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10.20.16 – Luncheon Notes and Photos

SPOKES Notes written by Teresa Schaal


President Michael Sytsma welcomed those in attendance and made announcements of upcoming meetings.  Jason Webb led us in singing “When the Saints Go Marching In” and Kris Palosaari led us in prayer.

The meeting was adjourned for lunch, and resumed afterward with President Michael noting October birthdays and anniversaries of members of our Rotary Club.  He reported that the Hair Raising Auction with Dave Bulkowski (giving people a chance to cut his hair) raised $1,340 for the Community Engagement Committee.  James Eliassen spoke about upcoming Community Engagement opportunities:  Read for the Record on October 27 at 10 a.m. at River City Scholars (944 Evergreen St SE, GR 49507); and a Habitat Build on November 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Lunch will be provided for the volunteers (two shifts are requested:  a morning shift and an afternoon shift) of the Habitat Build.  He mentioned that the afternoon group will likely go for adult beverages at the end of the day.  James also thanked those involved with the building of the ramp recently for Disability Associates.

Mark Brant welcomed guests and visiting Rotarians.

Ken Parrish introduced our speaker, James Saalfeld, the Chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners.

James Saalfeld described Kent County as one with 630,000 residents, the 4th largest county in Michigan, and the fastest growing county in the State.  It is made up of urban, suburban and rural areas making it a very diverse county.  Kent County was named after Jim Kent, an attorney who was responsible for securing the Upper Peninsula in exchange for Toledo.

On the Board of Commissioners there are 15 Republicans and 4 Democrats; in spite of the unevenness of the parties, they have a good working relationship.  The dominance of the Republicans on this Board does not reflect the voting public in the County:  in the last election the voters were 53% Republican and 46% Democrat.

The Board of Commissioners job is to manage a budget and deliver services.  They are responsible for Aeronautics (although that was transitioned to an independent authority on July 1); the Board of Commissioners; Community Development/Housing Commission; County Administrator/Controller; County Clerk/Register of Deeds; Drain Commissioner; Equalization; Facilities Management; Fiscal Services; Health Department; Human Resources; Information Technology; Kent/MSU Cooperative Extension; Parks; Probate Court; 17th Circuit Court; 63rd District Court; Prosecutors’ Office; Public Works; Sheriff Department; Treasurer; and Veterans Services.

The County had a $165 Million budget in 2016 with the largest portions going to the Sheriff’s Department (35%); Judicial (12%); Facilities Management (10%; they have 30 facilities with 2 million square feet of real estate); Child care/DHS; and Health & Welfare making up 72% of the overall fund.    They are funded through property taxes (54%); Revenue (15%); Service Fees (10%) and miscellaneous (20%).  In 1994 Proposal A capped property taxes.  The County is proud of its financial stability and its AAA Credit Rating.  This is essentially a “report card” that demonstrates how efficiently the County operates.  There are 3,200 counties in the country; only 50 have AAA bond ratings.  Kent County operates with a balanced budget – no deficits.

The great credit rating allows the County to issue bonds at a lower interest rate, which means lower long-term costs for taxpayers.  The County is working with the City on a big flood wall project.  The “Meadows of Millennium Park” was funded primarily by the Secchia family but is part of the County’s park inventory.

Issues that are currently in front of the Commission include an Agribusiness Work Group that is working with local units of government, private sector and community members to identify, evaluate, and recommend opportunities to support, expand and attract agribusiness in Kent County and West Michigan; and a Lead Task force:  the zip code in our county that has the most lead in it probably gets its lead from the paint inside and outside of houses and apartments (as opposed to the water lead crisis in Flint).  The Lead Task Force is made up of nearly 20 community leaders, health experts and housing specialists.

Kent County collaborates with multiple organizations and programs too numerous to list here but this list can be accessed by going to their website:

Daryl Delabbio, County Administrator/Controller, is retiring on 6/30/17 after more than 18 years of service.

On November 8 the public will have the opportunity to vote to enhance the 9-1-1 public safety dispatch service.

Mr. Saalfeld opened up the floor for questions from the audience which included questions about the upcoming mileage to support the museum and zoo; the condition of the county building; Calder Plaza and collaborations with other counties.

After responding to these questions, President Michael presented Mr. Saalfeld a certificate representing that a clean water filter was given in his name to a needy family in Nicaragua, thus allowing a family to have fresh, clean water in their house for the first time.

President Michael repeated announcements and meeting notices/speakers and the meeting was adjourned.




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