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'The place where people want to be'

Alex Doty • Jan 25, 2018 at 8:00 AM

WEST OLIVE — Ottawa County is “where people want to be” was the message delivered by County Administrator Al Vanderberg during his 2018 State of the County address.

“Ottawa County continues to excel and stand out as a leader among local governments in Michigan,” he said. “Our vision is to make Ottawa County where you belong — a place where all people, visitors and businesses feel welcomed and valued as vital threads of our community fabric. One thing is certain — Ottawa County is the place where people want to be.”

Vanderberg made the presentation to the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday afternoon.

The administrator’s report highlighted low property taxes, a flourishing economy and the county’s natural resources as reasons people are attracted to the area. Other report highlights include the county’s strong financial position, collaborations and partnerships with other organizations and municipalities, parkland developments, and other innovations.

Population growth

Census reports show that 282,250 people call Ottawa County home; and, from 2010-16, Ottawa was the fastest growing county in the state with a 7 percent increase in population — the eighth-most populous county in Michigan, officials say.

“Nearly 45 percent of Ottawa County's population growth resulted from migration to the area,” Vanderberg said. “The Ottawa economy continues to rebound strongly from the Great Recession with growth in manufacturing, commercial and residential investment.”

Since 2010, county residential building permits are up 177 percent, and the taxable value increased by 3.73 percent, up from only 1.37 percent in 2016.

Health and public safety

“The opioid epidemic plagued Ottawa County increasingly in 2017 with a startling average of one overdose per day, and with a higher concentration on weekends,” Vanderberg said.

In response, the Board of Commissioners authorized a new position within Community Mental Health to lead the Ottawa County Prescription Drug and Opioid Task Force.

Additionally, in response to the county’s Community Health Needs Assessment, the Pathways to Better Health program was implemented to assist people with accessing community services, improving health outcomes, and to decrease unnecessary hospitalization and emergency room visits. Since implementation in early 2017, six community health workers have been hired, serving 389 residents.

Vanderberg noted that while Ottawa remains relatively safe compared to similar-size counties, 2017 measured a 40 percent increase in reports of crimes against children, with nearly 500.

Vanderberg noted that mental health calls for service to the Sheriff's Office are also on the rise, and said that the department is working with Community Mental Health to make sure responders have training and resources to safely interact with people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

“At the same time the Sheriff's Office is noting a rise in mental health incidents, unanticipated changes made to mental health funding from both Medicaid and state General Fund by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services plunged the Lakeshore regional entity, including Ottawa County, into a financial deficit,” Vanderberg said. “The impact is devastating the Community Mental Health department at the same time as the number of residents needing services is significantly increasing.”

On the flip side, Vanderberg said the county’s mental health millage has helped with programs to provide direct mental health services, fill gaps and prevent mental illness. Examples include 174 people participating in one of four social recreational programs in the county, 138 referrals to psychiatric services provided to inmates in the jail, and the Pathways to Better Health program which provides intervention at the first signs of mental distress.

Parks and recreation

“Flourishing county parks and open spaces, partnerships with municipalities, and community generosity have given way to opportunities for regional non-motorized pathway networks,” Vanderberg said.

Work in 2017 on the Grand River Greenway's Idema Explorers Trail included a 3.9-mile segment in Robinson Township, as well as route planning in both Allendale and Georgetown townships. 

“Ottawa County's lakeshore parks — including North Beach, Kirk Park, Rosy Mound, Olive Shores and Tunnel Park — continue to be an attraction for summer tourists,” Vanderberg noted. “In 2017, the number of daily permits sold to nonresidents increased by nearly 3,000 to 26,150.”

Revenue generated from lakeshore operations, winter activities and year-round reservations has increased 79 percent over the past five years, totaling more than $643,000 in 2017. The revenue supplements the county’s parks millage. 

County officials also touted a number of additions were made to the county’s parklands in 2017, including the expansion of North Ottawa Dunes and the opportunity to acquire the 353-acre site known as the Ottawa Sand property, located in Ferrysburg. 

Vanderberg also noted that the county is working with others in West Michigan to address a number of invasive species such as the hemlock woolly adelgid, and said volunteers logged more than 20,000 hours in 2017 to help remove invasives from parkland.

Challenges ahead 

“CEOs of some of West Michigan's top businesses have stated that an inability to attract and retain global talent and create diverse teams impacts the future prosperity of West Michigan,” Vanderberg said. “The mission of the Cultural Intelligence Initiative of Ottawa County is to promote an environment where all employees, residents and visitors are valued and welcome.”

A lack of affordable housing is also being addressed.

“The 1983 Board of Commissioners Strategic Plan included eliminating the housing problem as a top goal,” he said. “Thirty-five years later, the problem has grown to a lack of 15,000 to 17,000 housing units. A diverse range of housing options is necessary for our major employers to attract talent to their businesses and our community.”

Other issues and initiatives to be addressed in 2018 include: sustainability, art and culture, unfunded pension liability, water, transportation, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, building and courtroom security, and the Juvenile Justice Center.

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