County Board looks back at 2019, sets goals for 2020

GENESEE COUNTY — During 2019, the Genesee County Board of Commissioners made several key decisions, while handling pressing issues with retiree healthcare and the county’s cybersecurity. Below is a summary of significant projects and moves initiated by the county board, along with the county’s goals for the New Year.

Accomplishments and key decisions:

Among the county’s main accomplishments in 2019 was its continuation with building upgrades at the Genesee County Animal Control in Flint Township. The project, which is intended to expand the shelter’s capacity, was completed through its first construction phase last July and is expected to be fully finished this year.

Josh Freeman, the Genesee County Board and Capital Projects Coordinator, said that the expansion has improved conditions at the shelter by offering much more space and better facilities for the animals.

“It should also be noted that our shelter also reached no-kill status in 2019, a dramatic change from previous years when over 60 percent of the animals were being euthanized,” Freeman said. “We expect this project to come in under budget as well.”

Expansion at the shelter was made possible by a voter-approved millage for Animal Control, which was passed in November 2014.

The county board also made significant progress on the Chevy Commons project by finalizing an agreement with the City of Flint to purchase the old “Chevy in the Hole” site in Flint. Funds for this purchase came from a grant by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Freeman said that the county board is hopeful that the site will become the first state park in Genesee County after the redevelopment is finalized. Currently, Genesee County remains the only county in Michigan without a state park.

In the spring of 2019, county commissioners also agreed to move forward with a plan to replace the Genesee Valley Regional Center (GVRC) on Pasadena Road in Flint Township with a new Juvenile Justice Center. County Commissioners said that GVRC, which has served as the county’s juvenile detention center since the 1950s, has become outdated and expensive to maintain, prompting the county board to come up with a new vision for meeting the needs of courtinvolved youth.

“This project, which will be paid for over the next 25 years, will allow us to reduce staffing while changing the focus of court-involved youth from simple incarceration to rehabilitation,” Freeman said.

Pressing issues:

In April, Genesee County’s computer network was attacked by a major ransomware virus that affected several departments and even locked the county out of some of its own data.

Following the cyberattack, the county board took action by updating its IT infrastructure and hiring staff to address cybersecurity issues.

“As with many other infrastructure issues facing the county, as dollars became scarce, decisions were made to direct dollars to areas that seemed to be more important,” Freeman said. “It caught up with us (in 2019). Luckily, we were able to contain the attack quickly and limit our exposure.”

After a couple of weeks, the county was back up and functioning to serve the public. Altogether, county commissioners committed $2 million to upgrade the county’s IT systems.

Also in 2019, the county board attempted to tackle issues with Genesee County’s retiree healthcare system. County Commissioners have said that the 2008 recession and municipal government funding structures have taken a huge toll on county’s ability to pay its future healthcare obligations to retirees, while putting a considerable strain on the county’s budget.

“This year alone, Genesee County is responsible for paying over $18 million for retiree healthcare,” Freeman said. “That represents nearly 20 percent of our general fund budget. 20 cents of every tax dollar we receive is dedicated to our retirees—before one service can be delivered to our residents.”

Meanwhile, the county board has hired outside experts to review its healthcare system and is seeking to deliver a more cost-effective service to retirees. Commissioners expect to receive answers shortly after the first of the year.

2020 Goals:

Moving forward, the county board has stated that improving retiree healthcare and maintaining a balanced budget will continue to be its highest priorities. In doing so, Freeman said that tough decisions will have to be made by commissioners to avoid bankruptcy or a state takeover of the county.

“The Board is expected to start the budget season earlier than they ever have,” he said. “Priority setting sessions will include every single department—knowing that they are going to have to continue to perform with less money.”