Street Talk

Street Talk: The happy and scary of government finances

Street legal.

October 10, 2014
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Kent County Administrator/Controller Daryl Delabbio is recommending a 2015 budget for both operating and capital needs that calls for a total expenditure of $363.9 million, a 1.7 percent increase over the budget set for 2014.

Within it, the proposed General Fund budget for 2015 — “structurally balanced, consistent with the parameters set by the (County Commission) Finance & Physical Resources committee,” according to Delabbio — is based on revenue estimates totaling $160 million and proposed expenditures of $160 million. That compares to expenditures of $155 million this year.

The proposed operating levy on county taxpayers in 2015 is 4.2803, the same rate as 2014.

Actually, as Delabbio noted at a Finance & Physical Resources Committee meeting last week, the proposed operating budget millage has been the same for the past several years in a row.

In a conversation later with the Business Journal, he repeated some of the points he made earlier, the things that make him happy about 2015 and some things he is warily keeping his eye on.

The return of revenue-sharing funds from the state is a very happy part, having been restored to levels of the early 2000s. In 2015, it will be more than $12 million. The annoying Personal Property Tax is gone, and with the voters’ blessing, there will be “near complete reimbursement” of the funds it provided. The PPT had generated about $10 million for the total county budget; $9.1 million of that went into the general fund.

However, as he told the F&PR Committee, Delabbio fears revenue sharing “will continue to be an issue,” mainly because in Michigan, counties’ revenue from the state is subject to an annual appropriation vote by the Legislature. (Not so for the municipalities and small local governments: Theirs is written into the state constitution.)

Two things about county finances make Delabbio nervous.

“Property tax revenues are relatively flat,” he said. Taxable values were up almost 3 percent in 2014, at $20,353,174,066 — but compare that to the $21,829,585,424 in 2009, just before the recession and its mortgage meltdown wreaked havoc across America. That means Kent County still has $1.5 billion less in taxable property value.

“We will see an increase when there is an increase in construction,” he said. It’s the lingering “when” that bothers Delabbio.

A second factor that keeps him on edge is the increased and still increasing cost of health care for county employees, of which there are planned to be 1,717 full-time equivalent jobs in 2015 — actually a reduction of about five such jobs from 2014.

Kent County has not simply grown out of the economic problems brought by the Great Recession: “We’ve been managing our way (out),” Delabbio said, with significant reductions in costs over the last five years.

“But we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Show and tell

What is philanthropy? Today’s Focus section attempts to answer that question with several stories that delve into the charitable culture in West Michigan.

But for those who are more visually inclined, a Grand Valley State University professor might have another alternative.

Salvatore Alaimo, an assistant professor in GVSU’s School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration, is credited as the producer of the documentary film “What is Philanthropy?”

The 87-minute film, which was five years in the making, is being shown in cities around the U.S., having just been screened Saturday in Indianapolis. It focuses on the seemingly simple act of giving, discussing philanthropy and giving through the perspectives of a wide variety of people from across the country.

“The purpose of the film is to enhance our understanding of the concept of philanthropy and its role in American culture and society,” said Alaimo. “It seeks to broaden our perspectives for giving, enhance our understanding for philanthropy's capabilities and provoke us to reflect on our giving.”

The film premiered in March at the Queen's World Film Festival in Long Island, N.Y., and was nominated at the Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival in Muskogee, Okla., for best educational documentary. It was also shown at Koning Micro Cinema at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids and at the Kingston Film Festival in New York. Currently, it is scheduled to be shown at universities, libraries and other venues around the country.

Paul Shervish, from the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, said he believes “this film will effectively enhance our learning and practice of philanthropy.”

Aaron Dorfman, of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, had a similar observation.

“Philanthropy is not well understood by policy makers or the general public. This film will help address that problem. A thorough and honest portrayal of the strengths and shortcomings of philanthropy will be just what will do the trick.”

Producer Alaimo is a published author and has worked in and consulted for nonprofits. He earned his doctorate in philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

A trailer of the film is available at, as well as on YouTube.

Art form

ArtPrize is over. Thanks for stopping by.

Dennis Moosbrugger and the gang in the Arena District appreciate your patronage. Rick DeVos and the ArtPrize crew are happy so many of you came from out of state (and the country!) to participate in what is a really cool event and the city’s national calling card.

And, for the most part, downtown workers are happy to have their roads, sidewalks and everything else back.

There is no arguing that ArtPrize is a signature event in Grand Rapids’ history. The benefits certainly outweigh any “inconveniences” that come with hosting 225,000-plus visitors. But, people, please! The rules of the road still apply here.

Downtown’s crosswalk signals were fully operational during ArtPrize’s run. To review: White means walk; red means don’t. Just because you are part of a group of more than 50 people who want to cross at the same time, those rules still apply. This is not New York where the crosswalk signals are merely suggestions.

Also, when crossing the street, please do so with a purpose. Do not stop in the middle of the street and look up. There is no art there (unless you were near the UICA). Do not get partway across and then turn back to walk with someone behind you. There are cars waiting to make turns, and most drivers are unhappy waiting for three or four traffic lights to do so.

Also, as The Rapid CEO Peter Varga can attest, there are bus-only lanes on downtown streets. And, yes, these are new additions since last year’s event. However, it is still illegal to make a right turn from the left lane — in front of other traffic — just because you decided at the last second you wanted to head down to the Ford Museum. You can use the bus lanes to turn right, but don’t hog the lane for several blocks before your turn.

For the most part, downtown drivers were extremely courteous to ArtPrizers who were in their own world, with minimal honking of horns, oral outrage or digit displays.

Just file these suggestions away for next year. Navigating downtown streets during ArtPrize is an art form all its own, and a little courtesy on both sides goes a long way.

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