Street Talk: Kent caps successful year

Great expectations.
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Individual accomplishments over the course of time often can be missed, but reviewed collectively, they can present a snapshot of significant achievements.

Such is the case with Kent County’s work during 2021.

“Despite the various pressures placed on public services this past year, our board and staff were dedicated to continuing to provide excellent service to our community,” said former Kent County Board of Commissioners Chair Mandy Bolter. “While we continued to meet the challenges of the pandemic, we also maintained a strong focus on meeting the needs of continued economic growth.”

Notable county board actions from 2021 included:

  • A structurally balanced FY2022 budget was unanimously passed in November. The total budget was $527 million and included $454.8 million for operating expenditures, of which $16.7 million was for capital improvements.
  • Kent County maintained its dual AAA bond rating from S&P Global and Moody’s Investors Service for the 23rd consecutive year. Additionally, it was awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association for FY2020.
  • The Gerald R. Ford International Airport currently is expanding Concourse A to add new gates and concessions to accommodate projected passenger growth over the next 20 years. In September, the board approved the issuance of revenue bonds for $93.6 million to finance these capital improvements.
  • The county hired its first chief inclusion officer to underscore its commitment to fully embedding diversity, equity and inclusion in strategic priorities and service delivery.
  • The Parks Department completed a series of land acquisitions that will expand the Chief Hazy Cloud Park into a 395-acre natural preserve that will include woods, wetlands and three miles of frontage along the Grand River and allow for future trail expansion to connect multiple communities.
  • The Kent County Health Department added three new mobile health units in 2021. These self-contained mobile health facilities have been used extensively to target vulnerable populations in the administration of COVID-19 and other vaccinations, HIV testing and community outreach. To date, more than 1,000 thousand county residents have received COVID-19 vaccinations at clinics supported by these units.
  • The 2021 food service licensing fee was waived for the 2,294 food establishments in Kent County due to the significant hardship these establishments experienced with closures and capacity limitations related to the pandemic.
  • Three county programs managed by the Health Department continued to reduce lead exposure in Kent County. These programs are currently or have completed investigations of 161 properties, cleared 39 homes of lead hazard, completed 57 site visits, and fully staffed a team of five sanitarians, a health educator and a lead clerk.
  • Implemented the purchase and installation of body cameras for more than 200 law enforcement personnel, funded replacement tasers, and replaced 83 in-car cameras for deputy cruisers.
  • In response to the need to vaccinate as many people as possible, Kent County, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and Spectrum Health developed one of the largest vaccination clinics in the country at DeVos Place. As a result of this partnership, more than 231,000 COVID-19 vaccinations were administered between January and May 2021.

“We are in excellent fiscal standing and are well positioned to continue to innovate, collaborate and thrive,” Bolter said. “I thank our committed staff for continuing to work to make Kent County a place of belonging for all to call home and prosper.”

Trust and ethics

SpartanNash recently was recognized for 50 years of exemplary ethical practices and accreditation by the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit dedicated to elevating standards in business integrity, ethics and trust.

“SpartanNash is a proven community partner that is dedicated to serving West Michigan with trust and ethics,” said Lisa Frohnapfel, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan. “We would like to congratulate SpartanNash on 50 years of BBB accreditation. Its track record as a trusted local business is something we can all be proud of.”

Founded more than 100 years ago, the company has maintained an A+ rating with the BBB, demonstrating its focus on operational excellence as part of its mission to “deliver the ingredients for a better life.”

“SpartanNash’s people-first culture guides our principles of service and will continue to serve as the foundation for our responses to store guests,” said Tony Sarsam, SpartanNash president and CEO. “We have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the West Michigan Better Business Bureau, and we’re honored to receive this award symbolizing our commitment to earning consumer trust.”

What’s ahead

A leader for Citizens in Michigan recently shared his perspective on the 2022 economic outlook.

Joe Dennison, senior vice president, community development lending team leader for Citizens in Michigan, whose focus is construction financing and loans for affordable housing as part of the Community Reinvestment Act across the bank’s 10-state footprint, spoke with the Business Journal Dec. 22 about what Michigan residents can expect in 2022 in terms of affordable housing supply and other factors.

“2021 (was) a pretty good year for us,” he said. “Challenges in the industry, the supply chain disruption and labor shortages, have driven up construction pricing, but affordable housing projects are often a partnership between the state and local agencies that want to see projects done and private investors and developers, so, generally, we’ve been able to find ways to bridge the construction cost increases, but it is a continuing challenge that we think will probably continue into 2022. But we should hopefully be able to overcome those challenges. There’s obviously a need for affordable housing across the country.”

He said inflation and the gap between supply and demand might be of concern, but he is hopeful the Federal Reserve’s planned interest rate increases will help manage those problems.

Dennison described the omicron variant as “a bit of a wild card at the moment” but he is hopeful continued advances in treatments and therapeutics that are expected to come online in 2022 will put the state in a better place in the next 12 months.

“Beyond that, I think the (federal) infrastructure bill should be positive and help spur growth next year,” he said.

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