Commissioners review preliminary 2016 budget


Grand Rapids city commissioners took their first look at the $457.6 million preliminary budget recommended for the 2016 fiscal year last week.

The spending plan includes a general operations budget of just more than $125 million.

City Manager Greg Sundstrom called it the best plan he’s presented in six years.

The budget follows a five-year transformation plan focused on “financial discipline, finding the edge of innovation and investing for outcomes.”

Grand Rapids’ five-year plan has transformed a $33 million structural deficit in fiscal year 2010 to the point where the city has achieved financial stability and can begin building essential financial reserves, Sundstrom said.

He said the proposed budget introduces funding for Phase III of the transformation plan and ensures that general operating fund revenues continue to meet or exceed expenditures over the next five-year budget planning period.

“We built Phase III on the community's hard work and sacrifice over the last decade, particularly the last five years,” he said. “Phase III honors that. For the first time in years we can begin to judiciously invest in critical services and still maintain performance in the narrow band of revenues over expenditures necessary to build financial reserves to continue our transformation success.”

The proposed budget calls for increased staffing and resources in several departments, including planning, police, fire, city clerk, income tax, parks and recreation, human resources, engineering, environmental services and parking departments, to improve customer service and outcomes.

The budget also calls for the addition of an assistant to the city manager whose role will involve assisting with the implementation of the SAFE and Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City recommendations and the Transformation items focused on neighborhoods and neighborhood business districts.

Much emphasis has been put on the Grand Rapids Police Department in the last year.

The department underwent a change in leadership with the retirement of former chief Kevin Belk and the hiring of new chief of police David M. Rahinsky. National events also have led to discussions locally about racial disparities in the criminal justice system and ways to better protect the public and prevent tragedies like those that have occurred in other communities. Several recommendations have been made, including the implementation of body cameras, as a result of those conversations, and the preliminary budget is in line to support those changes.

The police department’s budget includes funding for two more police officers and one sergeant in 2016, which brings the total staffing plan to 292.

One public information officer position is also included to assist the agency in disseminating its message while facilitating better interaction with the community. The proposed budget would also expand the number of neighborhoods reached and total hours of community policing.

The fire department is also slated for personnel increases. Sundstrom said its 2016 request includes funding for 199 personnel, which includes hiring 10 personnel now and implements a dynamic staffing plan like that used in the police department to maintain a staffing level between 194 and 204 as the department continues to work through projected retirements over the next several years.

The proposal includes $3.8 million for planned park investment, including the rehabilitation of park shelters, equipment and facilities. Voters approved a parks millage in 2013 that is the foundation for the parks improvements, several of which are already underway.

The 2016 budget plan will fund additional park improvement projects identified by citizens and supporting organizations. Briggs, King and Richmond pools are again funded to be open for 12 weeks with planned special events throughout the season.

Sundstrom said a key driver of the city’s transformation has been a commitment to neighborhood economic development, entrepreneurship and innovation, and that establishing neighborhood-based economic gardening support “has begun to distinguish us from other Michigan cities, and that focus will continue to evolve in 2016.”

“By utilizing creative platforms such as Corridor Improvement Authorities, Business Improvement Districts and Special Assessment Districts, we are transforming public infrastructure and commercial development in neighborhood business districts,” he said.

“Our efforts support the five Corridor Improvement Districts in Uptown, Southtown, North Quarter, Westside and Michigan Street. Strategic partnerships with The Right Place Inc., Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Neighborhood Ventures, LINC, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, The Urban League, Grand Valley State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the Kent County Land Bank Authority will allow us to continue to deliver positive returns on current and future strategic economic development initiatives,” Sundstrom said.

“The 2016 preliminary fiscal plan continues the discipline of recommended fees and spending against established revenue and expenditure targets for each operating department,” said Scott Buhrer, City of Grand Rapids CFO.

He said the transformation plan was developed with 2015 as its target year, and the city will achieve that goal.

“The fiscal plan extends revenue and expenditure targets for the next five fiscal years to sustain the progress accomplished to date,” Buhrer said.

Commissioners now will begin reviewing the document and examining funding proposals in depth during the course of four Tuesday budget review sessions in May. The commission is scheduled to vote on the budget June 16.

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