Livingston’s 2019 State of the County Address points toward long-term dynamics, changes and opportunities as the components that will shape the region’s future.
Local leaders, elected officials and community members attended the address, given by Livingston County Board of Commissioners’ Chair Don Parker Wednesday at the John E. LaBelle Public Safety Complex in Howell Township. Parker shared why he chose to focus on the theme of “future trending” in his address, stating that the word ‘trends’ means something that’s almost gelled. He told attendees, “I picked ‘trending’ because there’s still some things in flux, but I’m very optimistic about the future.”
Parker first announced the county’s employee recognition winners, which include Mary Kuzner with the county clerk’s office, Ken Recker from the drain commissioner’s office, and Dawn Ducett who works in the local courts system. Parker then highlighted the county’s new 911 central dispatch facility, which also became the first in Michigan to earn a rare triple accreditation this past year.
Parker did address hurdles officials have and continue to face, like constraints on municipal finances in terms of what can be done with revenue. He noted a 22% increase in the cost of the county’s healthcare in the last three years, as well as a 213% increase in terms of employer contribution to the pension system. Other challenges, according to Parker, include a significant decreasing enrollment in schools, a declining birth rate, and an aging population that will affect the county’s long-term dynamics, changes and opportunities.
Parker also had strong feelings about what he says will be the local and negative effect of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s budget vetoes. He says, “I would be remiss (not) to say that Governor Whitmer’s latest line item vetoes have actually been a tremendous burden on the people of this county and the people of the state of Michigan…and I say to Governor Whitmer that she needs to rescind those line item vetoes and that the people of the state of Michigan are not political pawns or bargaining chips.”
Despite what he believes are some difficult factors, Parker feels that the state of Livingston County remains “strong”. He says people, or “human capital”, will be what communities are competing for in the near future as growth will allow municipalities to say on top of service and legacy costs. Livingston County may be filling that need for growth as Parker noted it is now the 10th largest county in Michigan. Other positive news, he says, is the county’s AAA Moody bond rating, $9.8 million that has been contributed to reducing the county’s unfunded pension liability, and maintaining the lowest tax rate in the state. Parker reminded that earlier this year Livingston County joined a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors, and that the county now has a public defender’s office for indigent defense.
Parker says his address was focused on the county’s future not just in the coming year, but years and even decades beyond. He says “it’s the people” that make him optimistic for what’s to come.
In response to the presentation, the chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party Judy Daubenmier, called it a “missed opportunity” and that Parker “did not offer any proposals for dealing with…demographic changes except the same prescription of low taxes and no new services.” The full response is posted below. (DK/JK)