Fair Tax Talk Set; Move Eyed

March 30, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — State Rep. Fulton Sheen is scheduled to discuss the Fair Tax with members of the Grand Valley Metro Council on April 14.

The council had hoped to have the Plainwell Republican, perhaps Michigan’s staunchest advocate of the new levy, at its last meeting. That date fell through, though, because Sheen’s daughter graduated from a military training assignment on the same day, and he asked to be rescheduled in April.

“I think we’re going to have Rep. Fulton Sheen here next month, and that will be great,” said Don Hilton, supervisor of Gaines Township.

The Fair Tax would replace half a dozen current state taxes, including the new Michigan Business Tax, and would add a 9.75 percent tax to goods and services sold. All transactions conducted between businesses, though, would be exempt from the levy.

But what likely most interests members of the Metro Council about the proposed tax is that Sheen has said counties, cities, townships and villages would have full revenue-sharing payments restored under it, something the current taxing system hasn’t been able to do for about the past five years.

A statewide petition drive is under way to get the Fair Tax on the November ballot.

Moving Sheen’s presentation to April 14 could add a more symbolic quality to what he will have to say, as his appearance will come on the eve of filing deadline day for state and federal tax returns.

Moving Sheen’s date wasn’t the only move discussed at its recent meeting, as Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula gave an update on moving the regional planning agency from its current downtown home in the Trust Building to a new location in the city, but not downtown.

Stypula said the council pays $18.30 per square foot for the 7,500 square feet of office space it has in the Trust, a figure that includes the staff’s parking charges.

“I’m convinced we can do better than that,” he said. “It’s a good time to be looking around, and I’ve been looking a lot.”

Stypula started his search for new office space last fall, and said he has three building owners, that he wouldn’t identify, putting together lease proposals. Mary Ann Wisinski of the S.J. Wisinski Group is assisting  him with the search.

Stypula said all three sites are attractive and capable of filling the council’s technology needs. A fourth, he said, wasn’t ideal but had some merits. He has asked that landlord to also submit a proposal.

“We need to save money. We need to drive down the cost of office space,” he said.

The Metro Council’s rent tops $1,700 a month, and its space is divided into three areas for administration, transportation and the Regional Geographic Information System, also known as REGIS.

“All of that is separated by a public hallway,” he said. “It’s a little odd, but it works.”

Stypula also told members that he plans to give the Trust Building’s management firm a chance to meet or beat the best lease offer the council gets. The agency’s existing lease with the Trust, at 40 Pearl St. NW, runs through the end of this year. The council has budgeted $16,250 for rent payments in its current annual spending plan.

Stypula said he plans to revisit the potential new sites. And he added that he told Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and City Manager Kurt Kimball the council wouldn’t leave the city limits, but may move from downtown because rental rates are higher in the central business district than in other parts of the city.

When asked whether the council would ever consider purchasing its space instead of leasing, Stypula answered that buying could be a possibility down the road, adding that one of the three sites he has seen might fill that bill some day. He said it is a stand-alone building that would give the council the same square footage it has in the Trust and its own parking.

“With the other two properties that is likely not the case,” he said.

Stypula told members he will report the findings of his location search in May or June.

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