Determination and restabilizing are the two words Kelli Scott, Calhoun County Administrator/Controller, uses to describe how the county navigated 2022.
“The previous two years we were in the middle of a pandemic so our focus was somewhat limited and last year we felt this renewed effort to bring back full services for residents while still continuing to deal with the pandemic,” Scott says. “A lot of other projects that were delayed or stalled were resumed. ”
The determination she cites came into play as county employees continued to support each other, get their work done, and move beyond the pandemic despite labor shortages.
In addition to these shortages, Scott says, “We’re still experiencing reduced local revenues which started partly because of COVID. Strategically, we are using ARPA to stabilize our budget. We focus those ARPA dollars on one-time internal and external projects.”
This year, she says, county residents will see significant action on projects and initiatives that were started before or in 2022. Below are projects, In Scott’s words, that Calhoun County will be focusing on in 2023:
Calhoun County Youth Center (formerly the Calhoun County Juvenile Home)
A major project for us is the renovation and re-branding of the Juvenile Home to the Calhoun County Youth Center. This was put into motion when the county’s Board of Commissioners approved the new logo and the re-branding and a focus on the mission as a youth center of operation.
We finally found a solution to pay for the renovations and make the building more functional and safe and increase the capacity to meet the increased need statewide.
Counties throughout Michigan send their youth to the Calhoun County Facility, including Grand Traverse, because we are seen as a Best Practice model for some of our programming. We already get revenues from counties across the state and up to half of our census comes from other counties. The renovations, which will include energy improvements, will increase the number of beds from 42 to 52.
The Board approved $13 million in capital bonds this past Fall. We didn’t need to use ARPA. We were able to use normal capital improvement bonds that counties are authorized to use. The renovations will begin this year in phases and incorporate the new design, name, and logo. All of this work is expected to completed in early 2024.
The next item that is significant is our broadband initiative which is the county’s effort through a volunteer task force and communications staff to find solutions to provide affordable and reliable Internet to residents and businesses.
In 2022, we did a survey of our residents, engineering and legal consultants, to do an assessment looking at where we are now and what the significant concerns are. In December, we received the first draft of an executive summary on broadband and a guidebook.
Billions of federal dollars have been deployed specifically for Internet projects early this year. We have sent out an RFP (Request for Proposals) that Internet providers are responding to. We will aggressively be seeking all of these grant dollars to pay for the necessary infostructure and fiber.
We have 10 percent of our residents who don’t have Internet options at all and another portion that has internet that’s not considered adequate and a big portion that only has one option for a provider and that increases costs. We need to figure out a way to infuse this unprecedented amount of federal funds to make (internet accessibility) a reality for residents in Calhoun County. We will be identifying providers to partner with and who can help seek grant funds. Full implementation could take three to four years.
The county’s role in this has been not taking the lead but working with the city and township of Marshall, the MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corp.) and MAEDA (Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance) to market the site. The county’s specific role through our Community Development Department is to be the fiduciary for state grants that will provide for site readiness work and a master plan to ensure the site is market-ready. That will continue this year.
The Marshall Mega Site, located between I-69 and I-94, is in the process of being developed by several governmental entitties, including Calhoun County.
Next steps include wrapping up necessary legal agreements for the development of the site, including a tax-sharing provision between Marshall City and Marshall Township.
We’re getting closer to identifying and bringing projects to Marshall that are likely to create more than 2,500 jobs. This mega site will be a huge economic opportunity for Marshall, Calhoun County, and the whole region.
Countywide Transit System
The county is leading an effort to create a countywide transit system and this effort is being led by all of the city managers, mayors, the County Board Chairperson, and me.
We are all committed to the development of the countywide transit system and are working with legal counsel on the Articles of Incorporation and timelines to get it done.
Battle Creek Go is a polot prgram demonstrating the feasibility of an on-demand transportation system in Calhoun County.
Our hope is that the County Board of Commissioners will create a new transit authority which would be called the Transportation Authority of Calhoun County (TACC). Efforts are underway to define the boundaries of the transit system. Each municipality will decide if they want the services or not. It will likely require a voted millage by the county’s taxpayers to supplement rider fees and significant state and federal transportation dollars.
If approved, it could be fully operational by 2025. The city of Battle Creek has created a model with BCGo
, a pilot program. It has an on-demand service and their data has clearly shown that there is a need to expand transit service in the city and the county.
This year there are significant projects that will be implemented because of ARPA funding that was appropriated at the end of 2022. This will be the third year that ARPA funds have been deployed for projects that will have a positive economic impact and promote the well-being of communities impacted by COVID.
At the end of 2022, we did our fifth installation of ARPA appropriations and that did include three new projects that were approved in December. We put $200,000 towards the Haven
capital campaign to renovate its dining area. We gave $100,000 to Voces
because they have a big need to increase their space and support the Latinx community. They will acquire property and make whatever renovations they need in a new space. We allocated $100,000 to Washington Heights United Methodist Church
to cover the cost of lighting a walking path they created which is a community wellness asset in the neighborhood.
The County continues to support the housing initiatives being led by the cities within Calhoun County, mainly through the leadership of the Calhoun County Land Bank Authority, to which we have appropriated ARPA dollars. The Land Bank also will continue to apply for state and federal dollars as more are expected to become available. The Land Bank is the County’s champion to improve neighborhoods and to build affordable housing.
County Dispatch Improvements
Improving public safety is always a top priority for the County. Our Sheriff’s Department got a federal grant during 2022 to install cameras in our schools and to connect them to our County’s Consolidated Dispatch Center.
Voters approved a new dispatch millage in 2022
which will be used to upgrade our 911 infrastructure across the County. The County Government is facilitating this purchase by issuing $18 million in tax-exempt bond financing so these upgrades can happen as soon as possible. The Dispatch Authority will pay back the County over the life of the bonds.
The nationwide labor shortage, and changing workforce needs, are impacting us in Calhoun County. People are starting to retire earlier and younger workers have different values and expectations. We are having challenges with finding nurses to work in our Public Health Department and individuals to work in Public Safety. The Sheriff could hire at least 20 new employees.
We have put out and have in place incentives and recruitment and retention bonuses similar to other businesses and organizations. We also have placed more of an emphasis on Diversity Equity and Inclusion because it is so critical to keep employees engaged and feeling that they are being treated fairly and included as part of the County’s mission.
Although the number of applications we are receiving is increasing, the quality of the applicants still suffers in some cases.
We make a major investment in valuing our employees and there is the hope that they will be here for a while. In 2022 we put in place a remote work policy and we are working closely with our Human Resources department to manage and monitor this work model and make sure those who are able to work remotely will continue to feel engaged and included with their co-workers.
We need to think about how we’re marketing open positions and changing the language we use to attract workers and offer opportunities including mentorships.
What used to be considered extras, are now expected.
To this end, the County added a new Deputy Human Resources Director position at the end of 2022 and we are in the process of hiring the best candidate for that job. Supporting workplace well-being is best for all of us who work for the County, and for the residents we serve.