Kent County commissioners will decide this week whether to renew a surveying agreement with the city of Grand Rapids. They also will determine whether to enter into a new contract with the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors.
The proposed contract with GRAR is a one-year collaborative information-sharing agreement regarding residential property that has been put together by Kent County Equalization Director Matt Woolford and GRAR CEO Julie Rietberg.
“I’m personally excited by this proposition. It’s the first time since I’ve been in the county that we’ll have a partnership with the realtors,” said Woolford last week.
“I, too, think this is a great opportunity for a public-private partnership,” said Commissioner David Bulkowski.
The agreement gives the county access to GRAR’s listings and pre-sale information, such as asking prices, how long a property has sat vacant, and the average length of time homes have been on the market. In return, GRAR will gain access to all of the county’s real property data. No money changes hands if the contract is approved.
“We see this as a way to enhance data to the realtors,” said Woolford. “I think everybody wins. I think it will have an economic benefit for the region. I think it’s going to put a lot more information in the hands of assessors.”
If the contract is approved, Woolford wants assessors in all the county taxing jurisdictions to have “read only” access to the GRAR data, but only if a jurisdiction wants that information.
“The assessors will not be authorized to change anything in the realtors’ data. They’ll have information on active listings and sold properties,” he said.
County Corporate Counsel Dan Ophoff said if the county gains access to the GRAR data, it will create an official public record, which will make the information subject to Freedom of Information requests.
Woolford said he tried to reach a similar information-sharing agreement with the Commercial Alliance of Realtors. But he said CAR representatives told him the organization wasn’t ready to do that until it can figure out a way to protect client confidentiality.
On the surveying agreement with Grand Rapids, Woolford wants the county to extend it for a second year. He said much of the work involves having the city survey the 4,000 monument markers in the county. About 400 were identified last year, the first year of the agreement. “I think this is working out rather well,” he said.
Although the contract’s maximum amount is $21,000, the city increased its hourly rate to the county for the service from $75 last year to $125 this year.
“When you go from $75 to $125 in a year, there should be some questions about that,” said Commission Roger Morgan.
Commissioner Nate Vriesman, a civil engineer, suggested the contract should be put out for bid so private sector firms could get involved. “I think it would give the private sector a chance to meet that rate,” he said.
But Woolford said he contacted 33 firms last year and only one responded before he reached the agreement with the city. He felt going with Grand Rapids last year would produce some savings for the county.
Bulkowski felt a request-for-proposals would be better suited for 2014, as waiting for bids to come in, holding interviews and choosing a firm would probably take too long to get much done this year. “It’s more prudent for us to vote ‘yes’ (on the current contract) for 2013,” he said.
The county’s Finance Committee approved both agreements last week. The commission will vote on the GRAR agreement Thursday.