Driving home a point to save taxpayer money

August 23, 2010
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As businesses and governments cut spending to create savings, a note should be made that sometimes savings actually come from spending money. A case in point is the Kent County Health Department. It’s spending $40,500 to buy three Ford Focus cars that three staff members will use to service clients in the northern portion of the county. Why? To save money.

Currently, the department reimburses staffers 50 cents per mile when they drive their own vehicles. Each one drives from 12,000 to 15,000 miles a year and are reimbursed an average of $7,000 each year, or $21,000 annually for all three. Buying the compact Fords is expected to cost the department from 26 cents to 30 cents a mile. The department had an analysis done, and the savings from buying the cars was estimated at $14,400 a year. At that rate, the health department will save enough to pay for the cars in less than three years.

“This is some significant cost savings,” said John Denhof, Kent County purchasing director, who also manages the county’s fleet of vehicles.

The health department will use a portion of the $150,000 in revenue it received from its successful administration of the H1N1 vaccine to buy the cars. County Commissioner and Finance Committee Chairman Dean Agee said the county isn’t interested in adding to its fleet of vehicles unless there is a good reason, and this is one instance of that. The committee unanimously gave the health department the green light to buy the cars.

Two-burger Monday fades

Gilmore Collection CEO Greg Gilmore said he has decided to close The Thornapple after 32 years, meaning the Ada restaurant’s popular Monday night special of two grilled Angus burgers with all the fixings for $5.95 is heading to pasture. “We’re closing it for many reasons. We don’t own the building anymore. We sold it, and our long-term program is owning the property,” he said. “The restaurant is still profitable; we just think it’s a good time to move on.

“It’s a great time for this to happen. It’s the end of the season for a lot of our restaurants and the decks, and we’re able to transfer 100 percent of our staff from The Thornapple and absorb them.”

But the Gilmore Collection isn’t leaving Ada for very long. The company is planning to open a restaurant next door to The Thornapple in the near future. “Hopefully by spring next year we will have something in front of the township regarding the new restaurant and development of the property, and we will go forward from there,” said Gilmore.

Commerce on big screen

Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan are compelling actors. Add the front of Wiersma's Central Park Foods in Holland to the mix and you’ve got a new movie that’s going places.

The film is “What’s Wrong With Virginia” and one place where it’s definitely going is the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where it will make its world premiere. It will be screened along with the likes of Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” and Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter.”

“What’s Wrong With Virginia” was produced by TicTock Studios in Holland and shot last October and November at various locations in Grand Haven, Holland, Douglas, Saugatuck and South Haven.

In addition to Wiersma’s, which is on South Shore Drive in Holland, the audience also will spot Floto’s Gifts and a funeral home in Grand Haven, a church in Douglas and the South Haven Center for the Arts. Key scenes were shot inside Lemon Fresh Cleaners in Holland, which has been owned and operated by Roger and Kristi Lemmen since 1977.

“There are a lot of things that people will definitely recognize, and of course, a lot of local people were in it, both as extras and with small parts,” said Hopwood DePree, producer and co-founder of TicTock.

September marks the 35th Toronto International Film Festival, which has come to be a major annual event in the movie industry. Two recent films that premiered there were “Up in the Air” starring George Clooney, and “The Hurt Locker,” which was Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.

“I’ve always wanted to have (a film) in it,” said DePree. “I’m really excited to have (What’s Wrong with Virginia) premiere there.”

About 30 Holland area residents will make the trip to Toronto along with DePree and Scott Brooks, also a producer and co-founder of TicTock.

“What’s Wrong With Virginia” marks the directorial debut of Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award in 2009 as the screenwriter of “Milk.” 

“Virginia” stars Academy Award winner Connelly, and Academy Award nominees Harris and Madigan.

Connelly is Virginia, a charming yet mentally ill mother whose greatest love is her illegitimate son, Emmett. Virginia has had a secret, long-term love affair with the local sheriff, a married Mormon, played by Harris. The sheriff, who is running for re-election, may be Emmett’s father. Then Emmett begins a romantic relationship with the sheriff’s daughter …

If this movie turns out to be a big hit, Lemon Fresh and Wiersma’s Central Park Foods may never be the same again.

Money talks, people listen

Everybody knows that reduced use of electricity is a good thing for a number of reasons. But when push comes to shove, it’s the dollar sign that makes the difference.

Project Light Change, an energy-efficiency program of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, has saved Holland residents about $235,000 since spring 2009. In partnership with the city of Holland’s Our Street program, Heights of Hope, and the Holland Board of Public Works, Project Light Change last year distributed 5,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs to homes in Holland. Some homeowners switched almost completely to CFLs and allowed their energy use to be measured.

CFLs use up to 75 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs.

In a sample of the homes that switched mainly to CFLs (up to 18 bulbs), the cost of electricity use dropped an average of $6 per month. In the six months prior to the switch, the average daily electricity use in those homes was between 7.1 and 8.7 kWh. When the incandescent bulbs were replaced with CFLs, there was an instant decrease to an average consumption of 4.7 to 5.6 kWh.

In addition to the money saved, WMEAC points out that “the bulbs prevented approximately 3.6 million lbs. of annual carbon dioxide emissions,” according to the news release.

That’s apparently the estimated amount of CO2 put out by burning coal to generate the equivalent amount of electricity.

Project Light Change shows that CFLs “are good for the pocket book as well as the environment,” said Ann Erhardt, WMEAC’s energy programs coordinator.

“I’d like to think people can be motivated by the positive environmental impact alone, but when push comes to shove, we hope more people will be compelled to begin using energy-efficient CFL bulbs knowing there are real savings attached.”

How ‘bout them apples?

Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, a joint venture that provides food services to students in the Chicago public school system, is looking to buy $2.3 million worth of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables from farmers and processors located within 250 miles of the Windy City.

Apples, peaches, pears, beans, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes make up a portion of the foods that Chartwells will buy. Cabbage, onions, melons and even spinach also are being sought.

More information is available by calling FamilyFarmed.org at (708) 763-9920 or by shooting an e-mail to schoolproduce@FamilyFarmed.org. Responses are due by Sept. 10. The buying will begin in October.

Chartwells reported that preference will be given to products that are grown (a) using integrated pest management techniques, and (b) without the use of organophosphate pesticides. Those interested must have product liability insurance of at least $1 million and have a food-safety certification, like the USDA GAP/GHP.

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