County likely to spend more on upgrades next year

Information technology is targeted to get bulk of Kent’s CIP funds.

July 19, 2013
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The Kent County Finance Committee agreed last week to spend a bit more on capital improvements next year, largely because a panel chose to dedicate 0.25 mills from the operating millage to the budget instead of the 0.2 mills assigned this year.

As it stands now, next year’s budget will fund 23 projects at a cost of $5.7 million, with $4.8 million of that to come from the county’s general operating fund. The remaining dollars, about $900,000, will come from outside sources like grants and local matching funds.

“It’s about a $150,000 increase from last year,” said Marvin Van Nortwick, county budget director.

This year the county is spending around $4.7 million, with $3.85 million coming from the millage and general fund. Another $853,000 in the capital budget comes from other sources.

“There were 52 projects totaling $10.8 million,” said Van Nortwick of the total funding requests made.

Seven of the 23 projects listed in the spending plan are for the information technology department, which County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said several months ago needed a funding upgrade. Almost $2 million of the $4.8 million the county will spend on projects next year will go for IT upgrades.

Many of those dollars will increase the department’s data-storage capacity, which, for an organization as large as the county, is seen as a necessary investment.

“The equipment ages really fast and has to be replaced by the new stuff, which has a much lower maintenance cost,” said Craig Paull, county IT director.

The funds will also improve the computer applications for the Finance Services and Human Resources offices and add another server to the system.

The single largest expense in the capital budget is a $1.1 million annual payment on the bonds for improvements the county made to its Fuller Avenue complex on the northeast side of Grand Rapids.

After the debt-service payment and IT upgrades, there is roughly $1.7 million left in county funds to spend on the remaining 15 projects in the budget. Five of those are for the county’s parks, and that spending totals $725,000, leaving less than $1 million for 10 other projects.

Commissioner Jim Talen was concerned there wasn’t any funding available to acquire land for the parks system, seeing the county committed an additional 0.05mills to this year’s budget. Van Nortwick said the panel that selected the projects, which was made up of administrators and department heads, felt the IT upgrades were critical and there wasn’t enough money for both IT and land acquisitions.

“I totally understand that,” said Talen, who works in the IT field. “But we have way under the amount of parkland we should have in the county, and it’s as critical as IT.”

Commissioner David Bulkowski asked if the parks system was a priority when the budget’s spending was determined.

“Keeping a bridge from falling into the river is a higher priority than parkland,” said Stephen Duarte, county fiscal services director, as a general spending reference as no money is going to bridge repair.

“IT is a priority, as is infrastructure. It’s obvious two-tenths of a mill isn’t enough to support all our CIP projects. Four- or five-tenths of a mill would be better,” added Duarte.

“From my perspective, we will see an increase in requests from IT in the future,” said Van Nortwick.

Commissioner Nate Vriesman pointed out the county needs to figure out how to prepare for future improvements because the current funding mechanism doesn’t accomplish that. “In five years, if we have a $20 million need, we won’t have $20 million,” he said.

The county board will act on the CIP budget in November when it adopts a general operating budget. Van Nortwick said the CIP budget can be amended before then.

Assistant County Administrator Mary Swanson said the Finance Committee will get the funding requests for the general budget in a month. “We will go through those with you,” she told committee members.

After the Finance Committee recommended the capital improvements budget, members went into a closed session to hear about a property acquisition for the parks system. 

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