County spending adds up

This is the third installment in a five-part series on public officials' salaries.
Alex Doty
Dec 31, 2013

Ottawa County is the big kahuna when it comes to the amount of taxpayer money spent on salaries and wages.

The county government had a whopping $48,256,487 payroll for about 1,300 employees in the Tribune's 2012 public salary survey. Likewise, the Road Commission has its trucks full of work and workers who each haul home an average yearly wage of $44,822.

Between the two county agencies, they had four employees – not including judges – make the Top 10 list of the highest-paid public employees in our area.

In these agencies' cases, managing their budgets requires a hefty dose of business savvy and specific expertise in certain areas, such as health care and road engineering.

We asked Ottawa County Administrator Alan Vanderberg and Ottawa County Road Commission Managing Director Brett Laughlin for their perspectives on county successes and challenges. Here's what they had to say:

Q: What is the biggest challenge that the county faces?

Vanderberg: “The biggest challenge that Ottawa County faces is in its relationship with the state and federal government.”

Laughlin: “The Road Commission is fighting the battle against crumbling roads by providing more preventative maintenance treatments and stretching current revenues as far as we can.”

Q: What are the issues that keep you up at night?

Vanderberg: “I do my best every day and don’t think about it (after work).”

Laughlin:  “Our roads are deteriorating faster than they can be repaired or replaced. Past legislatures have failed to increase the user fees that fund our roads and bridges.”

Q: What are three goals the county is looking to accomplish in the next few years?

(1) Implement our “Four C’s” initiative.
(2) Create a cultural diversity program with the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.
(3) Look for ways to improve work and business processes.

Q: What does the future hold for road funding in Michigan?

Laughlin: “Gov. Rick Snyder has laid out a plan to help stabilize the state’s crumbling roads. No one wants higher taxes, but more investment is needed to help the county roads.”

Q: What has changed in the years you've been doing this job?

Vanderberg: “It’s almost been 10 years and it is hard to believe. The biggest thing is the relationship between the county board, the administration and its employees. The (specific area) that’s gone through the most change is Community Mental Health."

Laughlin: “Road maintenance and repair costs have risen dramatically over the past few years. With revenues staying fairly flat, the Road Commission has found ways to be more efficient, started performing more road and bridge preventative maintenance treatments, and done more collaborating with townships and other agencies.”

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

See Thursday's Tribune for part 4 of the series: "Future of learning."




This article does very little comparison-wise while suggestion Ottawa County is a "Big Kahuna." The implication is that the County and Road Commission spend too much tax dollars on employees. If the average County employee earns $37,000 per year, how much does a Tribune writer earn that makes him so outraged? How does anyone raise a family on $37,000 a year anyway? This isn't Vietnam.

Tri-cities realist

On a budget and with fiscal restraint.


Everything is always so simple and black and white with you isn't it? Haven't you ever had anything unexpected happen to you and your beloved budget with fiscal restraint? If not, you live a charmed life.

I don't know a single person in my personal sphere who hasn't been getting their butt kicked by something in the last 5 years. If you're just rolling along without a care in the world then you are one lucky SOB. I hope for your sake it continues because I'm pretty sure you'd be crying like a little school girl if you'd have been thru what my family has been thru in the last 5 years.

You really should stop with the idiotic generalizations. They make you sound more stupid than you probably really are. Oh, and look up the definition of Realist when you get a chance.


Being poor is not something I strive for.


Ottawa County is in the top 10 most populous counties in the state of Michigan, and among those ten counties, is #1 for the most growth between 2000-2010. This must be factored into county spending discussions.


Since the first of these articles was published the information has been misleading and incorrect. Can you say Readers Digest? The Tribune has embarrassed itself with how it has reported the information in these articles.

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