Labor Pact Zoo On Panel's Agenda

March 19, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County is very close to having a date set for a special millage that would fund a new zoo and wildlife park in Grand Rapids Township, and to having a new two-year agreement with the union that represents 80 nurses employed by the county’s Public Health Department.

The proposed contract with the Teamsters State, County & Municipal Workers Local 214 would raise wages for nurses by 3 percent in the first year and 2.25 percent in year two. The agreement will bump the nurses’ annual cost of wages and benefits by $300,000 over the life of the contract to $3.41 million. That increase includes funds that will be committed to the pension plan over that period.

The health department employs 56 full-time and 24 part-time nurses. Union members already have ratified the contract. Kent County commissioners are expected to do the same on Thursday.

Aug. 3 looks like the date for a millage request that would have the county seeking 0.55 mills for 25 years. Should voters approve the measure, which would increase property taxes countywide, it would raise $150 million for the creation and operation of the new park along the East Beltline adjacent to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

“For the owner of a $100,000 home, that amounts to $27.50 a year or 52 cents a week. Not a bad deal for a world-class attraction that promises an estimated $292 million in total economic impact during construction alone,” said Kent County Chairman David Morren in a recent speech to the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids.

The John Ball Zoological Garden Society pegged the cost of building the park at $170 million. When adjustments are made for inflation and other costs, the total is $200 million.

“According to a study by Economic Research Associates, the new wildlife park is expected to generate more than $35 million in spending annually. The study also concluded that development of the 165-acre facility would result in 1,100 jobs throughout the construction period,” said Morren in the same address.

“Once open, projections show the new wildlife park will create 176 full-time jobs,” he added.

Two county committees already have approved Aug. 3 and commissioners will make the final decision on that date this Thursday.

Fred Meijer donated the land for the park and has offered to contribute up to $25 million toward its construction.    

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