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THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS / SUNDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2013 / A17

Local GRAND RAPIDS

City expects to save millions on fire service by using cash, not credit By Matt Vande Bunte mvandebu@mlive.com

Grand Rapids Fire Department thinks it can spend $24 million less on trucks over the next 30 years by buying them with cash instead of financing the purchases and paying interest on the debt.

The City Commission on Tuesday embraced the plan and authorized using $4.4 million for start-up costs from its Transformation Fund, the pot of money that consists largely of revenue from a temporary income-tax increase. About $2.1 million of that will buy four new medium-duty trucks

and rebuild three existing department trucks, while the rest would be put aside to start a capital reserve fund for future purchases. “Essentially, we’re utilizing credit cards to purchase apparatus, and it’s very costly to us,” said Fire Lt. Rob Pease, a strategic planning officer.

“Every year we’re going to start paying into this (capital reserve) account from our general operating fund. As soon as that (existing debt) transitions out, we’ll be paying about $800,000 per year (into the fund for future truck replacement).” Fire department leaders

think that paying up front for less expensive, medium-duty trucks with a smaller engine and lighter chassis — and putting more money into repairs that could extend the life of those trucks — will cost $36.6 million over the next three decades verses nearly $61 million on the same fleet

of trucks over that same time period, officials said. “There’s a large amount of money being spent in the wrong way,” said Fire Lt. Rich Clark, vice president of the firefighters’ union. “(The city’s spending) a lot of money (on debt interest) that you’re not getting apparatus out of.”

GRAND RAPIDS

Farmland preservation program in jeopardy By Rick Wilson For MLive.com

For the first time in five years Kent County is poised to approve a budget that includes no money for its controversial farmland preservation program. But at least one county commissioner isn’t giving up without a fight. Commissioner Jim Talen, D-Grand Rapids, questioned his fellow county board members, during a budget work session Talen Thursday, on the appropriate time to offer amendments to the county’s proposed $161.5 million 2014 general fund budget. Talen and other proponents of the county’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program have had their attempts to increase funding for the program stymied in recent years. “They’re gutting the program, and it just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Talen, who in 2011 chaired a special subcommittee that examined the program. The program was created in 2002 with the goal of preserving 25,000 of the county’s 170,000 acres of farmland by 2013. The program pays farmers the difference between the agricultural and development value of their land in exchange for placing it in trust so it can’t be developed. The county has preserved 2,395 acres on 23 farms, far short of its 25,000-acre goal. Talen’s subcommittee found it would cost taxpayers about $1 million annually to preserve the 25,000 acres. While only a small part of the county’s budget, the program has been a hot-button issue in several county board races in recent years. Political pressure has seen the program’s support wane, and it became more apparent earlier this year when the only two parcels preserved were approved in committee on a narrow 4-3 vote. The county committed in 2009 to spending a total of $1 million on the program through 2012, though opponents say that was only a subcommittee recommendation. Since first funding it in 2009 the county has provided $1,025,000 for the program.

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