Busy week for county commission


    County commissioners are likely to decide this week whether to give some employees a raise and others a new contract. They are also expected to make a decision on whether to lease some property to the West Michigan Sports Commission and establish a new county land bank authority.

    Kent County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish has proposed the land bank authority because it would give his department more options on how to deal with tax-foreclosed, vacant and abandoned properties. A land bank would allow the county to collect tax breaks for contaminated properties, get titles to foreclosed properties more quickly, demolish or renovate properties, and list properties for sale instead of being limited to auctions.

    A land bank would be a separate legal entity within the county that would be empowered through state law and managed by a board of directors. The county’s Legislative Committee recommended last week that the full board approve its creation.

    The sports commission wants to lease 90 acres owned by the county on Ten Mile Road, next to the county’s North Kent Transfer Station, and build a 12-field baseball and softball complex there for games and tournaments. The idea behind the complex is to draw teams to the area for weekend tournaments and create a new revenue stream for outlying hotels and motels. WMSC has estimated the complex would cost $5.6 million to build.

    Under an agreement that a county subcommittee approved, the sports commission would pay the county a nominal fee each year — such as $1 — for a long-term lease on the property.

    The county’s lowest-paid, non-unionized employees could get a 1 percent pay hike on Jan. 1 if commissioners approve the raise this week. The wage hike would cost the county $205,836 next year.

    The Legislative Committee recommended last week that the board grant the raise. County Human Resources Director Don Clack said the pay increases meet the parameters set by the Finance Committee for the 2010 budget.

    But Commissioner Keith Courtade, also on the Legislative Committee, said the money for the wage hikes would be better spent to lessen the layoffs coming at the end of this year. The county has plans to eliminate 145 positions on Dec. 31 and lay off the equivalent of 82 full-time workers.

    “We hate to suppress anybody’s wages. But let’s remember a lot of people are going to be laid off from the budget,” said Courtade.

    The county is seeking wage concessions from its bargaining units in an effort to lower the number of jobs that have been projected to be eliminated. If concessions are negotiated, the committee can review the increase.

    “My constituents feel that concessions are necessary, but not only by hourly workers,” said Commissioner Bob Synk, also a Legislative Committee member.

    The committee also recommended that the full board ratify a three-year labor agreement with Teamsters Local 214, which represents 16 employees in the county’s parks department. Should commissioners approve the pact, workers would get a 2 percent retroactive raise for this year and a 2.25-percent hike in 2011.

    “There would be no increase in 2010,” said Clack.

    Courtade said much of the wage increase would be wiped out by the higher premium the employees will be required to pay for health insurance. In addition, the agreement calls for up to 26 payless furlough days next year.

    “I don’t believe at this point it will be that many,” said Clack. “If they spend money somewhere else, they will have to take furlough days.”

    The local has ratified the agreement. The total increased cost to the county for wages and benefits is $69,974, or an average of $4,373 per employee. Each furlough day the employees take would save the county $2,973.

    “I’m having a tough time with this,” said Commissioner Bill Hirsch of the pay increases. “Things are getting tougher for the county.”

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