County may cut GVMC payment

November 23, 2009
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Kent County is seriously considering reducing its annual membership payment to the Grand Valley Metro Council, the region’s official planning agency and legislative advocate for area municipalities.

The cut by the county would be for next year and would be for more than half of its current fee. It would be done in an effort to lower expenditures from its general fund.

“We are paying significantly more, due to our size,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio.

Delabbio said the county pays less per resident than the council’s other 35 members. But he said the annual payment of $71,000 is more than any other member because the county has the most residents. About $63,000 of that payment covers its membership dues each year, while $8,000 goes to the council’s transportation department.

Commissioner Dick Bulkowski said the county has paid the Metro Council for residents that townships and cities also have paid for because those populations are included in the county’s number of total residents. But he stopped short of calling it double dipping and recommending that the county withdraw its membership from the council.

“We shouldn’t just drop things. We should phase out if we’re going to get out. Maybe we’re not getting our money’s worth,” said Commissioner Jim Talen.

“I would hate to see us drop out of the Metro Council. I like the regional approach,” said Commissioner Art Tanis. “I think we ought to approach them on this.”

The county’s Finance Committee recommended that the county commission lower the membership payment from $71,000 to $35,000 for the upcoming fiscal year and talk with Metro Council Chairman Jim Buck to determine what the organization has accomplished and where it is going.

“It hasn’t been as effective as it might have been if state law was different,” said Delabbio, who has been involved with the council since its inception in 1990.

The council’s state charter doesn’t give the organization any power over its members to accept planning guidelines that it makes. The Metro Council’s landmark planning piece came 10 years ago for the East Beltline corridor, which runs north of I-96 to Plainfield Township. Commercial development along that stretch, though, has exceeded the council’s original plan, and more is in the works.

“It really hasn’t done some of the things that it should have done. I’ve sat on the Metro Council and thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’” said Commissioner Richard Vander Molen.

GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula said he was aware that the county was thinking about making the payment reduction, a financial move he characterized as a “preliminary recommendation.” He also said that he and Buck, also mayor of Grandville, would meet with County Commission Chairman Roger Morgan to discuss the matter further. Morgan is one of the county’s three representatives on the council’s board.

“We will try to get a potential impact. Not for just the county itself, but also any type of effect that this could have on some of the other members of Metro Council, who also pay dues,” said Stypula.

If the county cuts its membership fee, Delabbio said other members would likely take the same action. “I can tell you this: There will be a domino effect,” said Delabbio.

The Metro Council’s current budget is $2.1 million and has a projected deficit of $18,000. A majority of its revenue comes from membership dues, and reduced fees across-the-board could cripple the organization.

“We’re not going to overreact. We’re not going to panic. We can figure this out. I’ve been chatting with several commissioners for many years now, but just recently about maybe a ramped-up role for Metro Council in terms of land-use planning,” said Stypula.

“There is a great interest on the county board regarding farmland preservation, an enhanced interest compared to years past. We have played a very active role in some of those discussions with the farmland preservation folks,” he added.

The county also provides financial support to REGIS, the council’s regional geographic mapping system, but at a reduced amount. Delabbio said the county’s annual support for REGIS has fallen over the past few years from a high of $650,000 to $175,000.

“We’ve subsidized it longer than we intended,” said Commissioner Dean Agee, chairman of the Finance Committee. “We’ll have a chance to revisit it at our next meeting.”

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