Living Sustainably: Understanding funding for a stronger community

By Paul Lilly, Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute
Holland Michigan Living Sustainably Along the LakeshoreUnderstanding basic government funding and how it can support a sustainable community is the focus of the next installment of Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshores’ continuing educational series.
When citizens receive their property tax statements, they may simply look to see what change there might be in the property values and the resulting tax assessment.
But every few years comes proposals for new or renewed millage levies to support government functions that show up on those bills. Whether operation of the library, support of the regional airport, or funding for public schools, property owners share in the cost. And while each of those operations have
opportunities to provide input with governance boards, most taxpayers do not get involved.

Understanding how tax dollars are divided helps understand how public funding can contribute to sustainable community practices.

The City of Holland has worked to make the yearly budget process transparent, but few citizens become involved and understand the budget. How city residents’ tax funds are divided is represented in the adjacent graphic.
Typically with tax revenues, new initiatives can be funded only by reductions in other programs, so understanding the budget process is vital.
At times, other funds can come into play, such as grants for program startup or contributions from local philanthropic organizations. Or consider the Ottawa County Community Mental Health millage, the only one of its kind in the state.
Another different source of funding is the support for new businesses provided through Lakeshore Advantage, a private organization. Access to funding and other options can make the difference in attracting the type of business we need to grow.
What other issues that would strengthen our community may require additional funding?
 A group is exploring options for a community college in Ottawa County. While we have access to Lakeshore Community College and Muskegon Community College, there are costs and credibility issues with not having our own community college.
 Public transportation is critical for overall growth. The Macatawa Area Transit system has operated for more than 10 years but has limited geographic coverage and scheduling. How could an expanded program be supported?
 Water quality is being addressed by the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council’s watershed activities and Project Clarity, run by the Outdoor Discovery Center. Also, the City of Holland and other government entities are working on storm water management compliance and infrastructure improvements, a local cost burden now with the reduction of federal and state funds.
 Better internet access will be a significant factor in growth. The Holland Board of Public Works is providing fiber access in downtown Holland, but expansion to residents will require considerable planning and funding.
 Efforts to address affordable housing are also underway. We need to expand the availability of such housing, but how will it be supported?
The program at 6:30, Tuesday, Jan. 9, at Herrick Library will explore these types of questions and seek a better understanding of what fully funding programs like these means and how costs can be managed.

 Paul Lilly has been involved with local sustainability efforts for more than 15 years.   He worked with the Macatawa Watershed Project as part of the Citizens Advisory Committee and was a founding member of the Holland Sustainability Committee.  As was part of the team that developed the Community Energy Plan and the startup of the Hope Holland Sustainability Institute.   As a local small business owner, Paul has worked with the West Michigan Chamber and the Lakeshore Local First team.  Paul has provided leadership on several of the LSATL programs over the last three years.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Economic Development: Businesses and the local consumers are driving engines that generate capital for growth and development. We want to be a location of choice for new business and industry.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.