ROCHESTER HILLS — Deputy Oakland County Executive Phil Bertolini said the recent passage of a balanced three-year county budget was not a simple task.
“We’ve been through some tough economic times,” he said at the Oakland County Update hosted by the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce Sept. 26 at Rochester Hills City Hall. “But we found a way to not spend more than we have.”
A drop in the property tax revenue stream left Oakland County with 30 percent less revenue. Although property values are now slowly on the rise, Bertolini said it will take 10 years to recoup the revenue.
“We do see improvement coming,” he said. “But it will be slow, and we have to plan for that. We have to live within our means — think long term, not short term.”
A healthy economy “is about jobs,” he said. The county’s Emerging Sectors business attraction and retention program, and Medical Main Street’s alliance of hospitals, universities, and medical device and biopharmaceutical companies, and medical professionals are bringing a diverse workforce to Oakland County, he said.
“At one time, General Motors was the No.1 employer in the county,” he said. “Now it is Beaumont Hospital. Medical Main Street is an effort to re-brand Oakland County.”
Altered salaries and health care benefits of county employees eliminated layoffs, Bertolini said, and reducing the number of Oakland County commissioners from 25 to 21 will also save money.
The balanced budget, passed with no increase in taxes, “will keep the county in a strong position for many years to come,” said Oakland County Commissioner Jeff Matis, R-Rochester. “A lot of areas are struggling.”
The health of Oakland County is reflected in the AAA bond rating received from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s. “When we bond for roads and drains, we save money — we are borrowing at the lowest rate,” Bertolini said. “We don’t borrow much, but we do have to bond for large projects.”
Matis said he has been striving to add transparency to county business. “We now televise and webcast all of our meetings,” he said. “It is an important issue to me. People have the right to see what [the county] is doing with their tax dollars.” Oakland County Board of Commissioner meetings can be found online at www.oakgov.com.
“What we are doing today will affect us 10 to 20 years down the road,” Oakland County Commissioner Bob Gosselin, R-Troy, said. “Government is giving a helping hand, but not getting in the way. It is hard to get the balance correct and make development happen.”
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