Kent commissioners give green light to PDR effort


A Purchase of Development Rights agreement authorized by Kent County commissioners in February was completed last week when board members accepted the funds to meet the final stage of financing to safeguard acreage from commercial development.

In February, county commissioners agreed to an option to buy the development rights of 300 acres on four farms for $468,000, or $1,560 per acre. A federal grant worth $210,000 from the USDA Farmland Protection Program and $257,000 from the Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board were expected to pay for the purchase rights.

But the preservation board found itself short of meeting that cost and held its first-ever fundraising event in conjunction with the Agricultural Boards of Michigan about a month ago to make up the difference. The event was a success: $23,500 was raised so that 35 acres of the Goodfellow Orchards in Sparta Township could be preserved.

“They are trying to transition this farm to the family,” said Commissioner Bill Hirsch.

In the meantime, Grattan Township donated $12,300 to the effort; those dollars will be applied to purchasing the rights of 75 acres on a farm in that township.

Commissioners unanimously accepted the combined $35,800 last week as the missing monetary link, which means the county will go forward with the option to purchase the development rights of the 300 acres. The next step is to close on the four farms, and the goal is to do that by the end of this year.

Commissioner Dan Koorndyk said he supported the measure because it didn’t involve using tax dollars from the county’s general operating fund.

Commissioners are expected to reduce funding to the PDR program next year. This year, commissioners allocated $150,000 from the general fund to the program. That amount was down from the $275,000 awarded in the two previous years. Members of the county’s Finance Committee recently talked about setting aside just $50,000 for the development rights effort next year in the 2013 general budget.

As for next year’s general fund, which contains almost $161 million in spending, County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said only two full-time positions will be eliminated in 2013, and both are vacant. “No county employees are losing their jobs,” he said. “That’s the good news.”

In other employee news, commissioners approved three three-year labor agreements last week with three separate bargaining units.

One was with the Kent County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Union, which has 32 members. The attorneys will get 1 percent wage increases in each of the three years, while their premiums for health insurance will rise to 17.5 percent for the contract’s duration and their pension contribution will go up to 8.5 percent starting in 2014.

A second agreement was reached with Teamsters Local 214, which represents the county’s 45 full-time and 21 part-time public health nurses. They will receive wage hikes of 1 percent in the first two years and 2 percent in 2015. Their health insurance premium costs and pension contributions are the same as the prosecuting attorneys.

The estimated three-year financial impact of the salary-and-benefits package for the county for the attorneys’ contract is $70,613, and $113,229 for the public nurses’ agreement.

The third agreement commissioners approved was with United Auto Workers Union Local 2600, which represents 506 county employees. The agreement calls for wage increases of 1 percent in the first two years and 2 percent in year three. These workers will also pay 17.5 percent of their health-insurance premiums and contribute 8.5 percent to their pension plans starting in 2014.

The contract’s three-year cost for the county on wages and benefits is estimated at $849,000.

Commissioners also recognized an agreement last week with the Kent County Sheriff and Police Officers Association of Michigan, which represents 196 law enforcement officers. The contract emerged from a state-endorsed arbitration award.

Wages won’t rise in the first year, which is this year, but will go up by 1.25 percent in 2013 and 1.5 percent in 2014. The deputies will pay 17.5 percent of their health premium costs and contribute 7.5 percent toward their pensions until 2014, when the contribution rate will rise to 8.5 percent. The contract will cost the county approximately $209,225 for wages and benefits.

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