CRYSTAL FALLS—Besides delaying a decision on the future of the MSU Extension in 2014, the County Board also took no action Dec. 12 on a proposal to dissolve Iron County’s economic development corporation.
This would be linked to a move to the Northern Economic Initiatives Corp. at Northern Michigan University, which made a presentation during the board’s November meeting.
Commissioners agreed to take no action on dissolving the EDC and planned to have a committee meet with the EDC.
Earlier in the meeting, the board voted to participate with NEIC for the community development block grant program.
Commissioner Patti Peretto said she is uncomfortable about working with NEIC, “but if the EDC board is recommending it, I don’t have any more questions.” She said she was also told the move could lead to more state dollars. “We need a very active EDC board and County Board to utilize those dollars.”
Finance Committee Chair Jim Brennan said his concerns are that terms in the NEIC contract “are very open-ended”; that NEIC is “another pass-through”; and that “It will be dominated by the big county, and we will have one more layer before we get jobs in this county.
“I see this as only a small piece of the puzzle. To me, it’s just another layer of decision-making, and I would be very hesitant.”
Tom Lesandrini, secretary-treasurer of the EDC, said NEIC would be approving any county projects. “Those moneys would still be there for Iron County.
“We might as well play the game with them,
Lesandrini added. “It does open us up to another larger pool of money.” The motion to use NEIC for the CDBG program passed 4-1, with Brennan opposed.
Later, when the topic was whether to dissolve the county’s EDC, Peretto said the board needs to stick with the EDC.
She said the EDC is trying to restructure. The last EDC director didn’t report to the county for three months in a row, but “EDC is important for us.”
Brennan pointed out that over 25 percent of the county’s small businesses have closed over the last few years. He spoke about the lack of cash flowing in the county and said he wants to give the EDC “at least another year.”
Lesandrini talked about the EDC’s role in bringing the Pine River Lumber Co. from Long Lake, Wis., to Amasa, bringing $40,000 of taxes into the community. The EDC also works with existing businesses—he mentioned work on a deal that could bring 50 new jobs to the area “that aren’t minimum-wage jobs.”
Whether it’s EDC or NEIC, Lesandrini said the county needs a contact person who can handle requests from businesses looking for information, along with someone handling the existing loans to county businesses. Without the EDC, “You’re going to be taking on more responsibility than you have now.”
Steve Tinti, the county’s civil counsel, said if the EDC is dissolved, the county would be liable for all the EDC’s debts and obligations and would also become the owner of its assets.
• In approving its 2014 all funds budget, the commissioners voted to change the Pentoga Park manager position from full-time to seasonal part-time.
A week later, it restored the full-time park manager job.
Brennan said that county expenses exceed revenue and talked about two changes to reduce expenses. One was cutting the MSU Extension allocation from $34,000 to $17,000. The other was to “restructure” Pentoga Park’s park manager’s position from full time to seasonal (April 14 to Nov. 14).
Brennan’s motion to reduce the park manager position to part-time passed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioner Ray Coates and Chairman Carl Lind opposed. The board then unanimously approved the entire budget.
Brennan also said more county jobs need to be combined. “The taxpayers can’t afford everything we have today,” he stated. “This is step one of about five.”
However, a week later, during a Dec. 19 special meeting, Brennan moved to rescind his Dec. 12 motion. He said there is no shortfall of $25,000 and that changing the park manager position to part-time wasn’t needed to balance the budget.
After a long discussion, the board voted 3-2 to rescind the change, with Commissioners Timothy Aho and Peretto opposed.
• Chairman Lind updated the board on the expansion project at the county Medicare facility. Three wings are completely done, he said. A fourth wing was being occupied that day. The rehab addition will be finished in the second week of February, and the total project will be finished in April.
“It’s coming in under budget,” Lind said. “It’s looking good.”
• In other business, the board:
--Increased residential fees charged by the Construction Code office. The fees had not been increased since 2006.
--Heard Lind ask the ad hoc airport committee to continue its work “and start looking at the funding problems.” Tinti said that while a site may have been identified, it has no idea of the costs involved (land acquisition, road to site, operations) or projected revenue. Another unknown is the availability of state and federal funding.
--Heard a request from Bill Leonoff of the Iron County Historical Museum for an annual allocation. The county had made an allocation until the 1980s.
Leonoff said the museum has two full-time employees; received over 10,000 volunteer hours this year; and operates 20 to 25 programs each year. A new director, Bernadette Passamani, starts in January. The museum’s annual budget is $127,000—about half of that comes in a grant from the endowment board.
Noting that the county just passed its new budget, Leonoff asked the county to consider a museum allocation in future budgets.
--Approved a three-year contract with 906 Technologies for computer support services, for $39,000.