New parks and training facilities, roadwork top 2019 wish list

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 27, 2018

 Fixing Oakland County’s roads, some even on the Oakland County government campus, seen here, is a priority for several county heads.

Fixing Oakland County’s roads, some even on the Oakland County government campus, seen here, is a priority for several county heads.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki


OAKLAND COUNTY — From Pleasant Ridge to Holly, Hazel Park to Farmington Hills, 2018 was a good year for Oakland County, officials said.

For many at the helm of the county’s various departments, the new year will be largely about staying the course: keep up the economic growth, the safe communities and impeccable public services.

But, there’s always room for improvement, right?

We asked some of Oakland County’s leaders what they hope to accomplish in 2019, and the resolutions they shared are ambitious. See for yourself.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson
We went straight to the top and asked Patterson what his priority will be in the new year, and he said he’s taking a tip from Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer, who campaigned during the past year for the seat on a platform of fixing Michigan’s infamously shoddy infrastructure.

“I’d like to see somebody fix the damn roads,” he said. “The incoming governor hit the nail on the head, and now she has to come through on that.”

To make better roads happen, Patterson said it’s all a matter of finding money to work with.

“Our roads are notoriously underfunded,” he said. “Take a few million in tax breaks from (Dan) Gilbert and that should help.”

There are some other plans on Patterson’s agenda too, but he’s reluctant to share them publicly, because, he said, he doesn’t want his adversaries to beat him to the punch.

“It’s going to be a challenging year coming up. The county board flipped from Republican to Democratic control, so I’m not going to be working with a friendly group,” he said. “But there’s a four-letter word they’re going to come to hate: veto. If I have to cast it to protect the taxpayers, I’ll cast it.”

District 12 Oakland County Commissioner Shelley Goodman Taub
Taub anticipates some battles at the commission table too, being a Republican on the now majority Democrat board. But she has high hopes that all of the commissioners will land on the same page to keep Oakland County chugging forward.

“My first priority has always been a balanced budget,” Taub explained when asked what she would have on her agenda if her party were in the majority this year. “That’s the one fear I have with this new team, because we have a AAA bond rating. We have 61 communities in Oakland County that rely on that AAA bond rating because it gets us the lowest interest rate when we bond for things like roads and sewers. And Lord knows our infrastructure is wanting — not just the potholes but what’s underneath.”

She also hopes the County Commission will push the state to enact stricter regulations on Michigan’s septic systems. She said we’re the only state without any kind of septic code, and that could mean bad news for the environment when these systems get older and start breaking down.

“Oakland County has more septics than any other county in the state,” she said. “Somehow, without costing the county or costing the homeowner an arm and a leg, we have to figure out how to do this.”

Taub said she’ll keep busy in her district: continuing to chair the Birmingham Youth Assistance group, working with Oakland County Youth Assistance and chipping away at an ongoing pet project.

“I found a cemetery,” Taub said of an abandoned and overgrown plot of land near the Heathers condominiums she was tipped off to during the first years of the Interstate-75 modernization project, near the Square Lake interchange. “It’s been four or five years that I’ve been working on this, trying to find who it belonged to and figure out how to get it cleaned up.”

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash
It’s no surprise that Nash has infrastructure on his mind too, since getting residents high-quality water at the best possible price — while keeping the supply, our lakes, clean and thriving —  is the name of his game.

But to do that, he needs to make sure Oakland County residents are on board with what needs to be done to keep communities healthy.

“My 2019 New Year’s resolution is to continue and grow the public education efforts I started in 2018 and before: by speaking at more libraries across Oakland County, going to the Michigan State Fair again and any other events where people are interested in learning about how we protect their water,” Nash said in an email. “By educating the public, young and old, we and all county residents can better protect our water resources for our future and our children’s future.”

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard
To keep the county safe, Bouchard said, it’s important to keep current and incoming deputies trained on the most up-to-date law enforcement techniques. And his department could use a bit of help in that respect.

“I’m hopeful the county will soon allocate funding for a new training center and emergency operations center,” Bouchard said in an email. “Both current facilities do not meet recommended guidelines.”

Bouchard likened the current range, built in 1971, to using an outdated phone — the technology doesn’t hold up.

“(It was built) when we had one quarter of the staff currently on hand and cannot utilize current recommended training practices due to the old design,” he continued. “The community expects our employees to be trained in best practices, which works to provide safer outcomes and less liability. A new training center and emergency operations center will deliver these results to our citizens.”

Bouchard said the funds for the facility could be garnered in a number of ways, such as an allocation from the Oakland County Board of Commissioners or a one-time bond.

Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department Executive Director Dan Stencil
Along with 2019, Stencil has some other numbers floating around his head: 75 full-time employees, 750 seasonal employees, 727 volunteers, and 2 million annual visitors to the county’s 13 parks.

To keep those parks operating, Stencil needs to make sure funding is secured for another 10 years. The Oakland County parks millage is set to expire in 2020, so he’ll be focusing on promoting a successful renewal.

“Ten years ago, the millage passed at 76.6 percent,” he said. “I’m challenging my staff to see if we can achieve an 80 percent or higher millage renewal in 2020.”

For a home valued at $200,000, the millage would cost a taxpayer less than $25 annually, he said.

But that’s nearly two years away. In the immediate future, Stencil said, he’d like to see some progress made on a project that would cater to off-road vehicle fanatics. After all, the majority of Michigan’s registered ORVs are in the southeastern portion of the state.

“(In 2018) the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Commission and staff worked and continue to work with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to develop an operating agreement for an off-road vehicle park that would allow (the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department) to manage the facility as a state/county park,” he said in an email. “The 235-acre site sits south and west of Mount Holly and across from Groveland Oaks County Park, and will offer scramble areas and trails for all types of ORVs, including full-size, side-by-sides (all-terrain vehicles) and motorcycles.”

An agreement to bring the ORV park to life could be approved by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners early this new year, with an anticipated opening of 2020.

Road Commission for Oakland County Managing Director Dennis Kolar
If Patterson hopes to get county roads fixed in 2019, it will be Kolar behind the wheel. And to make that happen, Kolar is going to need a few things: cash, of course, and better weather.

“We hope that other communities will look closely at what Independence Township is going to be doing with its (new, voter-approved) infrastructure millage,” he said. “(It is) a great model for how to improve the roads within a community.”

He said that he hopes Whitmer will find a way to put the money where her mouth is as far as her campaign promises to fix the roads.

That just leaves Mother Nature to contend with.

“We (hope to) have a mild winter this year so that we have money left over in our winter maintenance budget that we can use to improve even more roads in the spring and summer.”

Oh, and no more lockouts, either.

“Work was stopped for a month this fall due to (Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association) contractors locking out the operating engineers’ union,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of work planned in 2019, potentially more than we have ever done before, and we want to get it all done, including a great deal of road resurfacing.”