Grand Rapids is a city with a population under 200,000, but its Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes the surrounding suburban areas, includes a population of 700,000. Because many of the urban problems within the city limits are shared with the surrounding communities, there was recognized a need for coordination between the various levels of government. For many years the city, township and county mayors and officials had been having lunchtime meetings to discuss issues of common concern. This had been formalized as the Association of Grand Rapids Area Governments, and although it had served a useful purpose by opening lines of communication been the various jurisdictions, it had no real power entrusted to it.
In 1989, the Michigan legislature passes Public Act (P.A.) 292, which allowed metropolitan areas to organize new interjurisdictional agencies and allowed them some very important powers. The purpose of the Act was to encourage stronger cooperation toward solving common metropolitan concerns. The Act applied to any metropolitan area of less than one million population, which was essentially every larger city in Michigan except Detroit. The primary power conferred under this Act was the power to sell bonds (and thus raise revenue) for projects of common concern. Cities, townships and counties were not forced to join, but could join or withdraw at will. However, they had a continuing obligation for any actions taken while they were a member.
Grand Rapids and its surrounding communities were the first to use this Act. In 1990, one county, eight cities, and five townships joined together to form the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Council. Each municipality paid a proportional share of a member's fee, and the Council was permitted a budget not to exceed $1 million.
There was some concern about such membership among the various governments. Each recognized that such a Council might take away some of their individual powers and make it necessary to share with others. Other difficulties were potentially the loss of jobs resulting from eliminating the duplication of services. Also, various jurisdictions might have conflicting ordinances, making it difficult to resolve certain differences in regulations. But perhaps the biggest concern of the various government officials was the advent of a new taxing authority, which might lead to some loss of revenue, especially among the wealthier communities.
However, the need for such a Council was great enough to overcome these concerns. If properly managed, public services proved through such a Council would be much more efficient than providing them individually. For instance, both the City of Grand Rapids and the outlying community of Wyoming had recently built new water pipelines from Lake Michigan, even though one pipeline could have easily sufficed for both communities at a cost hardly greater than the cost of one. Such elimination of duplication and inefficiency was the great economic argument in favor of forming a Council.
How has this experiment in consolidated government worked out? Although progress has sometimes been slow, the Council now shows signs of success and long-term viability, and will obviously result eventually in better long term planning at a regional level.
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