HOLLAND — The city of Holland is growing and demand on city services is growing with it.
That was a theme of the reports from city department heads at the city council's Wednesday study session, which serves as a preparatory meeting for the priority-setting and budgeting process for the next fiscal year.
Overall staffing levels remain below the city government's pre-Great Recession numbers. City leadership said the leaner force on currently employed by the city is efficient and capable but acknowledged the pace of work the last several years coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic has "taken a toll."
The city is in the midst of "transformational" projects, Van Beek said, including the James De Young power plant site development, more talk of an ice rink and city recreation center becoming reality and a major investment in city-owned broadband infrastructure, a project that is likely to go to the citizens for a vote on a millage to fund it.
"I expect that in this and future budget years you will begin to see budget requests for increased staffing to begin to meet these increased demands," said City Manager Keith Van Beek.
The fire department and parks and recreation department may be the first to request city council approval for additional hires.
The fire department has seen a steady increase in call volume over the last decade, driven by growing numbers of medical calls, and an increase in overlapping calls — calls for service that occur while the department is already responding to another call.
The trend is expected to continue as more housing is built in the city, particularly housing for seniors, who have more medical issues.
Department of Public Safety Chief Matt Messer said the "what and when" of the personnel request had not been decided. The fire service has 20 full-time firefighters and 22 paid on-call firefighters, though they're authorized to fill 30 on-call positions.
The city is also preparing to rebuild the Waverly Road fire station in the upcoming fiscal year.
Parks Director Andy Kenyon said his department is also in need of more staff, having recently lost what had been a reliable source of labor: the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office's jail inmate work crew, a program that was discontinued in 2020.
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Other notable department reports provided Wednesday:
The transportation department is overseeing the implementation of the city's 2020-adopted policy to pursue electrification of its vehicle fleet and expects to put an all-electric street sweeper on the streets in 2022.
More than 300 new units of housing were approved for construction in the city in 2021 and two-thirds of those are "affordable" units, according to Van Beek.
The Holland Board of Public Works, seeing a "tremendous" increase in electricity demand over the last several years, is planning for a new substation on the south side of the city and eyeing more renewable energy as it plans for the potential early retirement of two coal plants from which HBPW gets some energy.
The Holland Civic Center Place did not need the "worst case scenario" money approved to be transferred from the Municipal Capital Improvement Fund in early 2021 when the city thought the venue might suffer a budget shortfall if it could not resume booking events. The unused funds were returned to the MCIF, according to assistant city manager Matt VanDyken.
On the heels of a record year for Windmill Island Gardens visits, the city-owned attraction is looking at enhancements that could build on the momentum.
The approval of the Unified Development Ordinance last year is leading to mixed-use developments in the city, such as the new Goog's Pub with apartments on the second floor.
The city "ramped up" its in-house composting last year, according to Transportation Director Brian White, composting all leaves collected in the fall clean-up and using previous years' compost as fertilizer for plantings.
The city's Materials Management Task Force will this year begin exploring if the city could offer composting services to the public and a drop-off recycling site.
The city council meets for a planning session and retreat, the Council Advance, on Saturday, Jan. 22, during which council members will set the agenda for the next fiscal year.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: City: 'Transformational' projects on horizon, staff may need to grow