GR approves spending for police and fire study

September 30, 2011
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As Grand Rapids city commissioners expressed reservations last week about the consolidation legislation drafted by One Kent Coalition, they were vividly more open to going forward with a study that may determine if the city can share fire and police services with the nearby cities of Wyoming and Kentwood.

“This could be a very important and strategic investment. I think this could take us out of the boxes we’ve been in,” said Mayor George Heartwell. “It’s also very important to note we have two other partners in this project. Besides the foundations, we have Wyoming and Kentwood,” said Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong.

The International City/County Management Association, which has focused on urban police and fire issues, will conduct the study that will look into whether the three cities can combine their efforts in some manner, even possibly consolidating the departments.

“The work will have a broad scope,” said City Manager Greg Sundstrom. “If we are unable to consolidate, we want to know that. The purpose is to consolidate.”

The study will cost $265,000; ICMA’s consulting service will conduct the work. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation each gave $50,000 toward the effort, while the Frey Foundation donated another $27,000. The remaining cost will be covered by the cities.

“The city’s portion is $69,000, from the transformation fund and not the general fund,” said DeLong. Wyoming and Kentwood will each contribute $34,500 to the study.

Commissioner Ruth Kelly, who agreed to move ahead with the study, cautioned commissioners about making sure the city’s money would be well spent. “Any money we get from taxpayers or foundations, we have to spend wisely. My concern is that we don’t spend money on things we can’t do ourselves,” she said.

Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss added that the city’s fire department already has conducted a lot of service-sharing research internally, and she wants that work to be included in the study. She said more research is needed on the police departments.

Besides agreeing to go ahead with the study, commissioners also ratified a memo of understanding for the work with Wyoming and Kentwood. “It was a simple request from the city of Kentwood to formalize the agreement,” said Sundstrom.

DeLong said the three cities have been seriously discussing fire services for a while. Funding for the city’s fire and police services make up 63 percent of its general operating expenditures, and Grand Rapids has been looking at ways to reduce its public safety costs by 10 percent.

“I think this is an important step for us and Wyoming and Kentwood,” said DeLong.

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