not explaining that to taxpayers.
“Some of the problems came from the debacles of the previous administration but even without those, this report shows you that the revenue in Wayne County was down before they bought the Guardian building and the jail fiasco,” he said.
Evans hinted that if all hands are not on deck with the plan he unveiled this week, an emergency manager could be waiting in the wings.
Garrett called it a “political bluff,” adding “some of his proposals came from the plan of adjustment. It does not have any value to me at all.”

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