Wearing blinders shields progress in consolidations

August 16, 2010
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Kent County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish recently used her proffered forum during a service club meeting to draw a line in the sand regarding any continued talk of government consolidations. She effectively told her audience, “It’s too hard.”

Parrish needs be reminded of her opportunity for leadership, especially in regard to this issue and at this most auspicious time. We note here that Marge Byington, the first woman to lead the Kent County Board, did not shy away from the controversial (at the time) decision to provide and fund the trash incinerator.

Parrish would wait through what is likely to be a tumultuous start to a state legislative session comprised of a historic number of freshmen and a new governor, hoping to change four state statutes that impede consolidation of services. But the Business Journal asks why she advocates fighting half a battle when the energy and time already in play can be spent to make sincere change … and create a metro area that becomes a big “blip” on the business research pages, and in terms of state and federal funding. Ms. Parrish must be reminded that such growth allays the issues currently projected to deplete the county — and cities and townships within it — for a decade to come.

The Business Journal directs the attention of the county board to the southwest, where significant work is already accomplished in the consolidation of three governments: two cities and a township. The Consolidated Government Committee was formed to investigate uniting the cities of Douglas, Saugatuck and Saugatuck Township. Due diligence studies conducted by Plante & Moran and Michigan State University show significant taxpayer savings through such consolidation. The cities of Saugatuck and Douglas would both reduce taxes on residents. The group is already preparing the necessary petitions to the State Boundary Commission and will set a public vote on the matter in the three jurisdictions. Herein is example and model for such change.

Especially as the county and cities continue to flail at budget gaps and increased costs unmatched in declining state revenues and resident earnings (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last week revealed household incomes and earnings growth in the Grand Rapids area have fallen), it is unconscionable for leaders to behave as though there is no way out but for tax increases. Recall the definition of insanity.

Ms. Parrish also inferred that “culture” differences impede the discussion of consolidations and tax savings — however, we are not suggesting consolidation with Detroit, but rather within the West Michigan community. The “culture” differences to which she alludes are likely the county’s attempt at preservation of its tax capture even when it has proven to be a detriment to the city of Grand Rapids and some county townships. That’s just hoarding, and we suggest there’s not enough for any public entity to hoard from taxpayers in this new day.

Challenge as a leader is not in guarding the status quo; no such thing now exists. Just ask the business community, most especially the manufacturers and the developers of commercial real estate who in the past could bump those tax rolls and therefore county revenues.

The gauntlet has already been thrown. It’s time to reduce tax burdens rather than spin the insanity wheel pretending nothing has changed or that it is a matter of “waiting it out.”

Real change has occurred in the private sector Ms. Parrish, and the public sector must follow. It is a critical time — the assumption of leadership must also bring rise to the challenge.

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