Three millages may be on ballot next year

November 25, 2011
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The final 2011 report from the Kent County Millage Subcommittee said there is a potential for three millages to be on the ballot next year.

One could be for the parks system, and another for the Purchase of Development Rights program the county relies on to preserve farmland. A third could be for a renewal of the Senior Services millage that expires Dec. 31, 2013.

Possible millage amounts weren’t assigned to the parks and PDR millages. The senior millage is 0.3244 mills, and it levied $6.4 million for a wide variety of services to be performed in 2012.

There are five election dates available next year, starting with Feb. 8. For a millage to be on the ballot then, a proposal would have to be filed with the Kent County Clerk’s Office by Dec. 20.

Other potential millages that may be considered down the road are for the John Ball Zoo, possibly in 2014, the Early Childhood Initiative, possibly in 2013 or 2014, and a countywide transportation system, which wasn’t assigned a possible ballot year.

There is one potential millage that would not need voter approval. A majority of county commissioners could levy it because it would be for less than 1/10th of a mill at 0.01 mills. It also would be exempt from the 1978 Headlee Amendment, because the 1899 state statute that set the millage-amount standard preceded the amendment. But it wouldn’t be exempt from capture by the tax-increment financing authorities in the county, such as a downtown development authority.

Revenue from the millage would be dedicated to helping military veterans in need, and the county’s Veteran’s Affairs Committee has made an official request for the commission to levy it. Commissioners Harold Mast, Candace Chivis, Stan Ponstein and Bill Hirsch have said they support such a millage, while Commissioner and Finance Committee Chairman Harold Voorhees said it would be considered next year.

The county currently has property-tax millages for general operations, for corrections and detention, and for senior services. The county’s general operating millage is 4.2803 mills, which is 71st of 83 counties. The county’s total millage levy, which adds the correction and senior millage amounts to the general operating millage, is 5.394 mills. It ranks 77th of the state’s 83 counties and is the seventh lowest in the state. The average total millage levy for counties in Michigan is 7.421 mills, more than 2 mills higher than Kent’s total.

Ponstein joined Commissioners Dick Bulkowski, Shana Shroll, Dick Vander Molen and Michael Wawee on the millage subcommittee. The panel will continue to meet next year, but with a slightly different lineup: two Finance Committee members will join three from the Legislative Committee. This past year the subcommittee had one member from the Finance Committee, namely Vander Molen, while the other four were from the Legislative Committee. Vander Molen chaired the group.

“This is the final report for 2011,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller. “We’ll be updating it.”

The county’s Executive Committee learned that the Kent County Family and Children’s Coordinating Council is putting together a broad-based coalition to create a collective countywide strategy to improve health, education and social outcomes for families and children. In short, it’s a services-sharing effort that will create a human-services dashboard to measure progress.

“We want to have a further collective impact on families and children. We want to create a human-services dashboard,” said Wayman Britt, assistant county administrator. “We don’t own it.”

The estimated budget for the effort is $300,000, which is targeted to come from grants. The effort is projected to get under way in January.

“We’re not changing the bar at the macro level. We’re working at the micro level,” said Matthew Van Zetten, an administration analyst for the county. “One of the goals we would have is getting actual data on the outcomes.”

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