Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 7, 2013

Another View: Financial tale of two counties

When it comes to fiscal matters, it’s clear that Livingston County Republicans and Democrats live in different worlds.

Republicans are so proud of their frugal money-management policies that on even-numbered years they purchase billboard space to proudly proclaim that the county government, run by an all-Republican board, boasts the lowest property tax rate among Michigan’s 83 counties.

Democrats don’t think that is such a badge of honor. They argue that the low taxes and high bond rating only tell part of the story. Missing, they say, are services that cost money but would make the county a better place to live.

But high taxes and more spending don’t necessarily mean better government. For a troubling example, one need only look a little bit to the east where Wayne County — the most-populous county in the state — is staggering under a huge deficit and questionable management.

And, yes, the county is run by Democrats.

The contrast between Livingston and Wayne counties is striking. Livingston has a balanced budget, levies the lowest property tax rate in the state and boasts the highest-possible bond rating — a stature that reflects prudent a prudent spending philosophy as well as providing savings when the county and area townships borrow money to pay for projects.

Wayne County levies a higher tax rate but still is a financial nightmare. It is running a huge deficit. It has underfunded pension obligations. It’s bond rating has been reduced to a tick above that of junk bonds. Its response in part has been to propose a tax hike and blame the state for not giving it enough money.

Where has Wayne County’s money gone? Some of it has gone into ridiculously generous sweetheart deals for those most connected to the highest seats of county power. A Wayne County official in his 40s with less than nine years of service qualified for an immediate $96,000-a-year payout. An economic official who willingly left for a lucrative job running the airport was given a $200,000 severance package — although that was returned when the smelly deal was publicized.

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