Matt Woolford’s interest in assessment was sparked shortly after high school and continued during his college years as a part-time job. Photo by Johnny Quirin
Matt Woolford has seen a lot over the past two decades in his career, but this year he experienced something out of the ordinary.
The director of Kent County’s Bureau of Equalization and his staff assessed the countywide property damage that resulted from the torrential spring rains that caused the Grand River to overflow in April.
Their work resulted in Gov. Rick Snyder declaring a state of emergency throughout the area, which drew the U.S. Small Business Administration to offer property owners low-interest recovery loans. Their assessment also played a significant role in persuading President Barack Obama to instruct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to become involved in the local disaster.
“It’s not the first time our department has been mobilized for damage assessment. However, it was the first time that anything close to this scale was done during my tenure with Kent County,” he said of the $10.6 million worth of damage caused by the flooding.
“My department is really responsible for gathering up all of the maps and detailed damage assessments, and those are what the governor’s office uses to decide whether or not to declare a state of emergency, which unlocks the potential for funding.”
“One of the things that I was very proud of was to work with everyone in my office and all of the local government officials. Sometimes I think the amount of collaboration that takes place on a daily basis is lost to the general public, and it was just really nice to see all of the various government units come around a common need to quickly assess that damage and to really do an excellent job at it.
“I was really proud of my department and I work with some very good people,” he said.
Woolford joined Kent County in 1997 as director of the property and mapping department, which today is a key function of the Bureau of Equalization. He previously served as the city assessor in East Grand Rapids for 18 months and as an appraiser in that office for more than three years.
In 2000, he was promoted and became the bureau’s deputy director under David Jager when the departments were consolidated. Then, when Jager retired six years ago, Woolford was chosen for the top spot. At first, Woolford was named interim director. When he earned his level-four state appraiser certificate, he became the permanent director.
Woolford became interested in assessment almost immediately after high school when he went to work for Bedford Township in Monroe County. He manned the front desk, where he did a host of things from issuing burning permits to working with the township’s customers.
“One of the things I did there was to answer people’s questions about their assessment record cards. So I was exposed to the assessing profession during that time period. Then, during my time in college, I went back and became a field collector for the township and, ultimately, achieved my appraiser one certification and kept the assessor thing going when I was in college,” he said.
“So that provided me with part-time employment and helped me get through college by working in the assessing field. I always saw a future in assessment administration, and that is kind of how things turned out.”
Woolford credited two individuals with playing vital roles in his career. East Grand Rapids City Assessor Shirley Norman was one. Woolford was hired as an appraiser at the city in 1992 just a few days before he was to be married. It wasn’t just the timing that he was grateful for; it was also that Norman, who has since retired, took him under her wing.
“She got me directly involved with the Michigan Assessors Association on the Legislative Committee,” he said.
“It was during my time on that committee that I got to meet a network of assessors throughout the state and got to be heavily involved in analyzing various pieces of legislation that ultimately led to and coincided with Proposal A. So I was able to get very involved very early in my profession at a statewide level. That was something that, as I look back now, really was critical. Shirley was encouraging a new employee to develop those sorts of relationships that have lasted throughout my career. Shirley mentored me into becoming a future leader in the assessing field.”
The other key individual in his career was current County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio. He said Delabbio mentored him through his time at the county and helped groom him to take over the equalization bureau. “He allowed me to be able to do what I am doing now,” he said.
Woolford was born in Toledo, home of the Mud Hens, but he was raised across the state line in Bedford Township. “So I’m a true Michigander,” he said.
Today, he lives in Wyoming with Laura, his wife of 20 years. The Woolfords have three children: Zachary, 13; Marisela, 8; and 3-year-old Maya.
“We are one busy family,” he said. “With three kids and two full-time jobs, there is never a boring moment.”
Matt met Laura while they were working summer jobs at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, as college students. Matt was a ride host, but he said Laura held a unique job title. “She was a ‘sweeperette’ and she swept me off my feet,” he said. They dated for four years before tying the knot in 1992.
Laura graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in teaching and currently teaches at East Grand Rapids Middle School. Matt earned his political science degree, along with a master’s in public administration, from Toledo University.
Woolford said Zachary loves sports and he plays travel baseball and football. “He also is probably one of the most knowledgeable persons on the University of Michigan football program that I know. He is a rabid Michigan fan, something that he and I both share,” he said.
Fashion holds Marisela’s interest, but she also really likes being big sister to Maya. “Marisela is mom’s little helper when it comes to taking care of Maya,” Woolford said.
Woolford is a board member at his church, Holy Cross Lutheran in Jenison. “I’ve been doing that for about three years and that is work that I find very rewarding.”
When he isn’t working or volunteering at the church, Woolford spends as much time as he can with Laura and the kids.
As for his immediate professional future, he said he wants to become more involved with the county in creating more collaborations. He recently put together a few in the assessment field with other governments, but he wants to dig in even deeper like he did in the data exchange agreement he made with the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors earlier this year.
“I was really happy to see that happen because I think that’s the type of collaboration that people are expecting these days — where it’s not government, it’s not private, it’s not county, it’s not local, it’s not state. It’s really just focusing on the citizens and what they need,” he said.
“In this case, it focuses on the real estate industry, both public and private, and looking at that as a comprehensive whole rather than as distinctive individual parts. That is the perspective I’d like to build upon. … That’s what really excites me and that’s what I’d like to be more a part of in the coming year.”