Parrish sets Kent Countys priorities for New Year

December 24, 2011
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Should Sandi Frost Parrish be re-elected to a third term as chairwoman of the Kent County Board of Commissioners next week, she said her top priority for the coming year will again be to make sure the general operating budget is balanced.

Commissioners accomplished that task this year, even though they had to cut roughly $5 million from this year’s spending to do that, due to less revenue-sharing money from the state and falling property-tax revenue. Commissioners had given County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio the green light to use up to $2 million from the fund balance to fill any hole that surfaced between revenue and expenditures, but he didn’t have to do that.

Parrish also said she wants the county to determine if there are any gaps in the services it provides to residents.

“It would be nice to find out what that is and see what fell through the cracks this year,” said Commission Vice Chairman Ted Vonk.

Parrish also wants a review of the selection process that leads to citizens being appointed to county boards and commissions next year, and for the county to look at possibly creating a term-limit policy for those appointments. “I can see maybe a six-month task force on this,” she said.

Another priority Parrish mentioned was to find ways to fund the West Michigan Sports Commission and the Purchase of Development Rights program, possibly with millages. Both relied on general operating dollars this year and there was a sense among some commissioners that the sports commission received more consideration than the PDR program in the budgeting process.

“I don’t think any commissioner opposes the program,” said Parrish of the farmland preservation effort. She added that the county should also continue to keep tabs on the overall millage situation.

Commissioner Carol Hennessy, a member of the Executive Committee and commission minority vice chairwoman, said the county should consider meeting with its U.S. congressmen, Justin Amash and Bill Huizenga, during the year to discuss federal matters that affect the county.

Delabbio said the county needs to look into its internal infrastructure next year. He said its computer hardware and software is 10 years behind the curve.

County Assistant Administrator Mary Swanson said the effort to share services among the county’s park system and those in the municipalities was moving forward as Laycock Consulting is conducting a multi-jurisdictional study of the various systems.

“There has been good cooperation among municipalities,” said Commissioner Harold Voorhees, also a member of the Executive Committee.

Parrish said progress was being made on creating a new public-private management structure for John Ball Zoo, a directive that has involved Philadelphia consultant Schultz & Williams. Parrish said about 95 percent of the new bylaws were written. “We’re trying to create a new structure from scratch, and it’s challenging,” she said.

County commissioners will meet Jan. 5 to select their leaders for 2012. They will also vote on at least two items that unexpectedly have additional revenue coming to the county. The county’s share of the state liquor tax this year is $3.5 million instead of the expected $3.27 million. Half of the county’s liquor-tax total goes to Network 180 to treat substance abuse, so commissioners will be asked to give the agency $1.76 million instead of the $1.63 million they planned to distribute.

Receipts to the county’s lodging-excise tax are also higher than expected. It looks like the county will receive $5.8 million from the tax, rather than $4.6 million. Higher receipts mean commissioners have to allocate more money to Experience Grand Rapids, as the city’s convention and visitors bureau has an agreement with the county that gives it 13.5 percent of the tax amount. So Experience GR will get $783,000 from that county contract instead of the $620,000 it was in line to receive.

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