by BETH ALTENA “It was a challenge, especially being older. If I was in my twenties like everyone else in the class, it would have been easier,” Bob Berkstresser, 51, made the statement about a grueling 16-week, 594-hour police training academy. Berkstresser just completed the class, allowing him to join the ranks of Rockford’s relatively new Department of Public Safety as a fully trained firefighter and police officer. City Manager Michael Young described the achievement by saying, “This is one of the significant milestones we have accomplished as we move to the ultimate phase-in of the consolidation at the end of the year.” Young was talking about the consolidation of police and fire first responder with Department of Public Works employees also cross-trained as first responders. At a rollover accident in Rockford on August 22, there were 15 first responders on the scene helping to extricate a driver pinned in a rollover vehicle. The training of City of Rockford employees to take advantage of existing staff in a variety of emergency situations is the goal Young, Police Chief Dave Jones and Fire Chief Mike Reus had in mind when they planned the merger. “The majority of our calls take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. so it only makes sense that the Department of Public Works people trained to respond to fire, police and medical,” said Berkstresser. Berkstresser said it will be a challenge for the multi-trained staff to keep up on all ongoing training that is required, since fire, medical and police all have different ongoing training requirements. For example, this week Berkstresser has to attend a two-day conference required to maintain his certification as a fire inspector. Berkstressor said the police academy, offered by Grand Valley State University over a 16-week period, wasn’t easy. A firefighter for Rockford since 1992, Berkstresser found himself learning a whole new set of skills. Prior to joining Rockford as firefighter he was an employee of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. Berkstresser included among his recent training, law, defense tactics, firearms training, physical fitness and training, court procedures, report writing, field sobriety testing, Operating While Under the Influence testing, emergency vehicle operations, high risk felony stops, domestic violence training, role playing scenarios for a […]
Rockford City Manager Michael Young
City joins Cannon Township in agreement that is expected to save money, improve services by BETH ALTENA “This does not sound like an exciting item, but it is very exciting,” said Rockford City Manager Michael Young. Young was describing a proposal before the board for cost-sharing different elements of the North Kent Sewer Authority (NKSA), including maintenance of components such as pipes and lift stations and routine or emergency repairs. “A lot of people think we founded the NKSA in order to build the treatment plant. [Building the plant] was an exciting opportunity along the way and we took it, but that wasn’t why we formed the Authority,” he said Monday, July 9, during the regular monthly city council meeting. Young told the board the reason the NKSA was formed a decade ago was in response to what members considered less-than-adequate care of sewer infrastructure done by the County. “This is a big deal for us. It’s been a long time coming,” Young told council. “I am a firm believer in you can do a better job if you do it yourself. I highly recommend we approve this contract.” The board unanimously approved the 10-year agreement with a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Brien Dews and a second by Councilwoman Mary Eadie, who has served on the council for 35 years. Members of the NKSA include the City of Rockford and the townships of Alpine, Cannon, Courtland and Plainfield. Together the member communities formed the alliance in 1997 and together built a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant on Coit Avenue in Plainfield Township, which began operations in 2008. Included in the agreement are provisions for jointly held elements of the NKSA infrastructure, including pipelines used by all members, and individually owned parts, such as pipelines and lifts which are within township boundaries and used by each township. Staff at the PARCCside Wastewater Treatment plant have been working closely with Kent County Department of Public Works to seamlessly transfer operations from the County to NKSA. NKSA staff of four has increased by one former County worker familiar with the job and will increase by two more after hiring Gary Seger, utility services superintendent, and one additional staff member to perform the new duties.
Michael Young, Rockford’s city manager for 17 years, had his employment contract extended one year after his recent annual city council evaluation. Young’s contract is a three-year agreement. He asked for and was given a two percent salary increase. Once again this year, the increase is in line with the City of Rockford employee groups with whom he had negotiated contracts. The council rated Young’s overall performance as “excellent.” A city manager wears many hats, including managing the city’s diverse staff and work flow; controlling the city’s budget and financial position; interacting and serving the public; and communicating with the city council. Young is able to juggle all of the hats. The council fully supports Young for his ability to successfully work with the several and diverse community groups, governmental agencies, and local businesses located in Rockford. As the council looks around the city to contemplate changes that have happened during Young’s 17-year tenure, they deem it impressive. Mayor Steve J. Jazwiec stated, “I couldn’t think of a better person to represent us. He is an extremely valuable asset to our community. Michael’s influence and impact on the community are very noticeable.” All Michigan cities, townships, villages and counties are encountering difficult financial situations. Rockford, under Young’s leadership, has been able to do two things that are exemplary. First, it has been able to maintain a healthy fund balance while keeping the tax rate at 10.9 mills, the third lowest millage rate in the county for municipalities without a city income tax. The 2012-2013 budget as presented by Young and approved by council will ensure that continued excellent financial condition through June 2013. Second, Rockford has been able to continue to provide excellent service to the public despite a declining revenue environment and staff reductions that have totaled 25 percent over the past three years. For example, residents have continued to see improvements to the various parks throughout the city. Many of these improvements, such as the recently completed Rogue River Trail Phase Three, are due to grants written by Young. Infrastructure improvements, as proposed within the budget, have continued to occur such as this summer’s repaving of Division St. from the Bridge east to Wolverine Ave. In addition, the combining of the police, fire, […]
On May 21, 2012, the Rockford City Council unanimously approved its 2012-13 fiscal year budget. The budget as approved represents a balanced budget and maintains the City’s millage rate at 10.9 mills, the third lowest for a city in Kent County that does not levy an income tax. “Our priority was to adopt a balanced budget and maintain our millage rate. We are very pleased we were able to accomplish that in this tough economic environment,” said City Manager Michael Young. The budget also includes modest increases in water and sewer rates of two percent to cover inflationary increases over the years. In a time where many municipal budgets are facing disaster, the Rockford City Council has made the necessary changes over the years to avert fiscal distress. “Using fund balance to plug financial holes is only a temporary fix and we chose to look at the budget structure and make adjustments to meet our needs,” said Young. Over the past three years, the City has reduced its full-time staffing by 25 percent. The recent public safety merger is a prime example of making tough decisions before the City faced a budget crisis. The overall consolidation, once phased in, will save the City over $200,000 a year annually. The great thing about the City’s public safety consolidation is not only going to save the City money, but City Council believe it provides a higher level of service by using existing City resources. The fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012, is certainly not a bare bones budget and includes some very important capital expenditures. The City has a long history of investing in its infrastructure, and this budget is no different. The City is partnering with the Kent County Road Commission to repave Ten Mile from the bridge to Wolverine Boulevard. The City also invested in new sidewalk construction as part of the Ten Mile widening project that is nearly completed. “If you let your infrastructure go, you never get it back,” said Young. So the City continues to invest year in and year out. Additional road projects include repaving Gleneagle Drive and Rockview Drive, which will commence this construction season. The City also approved a water meter change-out program, where every water meter in […]
by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL A housing industry slowly shaking off the worst economic conditions in decades finds Rockford well positioned for a long awaited turn around in new home construction. New home starts have been flat in Rockford for the past 5 years and Rockford City Manager Michael Young was more than happy to announce at May’s City Council meeting that, “We have issued more new home construction permits in the first five months of this year (2012) than in all of 2010 and 2011 combined.” Home building contractor Roersma & Wurm has been busy this spring bringing a number of homes in Rockford’s Heritage Park to market. New to the Rockford market, a Traverse City builder sees great potential for new home construction in the Rockford community. So convinced was Gary Jurkovich, CEO of Pathway Homes, that Rockford is “the stepping stone” into the greater Grand Rapids home building market that he recently completed a home in Rockford’s Riverchase Neighborhood. Located at 93 Riverchase Dr., the home was entered in this year’s spring Parade of Homes. It was no sooner completed than it was sold. Not to worry, another Pathway Home is under construction directly across the street. Pathway’s beautiful Parade entry exhibited strong attention to detail and no wasted space. It was a favorite of Parade ticket holders. Certified green built, the home was rated Energy Star 5 and featured 5 bedrooms with 2 ½ baths in its 2,454 sq. ft. of finished floor space. With a 3-car garage, a covered porch, back deck, and a bonus room above the garage, it left little to be desired. The home also abounded in many upgraded amenities including hardwood floors, ceramic tile, and a gas fireplace with custom mantle design, along with granite countertops with custom ceramic tile backsplashes. In short, it was a lot of home for the money. The last two days, Friday and Saturday, June 8 & 9, of this year’s Spring Parade of Homes will feature six remodeled homes. Rockford’s multi-award winning Morris Builders will highlight the complete interior and exterior renovation of a home at 143 Courtland St. (northeast corner of Courtland and Monroe Sts.) in downtown Rockford. The five-time recipient of the Remodeler of the Year Award, Morris […]