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metrogrkid

UniGov Talks for Hub of Metro Grand Rapids

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Here's the WOOD TV-8 video link hot off the press!: http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/kent_county/Should-GR-Kent-County-govts-merge

Main idea:

Combine the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County into one unified government

Key Pros:

a unified government would move the area up in national metropolitan rankings that could result in attracting more businesses to the area

Business activity would increase as the region moves up national site selection rankings

Elimination of wasteful duplication, and, theoretically, saving taxpayers money while improving service

Key Cons:

Unknown impacts on tax rates, representation and the cost of moving to one government

Unknown nature of whether a merger could be truly effective if other cities and townships aren't part of the unification

Political hurdle of GR City support for merger being tied to the UniGov Council members' being elected on a non-partsan basis

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Be joined at the hip to Wyoming? No thanks!

Some of these suburbs hastily incorporated into sprawl cities to avoid having anything to do with GR. That's all I need to know that they aren't all that big on being joined with us either.

But I guess it would save some money.

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I think it would be huge. I think unification is another thing Michigan cities need in order to compete with the sunbelt cities, that can snatch up land wherever/whenever they want. I think the whole region would benefit from a higher profile nationally. I would hope there wouldn't be to much push back from townships. I'm sure the entire county wouldn't merge with the city, but I wouldn't be shocked if the 5 major core cities looked into uniting. Tho if the county and city did merge into one government, It would create the largest city by land in the country. Jacksonville currently is the largest city by land area, it merged with Duvall county in the 60's. Kent County covers more land than Duvall. But like I said, I can't see the twp's doing something like this quietly. The good definately out weighs the bad.

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Where I'm originally from unified some local/regional government functions. Mass transit, solid waste, environmental and land use/growth issues among other issues. For the most part it works pretty well, but not surprisingly mission creep is ever present.

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didn't louisville do this a few years back? I wonder how it worked for them.

I think that it is a good idea, which would likely save a lot of money in the long run. getting it to actually happen may be difficult though. when I lived in grand blanc there was a movement to combine the city and township which was defeated. Too many beaureucrats stand to loose thier jobs. that, and people who don't currently live in city freak out over having to pay higher taxes.

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this would be a game changer, omaha ne. absorbs neighboring burbs into its population when they reach a certain size. there pop. is like 600,000. but there metro is similar in size to GR. and i want to say they have one of highest fortune 500 companies ratios per capita in the nation. of course there are other factors that play into that but size does also.

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Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell is backing the idea, but only if any future council or commission are elected on a non-partisan ballot.

Current county commissioners are elected as Republicans or Democrats. City Commissioners run on a non-partisan ballot. Heartwell said it's important members of future boards not be affiliated with a party

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Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell is backing the idea, but only if any future council or commission are elected on a non-partisan ballot.

Current county commissioners are elected as Republicans or Democrats. City Commissioners run on a non-partisan ballot. Heartwell said it's important members of future boards not be affiliated with a party

In the wake of the Giffords tragedy and with the majority of the nation beginning to see the value of dialing down today's gigantically irresponsible vitriol that is poisioning American political discourse, it would certainly serve any new/unified/larger version of Grand Rapids/Kent County if its representatives already practiced non-partisan "working across the aisle" in their day-to-day serving the citizens of Grand Rapids/Kent County. In potential, it could make GR/KC one of the most politically advantaged regions within The Chamber at Lansing's Capitol Dome. Any non-partison "de rigeur" of the GR/KC leadership could likely become the model for Lansing's politicians to more effectively operate (and also co-operate in peace AND cooperate in practice) as a member of any party.

Just sayin' . . . . :whistling:

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If the Grand Rapids/Kent County UniGov entity were in place as of the 2009 population estimates, it would move from GR's 2009 American city ranking of 115th (193,710) to the slot shown below:

10) San Jose - California - 964,695

11) Detroit - Michigan - 910,921

12) San Francisco- California - 815,358

13) Jacksonville- Florida - 813,518

14) Indianapolis- Indiana - 807,584

15) Austin - Texas - 786,386

16) Columbus - Ohio - 769,332

17) Fort Worth - Texas - 727,577

18) Charlotte - North Carolina - 709,441

19) Memphis - Tennessee - 676,640

20) Boston - Massachusetts - 645,169

21) Baltimore - Maryland - 637,418

22) El Paso - Texas - 620,456

23) Seattle - Washington - 616,627

24) Denver - Colorado - 610,345

*> GR/KC UniGov- Michigan - 607,300

25) Nashville - Tennessee - 605,473

26) Milwaukee - Wisconsin - 605,013

27) Washington - District of Columbia - 599,657

28) Las Vegas - Nevada - 567,641

29) Louisville - Kentucky - 566,503

30) Portland - Oregon - 566,143

31) Oklahoma City- Oklahoma - 560,333

32) Tucson - Arizona - 543,910

33) Atlanta - Georgia - 540,922

34) Albuquerque - New Mexico - 529,219

35) Kansas City - Missouri - 482,299

36) Fresno - California - 479,918

37) Mesa - Arizona - 467,157

38) Sacramento - California - 466,676

39) Long Beach - California - 462,604

courtesy of research by MBEI BrainTrust Consortium

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Getting rid of the board's party affiliations doesn't strike me as a "major political hurdle." The real hurdle is that nobody in the suburbs wants to do this. I don't even think, if put to a vote, GR residents would go for it.

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As mentioned earlier in this discussion, this was done in Louisville several years ago. The result has been massively successful. I have friends that recently moved down there, and our son and his wife live in Fort Knox, KY which is just South of L-Ville. We have spent a lot of time there over the past couple of years. It has had a positive impact on revenues, costs, political clout, and the public schools. I think that if West Michigan is going to survive in these tough economic times, consolidation of not only our municipalities, but our school systems as well is a must.

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From what I'm reading, it sounds like the city and county would merge. However there are somewhere around 30 other municipalities in Kent County between the burbs and twps. The language I've been reading sounds as if these other jurisdictions would have the option of joining. There is no land within the borders of Kent County that isn't incorporated. There is no part of the population that Kent County controls directly. An Initial merger of the governments wouldn't change the population of Grand Rapids at all. The township lobby in Michigan is both powerful and short sighted, and has been just another faction that has stood in the way of progress for decades. They were formed back in the 20's to prevent the core cities from getting to powerful. They have made impossible for our cities to match the size of our sunbelt counterparts that grow at will. I read quotes from area leaders, and the GR township supervisor, said they would benefit more from a merger with Ada and Cascade, than with the city/county. I don't know the specifics of the proposal. Certainly the people who are proposing it, have a very proven track record at getting things done. My thought is we will have the typical Michigan, City vs. Burbs warfare. Where the suburbians will think that a merger with Grand Rapids will destroy their school districts, and it will only be a matter of time before all of Kent County will resemble parts of Grand Rapids SE side. It will be once again, another example of residents both ignorant, obstinant, and short sighted. Blocking yet another opportunity that could be very helpful to our region economically, along with many other positive benefits. Not to be negative Nancy here, but while i'm hopeful, and cheering this on. My gut feeling is it won't happen.

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I think I read somewhere that this group is using the same consultants that helped Louisville with their merge.

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The township is a layer of government that has long outlived it's usefulness. The only thing that I can tell it does is add a layer of cost and complexity to government

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The township is a layer of government that has long outlived it's usefulness. The only thing that I can tell it does is add a layer of cost and complexity to government

But unfortunately, the township governments have their citizens fooled that they are a great steward of their money and interests.

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There will be much resistance to this idea right now, but people's minds can change.

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I think I read somewhere that this group is using the same consultants that helped Louisville with their merge.

Dad:

See if you might drum up that information and post it here. Such info could give us a better idea of what would be in store for the eastern point of the Metro Triplex triangle (i.e. - Kent County)

SIDE FYI NOTE: According to the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, the GR MetroTriplex's northwestern point is Muskegon County and the southwestern point is Ottawa County; of course those parts of the Metro area are not included in the UniGov conversation.

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Dad:

See if you might drum up that information and post it here. Such info could give us a better idea of what would be in store for the eastern point of the Metro Triplex triangle (i.e. - Kent County)

SIDE FYI NOTE: According to the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, the GR MetroTriplex's northwestern point is Muskegon County and the southwestern point is Ottawa County; of course those parts of the Metro area are not included in the UniGov conversation.

"In fact, they have retained one of the consultants who helped Louisville achieve consolidation."

http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/02/are_city_borders_petty_rivalri.html

A carrot's not going to do this. Only a stick will (if surrounding municipalities find they have no choice). Commissioner Talen is right, this group should open up and be more transparent if they're going to get anywhere.

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They don't have to fool their citizens. Generally, the townships actually are governed much better than the cities. To me, this whole concept has always stunk of a giant money grab by the city to attempt to suck cash from the townships. It would be interesting to see what the financial aspects of this are. The city has serious structural problems owing to decades of poor governance and bad deals with its employees. The townships, by and large, don't have this problem. They also don't have zoning codes and rule books that are incomprehensibly opaque and present serious impediments to business growth and development. Many also don't have an onerous city-income tax whose primary purpose is now to ensure rich people and businesses go somewhere else. They also have school systems which, while not perfect, aren't nearly the wasteland that Grand Rapids' school system is.

Granted, I like the idea of more accurately reflecting the size of the area, but at the same time, there is a very good reason the area is as fragmented as it is. I don't think the issues that preclude a true unification (and which presaged the metro "crack up" into Kentwood/Wyoming/GR/Walker) can be adequately addressed over anything other than a multiple-decade period, which may or may not include a municipal bankruptcy by GR (which would be a brilliant maneuver, incidentally). Yeah, you can make a big paper tiger that looks like a bigger city, but you're just not going to get there in reality.

But unfortunately, the township governments have their citizens fooled that they are a great steward of their money and interests.

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They don't have to fool their citizens. Generally, the townships actually are governed much better than the cities. To me, this whole concept has always stunk of a giant money grab by the city to attempt to suck cash from the townships. It would be interesting to see what the financial aspects of this are. The city has serious structural problems owing to decades of poor governance and bad deals with its employees. The townships, by and large, don't have this problem. They also don't have zoning codes and rule books that are incomprehensibly opaque and present serious impediments to business growth and development. Many also don't have an onerous city-income tax whose primary purpose is now to ensure rich people and businesses go somewhere else. They also have school systems which, while not perfect, aren't nearly the wasteland that Grand Rapids' school system is.

Granted, I like the idea of more accurately reflecting the size of the area, but at the same time, there is a very good reason the area is as fragmented as it is. I don't think the issues that preclude a true unification (and which presaged the metro "crack up" into Kentwood/Wyoming/GR/Walker) can be adequately addressed over anything other than a multiple-decade period, which may or may not include a municipal bankruptcy by GR (which would be a brilliant maneuver, incidentally). Yeah, you can make a big paper tiger that looks like a bigger city, but you're just not going to get there in reality.

I would challenge you on that (of course). No township has control over school systems, neither do cities, in Michigan. So you can't really lay that at the feet of either governance model. The only thing that keeps most townships in the black is "growth" in and of itself, not how they are run. And the only reason most are growing is because they have ample land. Most townships don't have to worry about bad decisions made in packages set up with employees because they don't have any. They completely rely on the county to provide them with services, and rely on Uncle Elmer to put out fires occasionally.

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I think the real burden to consolidation is public opinion.

That's actually pretty good news. Public opinion can be swayed.

If there are great examples of other racially and economically diverse mega-communities merging, reaping the benefits of such a merger, and continuing their overall growth I'll bet you could convince folks here.

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... Generally, the townships actually are governed much better than the cities. To me, this whole concept has always stunk of a giant money grab by the city to attempt to suck cash from the townships. It would be interesting to see what the financial aspects of this are. The city has serious structural problems owing to decades of poor governance and bad deals with its employees. The townships... don't have zoning codes and rule books that are incomprehensibly opaque and present serious impediments to business growth and development. ...

With all due respect to any local township officials who might be reading this, in my experience twp boards seem to be run by elected officials who are better at campaigning than in managing a unit of government.

(former staff planning/zoning administrator at one such municipality)

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I would challenge you on that (of course). No township has control over school systems, neither do cities, in Michigan. So you can't really lay that at the feet of either governance model. The only thing that keeps most townships in the black is "growth" in and of itself, not how they are run. And the only reason most are growing is because they have ample land. Most townships don't have to worry about bad decisions made in packages set up with employees because they don't have any. They completely rely on the county to provide them with services, and rely on Uncle Elmer to put out fires occasionally.

Mmmhmm.. And here in Grand Rapids we've got the overpaid and overstaffed fire department that sends a fire truck out at the drop of a hat. Townships work because they keep their expenses lower, and don't normally have the bureaucratic overhead. I lived in a township for decades, and it wasn't "growth" keeping it alive because there really wasn't much of that until about 10 years ago. The people that ran the township were my neighbors, and they were frugal. That's what kept them well in the black.

Grand Rapids, on the other hand, well ... I really have yet to see one thing about local governance that strikes me as much of anything other than a mess. This is not a city that knows how to operate within its means (or even admits what its true means are), and I think it would be incredibly foolish for surrounding jurisdictions to join themselves at the hip until Grand Rapids reckons with the reality of its situation. The fiscal red ink that is flowing and which will continue to flow in this town in staggering. Before anyone gives this serious consideration, Grand Rapids' future revenues and expenses need serious scrutiny.

At this point, I suspect future revenues for Grand Rapids are wildly overstated. I suggest the progenitors of this concept start by looking at actual sales prices versus assessments in this town. People tend to focus on "big picture" items like a Meijer store closing. Here, however, the devil is in the details--it's death by a thousand cuts. Assessments versus actual value have become so wildly divergent that if things were brought down to reality, Grand Rapids would have a hole today that I suspect it could not fill. Subprimes and the boom brought the taxes up astronomically in some areas, but they are not coming back down. For example (and using some liberal rounding), I took a hard look at one neighborhood where the highest sale was possibly $80k to 100k. The assessments were all substantially above that. Worst of all, however, there were about TEN sales of two and three units for $20k to $40k. The assessments on those units were usually double that. The actual taxes went down by about 5% (instead of 50%) because the assessor included 1) a bunch of inflated land contract sales where I suspect little to no verification of credit history, financial terms, etc. was done, and 2) a handful of properties that were totally gutted and rehabbed and made like new. These seem like small numbers, but when you take, say, $50k of bogus value per property and multiply that over just those ten properties that actually sold you're looking at a $12,500.00 hole per year from just those ten properties. Now multiply that over just 1000 properties like this in the city. The numbers are staggering--$1.25mm per year for the foreseeable future. Long term, the only way GR keeps itself solvent without cutting to the bone is if it 1) continues to paper over this problem by jerry-rigging the assessments and gets away with it, 2) realizes an almost magical increase in property values back to boom levels, or 3) attracts investors who rehab the whole city. I say fat chance to all three.

While I can see the benefits of consolidation, I am thoroughly convinced the city first needs to get its fiscal house in order, starting with revenues. It's hard to cheat on the income taxes, but the cheating on the property assessments has to end sooner or later. At this point, I submit that a significant portion of GR's future revenue stream is not unlike the subprimes that were carefully bundled up into tranches designed to look like AAA securities because future municipal revenues are themselves based in significant part on the inflated prices and asset values that these tranches littered with subprimes were designed to achieve. While I haven't fleshed out all the details as specifically as I would like, I think the basic idea is sound. Through what amount to accounting tricks, GR has managed to avoid a paper collapse in its real estate asset portfolio value, but that day is coming. When it does, this whole "unity" scheme would be an absolutely brilliant bail out mechanism.

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In my youth I used to picture that the schemes like this were hatched by the old local elite in some mahogany paneled side room at the Penn Club while they sat in heavily upholstered chairs, smoked illegal Cuban cigars, and downed expensive single malt whiskey.

The names have changed since then and the Penn Club is no more. In the Penn Club's later days I imagine they probably weren't allowed to smoke anyway. So where do they meet now?

I don't know enough to figure out if I'm for or against this yet - with the Penn Club closed I'm just trying to adjust my paradigm about how these things come about. Anybody know?

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well with the economy still recovering i'm pretty sure they meet in the banquet hall at Mel Trotter.

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