Ingham County 911 is hiring! Both full-time and part-time opportunities are available. Earn $17/hour taking non-emergency calls and processing law enforcement information as a full-time 911 call taker. Or work part-time as a background investigator, also for 911. Help make sure that prospective 911 employees have what it takes to serve the public while earning $25/hour. Find out more and apply here.
Have you heard of Smart 911? It is a service that Ingham County is pleased to offer its residents. This secure site allows you to provide emergency dispatchers the information they need to quickly and effectively help you and your family members. For example, does a member of your household have a condition or disability that could affect their ability to cooperate with first responders? Do you have allergies to medicine or a family member who is prone to wander because of dementia or autism? Provide as much or as little information as you like. Smart 911 is especially helpful for those households that do not have landlines because mobile phones do not provide the caller's address or location.
Ingham County recently celebrated the completion of work on Hawk Island's 1.5-mile loop. This popular path for walkers, joggers, and cyclists was repaved using revenue from the parks and trails millage that voters passed in 2014. In fact, it is the first project completed using millage funds.
Many trails projects are planned for 2017, including the replacement or repair of multiple bridges and riverbank stabilization projects in the City of Lansing. The cities of East Lansing and Mason and Meridian Charter Township will receive funds for bridges as well. Also in 2017, more than 13 miles of trail segments in the cities of Lansing and East Lansing and in Meridian Charter Township will be resurfaced.
To keep up with progress on these and other parks and trails projects, visit the Ingham County Parks Department's website.
Note: This first appeared as a guest editorial in the Sept. 14 edition of the Lansing State Journal.
There is no question that underfunded public pensions are a complex, serious concern and, in some cases, a real threat to the financial future of municipalities and other public employers. Ingham County is not immune to the challenges posed by pensions. Unfortunately, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Sept. 4 column shed no light on the status of Ingham County’s pension funding. Instead, the column grossly oversimplified the issue and left out key facts, like the steps that the County has taken over the past decade to address its pension liability and the reasons that the “underfunded” percentage recently grew, seemingly overnight. By presenting a skewed report, the Mackinac Center missed an opportunity to educate Ingham County taxpayers.
Ingham County is not in the dire shape that the Mackinac Center described. In fact, through careful planning and saving, Ingham County is in a better position than many other public employers to fund its pensions. And we continue to work on this issue while adjusting to changes outside our control.
In June 2016, the County’s pension administrator, the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS), implemented major changes that directly affect the County’s pension liability. MERS (1) adopted new actuarial assumptions to reflect retirees’ actual life expectancies; (2) lowered the assumed rate of return on its investments; and (3) imposed a fixed amortization period. This means that – starting in 2017 – Ingham County needs to make significantly larger annual payments to MERS because MERS now requires that pensions be fully funded by a much earlier date. Because of these changes, the “funded” portion of County pensions dropped from 71% to approximately 66%.
While these changes were unexpected, the County has proactively worked for years to deal with its pension liability. In 2012, the Board of Commissioners recognized that the existing defined-benefit system was not sustainable. In response, the Board adopted a “hybrid” pension composed of defined benefits and defined contributions. Even earlier, in 2008 and in every year since, the Board of Commissioners has budgeted at least $3 million from the County’s general fund for pensions and other post-employment benefits. This foresight largely spares the County’s proposed 2017 budget from major cuts because a portion of these savings will be used to pay the additional $2 million that MERS requires in 2017.
It is disappointing that the Mackinac Center omitted essential facts about Ingham County’s pension situation. But it is worth noting that the Mackinac Center vehemently opposes traditional pensions for public employees. Instead, it favors riskier, privately administered 401(k)-style plans – or nothing at all. The Mackinac Center sounds the alarm about underfunded public pensions, but it seems to be untroubled by the possibility of a future filled with impoverished retirees. This is the actual pension crisis that lurks as workers see their retirement benefits whittled down or completely taken away. The private sector started this devastation, which now threatens public servants. Instead of asking why only some workers can look forward to a decent retirement income in their golden years, we should ask why everyone who has worked their entire lives can’t count on the same thing.
Ingham County’s employees and retirees have worked hard every day to serve the public. And regardless of our individual political differences, the Board of Commissioners remains committed to acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars while also protecting the retirement benefits that our current and former employees have earned.
Trails and parks to be evaluated, work prioritized
At the conclusion of two meetings, the trails and parks task force decided to seek the help of an expert. The expert will assess Ingham County’s existing parks and trails as well as parks and trails that belong to other local jurisdictions. This work will help the Board of Commissioners prioritize budgeting millage revenue for everything from maintenance to capital improvements to new construction.
The expert’s findings will become part of Ingham County’s parks master plan, which has to be updated next year. The expert is expected to begin work in early summer of this year.
Run for the Ages, Meals on Wheels fundraisers
After a successful inaugural event last year, the Tri-County Office on Aging is bringing back Run for the Ages. This all ages, all ability levels event takes place in Hawk Island Park on Saturday, May 9; it offers 1-mile and 5K events. Proceeds benefit TCOA’s programming for seniors in Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton counties. For more information or to register, click here.
TCOA is also planning its 27th Annual Meals on Wheels Charity Golf Outing. This popular event will take place on Tuesday, June 9, at Walnut Hills Country Club in East Lansing. To sponsor or to play in the golf outing, call TCOA at (517) 887-1440.
Events like Run for the Ages and the golf outing help keep Meals on Wheels and other in-home services available to seniors in need. In fact, even though demand for Meals on Wheels has steadily increased over the past several years, TCOA is able to serve everyone. Seniors do not have to wait for Meals on Wheels.
Task force works on trails and parks plan
The Trails and Parks Task Force met for the first time last week. We had a productive discussion focused on developing a plan that will make the most of the millage that was approved last year. We hope to balance the need to maintain and improve existing trails and parks with the need to expand and connect our trails system with new construction.
With assistance from Parks Department Director Tim Morgan, we are taking a thoughtful, practical approach. By carefully identifying objective criteria now, we can come up with a plan that will benefit as many residents as possible for as long as possible.
Public outreach events are being planned for later this year, but in the meantime, I would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts or concerns about the future of our trails and parks? Email me at email@example.com.
Four-way stop to be added at Bishop/Waverly intersection
Earlier this month, the Board of Commissioners approved installing a four-way stop at the intersection of Bishop and Waverly roads, which is in the northwest corner of Delhi Township. This intersection has been the site of several fatal crashes over the years. I hope that this new traffic control improves safety at this intersection. The new stop signs should be up in the next few weeks.
Trails and Parks Task Force to Convene
The Board of Commissioners is expected to appoint a Trails and Parks Task Force at its next regular meeting, on Tuesday, Jan. 27. Task-force members will develop a plan for allocating funds raised by the new Trails and Parks Millage, which passed in November 2014.
Along with several other commissioners, I look forward to serving on this task force. I would love to hear your ideas for improving our area’s trails and parks. Community outreach will take place throughout the year. But in the meantime, you can send me your ideas by email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
New Parks Director Hired
Timothy Morgan looks forward to helping the County develop a fair, sensible plan for our parks and trails. At the same time, he will be working to update the County’s parks master plan.
Mr. Morgan took over in December 2014 as director of the Ingham County Parks Department. He spent the previous 22 years as director of LaPorte County Parks in Indiana. A graduate of Ball State University, Mr. Morgan also worked for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. He is married and the father of two grown daughters. Mr. Morgan replaced Willis Bennett, who retired.
Budget projections reason for cautious optimism
The Ingham County Board of Commissioners recently passed the budget for 2015. Projections for next year include a 5.8% rise in property tax revenue for a total increase of approximately $2.4 million over the preceding year’s revenue. This is big news because it will be the first time that property tax revenue has increased since 2008.
For county services to continue at the 2014 level, an additional $2.75 million has been allocated to the general fund from the county’s uncommitted fund balance. This is considered a prudent move because of the county’s healthy financial reserves, which are well over the recommended minimum. (In fact, Ingham County recently received word that Standard & Poor’s has rated it AAA+. This is the highest possible credit rating, indicating that that Ingham County has “extremely strong capacity to meet its financial obligations.”)
Also as part of the budget process, commissioners voted to approve $300,000 for increased staffing in the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office (both corrections and road patrol), Animal Control, and Veterans Affairs.
So things are looking up for Ingham County. We are in good shape financially, and we are slowly and strategically increasing our staffing – and service – levels.
Local veterans, volunteers make history
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in the Veterans History Project and taking part in an early Veterans Day tribute. The Michigan Association of Court Reporters, the Ingham County Circuit Court, and the Ingham Court Department of Veterans Affairs organized this event which put a veteran together with a volunteer interviewer and a court reporter. The resulting interview transcripts are sent to the American Folklife Center, part of the Library of Congress, where they will be preserved for future generations.
I interviewed a Navy veteran who served as a hospital corpsman aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget. Even those veterans who don’t fight in combat experience psychological and physical trauma that most civilians can’t begin to imagine. That’s why it is important to me that I do as much as I can as a part of county government to ensure that our veterans – young and old – receive the benefits and services that they need.
I was recognized this summer by the Kiwanis Club of Holt for my service to the community. It was a genuine honor. My thanks to the Kiwanis Club for their service to the community and to Laurie McGraw, who nominated me for this recognition.
Next Animal Control Director to Start in October
After an extensive, longer than anticipated search, Ingham County has hired a new animal control director. Andrew Seltz will start work in October. He currently serves as director of animal control for Leon County, Florida. Previously, he served Kent County (Michigan) as a reserve sheriff deputy and animal control officer. He also worked for four years in Shreveport, Louisiana, as field manager of animal services for Caddo Parish.
A Michigan native, Mr. Seltz served five years in the U.S. Army and led a Black Hawk helicopter crew. He is a Western Michigan University graduate with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. He also holds a master's of business administration degree. I am pleased that we have such a well qualified leader coming on board.
Congratulations to Ingham Academy Graduates
Last month, I had the privilege of attending a graduation ceremony for four remarkable young women. They completed their high school education at Ingham Academy, a special program of Ingham County’s Juvenile Court. Ingham Academy offers an alternative for young people who have previously been in trouble with the law. While completing their high school coursework, they also learn the coping skills that will help them as they move from school into the next phase of their lives. They also gain experience in the world of work – all students receive at least one year of vocational training with Peckham.
The Ingham Academy’s graduates go on to college and productive lives. Very few return to the criminal justice system. This is a great use of Ingham County’s Juvenile Justice Millage funds. I consider this program and others like it to be an investment in human potential, and I am proud to support it.
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Elect Kara Hope
1891 Maple Street
Holt MI 48842
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here belong to Kara Hope. They should not be construed as representing the official or unofficial position of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners or any county department or employee. No taxpayer funds are spent on this website.