Bond Rating Agency Assigns Calhoun County ‘AA’ Rating and Stable OutlookStandard & Poor’s Global Ratings affirmed the ‘AA’ long-term credit rating on the County’s outstanding bonds and its planned issuance of Pension Obligation Bonds this summer. A rating of ‘AA’ signals to investors the County’s very strong capacity to repay bond obligations, and is second only to S&P’s highest ‘AAA’ rating, assigned to a very few large counties in Michigan. The rating agency also gave us a Stable Outlook designation in association with the rating, signaling their positive view of the County’s ongoing economic recovery from the negative impacts of COVID-19.
The rating report highlights factors contributing to the County’s creditworthiness–strong management including realistic revenue and expenditure assumptions, strong budgetary performance, strong budget flexibility and strong liquidity. These policies and practices help to mitigate risks associated with weak economic factors including our countywide per capita income being lower than the national average. S&P also notes the County’s need to continue our efforts to address unfunded liabilities associated with retiree health benefits. Another indicator being watched very carefully by the rating agency is our local employment rate, which at its peak was 25% and had rebounded to 7.7% in January this year when this bond process began. Read the Report.Highlights from a few boards and committees:On Wednesday, April 14, the Calhoun County Veterans Affairs Committee met virtually. Director Aaron Edlefson shared the year-to-date financial report, an update on the Kellogg Community College scholarship for Calhoun County veterans seeking higher education, and an update on the office’s records digitization efforts. Also, the Committee reviewed 10 applications for the Veterans Relief Fund, and ultimately approved 7. This Board also held a special meeting on April 29 to discuss a Veterans Relief Fund appeal: Two applications were ultimately approved at that meeting.
The monthly Michigan Association of Counties’ County Administrator’s Meeting was held on Thursday, April 15 via Zoom. At this meeting, MAC’s Governmental Affairs Director Deena Bosworth led a discussion about a new request to the legislature to make Counties whole for underfunding state revenue sharing over the past decade. We also shared counties’ preliminary thoughts and plans for American Rescue Plan Act dollars that will soon be available to counties nationwide.
Since the last Board of Commissioners meeting and Administrator’s Update, two Rotary events took place. I participated in the Rotary Club Board Meeting on Friday, April 16, at which I gave a Treasurer’s Report that Rotary has added approximately $3,000 to its budget in the last quarter. Then, on Monday, May 3 at the general Battle Creek Rotary meeting, Calhoun County Road Department Engineering Director Kristine Parsons gave a presentation about the upcoming road construction season and answered participants questions about road funding and treatments. Click here for a PDF of Kristine’s presentation, and be on the look out for announcements about the 2021 construction season, which will be made as local road agreements are finalized with townships.
The Board of Public Health met on Monday, April 19 virtually. Deputy Controller Megan Banning provided an update about the Public Health Department’s financials and Health Officer Eric Pessell gave a COVID-19 update, regarding community spread which remains present in Calhoun and lessening demand for vaccine.
Also on Monday, April 19, Human Resources and Finance staff and I met with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to review the county’s employee health insurance claims experience from 2020 as compared to our peers. The overview shows that, like we might have expected, healthcare costs were down significantly in 2020, likely due to the pandemic. More importantly, BCBSM’s report highlighted some very positive comparisons of Calhoun County’s employee health claims costs, our employees’ engagement in wellness and preventative care activities, based on national and state peer organizations. They were impressed with our overall strategies to value and support employees with great healthcare benefits, our onsite Care Here Health & Wellness Center, and wellness program. I’m so appreciative of the leadership of our HR/Labor Relations Director Kim Archambault, the support of our internal benefits and wellness committees, and the assistance of our Benefits Consultants. These efforts have ultimately resulted in healthier employees and lower than benchmark costs.
The Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance (MAEDA) Board of Directors met virtually on Tuesday, April 20. At this meeting, MAEDA voted to allocate some of the balance of accumulated net assets to a “Strategic Projects” fund. The Board also approved a new committee structure within MAEDA to help streamline operations and structure efforts around strategic projects.
On April 22, I participated in a “Virtual Morning Cafe” by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation about the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), leading up to the anticipated US Treasury guidance coming soon. A week after this event, I attended an “Idea Exchange” hosted by the National Association of County Administrators (NACA) on Using ARPA Funds, at which a roundtable discussion was held on how counties plan to use these funds nationwide. These are just two of numerous workshops I’ve attended recently about ARPA, because we want to make sure that we are good stewards of the money allocated to Calhoun County.
On April 22, at my request for such a meeting, County leaders including Board Chair Steve Frisbie, Sheriff Steve Hinkley, Health Officer Eric Pessell, Court and Juvenile Home administrators, Summit Pointe’s CEO and I met with Starr Commonwealth’s CEO Elizabeth Carey and a federal Public Information Officer. This meeting was intended to give County officials updated information about the situation ongoing at the Starr campus. Starr and federal representatives continue to confirm that the facility is acting as an Emergency Intake Site for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, housing unaccompanied children from the southern United States border. They maintain that the children will remain at the Starr Commonwealth campus only until placement, and that approximately 80% of the children come with a referral for family members or an approved organization; Starr has indicated that it is not a permanent housing solution for the children. The campus reports a capacity of 240 beds and said that at least initially, the majority of services have been coordinated by the federal government. As of May 5, officials have communicated to the County that 154 unaccompanied children are at the facility, five currently have COVID-19, and a total 85 have discharged either to family or another facility since the operation began. Calhoun County officials are working on an ongoing basis to understand how County services might be needed to support this mission, and how its presence is impacting other local organizations and services.
The first leadership training session in a series on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was held for County Elected Officials and Department Heads on April 23, virtually. Over 30 employees participated in this training led by Battle Creek organization The Truth and Titus Collective. This training is being offered to County officials by recommendation from our internal DEI Committee formed last year, and following an employee baseline survey. Survey respondents indicated support for training that should help with a common understanding of the impacts of different types of racism, from interpersonal to structural, as well as the effects of implicit bias on individual employees, departments and the public we serve.
I attended the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) Annual Legislative Conference on April 28-29, held virtually. Educational and networking sessions included American Rescue Plan Act plans and strategies, veterans affairs grant availability, and state legislative updates. County Commissioner and Vice Chair Gary Tompkins and Commissioner Rochelle Hatcher also attended this conference.
On Monday, May 3 the Calhoun County Planning Commission met virtually. The Commission recommended three items of Township Planning & Zoning Coordination, including light industrial and marijuana uses in Marengo Township; zoning text and map amendments to the Convis Township Zoning Ordinance, and a PA 116 Farmland Preservation Tax Credit Application in Athens Township. I serve on the Planning Commission as a county representative along with Commissioner Rochelle Hatcher, and Community Development Director Jen Bomba provides the departmental leadership.
The Summit Pointe Board of Directors met for its annual organizational meeting on Tuesday, May 4. Officers were elected and committee chair appointments made, with County Commissioner Kathy-Sue Vette continuing to serve as Chairperson and I as Treasurer. We also approved meeting dates for the next year. There were two educational presentations, including a brand audit review and a First Step Urgent Care Center update about Summit Pointe’s new urgent care facility in Battle Creek.
Calhoun County Board of Commissioners
At the May 6 Board of Commissioners meeting, the Board appointed Dominic Oo to the Senior Millage Allocation Committee; created the Calhoun County Broadband Task Force and appointed 11 initial members who will make up that task force; approved Local Road Agreements between the Calhoun County Road Department and Albion and Eckford Townships; approved two Calhoun County Public Health Department grant awards; and approved a 457 retirement savings plan acknowledgement and agreement. In new business, the Board approved,
- a grant application to EGLE for replacement of certain older diesel Road Department vehicles with newer environmentally friendly emissions standards
- Approved March 2021 Financials
- Approved contracts for Site Readiness Planning
- Approved a contract with PEA Group for Kimball Pines Park, which will provide architectural, design, planning, and engineering services for park renovation previously approved by the Board
Around the CountyUpdate from the Road DepartmentEngineering update:
- This year’s Phase II of the Emmett Township Local Road Improvement Project has begun. An interactive map of the project can be found on the Calhoun County Road Department’s website
- Federal aid projects are scheduled to start in June in four locations:
- Morgan Rd. Phase I between M-37 and North Ave (Bedford Township)
- Capital Ave. SW between B Dr. S and Battle Creek City Limits (Leroy Township)
- Division Dr. between Clark St. & Jackson County Line (Albion/Sheridan Townships)
- Partello Rd. Phase II between 20 Mile Rd. to just past 21 Mile Rd.(Marengo Township)
- Local projects are being finalized and paving/chip seal will be taking place this summer
- Pothole patching continues countywide, with independent patching contractors to be deployed next week
- Gravel road maintenance is ongoing
- Durapatchers have been working in Burlington, Convis, and Emmett Townships
- Boom mowers are working in Albion and Clarendon Townships
- Shoulder work has taken place across the county
- Berm removal has taken place in Clarendon and Tekonsha Townships