One Kent spurs necessary discussion of consolidations

April 11, 2011
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The One Kent Coalition, a group of business leaders and former local public officials, has proposed that Kent County and the city of Grand Rapids merge into one metropolitan government. The concept has long been considered and discussed in the corridors of government buildings, and in the 1980s even actively engaged leaders of a similar merger of governmental units in Indianapolis.

The coalition, recently represented by attorney and former East Grand Rapids Mayor Nyal Deems, moved those deliberations from the hallways to formal presentation during governmental public meetings.

It is likely that the group believes the time is right to consider such an objective, particularly given Gov. Rick Snyder’s carrot-and-stick approach to revenue sharing for governments that consolidate or merge, but the concept as seeded from the Indianapolis model is dated and has proven to be far less cost-effective than expected — a fact Snyder should consider as the incentives are broadly pushed upon every local government in the state.

One Kent has been maligned for its members, though they are among the leaders of long-term thinking in this community and represent varied perspectives and experiences. Further, it has been criticized for the proposal’s lack of detail. The Business Journal finds no fault with either, and notes that a detailed plan, in particular, would outrage elected area governmental leaders if only for lack of inclusion in the process. The details of any such consideration should be left to those who best know their own backyard.

Perceived or real cost savings aside, the proposal (and One Kent) does as much to move the discussion of consolidations forward, whether whole units or shared services, and that is a discussion worth the time. Such discussions are not at all new to current and former members of the Kent County Board of Commissioners in an even broader context extending to the entire county, and each of the recent commission chairs has struggled with townships to even begin such discussion. Pending state legislation to pave the way for these discussions also opens another door to its possibility.

It is a fact that the size of the metro area is among the very first considerations, as businesses begin new location searches or as convention groups consider Grand Rapids. This fact is used by One Kent as further reason for consolidation; however, it is better answered in the continued effort of Ottawa County to push federal authorities to re-merge it and Allegan County into the federal statistical area with Kent County. Such efforts are underway, particularly by Ottawa County, which has suffered for such consideration after the federal government redrew the statistical area lines.

The same statistical area information often is used by the national talent pool being recruited by existing area businesses, and to the same effect. This is of even greater concern; Perrigo and Gentex in particular have long fought against the perceptions of potential workers as they consider what is statistically available, site unseen.

One Kent has the ability to spur these discussions and share the information and expertise accumulated over more than a decade. Perhaps that is its best role: the spur to action.

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