Morren Looks To Kents Future

February 14, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — In his first State of the County address, Kent County Commission Chairman David Morren said he would create an internal task force to review the county’s role in the hotel project proposed for Calder Plaza.

Gallium Group LLC, a partnership between Blue Bridge Ventures and Hines Interest LP, has an option to purchase the plaza for a 400-room hotel and plans to move the city and the county from their current plaza locations at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Citing his desire for the county to be “more proactive” in the project as it relates to the county administration building, Morren said Commissioner Fritz Wahfield would chair the task force that would be charged with examining all the options available to the county.

Joining Wahfield on the committee will be vice-chairman Roger Morgan, commissioner Dick Vander Molen and Administrator Daryl Delabbio, along with members of his staff.

“We want to be proactive and say what are our county’s needs regardless of who comes to us. How long can we live here? How long before we’re forced to move because we’ve outgrown our facility? What would that move look like? Where would it be? And we want to look at various options on this piece of property,” Morren told the Business Journal.

The county building is approaching 40 years old. Morren said he doesn’t have a deadline for the task force to finish its work. The option Gallium has expires in October.

In a related move, Morren also called for the county to undertake a new facilities plan focused on how the county wants to do — or will be forced to do — business in the future.

“This will require that planning for facilities be based on services and service levels that are provided by the county. This will require planning that reflects a shifting population away from the central city,” he said.

In his address, Morren said the county might consider sharing space with another county, if such a move would make sense during a time of budget cuts.

“Maybe we could combine a health department, FIA services or perhaps a Sheriff’s substation in the north end of town that would work with a neighboring county — something like that. Looking at small, mini-government centers,” he said.

As for state revenues, which account for 32 percent of the county’s total budget, Morren said he expects the county to lose about $430,000 in revenue-sharing funds this year. But he added that cuts in other state departments could have a greater effect on the county budget. For example, the Department of Community Health is likely to have its budget slashed by as much as $83 million and that agency helps fund the county’s health department.

“We expect more cuts when the state starts looking at its 2003-04 budget that will take effect Oct. 1, 2003,” said Morren.

Work on the zoo and enacting recommendations from the urban sprawl report are also on the chairman’s agenda.

Morren closed by challenging board members to plan and act more strategically than they have in the past and to provide staffers with guiding principles and directives that meet the county’s mission and set its vision for the future.

“We are in an enviable position, and we want to stay there,” he said. “To do so, we have to plan for the future.”

Morren was re-elected in November to the redesigned 10th District, made up of Gaines and Caledonia township residents. He was county vice-chairman for the three years that Steven Heacock chaired the board.

Morren began his address by saying it has been his privilege to serve on the board for the past eight years, and by complimenting fellow commissioners for enacting programs such as the health care for people of color initiative and the urban sprawl report — neither of which may provide benefits for years to come.

“The one thing that has impressed me most is that historically this elected body has not been fearful of making decisions based upon long-term benefit to our citizens and not short-term ‘payoffs’ on what looks good,” he said.

“We have not been afraid to make tough decisions that will result in long-term benefits for our citizens.”           

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