Kent County reveals legislative priorities

February 13, 2011
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The Kent County Legislative Committee issued its annual list of legislative priorities it wants state lawmakers to consider this year. The list contains 16 items, 15 of which were on last year’s list.

But the fate of one priority, the statutory revenue sharing the county receives from the state, may become clearer Thursday when Gov. Rick Snyder reveals his proposed budget and taxing plan for the next two fiscal years. The county currently receives $11 million in revenue sharing, and that money is generated through local sales taxes. All 83 counties are supposed to receive $230 million on an annual basis at the full funding level.

It’s expected that Snyder’s plan won’t eliminate revenue sharing, but will greatly reduce the amount distributed to counties and cities. (The city of Grand Rapids receives roughly $6 million in statutory revenue sharing a year.) Snyder may use some of those dollars as incentives for local governments to share services and consolidate.

Some of the returning issues to the county’s list are for the state to fund unfunded mandates, to stop taking fees from the county for the state’s use, to eliminate state laws that make it difficult for local governments to collaborate and consolidate, and to limit the county’s expense for providing medical care to inmates at the Kent County jail. The county spends about $5 million every year on that care.

New to the list this year is a request for the Michigan Department of Community Health to change an administrative directive it issued last year that banned local community mental health agencies from partnering with the Sheriff’s Department to fund mental health services for inmates at the jail.

One issue is gone from last year’s list. The requirement that a district court be established for every area with a population of at least 3,200 — which the county felt was too demanding — was changed late last year to a population of at least 10,000.

“I think this is a good starting point,” said Commissioner Stan Ponstein of the priorities list. Ponstein added that the county needs to keep on top of all legislative issues in Lansing because new ones will pop up throughout the year.

“You’re absolutely right,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio. “We have to pay attention and be nimble in our response.”

As an example, Delabbio cited a bill the Senate passed that would eliminate the personal property tax. He said if the bill becomes law, the county would lose $9.9 million in tax revenue each year, with the general fund losing $7.9 million of that total. The county’s millages would also receive fewer dollars.

Also last week, county commissioners set the new timeline for property owners to make applications to the Purchase of Development Rights program. It will run from March 1 through April 30. This application cycle contains a new criterion for awarding points. If a township financially supports a property owner’s application, a land owner could receive up to seven points added to the application. In addition, the maximum number of points that can be awarded for an application has been lowered from 140 to 100.

Commissioner Dick Bulkowski noted that points are awarded for environmental and historical conditions, and he thought another category should be added to the process.

“I think we should start looking at the economic requirements,” he said. By that, he meant a way should be found to measure how much a farm or orchard contributes to the local agriculture and food markets, and points should be awarded for that contribution.

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