Council moving ahead with new initiatives

January 7, 2011
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The 10-member special task force created months ago by the Grand Valley Metro Council will meet next week to delve into strategic initiatives that board members hope will reinvent and add a new spark to the two-decades-old regional planning agency.

Metro Council Executive Director Don Stypula said last week that the sharing of services and training for public officials and their staffs are the two issues that likely will come to the forefront of that task-force meeting. He said the look at the sharing initiative would begin with an inventory of the services already provided by member communities, along with which ones are currently being shared by municipalities.

The resulting data will be made available on the council’s website, which also will be revised soon, so members can search it if they’re interested in creating new service-sharing agreements. Stypula said it’s been a few years since the council has done such an inventory and added that this one will be more detailed than previous efforts. He also said the collaborative training initiative would track sources that could help members fund it.

“We are focused on this and we will continue to move forward,” said Stypula of the initiatives project. “You’re going to see some results; it’s just going to take some time.”

Stypula asked board members to tell their respective councils and commissions, which number as many as 36, that GVMC is proceeding with the effort, and then keep them updated on the progress. “If the perception is that we’re not doing anything, we won’t get anything done,” he said.

Stypula also noted that his office is putting together a new monthly newsletter that will focus on all matters that impact the council, including legislative issues, and will distribute it electronically to board members.

The council has a meeting with the area’s 11 state representatives and six state senators set for Jan. 24 to discuss legislative issues that are important to board members. “I hope we’ll get good attendance from our representative and senators. It will be a good opportunity to get your representatives in a corner and talk with them about your issues,” said Kentwood Mayor Richard Root, who chairs the council’s Legislative Committee.

Grand Rapids Township Supervisor Michael DeVries felt transportation funding and state laws that serve as barriers to collaboration among local governments and consolidation of services by municipalities are two issues that need to be discussed. Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg said board members also should speak to them about unfunded state mandates. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said funding for public schools should also be on the list.

Although there has been little information from Gov. Rick Snyder so far on what his general operating budget will contain, there has been some speculation. Stypula said he has been told by multiple sources, mostly lobbying firms, that the governor plans to take the budgets for statutory revenue sharing and the school aid fund and incorporate both into the general budget, which currently stands at slightly more than $8 billion.

“Look for those to be combined. I’m hearing that from multiple sources,” he said.

He said the budget’s estimated deficit for 2012 has been raised from $1.5 billion to $1.85 billion. And if the governor replaces the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate tax, that deficit will soar to $3 billion.

Stypula said he also heard that some of the money in the school fund would go to the higher-education budget. But he emphasized that he hasn’t heard any of this from anyone in Snyder’s office. “Nothing came out of the administration about this,” he said.

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