Tag Archives: Kent County

Kent County invites public involvement in new county administrator selection

By K.D. Norris



Kent County leadership is nearing the end of its process to name a new county administrator/controller — in essence the chief administrative and financial officer, as well as the person who oversees day-to-day operation of county government.


And the public will have opportunity in early January 2018 to engage and offer feedback on the process and the two final candidates for the job.


The final candidates for the position are Wayman P. Britt, from Grand Rapids, and Marc S. Ryan, from Land O’Lakes, Fla.


The importance of that job is evidenced in the fact that the county’s just approved 2018 budget of $417 million will be second highest in the area, behind only the City of Grand Rapids’ $528 million budget, and that the county will spend just over $350 million to fund the sheriff’s office and courts, social services, the county’s elections, veterans services and other programs.


The position answers directly to the Board of Commissioners. The position’s salary ranges from $110,300 to $171,078, according to the county, but the specific contract for the new administrator/controller is as-yet undetermined.


“The (recruitment) committee is proud to hold the community forum and ask for public feedback in the recruitment process for this important role,” Sandi Steensma, commissioner and Administrator/Controller Recruitment Subcommittee Chair, said in supplied material. “The community’s input in the process is critical to making the right decision for such an important leadership role. We hope residents will make their voices heard as we complete this process.”


Britt is currently the interim county administrator and previously served as assistant administrator. He also played basketball for University of Michigan, and played in the NBA for two seasons before continuing his education. Ryan is currently Chief Strategy and Compliance Officer at MedHOK, Inc., and previously served in the State of Connecticut Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management/State Budget Director.


One of the two will replace former Kent County Administrator Daryl Delabbio, who retired in June of this year after 22 years of service to county.


On Jan. 10, from 5-7:30 p.m., the county will host an open Candidates Community Forum in the Multi-Purpose Room at the Human Services Complex, 121 Franklin SE, Grand Rapids. This will provide an opportunity for the public to provide feedback regarding the candidates, according to supplied material.


On Jan. 11, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the finalist candidate interviews with the full Board of Commissioners, will take place and will be open to the public.


Finally, also on Jan. 11, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., recruiting subcommittee will review member commissioner feedback and identify the top candidate to be recommended to the full Board of Commissioners for consideration.


For more information visit accesskent.com .


Kent County storm damage UPDATES

For real-time updates from the City of Wyoming, go here.

The City of Wyoming’s yard waste drop-off site will be open 24/7 through the weekend to allow for storm damage clean up.

The drop-off site, located at 2660 Burlingame Ave. SW, will return to normal hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, July 10. The site is free to Wyoming residents. Go here for more info.

The City is currently working to repair storm damage as quickly as possible. Trees blocking a roadway or a power line can be reported to non-emergency dispatch at 616.530.7300, ext. 1. For information on power outages, go here.

For more information, follow the City on Twitter @WyomingCityHall and on Facebook here.

As of 11:30 am, the City of Wyoming has issued a PARK CLOSURE & STORM DAMAGE UPDATE: Please exercise caution when visiting any park or trail during this weekend.

  • PINERY PARK: Closed.
  • HILLCROFT PARK: Playground & shelter closed. Trail and general park area open.
  • LAMAR PARK: One section area closed. Disc golf open. All other areas of park, including splash pad are open.
  • ORIOLE PARK: No power – splash pad not working as a result. All other areas are open.
  • DOG PARK: Overhanging tree limb over access road requires caution – avoid. Dog park is open.
  • FROG HOLLOW: No power. Playground open.
  • LEMERY PARK: No power. Playground, tennis courts, active play areas open. Buck Creek trail closed.

From the City of Wyoming: “We cannot anticipate and identify all concerns immediately. Again, look up & down when visiting any park or trail following storm events. Exercise caution and report (message) any concerns.”

For real-time updates from the City of Kentwood, go here.

City of Kentwood crews are cleaning up debris and fallen trees on city streets and sidewalks. Remember, it is the property owner’s responsibility to clean any debris from your yard. At this time, Kentwood does not have debris drop-off, but they are currently assessing the situation.


The City of Grand Rapids accepts yard waste from non-residents for a fee at 2001 Butterworth SW.


The City of Kentwood reminds residents to contact Consumers Energy if you see a downed line. Downed Line phone number is 800.477.5050 — and stay at least 25 ft away from the line. More information about what to do with a downed line can be found here.


Consumer’s Energy is working to restore power. Please check their outage map for more about your location.

As of 10 a.m. today, Friday, July 7, Kent County Emergency Management has been working since the early morning hours to determine the severity of storm damage throughout the County. Thus far, no injuries have been reported due to storm damage in Kent County.


Public works crews throughout the County are working to remove debris in roadways and utility crews are working to repair downed power lines.


More than 50,000 people lost power in Kent County this morning.


“Because of the busy activity of our responders, we are not going to run the monthly siren tests throughout Kent County at noon today,” said Jack Stewart, Emergency Management Coordinator for Kent County. “Monthly testing will resume August 4. We want to focus today’s efforts on the more immediate needs of our communities.”


Kent County Road Commission has additional crews working to remove large trees from roads.


“Much of the work is from Five Mile Road through southern Kent County at this time,” said Jerry Byrne, Director of Operations of the Kent County Road Commission. “Right now, the Alto area has significant damage, with trees in the road on Whitneyville Avenue and on Buttrick Aveune SE. If you see our crews, please either turn around or proceed with caution.”


Central dispatch in Kent County has been

Storm damage (from photo archives)

busy responding to calls all morning. Kent Count Emergency Management staff reminds residents:

  • If you see a downed power line, do not approach it!!! Call 911.
  • If you have lost power, report it to your energy provider either by phone or online.
  • If you plan to use a power generator, follow manufacturer instructions. DO NOT use a generator in the garage or basement of a home and make sure there is good clearance for exhaust to move away from your home. Carbon monoxide, the gas that is produced by a generator, can be odorless, tasteless and deadly.
  • Now is a good time to make sure you have a plan for storm-related damage. Make sure you have a week’s supply of water, several days of non-perishable food, flashlights/batteries, a first aid kit, and a weather radio. Several apps are available for smartphones, including weather warning apps and incident preparation apps.

New technology simplifies Kent County’s FOIA request process

Kent County’s FOIA web page

By Victoria Mullen, WKTV


Have you ever filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get information from a governmental body? If so, you are likely familiar with how slow and cumbersome the process can be.


For those not familiar with FOIA, it’s a law that gives the public the right to request information from the federal government, often described as the law that “keeps citizens in the know about their government.” Enacted in 1967, it requires federal agencies to disclose any information requested unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.


Michigan enacted its own FOIA (Act 442) in 1976.


Kent County currently processes more than 4,300 FOI requests each year. To streamline the process, the county’s Corporate Counsel’s Office has updated the website to allow the public to submit requests for public records online, through the County’s web page. The new electronic system automates the FOIA processing from submission of the request until final disposition.


Sangeeta Ghosh, Kent County Assistant Corporate Counsel

On June 15, Assistant Corporate Counsel Sangeeta Ghosh, along with AccessKent vendor Webtecs, rolled out the upgraded system for FOIA coordinators who serve at the Sheriff Department, Prosecutor’s Office, Purchasing Division, Health Department, and Animal Shelter. The new system will help process timely FOIA responses, as requestors have the right to file appeals or lawsuits that can result in increased civil fines, punitive damages, and legal fees and costs to a public body.


The upgrade lets users track the status of a FOIA request from start to finish. Upgrades to the system provide a faster turnaround in releasing records, uploading records online for a user to download from his or her preferred device, encryption of confidential records, retention of records, generation of reports, payment by credit or debit card, internal communication between the Corporate Counsel staff and coordinators on formal responses, and monitoring for legal exposure.






Your Community in Action: Expanding affordable housing opportunities

By ACSET Community Action Agency

Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) recently announced that they signed an agreement to purchase nearly 200 homes in Grand Rapids and Lansing from a Chicago developer. ICCF will work with other affordable housing advocates to make sure these homes remain affordable for individuals and families with limited incomes.

While Kent County—and Grand Rapids, in particular—is seeing tremendous population and economic growth, it is creating a housing shortage that is driving up the cost to buy or rent a place to live. In many cases, people who have lived in neighborhoods for decades can no longer afford to live there.

There are several agencies in Kent County that are working to ensure that all residents have access to affordable housing and thriving communities. When the broad community is engaged in addressing the urgent need for adequate, affordable housing, we all become less vulnerable and more resilient:

Habitat for Humanity of Kent County brings people together to build or rehabilitate affordable homes.

Kent County Land Bank Authority works with local governments and nonprofits to revitalize and stabilize communities.

Kent County Housing Commission provides rental assistance to families on extremely low incomes through a voucher system. They also educate property owners and the community on the need for affordable housing.

LINC Up links community organizations with real estate developers to “help neighbors, business owners, and community stakeholders realize their visions for the community.”

Your Community in Action! is provided by ASCET Community Action Agency. To learn more about how they help meet emergency needs and assist with areas of self-sufficiency, visit www.communityactionkent.org.

Kent County Issues Refunding Bonds, Projected Savings of $4.0 Million

Kent County is taking advantage of both its Triple A Bond Rating and favorable interest rates to refund two separate bonds originally sold in 2007 and 2008. By combining the two issues, the County will save an estimated $4.0 million in interest payments on a nominal basis.


In 2007, Kent County issued $27 million in Building Authority Bonds to acquire, construct, furnish, and equip the Human Services Complex on Franklin Street in Grand Rapids. The following year, the County issued $14.3 million in Capital Improvement Bond to make improvements at the Kent County Fuller Campus and to acquire land and construct a building for 63rd District Court on the East Beltline in Grand Rapids Township. Since the issuance of the two bonds, interest rates have significantly declined so that it now is opportune time to refund both bonds and take advantage of associated interest rate savings.


High bond ratings – similar to high credit scores when buying a house – can have an impact on the rate of interest charged. County Administrator/Controller Daryl Delabbio, who is retiring in June of this year, credits the hard work of his Fiscal Services staff for the savings. “The staff, led by Fiscal Services Director Steve Duarte, have kept the County’s credit rating strong over the years,” Delabbio said. “When people ask, ‘Why is a Triple A credit rating important,’ it’s great to be able to point to projects and issues like this and say, ’Here is one reason.’”


“Daryl and his staff have provided great leadership over the past two decades, setting a solid foundation for economic policies and fiscal responsibility,” said Board of Commissioners’ Chair Jim Saalfeld. “This Board is fortunate to have elected and appointed leaders that look for ways to deliver services in the most effective and efficient manner, saving our residents and businesses money in the long-term.”


In June rating agencies S&P Global and Moody’s Investors Service affirmed the long-term Triple-A credit ratings for Kent County, marking the 19th consecutive year of this distinction. Credit ratings from these agencies are important in allowing local units of government to borrow money at lower interest rates, reducing costs to the average tax payer.

School News Network: A ‘Thank You’ from KISD

By Ron Koehler

KISD Assistant Superintendent, Organizational & Community Initiatives and Legislative Affairs


Kent County voters on May 2 turned out to the polls and expressed confidence in their schools by approving a ballot proposal that will provide crucial support to all 20 districts in Kent ISD. The enhancement millage will yield approximately $211 per pupil for each of the next 10 years, beginning with the 2017-18 school year.


Thank you!

These dollars are essential to help our schools meet the needs of students, maintain programs and create more connections to the world of work as we prepare young adults for careers.


They also create a small, but stable and reliable source of revenue for schools as Lansing grapples with perennial budget problems, which make it very likely legislators will be tempted to drain even more money from the School Aid Fund for higher education in coming years.  Currently, more than $600 million is going out of the School Aid Fund to support community colleges and universities.


Ron Koehler

The recent Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, conducted twice a year to predict revenues available for state government, forecast slow growth in Michigan’s general fund and significant budget pressures ahead.


Just a week earlier, the Senate Fiscal Agency projected a $2.072 billion hole in the general fund budget in five short years, due largely to the road package that passed in 2015 with a commitment to use general fund dollars to augment the fuel taxes dedicated to road repair. Other factors contributing to the projected deficit were elimination of the Personal Property Tax on business and the sales tax on the difference between the price of a new vehicle and the customer’s trade-in.


Legislators are already responding to the pressure. In the wake of the bleak general fund projections, Republican Rep. James Lower of Montcalm County introduced HB4261 to divert some $430 million from the School Aid Fund to the general fund by reversing the decades-long policy of applying all tax refunds to the state’s general fund.


Amid all of this, Kent County taxpayers sent a clear message to Lansing: Education is important.  Students deserve better. We need to adequately fund our schools to ensure a positive future for our children, and our communities.


So, again, on behalf of our students and our schools, thank you. For those of us who have devoted our careers to the education of children and the betterment of our communities, it is reassuring to know our community values our commitment to this work. Cheers!


Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.

Law enforcement charity hockey game to benefit 9-1-1 dispatcher

Michelle Bouwens, with her family, is battling cancer and is the focus of a benefit hockey game May 20. (Supplied)

By K.D. Norris



A 9-1-1 dispatcher — a person who is “always there for you, waiting for your call” — is now in need of support from the community. And the annual Kent Area Law Enforcement’s Old Time Hockey Game offers the public the ability to support while watching some fun hockey action.


The Old Time Hockey Game will take place Saturday, May 20, at Byron Center’s Southside Ice Arena, 566 100th St., with the game beginning at 1 p.m. and an open skate to follow.


Proceeds from the event will benefit Michelle Bouwens, an 18-year veteran 9-1-1 dispatcher who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, according to her boss, is currently in the fight of her life.


“They are always there for you, waiting for your call.  Now, one of them needs your help,” Matt Groesser, Emergency Communications Center manager for the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, said in an emailed statement. “The men and women of the Kent County Communications Center answer over 140,000 9-1-1 calls per year (that’s one call every 4 minutes on average).  They are responsible for emergency communications in a community of over 435,000 people.  … Come join us, and hundreds of others from the area, at the 21st annual Kent Area Law Enforcement Charity Hockey Game.”


The charity hockey game is the longest-running law enforcement hockey game in the state. The event is open to the public, with donations accepted.


Bouwens is married and has two sons, ages 9 and 10. She is taking unpaid time off to undergo treatment and surgeries, according to supplied information.


For more information visit the event’s Facebook link.


OK Kentwood residents, now it’s your turn to purge

Kentwood Public Works Department oversees the city’s recycling center.

As spring ushers in warmer weather, it’s a great time to think about cleaning and decluttering your home. The City of Kentwood will help get rid of some of that unwanted junk with its annual Community Cleanup Day this Saturday, May 6, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Kentwood residents are encouraged to bring hazardous household materials for disposals, gently used items for donation and electronic devices to be recycled. The drop-off location is the Kentwood Recycling Center at 5068 Breton Rd SE., Kentwood.


“Kentwood Cleanup Day is a great service and opportunity for our residents to join their neighbors in keeping our community in great condition,” said Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley. “It also gives residents the chance to donate to the Salvation Army and responsibly dispose of unwanted items like old computers or hazardous household waste.”


The City has partnered with the Salvation Army to collect gently used items for donations (for a list of accepted items, visit the Salvation Army website). Kent County will be collecting household hazardous waste and recycling. (For what is accepted in hazardous waste and recycling, visit the Recycle Kent website.) Comprenew will be onsite to collect electronic devices for recycling. Examples of accepted electronics include mobile phones, computers and fax machines. The large CRT monitors will not be accepted but can be taken directly to any Comprenew location. In Grand Rapids, there is one at 1454 28th St. SE and one at 629 Ionia Ave. SW.


Yard waste, mattresses, construction materials and tires will not be accepted. Appliances must have all Freon removed. If you are looking to get rid of a working refrigerator or an air conditioner, you might want to consider contacting DTE Energy or Consumer Powers as both offer incentive programs for removal of such items.


Community Cleanup Day is free and open to residents of Kentwood. Residents will be asked to show their photo ID for proof of residency and are asked to enter the drive off Breton Road. Those who own rental or other properties in Kentwood need only show proof of property ownership with a water bill or tax statement.


If you have any further questions, or are seeking more information, please call the City switchboard during business hours at 554-0817.

Kent County selects new voting machines; plans roll-out by November

Kent County will have new voting machines in place by wall of this year. (Supplied)

By K.D. Norris



Kent County, and the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood, will have new voting machines in place by later this year as part of a Michigan state-wide upgrade of voting machines — and City of Wyoming clerk Kelli VandenBerg says she is pleased with the selection process and anticipates local voters will be pleased with their new experience.


Voting machines in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood will look similar to ones the public is used to, but they will be more “user friendly”. (Supplied)

“Any resident who has voted in the precinct will notice that this is new equipment – but that doesn’t mean there will be a steep learning curve or longer lines at the polls,” VandenBerg said in an interview with WKTV. “One of the key aspects in selecting this particular vendor is that the technology is much improved over our old equipment. This equipment is also much more user friendly.”


After a months-long review and selection process, and after the State of Michigan approved three qualified vendors, Kent County Clerk and Register of Deeds Lisa Posthumus Lyons recently announced Dominion Voting Systems, Inc. as the vendor of choice for Kent County’s purchase of new election equipment.


According to a press release from the county clerk’s office , the new voting machines will first be used by all local voting bodies in Kent County starting with the November 2017 election. Some clerks across the state reportedly plan to use their new machines as early as the August 2017 election. All municipalities are required to have the new machines in place by the August 2018 election.


“My priority for Kent County’s new election system is to provide high quality equipment, the assurance of security, and a positive experience for the voter; each of the systems we considered would accomplish this in unique ways,” Lyons said in supplied material. “At the end of the day, my decision came down to the reliability and customer service for which Dominion is known, and its partnership with ElectionSource, an election services provider located right here in Kent County, which also has a proven track record for first class service.”


Lyons said here decision was based on input from local municipal clerks; improved features of the machines and software, including election-night result reporting for the public; high-speed absentee ballot-counting capabilities for local jurisdictions; and overall cost. Working with a local vender was also high on her list.


“We are supporting our local economy by working with a business located in our own back yard,” Lyons said in the press release.


“Kent County is very fortunate that our Elections Director (Susan deSteiguer) was involved in the committee that did the review,” Wyoming clerk VandenBerg told WKTV. “We also have our new County Clerk with Lisa Posthumus Lyons (involved). I understand her process was very thorough — she took a lot of notes and asked a lot of great questions. Kent County was well-represented in the selection process, and I am very comfortable with how we chose the new equipment.”


Kent County website has a fresh, new look


By WKTV Contributor


Kent County’s website accesskent.com had more than 2.2 million visits recorded in 2016, logging nearly 300,000 online transactions (a 21 percent increase from 2015). Today, accessKent has a new look and more convenient design. The new homepage features images promoting various parts of Kent County – from city to suburban to rural communities – and highlights some of the great lists where the County has landed in top spots. The redesign simplifies site navigation, providing a search bar where users can immediately request the page they need. Designers added Google Translate to assist Spanish-speaking residents and enhancements for users who are visually-impaired.


The site continues to use technology that reacts to the size of the device being used, adjusting content to fit on smart phones and tablets. “People are accessing services on devices such as smart phones more and more, so our goal is to be user-friendly anywhere, anytime,” said Daryl Delabbio, Kent County Administrator/ Controller. “I personally compared our site to other websites in Michigan counties and cities, and while accessKent has always been one of the best, this redesign is impressive and intuitive, providing excellent customer service in a timely manner.”


The vendor for accessKent.com devoted a great deal of time and research into the redesign. “My staff looked at the top governmental and institutional websites in the country for influence and inspiration,” said JoAnn Arcand, President of WebTecs, Inc. “We wanted to create a model based on what has proven to be successful and simple in communities like ours. I’m proud of our work to re-create accessKent.” Some of the services offered include:

  • Court Records Searches & Payments
  • Deeds and Property Look-up
  • Friend of the Court
  • Certified Vital Records and Marriage License Requests
  • Inmate Look-up
  • Dog Licensing
  • Restaurant Inspection Reports
  • Human Resources/Applications for Employment

“This website is the forward face of Kent County to those looking to locate their businesses here as well as companies already located here in the County,” said Rick Chapla, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at The Right Place and member of the Enhanced Access Board which provides direction and recommendations for the accessKent.com site. “In an era of instant access to information and commerce, this new redesign will make it easier, quicker, and more convenient for businesses to engage with Kent County. It will be a business-friendly tool that will provide the information a business wants, when they want it.”

Kent County gets ‘Smart911’ with the goal of improving emergency response

Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma, Grand Rapids Central Dispatch Communications Manager Karen Chadwick, Kent County Dispatch Authority Chair and Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt, Kent County Sheriff Department Emergency Communications Center Manager Matt Groesser, and RAVE Customer Success Manager Kevin Hatline.


By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma



“Where is the emergency?” has become the first question area 911 operators ask as more and more emergency calls come from cellphone users.


This is because within a minute the call is answered the cellphone will relay a location back which can be anywhere from where you are actually standing to a mile or more away, said Kent County Sheriff Department Emergency Communications Center Manager Matt Groesser.


“Often the case is the person calling is in a very intense, stressful, panicky situation and being able to relay details such as location can be difficult,” said Karen Chadwick, communications manager for Grand Rapids Central Dispatch.


Various local law enforcement at today’s press conference for Smart911.

Today, at the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, the Kent County Dispatch Authority — chaired by Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt — announced that it would be adapting the Smart911 program where individuals can create an online safety profile for their household. When a citizen makes a call that profile will automatically display the citizen’s Safety Profile to the 911 call taker.


“This profile provides key details about you and your family to those taking our 911 calls during an emergency,” said Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma during the press conference that representatives from various law enforcement agencies throughout Kent County including the Kentwood Police Department and the Wyoming Department of Public Safety attended. “These things might include physical descriptions of your house, your family members. It might include the type of vehicles you drive. It also might include special medical conditions that you or your family might have.”


Kentwood Police Chief Thomas Hillen (far left) at the Smart911 press conference.

Other details residents may provide are the pets in the home, the layout of the home and shut off for gas and electricity. It is the type of information that various emergency responders might need, Stelma said.


Area residents should go to Smart911.com, click the “Sign Up Today” button and proceed to fill out the information. Sign up is free, private and secure with 911 call takers and responders only able to see the information when a call is made. Once the call is complete, the information disappears from the call taker’s and/or responder’s screen.


Powered by RAVE Mobile Safety, Smart911 is currently available in 40 states and more than 1,500 municipalities. Last November, Lt. Governor Brian Calley and other Michigan government officials announced a statewide initiative to make Smart911 available to all residents. While free to residents to sign up, the cost to Kent County for the service is around $40,000 which is being paid for by a grant for the first year.


Holt said he sees the City of Wyoming doing similar promotions as the state on its Facebook page, website and through other media. Officers throughout the county will have materials available to distribute with the goal of encouraging residents to sign up. Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll said he already is planning to include Smart911 information that he provides to residents, especially older citizens.


“It’s a good idea,” said Kentwood Police Chief Thomas Hillen. “Having that type of information such as a pinpoint of location is quite a big help in responding to an emergency.”


“The additional information provided in a Smart911 safety profile can save critical minutes in an emergency and help responders offer better services,” Holt said. “All information is optional and each citizen has the ability to choose what they would like to include.”


Multiple phones can be connected to one address as well as a single phone line can have both home and work addresses assigned to it. Also, the program works with all types of phones from traditional land lines, VOIP, cable and mobile.


For more information about the program or to enroll, visit Smart911.com.

Grand River rising causes Emergency Management to monitor potential flooding issues

The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids issued a Flood Warning for the Grand River until Tuesday morning. The County could have some of the highest levels seen in quite some time, but a repeat of the severe flooding seen in April 2013 is not anticipated. Kent County Emergency Management reminds everyone that spring flooding can quickly become dangerous and in some cases, deadly. There are some areas where flooding is already occurring after the rain received over the past week. While no emergencies are expected at this time, there are areas that historically have seen flooding. If you live or travel through these areas, being aware is important.


Health and safety are still the top priorities for residents and County personnel. River and creek waters can move fast and carry debris that can be dangerous. Just six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock people off their feet, and two feet of flood waters can carry a car. Do not try to walk, swim, or drive through flood waters. If you see flood water in the road, or barricades posted on roads, please turn around and take a different route. “We ask that residents be aware and cautious as river levels rise,” said Jack Stewart, Kent County Emergency Management Coordinator. “The National Weather Service says flooding is likely along nearly the entire stretch of the Grand River and its associated tributaries. We will monitor the situation throughout the weekend.”


This morning, the Grand River was measured at 13.8 feet; flood stage is 18.0 feet. The River is expected to rise above flood stage Sunday before midnight and continue to rise to near 18.1 feet by early Monday morning. Residents in low lying areas of Grand Rapids may see basement flooding, and moderate flooding could happen for homes and structures in Comstock Park as well as Robinson Township (Ottawa County). The River should return to below flood stage by Monday night.

County Action Agency to merge with Kent County

In an effort to provide efficiencies and better serve residents, the Board of Commissioners authorized staff to move forward with a plan to merge two programs with similar goals. The Area Community Services and Employment Training Council’s (ACSET) Community Action Agency Division (CAA) will merge with the Kent County Community Development/Housing Commission Department to better serve the community.


ACSET’s CAA provides weatherization services, utility shut-off protections, food distribution, senior services and more to low-income clients in Kent County. The Kent County Community Development staff have been working on similar projects with agencies such as Home Repair Services, Dwelling Place and others. “The County staff did its due diligence in looking at how a proposed alignment of CAA and Community Development/Housing Commission could improve the delivery of services to low-income clients,” said Matthew VanZetten, Interim Director of Kent County Community Development/Housing Commission. “As Kent County continues to grow and change, government needs to be responsive. The merger allows us to streamline services and reduce silos so we can better serve our residents.”


Over the past year, County staff researched and evaluated the potential of combining and aligning resources of CAA and Kent County’s Community Development/Housing Commission. Once the merger is complete, employees will be housed in the Human Services Complex at Franklin and Sheldon in southeast Grand Rapids. “This alignment of resources provides the best possible environment for CAA and the County to continue to deliver essential services,” said Jacob Maas, Chief Executive Officer for ACSET. “It’s an exciting opportunity to better serve low-income individuals and families in Kent County.”


The CAA Advisory Committee and Kent County Housing Commission provided input during the process, and a community forum was held last month to receive comments or concerns. To date, all feedback has been positive. The State of Michigan has provided a letter indicating its support for Kent County to assume the Community Action Agency designation from ACSET. “Our County staff has once again demonstrated that collaborating with an external agency can provide needed services in a cost-effective manner,” said Chair Jim Saalfeld. “I applaud and thank the County staff for seeking creative and innovative ways to help our low- income residents.”

Kent County to start testing of tornado/high winds warning sirens in April

Damage from the 2016 tornado in the City of Wyoming.

By Lisa LaPlante

Kent County Community Liaison and Communications Director


In 2016, the August 20 tornado outbreak across West Michigan caused more than five million dollars in damage. The National Weather Service determined that six tornadoes touched down in a matter of hours, including two EF0 tornadoes in Grandville, Wyoming and Grand Rapids. The State of Michigan was hit by 16 tornadoes last year, just slightly higher than the average 15 per year. Kent County has a system of sirens to alert residents of high winds or tornadoes. Starting Friday, April 7, and continuing on the first Friday of every month at noon through October, tornado alarm testing will be heard in Kent County homes and businesses.


Ideal Park was loved for its dense tree canopy now lost from the 2014 tornado.

It is important to plan in advance for disasters to know how you and your family will get to a safe place, how to contact each other and what to do in different situations. “Traffic was a dilemma in the initial hours after the tornadoes hit Kent County last August,” said Kent County Emergency Management Coordinator Jack Stewart. “Trees and debris in roadways made getting around difficult. Determine a location where you will meet your family during an emergency, both near your house and further away, in case your neighborhood streets are closed.”


If a disaster occurs, it may be easier to make a phone call to a designated out-of-town contact, as phone lines may be overwhelmed. Make sure that person is aware that he or she is the designated contact. Pet owners should have a disaster plan for pets as well. This is a great time to review severe weather plans, refresh supplies and make sure preparations are complete. Check flashlights and stock up on fresh batteries. Homes should have enough fresh drinking water and canned food items for three days, a can opener, an all-weather radio, and a first aid kit.


If you don’t hear the sirens April 7 at noon, please contact your local township or city office. Be vigilant whenever severe weather is in the forecast. While no location is completely safe from a tornado or severe thunderstorm, it is important to seek all possible protection. For more about severe weather, go to http://www.michigan.gov/documents/msp/SWApacket_554981_7.pdf.

Smartphone apps are available that will provide notification of weather watches and warnings. Severe weather watch means the potential exists for the development of storms/tornadoes, so be mindful of changing conditions. Severe weather warning mean that storms are imminent or occurring. Move indoors to a place of safety. If it is a Tornado Warning, take shelter in a location on the lowest level of the building, such as the basement, or in a small, windowless room at the innermost part of the building.

Need help meeting a basic need? Call 2-1-1!

By ACSET Community Action Agency

Sometimes life can bring unexpected challenges. The loss of a job, unexpected medical bills or a house fire can make a financially stable family face homelessness. Unfortunately, unexpected emergencies can happen at any time. There are many organizations in Kent County that provide assistance in these situations. But how do you know whom to contact? What if you need help with food and paying utilities and rent all at the same time?

There is one resource that connects residents to more than 2,900 services in Kent County. The Heart of West Michigan United Way’s 2-1-1 database is the first place families should go in their time of need. Information can be easily accessed by calling 2-1-1 anywhere in Kent County, emailing HWReferral@incontactemail.com or online at: http://www.referweb.net/hwmi/. They even have their own app available for androids and iPhones — just search Kent 2-1-1 to download.

Whatever your situation, you are not alone. In Kent County, it is estimated that 39% of households are struggling to afford basic needs. Last year our local 2-1-1 answered 65,000 calls for help. Most calls are for assistance with:

  • Food
  • Healthcare
  • Housing
  • Utilities
  • Transportation

The database also offers resources specifically for Veterans and information on employment services, education and arts & recreation.

Your Community in Action! is provided by ASCET Community Action Agency. To learn more about how they help meet emergency needs and assist with areas of self-sufficiency, visit www.communityactionkent.org

Kent County Board approves funding for mental health court study

By Lisa LaPlante

Kent County


Mental health issues are perhaps one of the largest contributing factors to recidivism. Providing much-needed treatment to those suffering from mental health issues could help offenders recover and stay out of the justice system, while alleviating the strain on the courts and jails. The Board of Commissioners recently voted to accept a $33,000 Mental Health Court Planning Grant from the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) be appropriated to the 2017 Special Projects Fund budget.


The State Legislature created the mental health court statute in 2013, enabling trial courts in Michigan to develop and operate mental health courts.  A mental health court is a specialized court docket for certain defendants with mental illness that substitutes a problem-solving model for traditional criminal court processing.  The SCAO makes funds available annually for planning and implementation of mental health courts.


The 17th Circuit Court, in collaboration with Network180, received the funding to evaluate the need for a mental health court within Kent County and how these services would best be delivered.  As required by the grant, staff representing the 17th Circuit Court, local district court, Network180, County Prosecutor, Sheriff’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, mental health services providers and County Administration will participate in the project planning committee.


“We simply cannot operate in silos when it comes to the mental health system and the justice system,” said Judge Donald A. Johnston, 17th Circuit Court Chief Judge. “By working together, we hope to enhance public safety and make a difference in the lives of individuals who are trapped in an endless cycle of illness and jail.”


Grant funds will be primarily used to contract with a consultant to serve as the Mental Health Court Planning Coordinator. The coordinator will work with the project planning committee to determine whether implementation of a mental health court in Kent County would reduce recidivism, enhance public safety, and improve outcomes for mentally ill citizens.


“When we treat mental health issues successfully, we will save money that would be spent on court costs and incarceration,” said Jim Saalfeld, Chair of the Board of Commissioners. “Our Board is hopeful that this study will result in development of a program into the future.”


James Hughes, former Regional Administrator for the Michigan Supreme Court, will coordinate the effort on a contractual basis under the direction of the 17th Circuit Court Administrator Andrew Thalhammer.  “Kent County has a great opportunity to improve outcomes for persons with serious mental illness who become involved in its criminal justice system.  I plan to identify the best practices from other Mental Health Courts in Michigan that could be started here in Grand Rapids,” Hughes said.


The study is expected to be completed by September 30, 2017 to allow development of a proposal for an implementation grant during FY 2018 if recommended by the planning committee and accepted by the court and appropriate funding unit.


“Treatment is a much more cost-effective way to deal with mental health issues, but it is also a more holistic course of action,” said Scott Gilman, Executive Director of Network180. “I look forward to the work we can do and the lives we can positively impact through this planning period.”

Need to make some home repairs? Kent County increases grant funding

By Lisa LaPlante


Residents in need of repairs or home modifications may be eligible for additional funding through a grant available in parts of Kent County. The Board of Commissioners voted this morning to provide an additional $181,689 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for repairs on homes owned by low- to moderate-income families.


Kent County currently contracts with Home Repair Services (HRS) to provide home repairs of up to $10,000 for eligible clients outside of the cities of Grand Rapids and Wyoming (which have their own funding components). Those living in Kentwood would be eligible. The Kent County CDBG funds two programs:

*         Minor Home Repair Program: emergency home repairs to single family, owner-occupied homes for very low income homeowners making 80 percent of area median income (i.e. roofs, septic systems, furnaces, etc.);

*         Access Modification Program: modify homes of eligible individuals with mobility impairments in order to improve access and use of the home.


“The County partnership with Home Repair Services is vital to many homeowners,” said Jim Saalfeld, Chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners. “Home repair or modification is often difficult for families living on a fixed budget, especially our most vulnerable elderly residents or those living with disabilities. This funding will assist families with necessary repairs that will also help retain or improve home values.”


“Home Repair Services is thrilled and honored to partner again with Kent County to maximize the use of these extra funds,” said HRS Executive Director Joel Ruiter. “We look forward to strengthening additional lower-income and vulnerable homeowners throughout the County. Successful and safe homeownership builds value and results in a stronger more vibrant community for us all.”


To learn more about Home Repair Service programs, call 616-241-2601 during business hours or go to www.homerepairservices.org.

Recycling Facility in Grand Rapids shut down due to baler malfunction

UPDATE: The Kent County’s Recycling & Education Center is now open and processing recycables as of 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22.


Kent County’s Recycling & Education Center experienced a mechanical malfunction in the baler that caused the facility to shut down. During this time the Recycling Center is unable to accept recyclables placed at the curb for pickup by waste haulers.


“Despite having preventative maintenance programs and dedicated maintenance staff, there are always going to be things that happen to the equipment that are outside of our control. Sorting equipment in these state-of-the-art processing facilities is dependent on all pieces working together,” said Darwin Baas, Director of Kent County’s Department of Public Works, an enterprise fund of Kent County that owns and operates the facility. “The baler is a critical piece of equipment in our system and we are unable to run for any length of time without it.” Residents and businesses are encouraged to hold off placing recycling carts out for service for the next couple of days in anticipation of the facility being able to process recyclables again at the end of the week.


Currently between 1,000 and 1,250 tons of material is awaiting processing on the ‘tipping floor’, where waste haulers dump recyclables that will be processed once the plant is back up and running. Kent County is working closely with two different companies to assess the baler repairs and establish a timeframe.


Haulers that normally deliver recyclables to the Kent County Recycling & Education Center are being redirected to Kent County’s Waste to Energy Facility, about a mile away, as of 2 p.m. today.


“Sending recyclables to the Waste to Energy Facility is not ideal. Sending recyclables to Waste to Energy is a much better alternative than landfilling. We can extract the energy, generate electricity and feed that back into the grid for productive use,” noted Baas.


While the Recycling Center is down the service fee for haulers tipping recyclables will be waived.


Kent County DPW will post updates on the progress of the electrical repairs on its recycling website, www.recyclekent.org.

Help for seniors who can’t leave home

Your Community in Action!


By Community Action Partnership of Kent County


Nearly two million Americans over the age of 65 rarely or never leave their homes. In fact, there are more homebound seniors in the US than there are living in nursing homes. Many of these individuals are homebound because they have illnesses like heart and lung disease, arthritis and dementia. They may no longer have access to transportation or they may experience anxiety when leaving the house.


Whatever the reason, research has found that those unable or unwilling to leave their homes don’t always receive the care they need. They are more isolated than their counterparts in assisted living. Increased isolation increases the risk of depression, dementia and long-term illness.


The majority of homebound adults in the United States are low-income and face language barriers. This makes it more difficult to get adequate care and even proper nutrition. To help meet the needs of these individuals in our community ACSET Community Action Agency (CAA) delivers meals to homebound seniors over the age of 60 living in Kent County. Nutritious and flavorful meals are delivered to their homes each weekday, Monday through Friday.


ACSET CAA also offers door-to-door transportation for seniors who need a ride for medical appointments, grocery shopping and other services. Transportation is reserved for low-income seniors over the age of 60. Buses run 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. To find out if you or a loved one qualify for meal delivery or transportation, call ACSET CAA at (616) 336-4000. Latin American Services staff are available to assist Spanish-speaking seniors with their needs.


Your Community in Action! is provided by ACSET Community Action Agency. To learn more about how they help meet emergency needs and assist with areas of self-sufficiency, visit www.communityactionkent.org

63rd District Court receives high satisfaction rating for fourth year

For the fourth year in a row, the 63rdDistrict Court for Kent County received high marks from the public regarding their experiences with the court. Using a survey that was administered in courts statewide, the 63rd District Court asked court users questions about whether the Court was accessible, timely, and fair, and if they were treated with courtesy and respect by judges and court staff.


“The focus of the 63rd District Court is to serve the public, so we very much appreciate their input,” said Chief Judge Sara J. Smolenski. “Both Judge Jeffrey O’Hara and I appreciate the hard work and dedication of our court staff.  We want to continue to improve the efficiency of our court, while respecting the rights of all persons.”


The 63rd District Court’s area covers all the townships in Kent County such as Gaines, Byron and Caledonia.


Highlights from the survey include:


  • 97% of court users said they were treated with courtesy and respect by court staff.
  • 91% of courts users were able to get their business done in a reasonable amount of time.
  • 87% of court users said the way the judge or magistrate handled their case was fair.


“We use the responses from the survey to assist us in our quest to constantly improve our service to the public,” said Court Administrator J. Kevin McKay. “Our goal is for every person who comes through our doors to feel like they were heard and treated fairly.”


Developed with input from judges and court administrators statewide and tabulated by the State Court Administrative Office to insure accuracy, the survey enables courts to identify strengths, provide positive feedback to employees, and target areas for improvement. The survey was completed by a range of court users, including parties to cases, attorneys, jurors, and others.


The public satisfaction survey is part of a statewide initiative of the Michigan Supreme Court and the State Court Administrative Office to measure and report on court performance. From 2013 through 2016, nearly 100,000 surveys were completed in courts throughout Michigan. Visit www.courts.mi.gov for more information.

Public Museum makes good on campaign promise, reduces admission for Kent County residents

The Grand Rapids Public Museum. (Supplied)

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma



Heading to the Grand Rapids Public Museum today? Well, Kent County residents will be pleased to know that the admission fee has been reduced.


The Grand Rapids Public Museum announced that admission for Kent County residents would be free for children ages 17 and under; $5 for Kent County residents; $3 for Kent County seniors; and free parking with paid Museum admission and parking valdiation. Kent County residents will need to show a government issued ID to receive these benefits.


As part of the millage, exhibits and programs at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the John Ball Zoo will be expanded and updated.

The benefits for Kent County residents officially kicked in today and are the result of a voter-approved millage for the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the John Ball Zoo which was on the 2016 November ballot. The proposal was overwhelmingly approved, 173,152 to 108,333.


“Thanks to the financial support of the voters of Kent County, the Museum can continue to serve as an irreplaceable community resource and a symbol of regional importance,” said GRPM President and CEO Dale Robertson. “As a thank you to voters and to our community, we are pleased to offer these benefits, making the Museum more accessible to all.”


The new rates for Kent County residents are good for the life of the millage, which is 10 years.


Admission for residents outside of Kent County will remain the same: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $3 for students and children. Admission for members is free. Special exhibits do have an up charge; however, those rates will be reduced for Kent County residents. Members pay $2 for special exhibits.


The funds from the 2016 millage – which was estimated to raise around $9.2 million in the first year – are designed to help both the Public Museum and the John Ball Zoo create a stable funding sources, ensuring that essential maintenance and facility repairs can take place. It also will provide quality care for the 1,600 animals and 250,000 artifacts at the John Ball Zoo and Museum along with updating and expanding education and exhibits at both facilities. As part of its commit to the millage passing, John Ball Zoo has made all school trips for elementary level students free.

County elections director details vote security, recount anomaly

WKTV asked Wyoming and Kentwood city clerks, and the Kent County elections director to assure local voters their vote counted — and was counted properly.


K.D. Norris



Kent County’s partial manual recount of the presidential election results identified local examples of a statewide voting system anomaly associated with ballots with straight-party voting and invalid write-in votes, according to the county’s director of elections.


But, Susan deSteiguer said Monday, the vote changes in the county were few and likely would have been a zero-sum gain for the two major party presidential candidates if the recount continued — and the problem will likely not repeat itself, depending on the eventual resolution of a court-delayed change in Michigan’s voting laws which would eliminate straight-party voting.


The key to Michigan voting system, and the reason for confidence in local over results, is in the stand-alone tabulation machines, like the one shown here. (Supplied)

Also Monday, deSteiguer detailed the county-level procedures for verifying the integrity of votes cast in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood precincts — and as the two city clerks said in a previous now.WKTV.org story, the bottom line is stand-alone voting machines are tested for accuracy prior to the voting and never connected to the internet, “at any time, ever” and voting tabulations are checked and then double checked by various means at various local, county and state levels.


“We have multiple ways of confirming that the totals that were generated in that precinct match what we eventually send up to the (Board of State) Canvassers,” deSteiguer said.


Those “multiple ways” include duplicate paper copies of electronically reported vote totals, reconciliation and verification of vote totals by bi-partisan canvassers at both the county and state levels, and — if necessary — the secured original paper ballots available for recounts. It all begins with local control at a city and township voting level, however.


“We are home rule, which means every city or township clerk is responsible for the election within their city or township,” she said. “I makes it much more complex, but the good side of that it makes it impossible for one or a minimum number of people to manipulate an election. … I have 30 city or township clerks checking my work.”


And when they have a recount, as they started with the presidential election ‘We have a physical ballot to look at, we start with the physical ballot. … and every time we do a physical recount, which we have done before, it proves again and again, that the (voting) machines counted the votes accurately.”


The recent recount of paper ballots, started and stopped in Kent County when about 50 percent of the 313,000 plus total votes cast were checked, did produce an anomaly in the system, however.


The basic problem with vote totals not matching voter numbers across the state identified during the partial recount, deSteiguer said, was that people who chose straight party voting at the beginning of their ballots and then wrote in an invalid write-in candidate for president, would have had their votes electronically counted for their selected political party — and not counted as having not voted for any of the candidates.


An invalid write-in candidate usually occurs, deSteiguer said, when someone writes in a nonperson, or a real person is written in but that candidate did not meet legal requirements to verify their write-in candidacy 10 days prior to the election. In Kent County, there were six presidental candidates on the ballot and seven valid write-in possibilities.


The system of having only valid write-in votes count “prevents us from dealing with what we call ‘nuisance” votes,” deSteiguer said. “We will see things on the ballots such as Jesus Christ, Donald Duck, etc. … and we not not want to waste out time tallying votes for Donald Duck. We only tally valid write-in votes.


“On the presidential ballot, we had voters who wrote in ‘None of the above’ or ‘Are you kidding me?’,” she added.


As for the possibility of the straight-party and invalid write-in anomaly reoccurring?


deSteiguer said if that will depend on the ongoing debate over the change to Michigan’s straight-party voting ability — “How it will be in the future, I don’t know.”



Expanded, more inclusive programs part of Public Museum’s future plans

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma



It has been almost six weeks since the millage for the John Ball Zoo and the Grand Rapids Public Museum passed with overwhelming support and during that period officials have been determining what the next steps will be.


About 63 percent of the votes from the Nov. 8 election favored the millage which will add .44 mills to Kent County residents’ tax bills. For a owner of a $170,000 home, that would be about $37.40 per year increase through the year 2025. Residents will see the increase with their winter tax bill.


Science Tuesdays is one of the programs the Grand Rapids Public Museum is looking to expand.

“It really is a strong level of support for the institutions, both of which have a long history in this community,” said Grand Rapids Public Museum Director Dale Robertson. “It was a nice validation for what we have done and gave us the encouragement to take the dreams and ideas we have for engagement and programs to the next level.


“It told us that the public is right with us on this.”


And museum officials are already moving forward on future programs. In the short term, the goal is to enhance access to the museum’s Science Tuesdays, which provides hands on science stations, by expanding the program to Saturdays. Also to create museum school lessons utilizing the institution’s vast collection that can be made available to all the schools in Kent County.


There are bigger projects down the road such as partnership with the Hope Network Center for Autism in creating a universal design that will accommodate a spectrum of accessible for a broader population, Robertson said. This will mean some physical changes inside the museum.


The millage will bring in about $9.2 million the first year. According to state law, more than $414,000 of the money raised from the millage will go to the 18 Kent County Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts that keep taxes collected on property in their boundaries for local improvements.


The Wyoming Downtown Development Authority would be one such organization, however City Manager Curtis Holt said the DDA would not receive any funds due to negative property value changes in recent years. Traditionally, the City of Wyoming has returned such special millages and in this case would give any additional funds from the zoo/museum millage back to those organizations, Holt said.


With passage of 911 surcharge, county gets ready to build new dispatch system

Undersheriff Michele LaJoy-Young as he discusses the 9-1-1 dispatch surcharge. Photo now.wktv.org.
Undersheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young as she discusses the 9-1-1 dispatch surcharge. Photo now.wktv.org.

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma



Now that voters have overwhelmingly approved the surcharge increase for the 9-1-1 Public Safety Dispatch, supporters and the Kent County Sheriff Department really have their work cut out for them.


“It’s a big project with a lot of work,” said Undersheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young.


Last night, Kent County voters approved the 70-cent increase to the current Kent County surcharge of 45 cents in a three-to-one margin with 205,112 in favor to 74,726 opposed. The 70-cent increase is on top of the existing 45-cent surcharge and is for 20 years. Starting in July 2017, a phone user will pay $1.15 surcharge to Kent County or about $13.80 per year with $8.40 per year going toward the 9-1-1 dispatch.


About half the money raised will go toward the public safety dispatch and a portion will be used to cover costs associated with countywide fire dispatch services.


In preparation of the surcharge possibly passing, LaJoye-Young said the county has been working on a contract with plans to join the Michigan Public Safety Communications System.


Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma
Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma

“This is more than a quick fix. This is an investment in our future, in the safety of our first responders, and the ability to respond quickly and efficiently to residents who call 9-1-1,” Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma said. “We can now provide communications towers and new radio equipment that will place all Kent County dispatchers and first responders on the Michigan Public Safety Communications System. This will improve our ability to communicate with most of the state’s 9-1-1 call-taking centers, including Michigan State Police, and Ottawa, Allegan, Ionia and Newaygo counties.”


The goal is to have the contract in place by the end of year, LaJoye-Young said, adding the next phase is the project management, which has a two-year window. This is where the real work begins as the county will need to change its frequency, requiring the purchase of communications towers and 800 MHz equipment. There will be some build-out for the power which will include reconstruction and construction of towers depending on whether those towers can hold the new equipment, LaJoye-Young said, adding that it is estimated the entire dispatch project should be completed in three years.


Besides the increase in the surcharge, residents probably will not feel much of an impact on police/fire services or even phone service.


“If they happen to live near a tower, they might see the outward signs of construction but that will be pretty low impact,” LaJoye-Young said. “Ideally, this will be seamless with residents experiencing no drop in service. They won’t realize a change but just the continuity of communication and improved communication for public safety that should increase our efficiency.”


Currently Kent County 9-1-1 dispatch operates on eight different radio systems, which hampers public safety efforts in some situations because emergency responders cannot communicate directly – even if they are working on the same incident. With the new technology, LaJoye-Young said officers involved in a specific situation, such as a traffic accident, or an event like Metro Cruise, will have direct communication abilities while regular calls are maintained on dedicated channels.


“I am delighted to see voters approve the dispatch,” said 12th District Kent County Commissioner Harold Mast, who represents the western portion Kentwood and the eastern portion of Wyoming. “This will definitely help in improving the way law enforcement communicates.”


“Voters in Wyoming and throughout Kent County overwhelmingly demonstrated their supported of the 911 dispatch public safety surcharge,” said Curtis Holt, director of the Kent County Dispatch Authority and Wyoming City Manager. “The increased surcharge will enhance public safety with an upgrade in technology, provide a sustainable countywide fire dispatch funding source and improve communication efficiency to make Wyoming and all of Kent County safer.”


The surcharge is a “user-based” fee directly charging devices that use 9-1-1 service. For every phone device a Kent County resident has — cell phone, air card, home internet with voice IP — the surcharge will be applied. LaJoye-Young recommends that residents look at their phone bill for the current Kent County surcharge of 45 cents to determine what their individual cost will be.

We the People: Kent County Offices

We The People 2016WKTV takes seriously its role as a communications provider. We want our community to be well-informed and more involved in local matters.


Kent County Sheriff


Lawrence A. Stelma – Incumbent (R)

Occupation: Been in law enforcement since 1972 and has acted as sheriff for 16 years.
Residence: Cedar Springs


Why did you decide to run for Sheriff back in 2000 and continue to run today?

“It’s been a natural progression in my career that started as a corrections officer. We have many projects in the works like the 911 central dispatch that I want to see to completion.”


What are some of the benefits and challenges to the central 911 dispatch?

“Well, some of the challenges are funding and technology, but the benefits are very important. A central dispatch would make for greater efficiency for all the agencies and would create better communication for emergencies and big events.”


With national headlines centered around negative police-community relations, how would you continue to foster and strengthen the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and Kent County?

“We work hard with the community and with community leaders. We build strong relationships so that we all work together. We work with organization like the Neighborhood Watch, with faith-based organizations, and also with the mental health community.”


Michael B. Scruggs – Candidate (D)


Michael B. Scruggs is the Democratic nominee for the Kent County Sheriff. He will be running against Lawrence A. Stelma in the November 8 election.


Kent County Prosecuting Attorney


Alida J. Bryant – Candidate (D)

Occupation: Staff attorney at the Kent County Defender’s Office. Criminal defense attorney for the past 22 years.
Residence: Belding


Why did you decide to run for Prosecuting Attorney?
“I decided to run in order to validate the need for criminal justice reform. Accountability, productivity, safety, victim’s rights and fiscal responsibility are all goals which must be managed and balanced.”


As Prosecuting Attorney, what would be your main goal or focus?
“The main focus is finding a balanced approach to law enforcement. I want to move non-violent, victimless offenders from accountability to productivity.”


Chris Becker – Candidate (R)


Chris Becker is the Republican nominee for the Kent County Prosecuting Attorney. He will be running against Alida J. Bryant in the November 8 election.


Kent County Clerk


Chris Reader – Candidate (D)

Occupation: Software developer for Spectrum
Residence: Grand Rapids


Why did you decide to run for Kent County Clerk?
“I believe it is the place I can do the most good. I have a decade of community service and I believe the clerk can be a partner to the community. I think I bring a unique set of skills that fit the position well.”


As Kent County Treasurer, what would be your main goal or focus?
“Compared to other offices statewide, Kent County can do a lot more online. I want to find ways for the clerks office to reach out to the community. Right now you have to go downtown to access the clerks office.”


Lisa Posthumus Lyons – Candidate (R)


Lisa Posthumus Lyons is the Republican nominee for Kent County Clerk. She will be running against Chris Reader and James Lewis in the November 8 election.


James Lewis – Candidate (L)


James Lewis is the Libertarian nominee for Kent County Clerk. He will be running against Chris Reader and Lisa Posthumus Lyons in the November 8 election.


Kent County Drain Commissioner


Rachel Hood – Candidate (D)

Occupation: Consultant for Chase Park Grants
Residence: Grand Rapids


Why did you decide t run for Kent Country Drain Commissioner?
“I’m passionate about water and possess a skill set and experience that uniquely qualifies me to take the job into the 21st century. I’ve spent the last 10 years working on changing policy and investments in storm water in the greater Grand Rapids area.”


As Kent County Drain Commissioner, what would be your main goal or focus?
“I will increase responsiveness and transparency by investing in technology and customer service tools. I want to ensure that we do more than just manage our infrastructure; we can leverage our drain dollars to attract federal and state investments that will help us bring more value to our drain dollars.  We can use drain investments to achieve water quality improvements, or build recreational facilities that double as stormwater management strategies, like soccer fields that also store and slowly release stormwater underneath the field.  Or using stormwater bioswales that double as traffic calming and place-making tools for neighborhood business districts.”


Ken Yonker – Candidate (R)


Ken Yonker is the Republican nominee for Kent County Drain Commissioner. He will be running against Rachel Hood in the November 8 election.


Kent County Treasurer


Kenneth D. Parish – Incumbent (R)


Kenneth D. Parish is the Republican nominee for Kent County Treasurer. He will be running against Jodi Betten in the November 8 election.


Jodi Betten – Incumbent (D)


Jodi Betten is the Democratic nominee for Kent County Treasurer. She will be running against Kenneth Parish in the November 8 election.


All candidates were contacted and invited to participate in sharing their message to the voters.

Grand Rapids Public Museum seeks new education volunteers

Grand Rapids Public Museum opens a new exhibit tomorrow.
Grand Rapids Public Museum is looking for 18 new educator volunteers.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) is looking for 18 new educator volunteers to join the team. These volunteers will be helping to enhance its exciting programs offered to visiting schools and the public.


Educators will engage both students and the general public in guided learning experiences that enhance the Museum’s core and temporary exhibits, special events and learning lab initiatives.


The GRPM offers three floors of interactive exhibits telling the stories of Kent County and beyond. Visitor favorites include the Streets of Old Grand Rapids, an immersive exhibit that transports visitors back to 19th century of downtown Grand Rapids, and West Michigan Habitats, that showcases the vast wildlife found in West Michigan.


Interested volunteers are encouraged to attend one of two open houses to learn more about the Museum’s education program opportunities and volunteer roles. After the recruitment open houses, interested volunteers will attend a training session, at a later date, for hands-on, in depth learning of programs offered at the GRPM. This training will prepare volunteers to lead small groups through curriculum based programming, group leadership and teaching methods, while gaining extensive knowledge of the Museum.


Recruitment Open Houses:


Dates: Tuesday, Aug. 23 and Thursday, Sept. 1


Open houses will take place from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and 7 to 8:30 p.m. both days. Light refreshments and volunteer educator materials and information will be provided at each session.


To learn more about volunteering at the GRPM visit www.grpm.org/volunteer. For more information on volunteer open houses visit grpm.org/Calendar or call 616-929-1737.


The Grand Rapids Public Museum is located at 272 Pearl St. NW.

Obesity Rates in Michigan Decline but Continue to Weigh Down the Country

ObesityBy: Mike DeWitt


After watching the obesity rate rise over the past two decades, Michigan finally stepped on the scale and saw improvement. It’s a slight improvement, but a decrease in obesity nonetheless!


According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State of Michigan saw almost a 1% decrease in adult obesity rate. On top of that, it’s Michigan’s best state ranking – 17th – since 1990.


While Michigan’s ranking has come a long way since being the fifth most obese state at the turn of the millennium, the ranking hasn’t improved due to the state getting its act together to be healthier. Instead, the improved ranking is a result of the rest of the nation regressing into an unhealthy state of mind.


In 2000, West Virginia had the highest adult obesity rate in the country at 23.9% (Michigan was 5th at 22.1%). Compare that to the most recent batch of numbers which has Arkansas leading the country with an obesity rate of 35.9%. West Virginia, the most obese state to kick off the millennium, would rank just under 47th ranked California today.


Not the right direction for the country to be heading.

Country Obesity

Obesity is a major drain on health-care costs. A 2009 study estimated the U.S. spent about $150 billion a year on medical expenses associated with obesity. That number is almost double what the country spent on obesity related medical costs back in 1998.


According to the CDC, “Obesity reduces quality of life and is associated with the leading causes of death, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.”


There are a couple of things to keep in mind when diving into the data. First off, the CDC measures obesity using a BMI – or body mass index – of 30 or above. Since BMI is calculated using only your weight and height, it is possible for an individual with a large muscular composition to be labeled “obese” due to a high BMI reading. However, while there are exceptions, there is a strong correlation between BMI and more precise measures of obesity.


Another caveat with the data is how the CDC measures obesity rates, and how that affects comparing data over the years. Back in 2011, the CDC made some changed the way obesity rates were measured to better reflect minority populations. Because of the data gathering changes, the CDC cautions about comparing rates since 2011 with earlier number.


Because of that last point, it’s difficult to compare obesity rates in 2000 to now, but a stark rise in the country’s obesity can still be seen from 2011 onward. Back in 2011, 12 states had an obesity rate over 30% and none were over 35%. Compare that to the latest set of available data, and America has 22 states with an obesity rate over 30% and three states above the 35% threshold.


The numbers are staggering, and they hit even closer to home when you look a little closer.

Kent County ObesityKent County isn’t immune from the rise in obesity. Actually, far from it. Kent County has an obesity rate of 29%, good enough to park just between Illinois and Idaho in the national rankings at 28 and 29, respectively.


The obesity epidemic doesn’t show signs of slowing down, but it’s not something we as a society need to be held hostage to. While genetics can play a role, a lot comes down to a healthy diet and exercise! The typical American diet tends to be heavy on processed and high-calorie foods. Sub out unhealthy choices with fruits and vegetables. Also, make sure to stay active.


It’s not always an easy road, but it’s enlightening to know obesity doesn’t have to weigh us down forever.