LANSING (AP) — The state appeals court heard yesterday from upset Michigan counties that say the state isn’t giving them enough money to place wards in their juvenile detention centers.
The financial dispute directly involves 11 counties and the Family Independence Agency, but it could affect 13 other counties that run detention facilities.
The state reimburses counties for half the cost of caring for wards of probate courts — but that does not include capital costs such as construction or equipment costs higher than $500.
The counties say the state is violating the law by not paying 50 percent of the total cost to care for juvenile wards, who are under the protection and custody of the state or courts.
“I didn’t craft it,” the counties’ attorney, Douglas Van Essen, said of the state’s social welfare law. “But that’s the system.”
Van Essen pointed to a statute and the 1978 Headlee Amendment, which bars the state from reducing existing levels of aid to local governments. The total cost at stake could exceed $1 million, or an average of $100,000 per county, he said.
Though not an astronomical figure, Van Essen said it’s crucial because counties have received fewer dollars in revenue sharing in recent years. The state cut the payments to deal with its own budget deficits.
But the FIA disputes this claim.
Assistant attorney general Joel McGormley said the counties have the option of opening a detention center. Wards also can be placed in private or state-run facilities.
“There is no requirement or mandate that counties have a facility,” McGormley told a three-judge panel.
The FIA has never meant to fund capital costs in the past and the counties improperly submitted them as expenditures, he said.
The eleven counties suing the FIA are Allegan, Bay, Berrien, Eaton, Grand Traverse, Kalamazoo, Marquette, Midland, Ottawa, Saginaw and Washtenaw. Grand Traverse does not have a center but has discussed building one.
The FIA said other counties with detention centers — but not involved in the suit — include Calhoun, Genesee, Ingham, Jackson, Kent, Lenawee, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Roscommon, St. Clair and Wayne.