County Spending May Shift

February 3, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Spending priorities may change a bit at Kent County for the next fiscal year, if the results of a survey conducted with county commissioners hold true.

The survey results are contained in a new Kent County strategic plan for 2006 that commissioners recently and unanimously approved.

"I think this is a significant step for Kent County government, and I would like to thank the board, staff and Woods Consulting for their work in putting it together," said Roger Morgan, commission chairman.

"I especially recognize former chair David Morren, who in his first State of the County address, challenged us to adopt 'guiding principles' that articulate the county's mission statement as well as our collective vision for each of the county's major functions," added Morgan.

And their collective vision may include a change in how many general fund dollars go into each of those major functions.

In the survey, commissioners were asked how much of $100 worth of general fund monies they would allocate to the five major functions the county performs. Then their answers were compared to the general fund's current spending levels.

The major result found that commissioners would spend fewer dollars in two categories that have traditionally captured more than 70 percent of all the general fund dollars: public safety and general government. Board members would lower the current level of $73 for every $100 of general fund monies spent on both to $58, for a drop of 15 percent.

The county currently allocates $44 of every $100 in the general fund to public safety, which includes corrections and the sheriff's patrol. But commissioners reported that they would reduce that figure to $38 of every $100, or 6 percent less.

General government, which includes all administrative functions, would see a 9 percent dip in funding. Commissioners felt it should only get $20 of every 100 general fund dollars. General government currently gets $29.

But commissioners would allocate roughly the same amount to the courts and would raise spending on cultural activities like the parks and John Ball Zoo by 4 percent.

The biggest gainer, though, would be health and welfare.

Commissioners reported they would increase the allocation for the health department and the Department of Human Services by 11 percent, raising that function from $3 to $14 of every $100 spent from the general fund. (See related chart.)

The survey also asked commissioners how they would allocate $50 of non-county funds. They said public safety would get $16 of that $50, health and welfare would receive $13, the courts $9, cultural activities $8, and general government would get $4.

"The guiding principles and goals we adopted will lay the foundation and direction of the county as we head into some tough economic times," said Morgan.

Although no mention was made of increasing or decreasing the current spending levels of the general fund, which stands at $154 million, commissioners did reiterate their intention to maintain the long-term financial health of the county and to ensure that adequate funding exists for the current programs that reflect the new strategic plan.    

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