Tonight at 7pm, the Grand Rapids City Commission will be holding a public hearing on the budget for the coming year. Equity PAC has looked through the proposed budget, listened to the City’s budget presentations and attended meetings in order to distill it into promising highlights and opportunities for advocacy.
Expect significant cuts to the budget because of COVID-19 and even greater opportunities for advocacy to continue investment in equity related efforts and initiatives. More specifically, the preliminary budget suggests a $23 million cut (on top of a near $40 million reduction last year). This year’s cuts are due to the economic impact of COVID-19 and are expected to touch every department. The City has implemented a hiring freeze and more cuts may be needed as revenue projections are updated.
Below are highlights from the City budget, including promising decisions and opportunities to advocate. This process moves incredibly fast. We ask you to advocate at tonight’s 7pm virtual public comment, and write and/or your call elected City official before Thursday’s final vote.
City Dollars for Rent Assistance and COVID-19 Relief
- The City is working to utilize Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Housing Fund dollars to directly help in COVID relief and rental assistance programs.
- The City is looking to further support organizations and funds (like La Lucha Fund) through donations that will allow assistance to quickly get to those that need it.
County Funding Available to Support Cities Combat COVID-19
- Kent County received $115 Million from the State to help cities with their COVID-19 response. Grand Rapids has requested around $30 Million of this money to help with our efforts combating the virus, including purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.
- County Commissioners’ use of a targeted approach to disperse these funds to cities and communities most affected will be vital in Grand Rapids’ ability to continue to fight COVID-19. You can find Kent County officials’ contact information here and ask them to fulfill Grand Rapids’ request for $30M of the $115M.
Keeping the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability
- The newly formed Office of Oversight and Public Accountability is responsible for independent oversight of the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) and Grand Rapids Fire Department. It is not affected by the City’s hiring freeze.
- Two major reasons oversight offices have failed in cities around the US is because of a lack of funding and/or staffing. Now that Brandon Davis has been hired as Director, it's imperative that the department be properly staffed and funded.
Room to Adjust Funding for the Grand Rapids Police Department
- The Grand Rapids City Charter mandates that the police budget be no less than 32% of the overall budget. GPRD is responsible for the largest portion of the city budget. It takes up between 36% - 38% of the budget. That leaves 4% - 6% of possible cuts while still complying with the charter.
Funding for the “Get the Lead Out” Program and Inspection Guidelines
- There were early discussions about cuts to funding that helps with lead dust and paint removal in older homes. Data have shown that the 49507 zip code has the highest level of lead poisoning of children in the state.
- Cuts to this fund would adversely impact the health and welfare of thousands of families, disproportionately impacting families and children of color. These discussions did not make it into the final budget proposal.
- However, there is an opportunity to make sure the City is protecting families from lead as intended. The City should enact stronger guidelines for rental certification inspections; right now, the “burden of proof” falls on renters. Community groups like Parents of Healthy Homes have been advocating for these changes.
How the Police Department Proposes to Cut $1 Million from Budget
- The police department is proposing budget cuts that are primarily focused on laying off non-sworn staff (civilian staff and interns), and defunding local training and hiring initiatives. Both of these actions are counter to the recommendations made in policing studies the City conducted over the past 5 years.
- Civilian staff and interns perform most of the data collection and reporting work for the department. Laying off these staff persons threatens critical transparency and accountability.
- De-funding local training and hiring initiatives would be a major lost opportunity for the GRPD to develop intentional relationships and begin to gain back lost trust in the community.
Proposal to Hire More Police Officers at a $2.5M Annual Price Tag
- The budget proposes applying for a COPS Grant to hire and train up to 5 more officers. The grant partially pays for the initial costs of hiring and training new officers over a 5 year period. However, after the 5 years, the City would be fully responsible for the costs of the new officers. The cost for these 5 officers would be $2.5 Million per year once grant funding ends. As we enter what’s expected to be the first of many budget crises, we do not need this financial liability or commitment.
- Even more, we believe that the City does not need more officers. The 2019 GRPD Staffing Study drew the same conclusion.
Next Steps: Tune in at tonight’s 7pm Public Hearing About the Budget
The City Commission will hold a virtual Public Hearing regarding the budget tonight starting at 7pm. Watch and comment at this link.
While the budget includes promising proposals, we have limited time to advocate against:
- cuts to positions and programs designed to improve police and community relations
- the hiring of more police officers, even with a starter grant
- insufficient guidelines for rental inspections that do not protect children from lead
We also encourage you to affirm the promising budget proposals highlighted in this overview.
Continue to Advocate before Thursday’s 9am Vote
This Thursday, May 21st at 9am, the budget will be presented to the Commission for a vote. Continue to call or email commissioners to advocate against these proposals before then. Find your City Commissioner’s contact information at this link; and plan to watch virtually at this link.
Updated 5/19/20 at 3:30pm. The original writing stated that cuts to the "Get Out the Lead" program were included in the proposed budget. While there were early discussions of making cuts to this program, they did not make it into the proposed budget.