Working Together Now A Necessity

February 6, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Gov. Jennifer Granholm will release her budget Thursday and the statutory side of revenue sharing for local communities expects to take another hit.

No one seems to know how big of a blow that will be, but it will come on top of the 20 percent the fund has been slashed the past few years.

Revenue sharing is seen by many in Lansing as the last big pot of money available to be cut, and Donald Stypula felt that little media attention has been paid to the local units of government that are forced to bear the brunt of the cuts.

“You don’t see us mentioned in the press. You don’t hear about us, who are on the front lines, and I find that very troubling,” said Stypula, executive director of the Grand Valley Metro Council, the region’s planning agency with a membership of 32 cities and townships.

“We’re all going to get cut rather severely. We don’t have the ability to pass it down any further. The rubber hits the road here,” said Kent County Chairman David Morren.

In her State of the State address last month, Granholm said that local governments have to reinvent themselves by combining public services and cutting the costs of those services — something these units may be forced to do if revenue continues to drop and the state continues to lose jobs.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell felt units in the region have been cooperating for years. He cited the water and sewer agreement the city reached with many of its municipal customers as just one example of how governments here do work together.

“The fact of the matter is there is a significant amount of that going on here. Perhaps, we need to sing that song a little louder,” he said. “We’re probably doing more of this in this region than any other region in the state.”

Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio, who has ties to metro Detroit, added there was more dialogue and cooperation among governments here than in southeast Michigan.

“We do have an edge, at least in terms of that,” he said.

But Morren pointed out that regional collaboration could be improved. He noted that after 10 years of talks it finally took the terrorist attacks of 2001 to bring units together on a countywide 911 central dispatch system.

Even with those tragedies, though, Morren said the city of Grand Rapids declined to join the countywide system. Morren added that raising the level of cooperation among local units wouldn’t be an easy task, especially with less revenue to work with.

Cannon Township Supervisor Bonnie Schupe suggested that the Metro Council should survey its membership to find out how much cooperation was actually going on among the units. The board members agreed to do that, and Stypula hopes to present the survey results at a work session in April.

“We need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and speak with one voice,” said Ted Vonk, Kent County Commissioner.

The state is reportedly facing a $1.3 billion budget deficit. That shortfall jumped by $300 million recently, from the initial $1 billion estimate, when President George Bush revealed his funding plan for Medicaid.           

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