County We do collaborate

March 7, 2010
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With a cry for municipal collaboration growing louder in many circles today, Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio tried to muffle that clamor a bit by showing that cooperation among local governments already exists and has for a long time— and that the county has played a leading role in that effort.

To prove his point, he gave county commissioners a listing of 85 collaborative partnerships the county currently has in place with other organizations.

“These are a tip of the iceberg,” he said at a recent work session for commissioners.

Delabbio noted that many of the agreements are with the city of Grand Rapids and have often flown under the media’s radar. Instead, he said news reports have focused on disagreements the county and city have had. He said he could only remember three of disagreements over the 15 years that he has been in the administrative office. The trio of news stories Delabbio referred to were: the city transferring ownership of John Ball Zoo to the county; the city’s complaint about jail fees at the county lockup; and the county’s complaint of property tax captures made by the city’s tax-increment financing authorities.

“There are probably 75 to 100 that we have agreed upon for every disagreement we have had, and that often gets missed,” he said, adding that he would tabulate the savings the county has reaped from those collaborative efforts. “I think we have proven that we are willing to work with others.”

Delabbio also gave commissioners a report produced by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan on intergovernmental cooperation in the county. The report concluded that the county and the six core cities “have been very progressive in developing regional strategies for meeting the service demands of their residents. Intergovernmental collaboration has been used extensively long before the current economic struggles plaguing Michigan led local governments throughout Michigan to re-examine this tool.”

Delabbio said another partnership between the county and the city may be made this week. The county has offered to allocate $12.5 million of its tax-exempt, private sector bonds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to the city for the renovation of the former Federal building at 148 Ionia Ave. NW. The county’s action would match the city’s $12.5 million bond allocation.

The city asked the county to become a partner with it in the $25 million project the Christman Capital Investment Group is undertaking, as the city’s total allotment for the private Recovery Zone Facility bonds is $25 million. If the county participates, the city would be left with $12.5 million it could allocate to other projects before the end-of-the-year federal deadline. If the county doesn’t participate, then the city’s entire bond allotment will go to that single project. The county’s RZF bond allotment is $55 million. Commissioners will decide Thursday whether to grant the city’s request.

“The bonds will not be issued by the county. The bonds will not be paid for by the county. Christman will pay for the bonds,” said Delabbio.

Delabbio also said the county’s purchasing department has put together a “reverse auction” that he likened to e-Bay but with a switch. The auction lets vendors bid for municipal service contracts, but in this auction, the lowest bidder wins. The county has been running this auction for itself since June and has held 205 auctions that reduced purchasing costs by over $200,000. He said he would share the auction idea with local public officials on April 23 and hopes to have it in place for other municipalities by July. The county’s Finance Committee endorsed the idea last week.

“This will be another arrow in our quiver,” he said.

Despite speaking positively about municipal collaboration and the role the county has played in those cooperative efforts under his leadership, Delabbio ironically admitted that he wants the county to get out of the Grand Valley Metro Council. He said if the council continues down the path it’s going, he will ask commissioners to end the county’s membership in the regional agency later this year. The county has paid its membership dues through Oct. 1, the start of the council’s new fiscal year.

Delabbio said GVMC isn’t the organization it once was when it became the leading body for land-use planning in the region with its two Blueprint documents and its zoning proposal for a portion of the East Beltline that was being considered for commercial development then. At that time, the council was being seen as the best agent to promote municipal collaboration. GVMC, however, was unable to get member communities to adopt its planning documents because the culture of “home rule” is very strong here. Since then, the council has largely become a legislative lobbyist for its 35 members.

Delabbio, who represents the county on the council and serves on its executive committee, said GVMC will meet over the next few months to determine what direction to take for the future. The county pays the Metro Council $71,000 annually, with $63,000 going for membership dues and $8,000 for a role in the transportation division.

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