Grand Rapids is a state, federal model of efficiency

January 26, 2013
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Mayor George Heartwell on Saturday provided his annual State of the City speech, outlining progress on key initiatives, which, in fact, could be seen in headlines across the country in publications from Forbes, the Brookings Institution and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The city’s top rank in almost a dozen “top” lists from BeerCity USA to urban fisheries and environmental sustainability awards are well deserved and the result of much work. That said, there are many more initiatives that deserve note that will never make a top 10 list.

Critical issues still face this region on the economic front. The most critical of those is Gov. Rick Snyder’s generous grant of tax dollars for a high-speed rail system that bypasses this city but ties Detroit directly to Chicago, despite this region’s long and many economic ties to the Windy City.

The mayor, however, focused on goals attained and provided updates on the midway point in the crucial five-year transformation plan, one that is certainly a model in this state and for other U.S. cities. Heartwell again promised that the voter-approved increase in the city’s income tax will be repealed. The Business Journal notes that success while observing the opposite at the state and national levels.

This is the heart of “sustainability.” Grand Rapids is a city government that doesn’t just nod to “lean” principles but also institutes them. Great credit goes both to former City Manager Kurt Kimball and to his successor, Greg Sundstrom. Paying higher and higher taxes for city services that are declining is the climate to which other communities have become accustomed. Such success in Grand Rapids will be recognized as the city continues to draw new residents for this achievement.

It bears noting the tremendous strides the city has taken under the plan. City water and sewer rates have been reduced the past two years as the department created new efficiencies. Heartwell reported that 92 percent of all city departments will meet financial goals. Two-thirds of the city’s general fund budget is devoted to police and fire departments, both of which are expected to announce new cost-savings this summer without any reduction in service levels.

This is the manner in which to secure a better “business climate” and serves as an example for Gov. Snyder and state and federal legislators. It is impossible to understand why the governor gave a salute in his State of the State address only to the re-creation of the rapids in the Grand River, especially as Michigan cities cry for examples of budget and service successes.

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