One Kent The drama of contrived consolidation Is Diabolical

June 17, 2011
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Elected representatives of the Kent County Board of Commissioners and the city of Grand Rapids, along with city staff leaders and other area city government representatives, formed a 21-member panel to discuss the idea of a city/county consolidation. The group sat down last week with representatives of One Kent, a group of business leaders and former elected officials who have proposed that merger.

One Kent is determined to put the question of consolidation in front of voters during the presidential election in November 2012.

The “study panel” was greeted by One Kent’s newly hired attorney and the three One Kent members who sit on the panel. During the initial unveiling several months ago that One Kent even existed and had been meeting privately, some conception of that consolidation was expressed — but all without the knowledge of those most impacted: elected city and county representatives.

The greeting given the study panel last week was equally disturbing. One Kent attorney Steve Crandall told the panel they have no decision to make in regard to whether the city and county should consolidate — only the “academic exercise” of discussing it. So a decision as to whether the two units of government should merge appears to be up to voters throughout the county, not their elected representatives. Voters would be asked to approve the consolidation without any specifics, and state regulation currently being written will dictate how it will be accomplished.

The city’s 2010 Census population was determined to be 188,040. The county population figure is 602,622, and age statistics show the out-county area also holds an edge in eligible-age voters. The city represents the largest number of registered Democrats (the cities of Kentwood and Wyoming also are Democratic). The 2008 general election voter turnout in the city was 64.90 percent, 49 percent in Wyoming and 72 percent in Kentwood. Most of the rest of Republican Kent County showed voter turnout at between 73 and 85 percent, and was highest in the most affluent suburbs.

Even as political redistricting maps are being drawn, approval next year of city/county consolidation will greatly diminish the city’s voice — and put the city’s highly valued city income tax revenues in county coffers. Whether the county would establish a county-wide income tax could likely be written into the state consolidation laws.

The Business Journal notes that a consolidation would provide a larger “metro area” by which economic development would be enhanced. As to whether such a consolidation would provide any taxpayer savings is open to debate. That One Kent now shows itself as a back-handed, drama-laden orchestration co-opting the electorate is not open to debate.

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