Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson delivered his State of the County address Wednesday night.
After an introduction by Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, whom Patterson called “Michigan’s next governor,” the county executive acknowledged the county’s high foreclosure and unemployment rates from 2009. Oakland County’s unemployment rate reached 15.6 percent, compared with a state average of 15.2 percent.
In spite of what Patterson described as a “tough year” in 2009, he praised the county for being one of only two counties in the state to receive a AAA bond rating from Wall Street and the only county in the state described as financially “stable.”
Patterson credits the ratings to the work of his Budget Task Force.
“Members of my Budget Task Force explained that intense vigilance is the key to our success,” Patterson said. “At least twice every month, task force members review the budget and they make adjustments as necessary to reflect the reality of current conditions.”
Included in these efforts are a new three-year budget proposal, county employee pay cuts and the defined contribution plan, which Patterson introduced in 1994. The defined contribution plan saves taxpayers $7.2 million a year, according to Nancy Scarlet, Patterson’s director of human resources.
Patterson said reducing the foreclosure rates is an important goal for his office as well. The office’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program moved 100 families into previously foreclosed properties and the Oakland County Home Buyer program helped 33 families purchase homes in 2009. Additionally, the county’s Community and Home Improvement Program is attempting to prevent foreclosure before it happens.
The programs are expected to continue their work in 2010.
“As we continue to move forward with both programs, the goal will be to reduce blight caused by abandoned homes and to stabilize property values by getting qualified families into these homes,” Patterson said. “These programs work because they allow the private market to work.”
Since the creation of Patterson’s Emerging Sectors initiative in 2004, which places emphasis on knowledge-based fields in 10 different economic sectors, 17,217 jobs in these fields were created and another 7, 244 were preserved. Patterson said the program still has a long way to go, however.
“When the Emerging Sectors program is fully implemented – and in my mind that would be when we replace the 131,000 jobs we lost during this past decade with jobs from within the knowledge-based economy – I won’t promise you that Oakland County will be recession proof,” Patterson said. “But I will argue that through this program of diversifications, Oakland County will become recession resistant.”
Particularly promising to Patterson and the Emerging Sectors program is the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, which received accreditation on Tuesday. Patterson cited OU president Gary Russi’s estimation that the school will create 1,000 jobs and potentially contribute a billion dollars a year to the area’s economy.
“I can’t emphasize the significance of this medical school,” Patterson said. “The possibility of a multi-billion dollar shot in the arm will go a long way toward restoring our challenged economy.”
The alternative energy industry, specifically through companies like Xtreme Power and Clairvoyant, is something that Patterson places faith in as well.
During the address, Patterson announced a challenge between the counties involved in the Economic Growth Alliance – Oakland, Genesee, Saint Clair, Livingston and Lapeer – and in partnership with AT&T called the OakGov Challenge.
“The OakGov Challenge will provide an opportunity for tech-savvy programmers to create new ideas and applications that could either be published as a web application on a PC, or as a smartphone application for use on iPhones, the Google Android and others,” Patterson said. “In this public/private partnership, we hope to end up with new applications that take a plethora of public data that we have stored at the county and make the data more accessible to our citizens.”
The winner of the challenge receives $10,000. Information is available at www.oakgovchallenge.com.
The Automation Alley consortium, made up of more than 1,000 businesses in eight counties, is developing a military office in its Troy headquarters in 2010. Patterson hopes this will be an opportunity for Oakland County businesses to bid on military contracts. Automation Alley is also building an International Business Center in Troy that will help international companies get accustomed to the American marketplace, particularly pertaining to business in Oakland County.
Other developments Patterson believes will contribute to a bright economic future for Oakland County are the developing film industry in the area, efforts by the county to curb spending even in small amounts, the new “green” terminal at the Oakland County International Airport and continued investment in the county’s parks and recreation system.
Patterson asked voters to renew the county parks millage in August.
“There are 13 parks, 68 miles of biking and hiking trails, five county-operated golf courses, and well-preserved open spaces,” Patterson said. “These are places that not only preserve the natural beauty of Oakland County, but also offer safe and serene setting for family outings and gatherings. In 2009, 1.5 million people visited our county parks.”
Park updates in 2010 include a three-acre “off leash” dog park at Red Oaks Waterpark in Madison Heights, the construction of a universally accessible play structure at Waterford Oaks to accommodate people with disabilities and an addition of 186 acres to Independence Oaks park.
Patterson praised the county’s handling of crisis situations in 2009, including the H1N1 inoculation efforts and its newly developed plan to help combat terrorism attempts such as the Christmas Day attempt on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
At the closing of his address, Patterson reiterated his desire to focus on a message of hope for the county, rather than discussing past troubles.
“Tonight I had two options,” Patterson said. “I could have dwelled on the challenges of our economy, but we all know those too well. Or I could leave you with a positive message that we have a great team here in Oakland County – including my staff; the other countywide elected officials with whom I am privileged to serve; our legislative body, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners; and our outstanding Courts and Judges – they are all managing through these tough budget years in a manner which I hope makes you proud.”
For more information on the State of the County address or any of Patterson’s programs, visit www.oakgov.com.