Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson called for a reduction in county property taxes of .15 mills over two years during his 2015 State of the County address Wednesday night in Pontiac. When approved by the Board of Commissioners, homeowners will save $75 million over the next decade.
“Imagine, that’s $75 million back into your pockets for use as you see fit. It will stimulate the local economy and certainly contribute to a stronger quality of life in Oakland County,” Patterson said. “How can we do this when other governments are struggling? You’ve heard me say it time and time again at my State of the County addresses: we exercise thoughtful management not crisis management.”
Patterson also announced the expansion of the county’s cyber security initiative aimed at local governments to include businesses and residents. Launched last September, CySAFE (Cyber Security Assessment for Everyone) helps government agencies determine how susceptible they are to hackers and intruders, identify weak points, and prioritize solutions by urgency and cost-effectiveness.
“Oakland County believes governments should not be the only ones with access to the best technology to optimize cyber security,” Patterson said.
CySAFE for small and midsize businesses will be available at no cost on the county’s economic development website, AdvantageOakland.com. The county will introduce a home version later this spring. Oakland County developed CySAFE in collaboration with the state of Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management & Budget and the counties of Livingston, Monroe, Washtenaw and Wayne.
Oakland County is offering an economic incentive to attract business investment: time. In 2013, Patterson launched “One Stop Ready,” a program that shares and teaches the best practices and ideas in proactive and responsive economic development. He cited cities like Troy, Auburn Hills and Pontiac which are seeing incredible results.
“Focusing on when a company needs to open and how government at all levels can assist a company’s speed to market means the company hires faster, invests quicker, and impacts our economy sooner,” Patterson said.
By the end of this year, 21 cities and townships will be One Stop Ready practitioners.
Oakland County’s Connected Vehicle Task Force has garnered national attention in its first year. Patterson unveiled the task force in last year’s State of the County speech to create a plan to make Oakland County the first in the nation to implement a countywide connected vehicle ecosystem. The task force joined forces with the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) as an integral member of the Affiliated Test Bed in Detroit. Members have been asked to join and appointed to board level positions on such nationwide organizations as the Connected Vehicle Trade Association. In September at the Intelligent Transport Systems or ITS World Congress in Detroit, the task force demonstrated how current technology can be used to determine a vehicle’s location, completing real time demonstrations of a vehicle’s position to within a matter of inches. This is a first big step in building the business case of a countywide connected vehicle ecosystem.
The year ahead is full of promise for the task force as well. It has been invited to collaborate with U.S. DOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Road Commission for Oakland County, and the research being conducted at the University of Michigan to advance the next phase of testing for this emerging technology.
“Much of the global research in connected and autonomous vehicles is happening right here in Oakland County,” Patterson said. “Through this task force, the county will position itself as one of the leaders in converting research to reality.”
Patterson also highlighted many positive economic indicators in Oakland County in his speech. They include:
- The Oakland County business community has added a net total of nearly 80,000 new jobs since 2009.
- The Oakland County One Stop Shop Business Center witnessed small business loans triple from $7 million in 2012 to more than $22 million in 2013. In the past two years, it has found access to capital exceeding $52 million creating hundreds of jobs and enabling nearly $30 million in loans for small and second stage companies.
- Oakland County now boasts 57 percent of the Global Fortune 500 with more than 1,020 foreign owned multi-national companies from 38 different countries.
- Emerging Sectors, launched in 2004 to transform the county from a manufacturing-based to knowledge-based economy, is on the cusp of the $3 billion investment mark. That’s from 313 companies creating or retaining more than 50,000 jobs.
- Oakland County’s Medical Main Street, which markets the region as a destination for medical tourism, is about to reach $1 billion in private investment.
- Automation Alley, which promotes an eight county region as a high-tech hub, has reached the half-billion dollar mark in export sales since its inception.
- Foreclosures in 2014 returned to 2002 levels of 1,900.
Other notable facts Patterson announced:
- Oakland County continues to retain its AAA bond rating after 17 years.
- The county has met Patterson’s pledge to reduce energy consumption 15 percent by 2015, saving taxpayers more than $4.7 million. The energy savings will get a boost as the county replaces 600 high-pressure sodium lights in its parking lots with more energy-efficient LED lighting.
- Oakland County’s Department of Health and Human Services helped halve the infant mortality rate in the African-American community with collaborative programs in the community over the course of a decade.
Finally, Patterson updated the ongoing efforts surrounding the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). He commended Oakland County’s regional partners.
“Perhaps as a group, The Big Four has accomplished nothing more impactful for our region than the formation of the Great Lakes Water Authority framework,” Patterson said.
There is, however, still much to be done.
“The hard work of turning the framework agreement into a functional reality is what today’s efforts are targeted at,” Patterson said.
If Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) is unable to meet specific conditions outlined in both the Memorandum of Understanding and Articles of Incorporation that created the GLWA, the authority will automatically dissolve.
“The Great Lakes Water Authority is hardly Camelot,” Patterson said. “The authority is not a completed deal yet. If certain conditions precedent cannot be achieved, the authority will terminate by its express provisions.”
He specifically outlined information that has been released by DWSD at recent public meetings.
“Unfortunately today the water revenues, and thus the cash flowing into DWSD, are not meeting either budgetary expectations or those projections that were set out before entering the MOU. The volume flows (i.e., units billed – against which rates are applied to produce revenue) have been falling off for years. Said differently, the previous expectation of the water revenues improving and providing resources sufficient to help make the new payments within the capped revenue requirement seems less likely to be met today than when the MOU was signed in September,” Patterson said.
In addition, key financial information needed to move forward is unavailable.
“Unfortunately, the June 30, 2014, audited financial information remains elusive. The city is still closing its books. Without this information the transition team cannot finish its work in assessing the financial conditions of DWSD towards the preparation of a lease we all can agree to,” Patterson said.
He emphasized, however, the goal of a functioning regional water authority is still possible.
“I want to note that I still believe the launch of an effective authority remains an obtainable goal,” Patterson said. “But we are not there yet. And we all need to understand that there are enough challenges and surprises along the way that a fully functioning Great Lakes Water Authority may yet be beyond the reach of us mere mortals.”
To read Patterson’s complete 2015 State of the County speech, go to www.OakGov.com/exec. Video of the address will be uploaded to Oakland County’s YouTube account.
The State of the County address was held at Auburn Hills Marriott Pontiac at Centerpoint before an estimated audience of 550 attendees. Patterson was introduced by the winner of Oakland County’s 2015 Elite 40 Under 40, Melody Arabo, a teacher from Walled Lake Schools.