IONIA – Ionia County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the creation of a new lawn care maintenance position and the addition of four staff members to the janitorial/maintenance department.
With Commissioner Jack Shattuck absent and Philip Hesh voting “no,” the commissioners voted 5-1 to create a park maintenance position within the Facilities Maintenance Division, at a total annual cost of $67,203. The person will be placed in sixth grade, first step and will receive $18.31 an hour plus benefits. This type of work is currently under contract, at an annual cost of $43,200.
When making the application, Director of Facilities Maintenance Rod Steele said the county-owned lawns and property are in poor condition, with their only maintenance over the past two years being a weekly mowing. Steele also noted that his department has struggled with winter-related maintenance and hasn’t cleaned carpets in over two years.
“The lawns everywhere throughout the county look like rubbish,” Steele said. “It was always my opinion that this (the county-owned property) should be a masterpiece for the county and it isn’t. It almost makes me sick.”
Ionia County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Sykes Jr. was on hand Tuesday to deliver his annual management update to the board, and he also decried the poor condition of county property.
“We have to do something about regular and consistent maintenance of our nearly 140-year-old courthouse,” Sykes said. “The windows haven’t been washed in years. They’re dirty. It’s an embarrassment. If I had someone in my office, when we looked out the window, you’d have to look through the dirt.”
“We have ARPA funds, and we’ve approved projects,” County Superintendent Patrick Jordan noted. “A lot of them fall on Rod and he needs help doing them, to get them done and to spend the money.”
The commissioners also voted 4-2 to approve a request by Steele to recreate four guard maintenance staff positions that were eliminated in 2024. Heshi and Commissioner Gordon Kelly voted “No.”
“County facilities aren’t as clean as they used to be,” Steele said. “We’re paying $19,650 a month to get half of the services done in the past, and it’s getting worse.”
The employees will work within the facilities maintenance department and are paid $16.83 an hour plus benefits, for a total annual cost of $63,930 each, or $255,720 per year for all four. This work is currently being performed by a contractor at a total annual cost of $235,800.
“I’d rather see us go back to bidding, getting competitive bids,” said Kelly. “Specify what we want to do, when we want it done — make that part of the RFP (Request for Proposal) — and let’s see what the numbers are. There are companies big and small that use cleaning services exclusively. There are companies that make a living doing that, and I’d like to see what These are the numbers.”
“I would prefer our people, who are vetted and vetted, to have access to our buildings,” Jordan said.
“I’ve talked to people in the school environment who have contracted out with third-party vendors, and there’s no sense of pride,” said Vice Chairman Larry Tejima, a retired public teacher. “As a teacher, when I saw staff doing the job, there was a sense of pride. If you asked them to do something extra, something for your classroom or the gym or whatever, they were right all along. And they had regular hours so it was “They’re very easy to get along with. I’ve noticed it here with county employees. They have this sense of pride in their work that you don’t usually see in a private contractor.”
In other matters…
During Tuesday’s meeting, the Ionia County Board of Commissioners also:
• A contract has been approved with Grand River Builders for a project to renovate the south portico of the courthouse at a cost of $489,000 using an ARPA grant from the Capital Improvement Fund.
• Approval of the 2023 Equivalence Report submitted by Anthony Mayard, Owner and President, Three Rivers Evaluation Solutions. The county’s taxable value “jumped over $2 billion for the first time,” Mayard noted, which was “the largest increase we’ve ever seen in taxable value.”
• Approved a donation of $5,000 to the Ionia County Commission for the Meals on Wheels program from the Bayer Fund’s “American Farmers Grow Communities” program.
• Approved acceptance of up to $10,000 from the Rural Transit Assistance Program to reimburse transportation personnel for expenses incurred related to training.
• Two retired Michigan Department of Transportation vehicles have been approved to be converted to Meals on Wheels vehicles and two Commission on Aging vehicles to be converted to Meals on Wheels vehicles.
• The Commission on Aging’s “Continued Funding” application has been approved from the District Agency on Aging of Western Michigan.
• Reappointed Jonathan Deenhart to a three-year term on the Economic Development Corporation/Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, reappointed Norma Kilpatrick to a three-year term in the Aging District of the Western Michigan Advisory Council and reappointed Andrew Gardner and Ionia City Manager Berekia Garland to three year terms on the Authority Real estate banks.
• The meeting of the Board of Commissioners on April 25 was cancelled.