Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter highlighted what he considers some of the county’s successes at a State of the County address April 4 at The Hawk Community Center in Farmington Hills.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter highlighted what he considers some of the county’s successes at a State of the County address April 4 at The Hawk Community Center in Farmington Hills.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

State of the County address focuses on affordable housing, transit, business

‘Proving once again that in Oakland County, working across the aisle is how we do business’

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published April 11, 2024


OAKLAND COUNTY — At his State of the County address at The Hawk Community Center in Farmington Hills April 4, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter painted an optimistic picture of where things stand in the county.

Coulter took the stage following remarks by Farmington Hills Mayor Theresa Rich.

During his speech, Coulter highlighted what he considers some of the county’s successes, including affordable housing, transit, small business coaching and mental health care.

He said that one of the county’s greatest strengths is fiscal responsibility, as, from his perspective, taxpayer dollars have been handled responsibly.

“Every year I’ve presented three-year balanced budgets with healthy reserves that help provide essential services that reflect our shared priorities and values,” Coulter said to those in attendance, including residents, and city, county and state officials. “That careful and far-sighted fiscal planning has once again allowed us to earn our AAA bond rating. … It’s the foundation that allows us to execute our strategic plan — an intentional and thoughtful roadmap to deliver initiatives and services to improve the lives of our people.”

Coulter shared what he thinks has gone well for the county over the past 12 months or so.

“We’ve had remarkable success on a number of fronts this past year, from transit to mental health care, affordable housing to sustainability, small business coaching to education (and) training,” he said. “We were able to provide these innovative programs with the support of our Board of Commissioners. They passed a budget in a bi-partisan manner, proving once again that in Oakland County, working across the aisle is how we do business. These programs have touched hundreds of thousands of people.”

Coulter cited Oakland SAVES, which he said was opened on a Monday morning in January and is designed to provide grants to people with an interest in energy-efficient improvements in their homes.

“The interest and need were so high that by Friday of that same week, the entire $5 million in funding was spoken for,” Coulter said. “We’re helping to keep people safer and more comfortable in their homes, providing more energy efficiency and keeping more money in their pockets as they save on their monthly utility bills.”

Coulter said that affordable housing is important for attracting and retaining individuals to help grow the population.

“So, working with the Board of Commissioners and using federal American Rescue Plan (Act) dollars, we established a $20 million housing trust fund — this fund is working with developers to provide more affordable housing options in the county through incentives and gap finding,” he said. “Projects have already been approved for these funds in Southfield, Royal Oak Township, Pontiac and Rochester Hills, filled with both market-rate and affordable homes that will create inclusive communities for the hard-working Michiganians who are looking for attractive and safe places to raise their families. And we just closed last month on a project in Rochester Hills to provide desperately needed housing for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s only the second such development in all of Michigan.”

With the help of multiple Oakland County Michigan Works offices, Coulter said that more than 8,500 people have entered the workplace over the last two years.

He said that due to services that have been offered, interns and apprentices have been matched with thousands of businesses.

Coulter touted the county’s Oakland 80 initiative, which aims to have 80% of the adult population attain a college degree or certified training by 2030.

He said the county is currently at 69%.

Coulter also highlighted Oakland Thrive, a nonprofit that was launched to provide coaching and consulting resources for small businesses in the county.

Oakland Thrive can assist entrepreneurs with things such as a business plan, social media, financial workshops, and assistance with applications for business grants and loans.

Coulter also cited efforts to help small and midsize manufacturers.

“Our economic development department has helped 20 companies either locate or expand in Oakland County during 2023,” he said. “Their presence represents $387 million in new investment, and more than 3,300 new and retained jobs.”

In 2022, voters approved the Oakland County Public Transportation Millage. With that approval, the county is now authorized to levy a millage for the purpose of funding transportation services throughout Oakland County. Prior to that, individual communities could opt out.

Residents in communities that opted in prior to the countywide millage paid 1 mill in taxes for public transportation services. Residents in all Oakland County communities will now pay 0.95 mill for 10 years, which is 95 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value of a home.

“We’re building on the strength of voters, who, like us, were committed to creating a countywide public transportation system,” Coulter said. “We’re expanding into the job-rich centers of Novi, Wixom, Bloomfield Hills and Rochester Hills, which is happening with the help of the SMART bus system. Transit is on the move for the folks who live in the outer reaches of Oakland County, who may not have been sure they would ever benefit from a public transportation system.”

Opponents of the millage, however, said that residents in communities where there is not a high demand for public transportation should not have to pay taxes for it.

Mental health care has been a popular topic in the country, and it is one that Coulter touched on during his speech.

“Another significant initiative we’ve adopted … is our investment in expanding access to mental health care in Oakland County,” he said. “Through our partnership with the United Way of Southeastern Michigan we’ve provided millions in grants to dozens of nonprofits that have the expertise to positively impact, and in some cases save, the lives of tens of thousands of people across our country.”

Coulter’s speech also included a “sad note,” as he discussed the deaths of three individuals who helped serve Oakland County.

“Oakland County Sheriff Deputy Nicholas Dotson from Holly died in December after a battle with cancer,” Coulter said. “Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Nick had a special spark that led him to his job with the county because he wanted to make a real difference, and he did during his 10 years of service with the Sheriff’s Office. At the young age of 32 he leaves behind his wife, Delaney, and son, Sullivan.

“County Commissioner Gary McGillivray lost his battle with cancer late last year,” Coulter said. “He was a devoted public servant during his time as a councilman and mayor of Madison Heights, and during his 15 years on the Board of Commissioners. He was also a champion for the Oakland parks system and as chairman of the Parks and Rec Commission.”

Coulter also recalled someone who he said had a legacy of helping people.

“We tragically lost Dr. Calandra Green, our county health officer, almost a year ago,” he said. “Calandra was a passionate advocate for public health services … especially in communities of color.”

Green’s death last year was ruled a homicide. She was found near her husband in their home in Pontiac. His death was ruled as a suicide.

At the address, Coulter announced that working with Oakland University, a scholarship fund to help nursing students at the university was created.

Coulter also said that a $20 million investment will help create new public spaces and make improvements to dozens of parks across the county.

He referred to the county’s 14 parks as the “crown jewel of Oakland County.”

Coulter said the county is helping communities with $14 million in grants to upgrade water infrastructure, with a $5 million investment going toward 29 senior centers across the county.

He also touted a multimillion-dollar upgrade to the county’s public radio safety program.

“That allows our police, firefighters and EMTs to seamlessly and in real time connect with hundreds of agencies across the region and the state so we can improve response times (and) better respond to a crisis,” Coulter said.

Oakland County Commissioner Bob Hoffman attended the event.

Although he said that he thinks the county is in good shape and he commended the employees who work for the county, he did share a concern.

“It just seems like we keep building staff and creating programs, and that’s always a concern to me. (It’s) somebody else’s money we’re spending,” Hoffman said.

He also questioned a decision to purchase two office buildings in Pontiac for $19.2 million.

“We have the true market value of those two office buildings,” Hoffman said. “It’s either $10 (million) or $12 million. So we’re going to pay $19.2? Then we’re going to get another $100 (million) or $150 million (invested) in it, and they talk about we’re getting money from the state, whatever. I don’t care where you get the money: It’s taxpayer money, and how are you creating economic development in Pontiac when you spend $19.2 million for a building and then take them off the tax rolls?”