Kent County changes budget provisions


Kent County Commissioners made a few changes to the guidelines they will follow in putting the general operations and capital improvement budgets together for the coming fiscal year that begins Jan. 1.

One requires that any fund transfer resulting in an increased appropriation to the general operating budget has go back to the Finance Committee for review and then to the full board for its approval before a transfer can be added. The general fund covers most of the county’s services.

Another changed the term “performance budgeting” to “performance reporting” in an effort to identify any problem areas before they surface.

However, Commissioner Jim Talen, who identified himself as a proponent of outcome-based budgeting, said the projected outcomes should be reflected in the budget. “This feels like a step backwards to me,” he said of the guideline change.

Commissioners also altered a provision in the capital improvement budget that deals with emergency projects. It now requires that when administration recommends a project, a request must include the reasons it needs to be done now and why it can’t wait until the next budgeting cycle.

Commissioner Nate Vriesman brought the issue up because he felt the previous provision gave the administrator too much power in that situation.

“I don’t have a problem with striking that sentence,” said County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio.

A key portion of that policy remained unchanged. It will still take a two-thirds vote of the commission to add an emergency project to the CIP budget.

“One of the reasons we want to do two-thirds is we don’t want this to become (a) common (occurrence),” said Delabbio.

At least two-tenths of a mill from the county’s operating millage will be transferred to the upcoming CIP budget, which means the county will have a minimum of $3.8 million to spend on capital improvements next year.

Fiscal Services may ask the commission to increase the CIP mills to 0.25 mills, which would add about another million dollars to the budget.

Commissioner Carol Hennessey asked if a change could be made to the county’s economic development policy for the coming fiscal year that would allow some tax-capturing entities, like corridor improvement districts, to collect a portion of the county’s property tax. Delabbio said the policy will remain the same.

“We believe it meets our needs, but if you believe it needs to be changed, we will look at it,” he said.

The county established its policy in 2007, which limits its participation in all tax-capturing districts to 7 percent of Kent’s total tax levy. About 5.9 percent of that levy is currently being captured, with most of that revenue going to districts in Grand Rapids.

The policy also stipulates a municipality with taxing-capturing jurisdictions can’t collect property-tax revenue from the county if its capture and abatement total top 10 percent of its tax levy. Right now, the county said captures and abatements in Grand Rapids exceed 14 percent of the city’s tax levy.

The county contributes about $5.7 million annually to economic development.

On an unrelated matter, Commissioner Dick Vander Molen wondered if the county has enough cash-flow safeguards in place to keep an employee from embezzling county funds, as has happened recently in other counties.

“I think we have a number of significant controls,” said County Fiscal Services Director Stephen Duarte. “If you have collusion (from multiple employees), though, you’re not going to stop it.”

As part of the budgeting process for general operations, the county will continue a moratorium next year that it began in 2004, when it banned creating new employee positions that require additional appropriations after a budget has been adopted. However, a new hire is allowed if an employee lowers the budget’s expenses or is funded through other sources, such as grants.

Delabbio said a department can also hire someone if it can cover that cost through its current budget. He said a department head can ask the commission for an additional appropriation.

“There has to be justification,” he said. “These are just general guidelines in how we develop the budget.”

The CIP budget is expected to be adopted this month. Commissioners will adopt the spending plan for general operations in November. 

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