The Grand Rapids City Commission held a retreat to discuss and review progress on near-term focus areas.
These retreats offer a snapshot of the City and much greater insight into the workings of Grand Rapids. This includes dialogue amongst staff and Commissioners as they discuss major areas in-depth. The summary below will take you to the video of each item.
At the beginning, the Commission discussed how they could function more effectively and productively given the local and national issues. One of the most notable things about City Commission meetings over the last year is the persistent and hostile public comment by some individuals. The Mayor pointed out the importance of rebuilding relationships with residents, stakeholders and each other followed by some other insightful comments from members including Commissioner O’Connor making a statement on the need to remain focused on their core responsibilities in serving the community.
Click here to view Presentation Slides
Fiscal Sustainability (video):
The City’s fiscal state is in a stronger position with major revenues $13M higher than expected, but still has some worrisome red flags for the next decade. This is largely driven by income taxes coming in much better than expected, the strong reserves prioritized before the pandemic helped them weather the worst of the uncertainty. The City maintained its bond rating while also issuing two bonds and no layoffs occurred.
Unfortunately, they are still expecting a structural deficit for 2022 – 2026 including peaking at $-18.5M in FY2025. This is largely based on further loss of income tax revenue. The revenue for other enterprise funds such as Mobile GR & Parking services took a hit with event and parking revenues being impacted by COVID. The Manager stated that this is a conservative estimate, and they don’t anticipate draconian cuts being needed. Federal relief funds can be used to fill these gaps until halfway through the FY24 budget (they will receive $92.3M from the American Rescue Plan Act). See some of their discussion on federal funds here.
Participatory Budgeting (video):
This is a new practice where the Commission kicks funds to a citizen led process to vote on how to spend money. $2M was appropriated for this and it has already been significantly delayed from its original timeline of wrapping up at the end of summer or early fall. Some of the challenges raised were people wanted to be paid to attend meetings, funding for community. They have also spent $100k on unexpected expenditures. Each Ward has a steering committee leading the process. organizations to conduct outreach and more.
COVID Relief /Economic Recovery (video):
They discussed special event sponsorships, waiving fees, pop up markets, neighborhood banners, social zones and other actions taken to support businesses and activate parts of the City.
They also further detailed a new $1.5M program for equitable business development. $750K will be put into a new Equitable Small Business Revolving Load Fund for loans up to $25k. They will look for management and underwriting by an outside organization selected by an RFP. The remaining will be invested in Entrepreneurial Service Organizations (ESOs) through an RFP process.
Housing and Homelessness (video):
Representatives from the City of Grand Rapids, the United Way, the Continuum of Care and Community (CoC) Rebuilders. The City and partners are doing a significant amount of work utilizing local, state and federal resources (there is a ton of comprehensive work being conducted here and its worth a watch if you are interested).
They began with an update on the co-response model and the Homeless Outreach Team/Mobile Crisis Response Unit which utilize officers and mental health professionals. The City is investing $2.7M to expand these efforts including partnering on more emergency winter shelter, day center and storage for personal belongings. They detailed other efforts including proposed and completed affordable housing projects, eviction prevention, rental assistance, and much more.
The Director for the CoC discussed their work to support frequent users in the homeless system and the new Built For Zero initiative (a data-driven approach to reaching functional zero homeless), which was supported by the Chamber and sponsored by generous member.
The Executive Director for Community Rebuilders covered progress on their GRACE network and Community Housing Connect efforts. These are innovative ways to improve coordinated entry and access to services to improve outcomes and experience for homeless individuals.
Public Safety (video):
The Grand Rapids Fire and Police Chiefs provided updates with a major focus on filling vacancies. Both departments canceled recruiting classes due to COVID and are prioritizing intentional recruitment of high-quality, diverse candidates.
In addition to filling open positions, retention and diversifying the staff, The Police Department’s priorities for FY22 are: implementation and evaluation of co-response for homelessness and mental health crisis, increase community engagement by returning to in-person and neighborhood events, identify low-priority calls for service that can be responded to in more efficient ways, present an Unmanned Aerial System program (drones) to the community for feedback, evaluate crime reduction strategies to address violent crime without leading to disparate outcomes, support neighborhood policing and the culture of a guardian mindset (including positive non-enforcement contacts) and identify innovative uses of technology to address violent offenders.
The GRPD team then further detailed the mental health co-response program that was launched in January 21’ where Network180 staff respond independently to appropriate calls for service. This included recommendations for expanding the service. Commissioner Lenear asked a question about cost and the number of calls. The Deputy Chief said it has been successful and the officers have to continue to get used to this new tool as well as the importance of training dispatchers about recognizing when officers don’t need to respond or if it is a true co-response where officers ensure safety while mental health experts perform their duties.
The mayor asked a question about expectations for filling the positions at the end. The answer is a little unpredictable but FY23 is the most likely timeframe. The Manager spoke to the potential need for a full-time recruiter as an opportunity for someone to focus solely on talent attraction. Commissioner Moody (and others) encouraged them to “grow our own” residents into police officers and firefighters.
Commissioner Jones asked about what it would take for a substantive relationship with GRPS to encourage students to apply. The Chief discussed the current relationship and help in identifying potential applicants, but he will discuss ways to enhance the relationship.
Crime prevention and violence reduction (video):
The Director of the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability gave an update on the Cure Violence program – a community-based violence reduction program recently launched with support from Spectrum Health.
The program seeks to interrupt the transmission of violence, change behavior of the highest potential transmitters and changing community norms. The initiative is focused on a core area within the City’s southeast side. The team was recently hired and a meet and greet was hosted on Wednesday night.
Other Strategic Initiatives (Other strategic initiatives)
Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong provided brief updates on other initiatives. The Master Plan process has kicked off and will continue through 2024 and is being paid for by federal funds. He then highlighted the many improvement being made in parks city-wide. They then touched on upcoming points related to the important 201 Market development followed by carbon reduction goals and desired outcomes.