Ottawa County consolidates two elected offices
Tight budgets are forcing local governments across the state to do more with less. That's easier said than done - even in traditionally fiscally conservative areas. Straight ticket republican voters in Ottawa County outnumbered their democratic counterparts 4 to 1 in the last election. Many self-described-fiscal-conservatives spoke out against the plan. They don't think the consolidation will save the county as much money as expected and worry services will suffer.
Tri-city Tea Party co-Chair Mike Huett says the math is flawed. "The math is a wash which leaves you asking the question of is there a greater agenda and the answer is yes there is a greater agenda' it's a centralization of power is what it is," Huett said. He pointed out a number of republicans, democrats and individuals from the tea party movement joined together in opposing the change. Dianna Johnson is a campaign coordinator with the Ottawa County Republicans. "Our voices are not being heard," Johnson said following the 9 to 1 vote in favor of the consolidation. She and Huett say there was more than an hour's worth of public comment against the move at a public hearing last week.
Commissioner Dennis Swartout says it's a contradiction to be fiscally conservative and be against this consolidation. He says he decided to vote for the change after speaking with officials from other counties that have combined offices. "The key element here is that the constitution allows us to do this," Swartout said, "It's one of those rare instances where constitutionally, we as a county board have a right to combine these and 32 other counties have chosen to do that."
Commissioner Jim Holtrop struggled with the decision, but says it came down to the money. "I believe we in local governments are facing the greatest financial challenge that we've had in our generation and we need to save money wherever we can," Holtrop said. He notes both current office holders are at their retirement age, technology has eased the staffs' workload and says the county has veteran staff in both departments.
The change will only consolidate the elected positions, not the departments. The change won't take effect until January of 2013. The plan is among other moves the county has made to save money. This year they've also made major changes to employee health and retirement plan.