County leads collaborative parks effort

October 23, 2011
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At the same time Kent County has been investigating the consolidation proposal from One Kent Coalition, it also has been leading a collaborative effort to find financial efficiencies for a somewhat fragmented system of county, city and township parks.

The county established a countywide citizens committee in May to undertake a detailed study of parks and recreational systems. Members were appointed in July and held their first meeting in August. Earlier this month, the committee chose Laycock Consulting to conduct a multi-jurisdictional study of those systems in the county. Laycock is a certified management consultant based in Ann Arbor. The work will cost $83,240.

“Laycock stood out due to their experience in working with local units of governments, parks and recreational systems, as well as their experience and ability to analyze data and financial information to support any recommendations they might make,” said County Commissioner Jim Talen.

“The Citizen Committee expects to receive preliminary recommendations in late December and a final report in March 2012,” he added.

The county has given $10,000 to the effort, while Grand Rapids and Wyoming have contributed $5,000 and $3,240, respectively, to the study. The Grand Rapids Community, Frey and Dyer-Ives foundations have collectively awarded $60,000.

“We’re continuing to seek philanthropic support,” said Assistant County Administrator Mary Swanson.

For the county, as with the other local units, finding ways to share park services and costs with other municipalities would lower general operating expenditures. And doing that has become even more vital as tax revenues continue to drop. The county expects tax revenue to total $84 million this fiscal year, down from the 2009 total of $86.6 million. That figure is expected to be $83.5 million in 2012.

Investment income has also been headed in the same downward direction for two reasons: The county has had fewer dollars to invest in recent years, and return rates are at an all-time low. The county received $1.9 million for its investments in 2009, while this year it expects to receive $206,000. That figure has been projected at $842,000 for next year.

“We have not grown ourselves out of this thing. Our departments have done a phenomenal job,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller. “The sheriff’s department, like other departments, is doing a very good job at controlling costs.”

As an example, Delabbio pointed out that the sheriff’s department had budgeted $61 million for the current fiscal year but its spending is on track to be under $57 million by the end of the year.

“I was very impressed with how they handled their budget,” said Commissioner Jim Saalfeld.

“Circuit Court has also done a tremendous job of managing its expenses,” said Delabbio.

The court is in line to spend $1.1 million less this year than its budgeted amount of $16.7 million.

The county’s information technology department is in the process of cutting more of its expenditures. Craig Paull, who heads the department, wants to enter into a fiber-optic agreement for bandwidth space with the state Department of Transportation that would reduce its monthly leasing cost from $1,047 a month to $350 a month. Commissioners are expected to approve the contract next week.

Total expenditures for the projected 2012 general operating budget are at $140.3 million, which includes reductions from last year for farmland preservation and the West Michigan Sports Commission. WMSC is in line to receive $100,000 next year, half of what it has received from the county annually for the past five years. The Purchase of Development Rights program is listed to get $150,000 next year, down from the $275,000 it received the past two years.

Total revenues to the budget are expected to be nearly $140.2 million, leaving it with a shortfall of $158,600. As of today, the county will dip into the budget’s reserve to cover the gap.

“I do feel strongly that we should present a balanced budget,” said Saalfeld, who suggested that the Finance Committee should make a few more spending cuts.

Commissioners will adopt the operating budget next month and it will go into effect Jan. 1.

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