County may give Right Place more

May 22, 2009
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Even though county commissioners are trying to stave off an unfunded mandate from the state that would result in a $16 million hit to the general operating budget over the next four years, the county may increase its annual support for The Right Place Inc. over the next five years. Those dollars would also come from the general fund.

The county gave the region’s economic development agency $80,000 this year, which was a gradual hike from the $75,000 Kent gave The Right Place five years ago.

County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio told the Business Journal recently that Kent was considering raising its annual contribution next year to $85,000, but he said he wouldn’t know the exact amount until the 2010 budget is laid out.

The county also contributes $6 million a year to economic development efforts through the capture and abatement of its property tax revenue.

“We get very good support from the public sector,” said Birgit Klohs, president & CEO of The Right Place.

Klohs said local governments provide 30 percent of the financial support The Right Place raises from the capital campaign it undertakes every five years. Grandville, Kentwood, Grand Rapids, Walker and Wyoming also fund the organization, as do Grand Rapids and Cascade townships.

“We work closely with every municipality,” said Klohs. “We are tied to the hips of our municipal partners.”

The Right Place is in the midst of its capital campaign. The goal is to raise $10 million, $2 million each year for the next five years through 2013. Klohs told county commissioners that $4 million has been raised thus far, with another $1 million in the pipeline. So she said she needs to raise $5 million more before the campaign can end.

“We have not had any ‘nos’ from anyone we asked and we have had increases,” she said.

While county commissioners showed strong interest in what Klohs told them about the effort that goes into trying to retain and draw companies here, they also showed concern over a decision made in Lansing in July that may cost the county at least $4 million a year for a minimum of four years.

The state Department of Human Services settled a lawsuit with Children’s Rights Inc. of New York over the agency’s foster care and adoptive services programs. The settlement will reportedly cost the state $200 million over the next four years. Because the state and its 83 counties split the cost of foster care and juvenile services, Lansing expects counties to contribute $32 million annually to the legal settlement — a decision into which county administrators had no input.

Kent’s share has been estimated at a minimum of $4 million a year for at least four years for a total of $16 million. But county officials won’t be surprised if that pricetag goes up.

“Kent County’s known calculable costs exceed $4 million annually. There is evidence there will be additional costs to Kent and all counties — however, these costs are not yet calculable,” said Assistant County Administrator Wayman Britt.

County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that asks state lawmakers to hold counties harmless from the settlement.

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