Meeting date August 8, 2023
Public comment by Christi M.
Photography by Simply American
Ottawa County Board of Commissioners Meeting
At the last meeting I addressed the fact that the prior Board of Commissioners rushed to spend almost $57 million of ARPA taxpayer funds. They spent the final $30 million in the last few months of 2022 as they were leaving office, even though the funds didn’t need to be obligated until the end of 2024 or spent until the end of 2026. I shared how almost 10% of the funds went to employee payouts last November.
I recently discovered that county employees received even more than 10% of the funds.
There was a budgeted 2% pay increase at the beginning of 2022 and then, through ARPA funds in April, they also received another 2% base pay increase along with a $2 thousand loyalty payout. The Board agreed to give the final $5.2 million employee payouts at the October 25 meeting, knowing employees would get another budgeted 2% increase in January of 2023.
In answer to how spending priorities were determined, the prior county administrator, John Shay, was quoted as saying, “The idea is to spend the funds on one-time projects, or on programs that can sustain themselves when the ARPA funds are exhausted and that have a significant impact on reducing or eliminating long-standing problems in the community.”
On top of the employee payouts, over $6.3 million was allocated to parks and trail projects that didn’t have set deadlines.
We love our county parks, but did those funds or the employee payouts meet the objectives stated by Mr. Shay?
Did the prior commissioners make the best use of our taxpayer burden? Could the funds have been used to make ADA upgrades that were allowed to fall behind? Could those funds have been used to make a positive impact on the upcoming budget?
During the October 25 meeting, a commissioner stated that our county deputies do not have body cams. According to a 2016 Wood-TV8 article, when Sheriff Kempker had been promoted to office he was seeking to implement body cams. The administrator’s office stated that it had earmarked $1 million for the project whenever it moved forward.
Two years ago the Board approved over $84 thousand in the annual budget for a body cam tech specialist. Even though a majority of commissioners were in place when Sheriff Kempker took office, including Mr. Bergman who is still on the board, this project has never been implemented. Surrounding counties already have body cams, yet seven years later Ottawa County is still on hold.
Are those funds still available or how were they used?
Our law enforcement team puts their lives at risk to go out against the unknown every day to protect us. So, Commissioners and Administrator Gibbs, make sure that the proposed budget includes allocations for body cams which will increase transparency and accountability for everyone involved and will allow us to properly equip and protect our law enforcement team. Please do everything you can to get this project across the finish line expediently.
And thank you for being wise and proactive with our taxpayer dollars, including the development of a strong capital improvement plan.
Carry on knowing that Jesus is Lord over Ottawa County.
The opinions expressed within this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the positions and beliefs of Simply American or its affiliates.