County commissioners ready to choose leaders

January 4, 2011
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The new Kent County Board of Commissioners will hold its first meeting Tuesday with an agenda that will feature the swearing in of seven new commissioners, six of whom are Republicans. The GOP will have 15 of the 19 commission seats under its control.

Commissioners also will fill this year’s leadership positions at the meeting, and the newly elected board chairperson will then make the committee assignments.

Commissioner Sandi Frost Parrish is expected to be re-elected for a second year to the county’s top post. Commissioner Ted Vonk is reportedly the favorite to become county vice chairman and replace Dean Agee in that position. Agee decided not to seek another two-year term on the commission. Vonk is also expected to maintain his chairmanship of the Legislative Committee, while Commissioner Harold Voorhees is likely to replace Agee as chairman of the Finance Committee.

It’s uncertain whether the new commission will continue with the minority party vice-chairmanship position the board created two years ago when Republicans only outnumbered Democrats by an 11-8 margin. Commissioner Carol Hennessy, one of the four Democrats on the board for the next two years, was elected to that minority post and named vice chairwoman of the Finance Committee. Commissioner Brandon Dillon was chosen to fill the minority vice chairman’s post on the Legislative Committee. Dillon, a Democrat, was elected to the state House in November.

Those minority-party positions are still part of the county’s Standing Rules.

The other Democrats are Dick Bulkowski, Jim Talen and newcomer Candace Chivis, who defeated James Vaughn in the primary for the 17th District seat. Jack Boelema, Dan Koorndyk, Harold Mast, Jim Saalfeld, Shana Shroll and Michael Wawee are the Republicans who were elected in November. Boelema, Koorndyk and Mast are returnees. Gone from the board are Commissioners Agee, Art Tanis, Keith Courtade, Pete Hickey, Vaughn, Dillon and Bob Synk.

Nine commissioners will be assigned to each of the two committees. The commission’s chairperson does not serve on a committee.

One key issue commissioners and county administrators will keep a close eye on early this year is state revenue sharing. The county’s 2011 operating budget is balanced. The budget, though, includes $11.6 million in revenue from state revenue sharing. The county expects to receive just under $7 million of that from state revenue-sharing payments this year, with $4.7 million to come from the county’s revenue-sharing reserve fund, which will be depleted after this year.

But newly installed Gov. Rick Snyder said he wants to change the state’s tax structure by eliminating the Michigan Business Tax and replacing it with a 6 percent corporate tax. State revenue estimators said that change would leave Michigan with up to $1.5 billion less in revenue for the 2012 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That budget already has been projected to be $1.5 billion short of balanced, and the tax change would likely double the year’s deficit, meaning major spending cuts would be made. So $440 million in statutory revenue-sharing payments could be targeted by the governor and legislators for elimination later this year. The county receives statutory revenue sharing.

“I haven’t heard anything other than Gov. Snyder plans some changes, and I’m kind of holding my breath,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio of the revenue-sharing situation.

Snyder reportedly plans to put the state’s general operating budget on a two-year cycle. He will present his first spending plan in mid-March.

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