Heacock Wants Better Health And Park Funding For County

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Providing better health care for minorities and the poor and creating a dedicated millage to fund parkland development top Steven Heacock’s agenda for this year. In his State of the County address, the Kent County Commission chairman also challenged fellow commissioners, department heads and employees to continue striving for excellence in serving the public.

Heacock told commissioners that one of his goals for 2001 is to determine what role the county will play in ending racial disparities in regards to health status. The chairman listed some “startling” numbers that showed the infant death rate and the sexually transmitted disease rates are higher for minorities than whites, as are the rates for tuberculosis, heart disease and cancer deaths.

“I will be appointing the ‘Kent County Task Force on Health Care for People of Color’ to examine the issue, determine what the county is doing to resolve existing barriers and to develop proposals for county action,” said Heacock.

“I hope that CEOs of local hospitals, health plans and leaders within the physician and minority communities will work with the county on this important task,” he added.

Heacock also announced that the county will be working with the Alliance for Health, and other groups, to learn how primary and preventive care can be provided to the working poor, who are mostly lower-wage workers at small businesses. He estimated that there were 50,000 statewide who need this coverage.

“We believe by working with hospitals in the state, we may be able to find a way to provide primary care and managed care for this population,” said Heacock, who also is vice president of development and general counsel for Priority Health, a managed care company.

As for the county’s parkland, Heacock noted that parks are a personal passion for him and will continue to be so this year. He said the county has picked up about a third of the 1,500 acres needed to create Millenium Park and has applied for funding to buy another third. He added that Universal Forest Products Chairman Peter Secchia has committed more money to the park’s construction, up to $5 million.

“I will be asking the commission to finalize funding for the remainder of this park in the year 2001,” said Heacock. “It is my hope that we can have all funding and land purchases solidified by year-end.”

Following the chairman’s address, commissioners bought another half-acre along Butterworth SW for $107,000, money from the county’s Millenium Park account. The board established that account in 1999 by setting aside $3 million for land purchases.

Two others park projects were also highlighted by Heacock. He wants further financial support to develop the 700-acre Lowell Township Park and the 209 acres of land near the Thornapple River.

“I also will be appointing a task force to work with the road commission on two related issues: the possibility of a dedicated millage to provide reliable and permanent funding for parks and the governance of the county park system,” said Heacock, adding that vice chairman David Morren will head that committee.

“While we have been blessed with surpluses over the past couple years, I fear that we cannot depend on them in the long term. I believe that a land acquisition and development program is clearly a long-term project deserving of permanent funding.”

Heacock opened his address by saying that he wants the county to be recognized as the best governmental entity in the country. Financial strength, a skilled workforce and an ability to measure success, he said, are the primary factors in reaching that goal.

Heacock felt the county was well on its way to meeting his objective. He said Kent County already has a strong fiscal reputation, has been offering superior service from superb people at every level and uses a quality method to identify accomplishments.

“We have excellent financial management, excellent people, and a measurement tool — all of the elements needed to achieve the goal of excellence in every encounter. And it’s working,” said Heacock. “We are making a difference in the lives of those people with whom we come into contact.”

The chairman then read praising comments from residents for actions taken on their behalf by county employees. He also credited managers and department heads for their diligent work in creating a property tax administration system that includes all 35 units of local government, for establishing the archival center with the city and for virtually building a new airport.

“In the coming year, we will be challenged to take what is already an excellent administration of government and make it even better,” said Heacock. “To take the next step in the performance measures to achieve excellent customer service in every encounter within the county. To meet our audacious goal by achieving continuous excellence.”               

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