County Board looks back at 2020 accomplishments, plans for 2021

GENESEE COUNTY — In a year defined by COVID-19, the Genesee County Board of Commissioners focused much of its attention on combating the virus in 2020 and working with emergency partners to plan for future vaccine distribution. However, the county board also took part in several accomplishments in 2020 and made key decisions regarding the county budget and retiree healthcare. Below is a summary of county achievements and plans for 2021. Accomplishments:

During 2020, the county oversaw several construction projects, including renovation at the Genesee County Jail. Josh Freeman, Genesee County Board and Capital Projects Coordinator, said that the interior of the jail was painted for the first time since it was completed in 1988, and all four elevators were also replaced inside the building.

For the first time ever, the county also consolidated its Friend of the Court operation into one space in the Genesee County Administration Building, rather than having four offices in two different buildings.

Construction at the Genesee County Animal Control building was completed in 2020, capping off a two-year expansion and renovation project. The renovation, which was made possible by an Animal Control millage passed by county residents, transformed the building into a state-of-the-art facility that can provide for the care and eventual adoption of animals in Genesee County.

Former Davison police officer Jay Parker was also selected as the county’s new Animal Control director following the retirement of Paul Wallace this fall.

In September, county commissioners’ broke ground on the Genesee County Juvenile Justice Center in Flint Township. The new facility, which is currently under construction, will replace the aging Genesee Valley Regional Center (GVRC) building on Pasadena Avenue.

“With a new focus on data-driven outcomes for kids, the new facility will see both treatment and detention for court-involved youth,” said Freeman. “We hope this new focus, moving away from simple detention, will allow our kids to successfully transition back into the community as productive members rather than being housed in jails.”

Challenges and key decisions:

The Board of Commissioners found itself facing challenges on several different fronts in 2020. In addition to navigating the COVID-19 crisis, commissioners tried to ensure financial stability for the county and discussed plans for maintaining and upgrading county facilities

Earlier in the year, the board worked on adopting a budget that included significant cuts across the county. Freeman said that the county reported near steady revenue but also incurred increased costs of operation.

“With the uncertainty of COVID and the negative economic effects that it may cause, the Board was very conservative in estimating our revenue for the upcoming fiscal year,” he said. “In the adopted budget, the use of fund balance was cut in half from the previous year in an effort to conserve cash for an uncertain future.”

Commissioners also continued to develop a solution to the county’s increasing retiree healthcare costs. Working in tandem with the county’s healthcare consultants, the board implemented a plan that Freeman said will result in nearly $7 million in savings, while minimizing the impact on retirees.

However, a recent ruling in the 7th Judicial Circuit Court has halted the county’s switch to a new healthcare provider for retirees.

Looking ahead:

Freeman said that many of the board’s goals for 2021 have been upended or altered due to the pandemic. Heading into the New Year, the commissioners will be tasked primarily with securing funds and resources to battle COVID- 19 in the county.

“With the uncertainty caused by the unknown economic effects of COVID, the Board will stay vigilant in controlling spending and finding new ways of doing business,” Freeman said. “While the vaccine certainly has provided hope for a return to some sort of normal, we have no idea of how long that rebound will take. Moving forward, the county—just like other local units of government—will need additional funding to continue providing support for our COVID response.”

Freeman said that the board will continue to promote the importance and availability of virus testing and contact tracing, while securing personal protective equipment (PPE) disbursement and emergency food supplies with its emergency management partners, including: the Genesee County Health Department, the Genesee County Metropolitan Planning Commission, the Genesee County Community Action Resource Department (GCARD) and the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office.