Street Talk: Now, about that Grand Rapids income tax vote …


Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for FY2015 sounds like maybe the state, at long last, will loosen the purse strings and share some funds with GR — which would be great for fixing Furniture City’s streets that are now more pothole than pavement.

So does that mean perhaps an extension of the Grand Rapids income tax increase — touted for use in fixing the streets — may not be needed?

Mayor George Heartwell is dubious, to say the least.

“Out of the last $50 million they took out of the surplus, Grand Rapids got $400,000. This is a fraction of what is necessary, and the governor knows that,” Heartwell told the Business Journal.

He said the city would not turn away any help from the state, “but it doesn’t begin to touch what we need from the state — which is about $7 million a year.”

That amount would just about replace funding the city has lost in gas tax revenue over the past decade, according to Heartwell.

He noted that last year, Snyder proposed “a really comprehensive $1.2 billion program for state highways and roads — and it was utterly dismissed by the Legislature, who then said they would come up with a good idea of their own. And here we are a year later and there’s no good idea. In fact, there’s no idea. They haven’t proposed anything. It’s gone into a black hole.”

Speaking of the May special election: GR Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong commented on the last line in a Business Journal report last week, which stated the cost of a May special election — rather than waiting for November — would be $75,000 to $80,000. That estimate is correct, said DeLong — but what many people do not know is that if it was approved by voters in November, it would require an expensive revision in tax forms (both print and electronic) after the tax year had already begun.

There is a long lead time required by the printers and software writers who produce tax forms for the city, and an election in August or November just wouldn’t provide enough time, said DeLong.

“The cost of an out-of-cycle adjustment (to tax forms) is $125,000,” said DeLong.

He noted an out-of-cycle change in tax rates would also be a major challenge to GR employers who would have to change all the withholding amounts.

Mailbox mayhem

The never-ending Siberian winter in West Michigan is taking its toll on people, on cars — and on your mailbox, if you have one out by the road. Or had one.

Lee Edwards has a mailbox sales and installation service based in Barry County, with a website called Mailboxes Are Us. Edwards mostly works at new home developments, including many in Kent and Ottawa counties, but he does get calls from individuals whose mailboxes have been damaged by a big wave of heavy snow hurled by a county snowplow — or creamed by the plow blade.

“Come spring time when it all starts to melt, then it’s going to get real busy and the phone will be blowing up,” said Edwards.

The Edwards have a 17-year-old daughter; three of her high school friends already have called him this winter, he said, needing to replace somebody’s mailbox they clobbered with their cars while trying to drive in the snow.

“I should be advertising at the high school,” he quipped.

The last couple of years, he has also received orders for mailbox snow shields, a familiar sight now on country roads in West Michigan. Most are homemade, but some are pretty upscale.

Edwards thinks some West Michigan counties may be slowing down their plows this year, which may reduce the mailbox carnage — but then, he noted, there are new plows in use with articulated blades that can angle farther off to the side and push the snow even deeper into the ditch.

The plow drivers have been “adjusting to that,” he said with a laugh. “They’ve been taking out quite a few with that new plow setup.”

Some counties with extensive rural areas will help the homeowner with the cost of replacing a mailbox damaged by a passing county plow. The Ottawa County Road Commission, according to its website, will hand out a new standard — and “standard” is underlined — mailbox, “and/or a single 4” by 4” wood post” to put it on. But you’ve got to bring in the demolished mailbox or photos of it, and you’ve got to sign for the new one.

Both Kent and Ottawa counties promote “Shake Your Mailbox Day,” which last occurred Oct. 19. The idea is to see if your mailbox is kind of shaky — in which case, you are urged to replace it because it may not survive the snowplow season.

Foul ball

The Internet is filled with useless minutia and tasteless musings, but every once in a while those tasteless musings tickle the funny bone.

The fake Twitter account “Phil Coke’s Brain,” named in “honor” of Tiger reliever Phil Coke, recently took aim at the West Michigan Whitecaps with some “suggestions” about potential concession offerings that poked a little fun at the home team’s misfortune. All in good taste? You decide.

The Smoked Suite Honey BBQ sandwich is described thusly: “Perhaps you heard about the fire at the Whitecaps’ home park. While tragic, no one was hurt and the reconstruction is proceeding safely. So why not have a little fun with it? The fire started in a suite and smoke poured into the sky. Let's pay tribute with a huge helping of smoked pork in a sweet honey sauce served on crusty baguette and placed on a charred wooden board. Each order also gets a commemorative fire extinguisher inspired steel water bottle!”

While that one may leave Lew Chamberlin, Denny Baxter and the rest of the gang shaking their heads, they can take comfort that they weren’t the only West Michigan icons in the crosshairs.

If Amway founder Richard DeVos finds his way to the ballpark this summer, Coke’s Brain suggests the Whitecaps be ready with Pyramid IceScheme.

“If you know anything about West Michigan, you know that every third building is named after a member of the DeVos or the Van Andel families. The Grand Rapids Griffins play in the Van Andel Arena. If you are going to see the symphony, you go to DeVos Hall. These two families have money and power and it all started right outside of Grand Rapids. They came into their money through the explosion of direct sale giant Amway Corporation. Amway has been pejoratively described as a pyramid scheme with upper end ‘business owners’ collecting residuals on the sales of lower ‘business owners.’

“What better way to celebrate this local flair than with a decadent dessert? Check out this waffle ‘cone’ pyramid with two big balls of vanilla ice cream covered in mint and chocolate syrup and garnished with a big foil wrapped chocolate coin. Yum!”

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