County subcommittee may get outside help

August 5, 2011
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The subcommittee that Kent County Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish recently put together to analyze One Kent Coalition’s plan to consolidate the county with the city of Grand Rapids into a new metropolitan government met for the first time last week.

The panel, made up of six county commissioners and four key staff personnel, decided to look into hiring a financial consultant to help unravel the potential costs and cost savings a consolidation may offer.

“We’re probably going to have to bring in a Plante Moran or some kind of group to help us with that. We may have to find an outside source to pay for that,” said Parrish.

“I think it’s something we need to do, even if we have to go to our own budget,” said Commissioner Harold Voorhees.

The subcommittee also decided to look for an attorney who can help them get to the bottom of the legislation that One Kent has drafted and hopes to have state lawmakers vote on this fall.

“There are things like taxes and bonding that we might want to get some help on. The city is reviewing the legislation, too, and we should check in with them to get its take,” said Mary Swanson, assistant county administrator. “We gave it a preliminary review from the aspect of the county.”

But Commissioner Jim Saalfeld cautioned that the county should do its due diligence to determine in what areas the county needs assistance before it starts hiring outside help. “If we need to spend funds, we can. But let’s not let a consultant lead us,” he said.

The group also decided to meet with area lawmakers — including some beyond the county limits — this month before the legislative session reconvenes after Labor Day.

“The first thing I think we need to do is to meet with state legislators and talk to them about this issue,” said Commissioner Dan Koorndyk, who is chairing the subcommittee. “I think we should take a broader look than just the county. The best time to do this is in August.”

Commissioner Harold Mast suggested the county should become more proactive and put together a proposal of its own that could argue the governments should either stay separate or should consolidate, but differently than the way One Kent has pushed.

Saalfeld disagreed. “I don’t think we’re here to make an additional proposal. I think we’re here to do what the study group didn’t do.”

“Our first charge is to look at the proposal before us,” added Voorhees.

The subcommittee decided to meet every other week for the next six months.

“I think our timeline is six months. I want our work done by the 1st of February,” said Koorndyk, knowing the county has to defend its triple-A bond rating in April. “We need to talk about our budget at the next meeting.”

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