GVMC Will Ask Lawmakers To Amend Statute

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council recently agreed to amend the state statute that gives the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) its authority. Now it’s up to the organization’s legislative committee to devise a plan to get the proposed changes through the state Legislature and signed by Gov. John Engler.

A few area lawmakers being considered by the Metro Council to handle the point on its request are Reps. Jerry Kooiman and Patricia Birkholz, along with Senators Glenn Steil, Leon Stille and William Van Regenmorter. All are Republicans.

Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, may be the Metro Council’s first choice in the House because she chairs the Local Government Committee there, and that committee is likely to be assigned the bill if it reaches the chamber floor.

Birkholz is also regarded as a friend of MPOs, having introduced a land-use planning bill in the House. As proposed, her bill would allow some MPOs to act as a county planning department subject to county supervision.

As for the Senate, Van Regenmorter sits on that body’s Local Government Committee, and his home base, Georgetown Township, sits on the GVMC board.

The Metro Council made the changes to remove some of the cumbersome procedures found in its by-laws, such as needing every member community to approve the addition of a new member. It can take as long as six months for all 31 boards, councils and commissions to vote on a matter like that, and each has to approve the new member.

Under the proposed change, a new member could be admitted by only two-thirds of the board’s delegates, and the vote would not go to the member communities. But most other actions, such as spending items, would still require the council to use its weighted vote, which is determined by the membership fees each member pays.

Another alteration would allow the Metro Council to become more involved in public utility improvements and services, other than the water and sewer work it does now. The change would allow the agency to form a cooperative to buy electricity and natural gas for its members. Another would let the MPO contract with private firms.

“I believe we have done this in such a manner that it doesn’t violate any guarantees that some communities have, like taxation,” said Larry Silvernail, who chaired the committee that came up with the changes.

Under the current arrangement, members can veto any attempt by the Metro Council to levy any type of tax on members. Under the new proposal, that provision will stand.

“We would still retain the veto power on taxation,” said James Brown, a partner at Mika, Meyers, Beckett & Jones PLC and legal counsel to the Metro Council.

The proposed amendment to the state statute does not yet affect the Metro Council’s current by-laws and articles of incorporation. A vote will be taken on changing those only if lawmakers agree to change the law.

“Our by-laws and articles do not change at all if the Legislature approves it,” said Jerry Felix, GVMC executive director.

Mark Knudsen of Ottawa County said he favored simplifying parts of the process, such as adding members. But he also said he would oppose any attempt by the Metro Council to increase its authority over individual communities. He remarked that many GVMC delegates haven’t been elected to a post and that makes the organization a quasi-public body.

The state statute that formed the Metro Council is Public Act 292, which became law in 1989. The statute was amended in 1998.

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