Response to Snyders plan generally good

March 25, 2011
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The reaction from local city and county public officials to Gov. Rick Snyder’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program was more than warm: When he finished, he drew a standing ovation from the 100-or-so that attended his press conference in the Grand Rapids City Commission chambers last week.

Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom said city officials were genuinely excited that the governor was grabbing the state’s financial problems by the proverbial horns, and he felt the city could work with and benefit from the proposal Snyder laid out.

“We have no reason to fight the governor. We only want to support him and move forward,” Sundstrom said.

Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said he felt the governor put a lot of thought into his incentive plan, which requires legislative action on eight bills Snyder is sending lawmakers. One piece of the plan calls for local units to create a “dashboard” by Oct. 1 that would track the progress a municipality makes on such factors as fiscal stability, economic strength and public safety.

“A lot of his stuff is very good. We’re excited about the dashboard — at least I am — because we’ve started putting the framework for that together for Kent County and we’ll be rolling that out by mid-year,” said Delabbio.

“Obviously, this is a very challenging and aggressive list of things that the governor wants to accomplish. But like Greg, I view these as being aggressive and positive, and something that we can work with and are excited to work with him in making not only Kent County, but Michigan a stronger place.”

Grand Rapids City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss felt the governor’s plan was comprehensive. But said she needed more time to have a better grasp of his proposal’s details, as Snyder didn’t delve deeply into his plan last week.

“But, you know, I’m hopeful. I know that change has to happen. I’m glad that we’re at the table and we’re a part of this conversation. And that he is open to hearing from not just elected officials, but from urban communities and what our struggles are,” said Bliss.

In his budget, which he didn’t talk about last week, Snyder calls for the elimination of statutory revenue sharing to cities, townships and villages — a cut of roughly $307 million to those municipalities. Grand Rapids stands to lose $6.15 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and the loss of those funds could lead to more workers losing their jobs.

“We would have had a balanced budget had it not been for that, and that will likely cause the upcoming budget to be in deficit. And we do five-year budgeting here, so really that $6 million cut is a $30 million cut for us. So trying to fill that hole is huge,” said Sundstrom. “But I have already put a plan together and I need to share that with the city commission, and we’ll move forward.”

The governor’s budget also lowers statutory revenue sharing to counties by about 40 percent. If lawmakers approve that move, Kent County could lose from $4 million to $4.5 million for its 2012 general operating budget.

“Counties have been left out of, I believe, this competitive portion of revenue sharing. So I’m not exactly sure how counties are going to fit in, and right now it looks like a 35 to 40 percent reduction. That may or may not change the budget. So we’re certainly going to be looking at revenue sharing in 2012,” said Delabbio.

“We also have to be cognizant of the fact that it’s not just revenue sharing that’s declining for us; property taxes are declining, and that’s our major source of revenue. So we have to look at everything and look at the services we’re providing and determine not only what services we’re providing that are discretionary, but at what levels do we want provide all of our services,” he said.

Another item the governor didn’t address here last week was his initiative that extends the power of emergency managers to overrule elected city and school officials, dissolve units of government and school boards and terminate union contracts. Grand Rapids City Commissioner Elias Lumpkins said he needs more answers about that program before he can grade the recently passed legislation.

“From what I’ve read about it, it does raise questions about elected officials and their roles when they’re taken out. I have some questions about that. I’d like to see some reports on outcomes on where it’s been done, what type of success they’ve had, what have been some of the major issues,” said Lumpkins. “I think if you’re implementing a new program, you need to have some safeguards in it.”

Bliss said she was familiar with the legislation and pointed out that Snyder has said there was a lot of work ahead for everyone to do before an emergency manager would be assigned to a school district or a city.

“I think that’s really important,” she said. “I think because we haven’t seen how it has actually been carried out, there are a lot of questions still. I’m still trying to get my head around what the implications of that would be.”

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