Grand Rapids comptroller: Some 2017 plans too expensive

Comptroller wrote letter to mayor outlining concerns about budget

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids city leader says she’s concerned about the city’s proposed budget for next year.

Comptroller Sara Vander Werff says the City of Grand Rapids has bounced back since the recession, but that it can’t afford some of the new line items in the budget. She fears they’ll drive the city further into debt.

“We’re all reliant on each other and if we have another recession then there’s a trickle-down effect in a bad way,” Vander Werff said.

She says some of the proposals will add to a projected $3 million budget deficit in the 2019 fiscal year, which is why she wrote a letter to Mayor Rosalynn Bliss outlining her concerns.

>>Online: Download Vander Werff’s letter | Download a letter from the Comptrollers Task Force

One part of the fiscal plan for 2017 that has Vander Werff concerned would hire a housing coordinator as part of an increased focus on creating affordable housing. Also part of that effort would be a new Housing Trust Fund started with $50,000 from the general fund.

“It’s not just the fund, it’s a full-time position with benefits. So we’re not just talking $50,000, we’re talking $50,000 plus a full-time employee,” Vander Werff said.

Vander Werff said those plans, as well as a Neighborhood Matching Fund using $50,000 in city cash and a $25,000 Academy Scholarship Program, are not cost-effective and, to a certain degree, not the city’s responsibility.

“I see what they’re trying to do, but you know we’re a municipal government, we aren’t the federal government we don’t have unlimited spending,” Vander Werff said.

Vander Werff says the City of Grand Rapids has more than a billion dollars in debt. She says it’s more important right now for the city commission to focus on capital improvements.

>>Online: FY2017 fiscal plan (pdf)

Bliss was not available for an interview Sunday night, but she said in a release she welcomes Vander Werff’s thoughts as the city is in the public comment period.

“Strong neighborhoods and access to affordable housing are key quality-of-life issues in our city and will remain a priority to me, along with providing efficient and effective city services,” Bliss continued. “The budget is a comprehensive, balanced budget and I urge residents to take some time to review it.”

Vander Werff’s letter is on the agenda to be discussed the city commission’s Tuesday evening meeting.

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