HIGHLIGHTS + OTTAWA COUNTY
Meeting highlights—FY24 budget passes, Zylstra brings a flurry of motions, Early Voting Agreement passes with unanimous vote
Published September 28, 2023
Written by Adams
Photography by Simply American
After many weeks of local and national media attempts to emotionally blackmail people into thinking the Public Health Department would close, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners passed the FY24 General Appropriations Act (FY24 budget)—which notably has the second highest Public Health Department budget in 15 years.
Ottawa County Board of Commissioners
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
FY24 General Appropriations Act Passes
One of the most important functions of a county legislative body is preparing and passing the annual budget. On Tuesday, September 26, 2023, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners completed this function. After many motions, a few outbursts from Commissioner Jacob Bonnema, and a “Magic Mystery Tour,” the FY24 budget passed with a vote of 7-4.
• This has been the most transparent budget season Ottawa County residents have seen
• This budget season involved additional work sessions, a format that was easier to understand, and grant and payment information that was visible to the public—all the way down to county credit card purchases
• Commissioner Lucy Ebel explained that the budget process is just that, a process, and that things change frequently during a budget process
• With the media and the Health Department causing confusion and fear, Vice Chair Sylvia Rhodea gave budget numbers for the past five years:
• Rhodea, Administrator John Gibbs, and Commissioner Rebekah Curran each made comments that the Health Department had failed to provide requested
information—Commissioner Gretchen Cosby said this as well in previous Finance meetings
• Commissioner Roger Bergman, who was absent for two of the special Finance sessions, gave a five-minute statement where he compared this budget season to the Beatle’s song, “Magic Mystery Tour”—claiming numbers were being pulled out of a hat as if by magic
• Commissioner Kyle Terpstra praised the new Department of Veterans Affairs after hearing several veterans state during public comment that they need more services
• Curran made a statement during the discussion that she was planning to vote “yes” on the budget, but then—after the board took a recess due to Bonnema interrupting other commissioners—Curran “abstained” instead of voting “yes”
• To abstain is to vote “no” unless there is a conflict of interest identified at the time
• Curran’s vote will be recorded “no” in the minutes
• Gibbs and a couple of the commissioners thanked the Fiscal team for all of their hard work
Commissioner Doug Zylstra made six different motions during the budget discussion, reiterating the need for assurance that if the money wasn’t needed or used, the Health Department could simply deposit it back into the General Fund.
• Zylstra’s first motion was to “cancel the proposed elimination of the ELC Epi-Lab Grant and MDHHS Workforce Grant”
• The second motion was to “fund communicable disease, immunizations, and STD with General Fund funding instead of ELPHS Block Grant funding”
• The third motion was to “fund the third epidemiologist position with an additional fund transfer.” Administration confirmed this position already was funded in the budget.
• The fourth motion was to “transfer $300,000 from the General Fund to the Public Health Education line item”
• The fifth motion was to allocate “$200,000 to Healthy Foods and earmark it for Ottawa Foods.” Administration confirmed there was already over $400,000 in Health Education, and the county was instructed to maintain the Ottawa Food program.
• The sixth motion was “to remove funding for the Ottawa Way Newsletter”
• All motions failed
With election integrity being a pressing issue, finding a way to increase voter confidence while implementing the new state mandates from Proposal 2 was crucial.
• Commissioner Roger Belknap thanked the clerks and County Clerk Justin Roebuck for all the hard work everyone put into the early voting process
• Roebuck explained the corrections to the agreement and thanked Chair Joe Moss for collaborating
• To reinforce public confidence in elections, the county will purchase and provide a minimum of one mounted security camera for each early voting site—which will ensure video surveillance of secured rooms where election equipment and materials are stored
• The county will provide a live-line management tool—accessible to the public via the county website—so that voters will know projected wait times at each early voting center
• Early voting centers will use watermarked ballots which the clerk will provide as soon as these ballots can be acquired and sufficiently tested
• Zylstra claimed an ignorance and lack of knowledge of watermarked ballots, leading him to making a motion to remove watermarked ballots from the agreement and bring the issue back to the Planning & Policy Committee for further discussion
• No one seconded, so Zylstra’s motion died
The local and national media coverage and misinformation of the budget process created fear in many of the citizens of Ottawa County. This fear could be heard in the distress of the public comments throughout the meeting.
Some commenters called the process a “circus,” and maybe it truly was—since the media pushed its narrative instead of facts and truth.