Forum to address municipal funding
Event will feature six mayors and discuss current state of program and how to improve it.
Municipal funding can be a confusing issue — which is why the Urban Metro Mayors and Managers are hosting a public forum to educate community members on the state’s current funding system.
On April 12, Mayors from Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Grandville, Kentwood, Walker and Wyoming will take part in the Community Financial Health Forum, a free public event that also will feature Michigan Municipal League Chief Operating Officer Anthony Minghine. The forum will discuss the current state of Michigan’s funding program for municipalities, how to improve that system and how local governments have been impacted by the decline in the state’s revenue sharing.
MML Media Relations Director Matt Bach said since 2002, the state has diverted $7.5 billion in municipal funding away from the cities to help with the overall state deficit. A handful of cities, like Grand Rapids, have a secondary revenue stream in the form of a city income tax, but the majority of Michigan municipalities do not have other revenue-generating sources and are unable to keep up with the national economy as it steadily climbs.
“I think what’s important to understand is that the cities have a lot less money than they did before the Great Recession, but residents and business owners still expect the same level of services,” Bach said. “The hope is that the forum can help people come away with a better understanding of how cities operate and what they can do to start seeing some of these things turn around.”
Bach said the forum is part of the MML’s SaveMICity campaign, which was started last March in an effort to educate local communities on the broken system for funding municipalities. Minghine has spoken to more than 30 cities, including several smaller communities in the region, but Bach said the chance to speak to the Grand Rapids community marks an opportunity to educate on a larger scale.
Following Minghine’s presentation, the panel of six mayors will have an opportunity to speak about how the state funding can impact at the local level.
“The mayors can put a face on the problem and talk about the sacrifices they’ve had to make for the community — layoffs, other cuts, capital improvement projects they weren’t able to do,” Bach said. “You’ve heard the stories elsewhere, but this is how it’s impacted you as a citizen of our city.”
UMMM Coordinator and Kentwood Deputy City Administrator Mark Rambo said each one of the panelists will speak on a topic or challenge that is unique to their specific municipality.
Rambo said the UMMM is expecting upward of 100 guests, including community members, business owners and administrators.
“I think we’re trying to connect the dots between the policy initiatives of the MML, with what those overarching policy initiatives mean at the local level,” Rambo said. “And that’s why the mayors are talking about the impact here locally, both with and without changes to their funding sources.”
Bach said the MML has seen dramatic changes to the amount of coverage being given to the issue since the start of the SaveMICIty campaign last year. By drawing attention to the issue, community members have been inspired to act and continue to be educated on the importance of municipal funding.
“We see this as kind of a marathon, not a sprint,” Bach said. “We started in March 2016, and we see this going at least through the current legislature. It’s going to be a slow build in hopefully getting some change to happen. We think it’s a good message that hopefully will resonate.”
The forum will be held from 6:30-8 p.m., April 12, at Grand Valley State University’s Richard M. DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton St.