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Wednesday, November 27,2013

Political notes from around town

Will 9-1-1 pensions have political implications?

by Walt Sorg
The consolidation of 9-1-1 emergency dispatch services has left an unexpected $1.5 million hole in Ingham County’s budget — and it’s creating some significant friction between the city and county governments.

In September 2010, the city and county agreed to transfer city 9-1-1 employees to the county payroll with the city also transferring pension funds for the workers. Three years later, in a letter hand-delivered to Mayor Virg Bernero, Ingham County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Deb Nolan called on the city to finally make good on the agreement.

“Although it had no legal duty to do so,” Nolan said in the letter, “the County agreed to hire City 9-1-1 employees, and the County agreed to assume significant City unfunded liabilities for such employees, including unfunded pension and retiree healthcare liabilities. This was of obvious benefit to the City in that it relieved the City of significant future unfunded liabilities, including pension and retiree healthcare liabilities, and eliminated the annual City appropriation needed to fund 911 operations.

“As part of shedding itself of these significant future unfunded liabilities, the City agreed that it would transfer to a County’s MERS pension established for the former 9-1-1 City employees the City’s funded portion of pension trust assets for those City employees who became employed by the County Dispatch Center.”

County staff recently met with the city’s pension board, but were rebuffed in efforts to resolve the issue.

To protect the 32 affected employees, the county board has transferred $1.5 million from its contingency fund to the retirement system. Next month the board will consider a resolution formally demanding the city make good on its commitment. The resolution leaves open the possibility of both arbitration and a lawsuit, which Bernero has reportedly said he thinks can be avoided.

The disagreement comes as the county commission considers a .5-mill tax increase to fund maintenance and expansion of nonmotorized trails in the county. A major beneficiary of that tax would be the city, which could be relieved of at least some of the cost of maintaining the River Trail.

67th candidates emerging?

Potential candidates in the 67th House district are emerging as Ingham County Republicans look for a challenger to firstterm Rep. Tom Cochran, D-Mason.

Former county Commissioner Steve Dougan, R-Holt, is looking at running. Dougan declined to comment, other than to say, “You can’t keep a secret in Lansing.” In 2012, Dougan lost a bid for Delhi Township treasurer to Roy Sweet, 55 percent to 45 percent.

Delhi Trustee John Hayhoe, the sole Republican to win in the township last year, is telling friends it’s “50-50” whether he will run.

Dougan is allied with the libertarian, tea-party wing of the local Republican party. He played a key role in the primary defeat of moderate Republican Stuart Goodrich, the incumbent township supervisor. Hayhoe, a self-styled moderate, is seen as suspect by many in the tea-party wing for his willingness to work with Democrats.

The 67th House district, which covers south-central Lansing, Delhi, Mason and most of rural Ingham County, is considered one of the state’s few swing districts. In 2012, total general election campaign spending exceeded $540,000, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The next president The first business of the new year for the Lansing City Council is naming a new Council president to succeed Carol Wood. It starts as a contest between Kathie Dunbar and A’Lynne Boles.

Boles (formerly Robinson) has served two terms as president in the last four years, but there had been a handshake agreement (later broken) that would have made Dunbar president in 2013.

Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton supports Dunbar, saying she “has been patiently waiting her turn. She has the ability, and she did get reelected citywide.” Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko has also supported a Dunbar presidency.

As will be the case often in the coming year, a key vote will come from newcomer Judi Brown Clarke. If Brown Clarke sides with Dunbar, it likely would create an initial 4-4 tie vote.

Although she is strongly supporting Dunbar, Houghton could emerge as a compromise choice if the Council deadlocks. Houghton was just reelected to a second term representing her ward. Although she ran as a part of Bernero’s ticket, she has shown a willingness to disagree with him on significant issues. She split with the mayor by supporting a grant for expanding the Michigan Flyer’s bus service to Detroit Metro Airport, which was approved by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission by a single vote.

It’ll also be worth keeping an eye on Councilman Derrick Quinney, who did not back Dunbar at the beginning of this session because of performance issues, namely attendance.

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