Fate of economic development study coming

October 9, 2011
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This week, Kent County commissioners are likely to follow a decision made by the Finance Committee last week and appropriate $15,000 from operating reserves to hire the W.E. Upjohn Institute of Employment Research to perform a study requested by the county’s consolidation subcommittee.

The Kalamazoo-based institute will try to determine the impact that One Kent Coalition’s proposal to merge the county with the city of Grand Rapids into a metropolitan government will have on economic development. Upjohn also will conduct a review of other consolidations nationwide and the effects those mergers had on business activity in their respective regions. A report would be due Feb. 1.

Another portion of the study will review the existing collaborations and service-sharing agreements in the county. This report should be completed by March 31.

“The primary focus is on economic development,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio. “A study like this is going to be very helpful,” said Commissioner Jim Saalfeld, who is on the subcommittee.

Delabbio added that the study wouldn’t try to determine the fiscal bearing a voter-approved merger would have for county government. The consolidation subcommittee, which was established by county Commission Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish and has six commissioners serving on it, plans to look into how much it would cost to merge the governments by getting valid estimates to do that from both city and county administrations.

Commissioner Carol Hennessy, who also is on the panel, felt the financial effect from a consolidation for the county and for business development had to be looked into because the coalition has painted both of those key factors with “broad strokes.”

“I think what we’re doing is due diligence. We’re going through this point-by-point,” Hennessy said.

“I think the county is playing a proactive leadership role in this,” said Commissioner Roger Morgan.

Commissioners also will decide this week whether the county’s Land Bank Authority can purchase three tax-foreclosed homes. The houses are in Grand Rapids and would cost $15,342, which is the total of the minimum auction bids for the three.

County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish, who also chairs the authority, said the land bank will sell the properties for the same price to Habitat for Humanity. “These were specifically requested by Habitat,” he said.

The nonprofit organization plans to use federal funds to rehab the house at 452 Delaware St. SE and enroll the others, at 956 Woolsey SW and 941 Merrill SW, into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Build America Program.

“In the future, I’m expecting that several nonprofit organizations will be requesting properties. I expect to be back before you in April or May,” said Parrish to the Finance Committee, which approved the purchase by the land bank last week.

Parrish also reported that the authority has changed its mind about having the land bank purchase six other tax-foreclosed homes. In August, the board that oversees the land bank agreed to buy the six. Instead, the homes — five of which are in Grand Rapids — were included in the tax-foreclosure auction the county holds each year.

Commissioners are likely to accept a $25,000 grant from the Dyer-Ives Foundation this week that will go toward the cost of a multi-jurisdictional parks-and-recreation study. The study will try to determine how the various parks systems in the county can share services and possibly consolidate some functions. The study has been estimated to cost $100,000. The Dyer-Ives grant, when added to funds already secured from the Grand Rapids Community and Frey foundations and from the county, would bring the total raised for the study to $75,000.

The study will be done in two phases, and the county hopes the first stage will be done by the end of the first quarter next year.

“We haven’t started it yet,” said Mary Swanson, assistant county administrator. “The study will probably kick off in late October or November.” When asked whether the study will suggest that the county put a parks millage before voters next year, Swanson said, “We don’t know what the recommendation will be.” The Finance Committee accepted the grant last week.

The committee also allocated $72,410 last week to connect communications fiber from the county’s sheriff department, the parks office and the John Ball Zoo to the Grand Valley Metro Fiber System. GeoTech won the bid and will do the work. The committee also gave the county Treasurer the OK to enter into a contract with Grand Rapids, which would allow the city to invest in the county’s Local Government Investment Pool. City commissioners have already given the city’s Treasurer, Al Mooney, the authority to participate in the pool.

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