IRON RIVER—City residents attending the City Council’s April 16 board meeting had the same concerns as the council members themselves: the condition of some of the city’s roads and buildings.
City resident Pam Leonard spoke about her continuing concern over the state of Stambaugh Avenue.
“It’s becoming worse and worse all the time,” Leonard said. “My main concern is that the road is in such disarray already, why do you allow semi trucks to come through a residential area on roads that were not built for that?”
City Manager Perry Franzoi explained that Stambaugh Avenue is classified as a “major street” by the Michigan Department of Transportation, making it open to truck traffic per MDOT guidelines.
As for future repairs, Franzoi responded that the street is concrete and the sub-soils underneath are all clay, like many streets in the former city of Stambaugh.
“To rebuild those roads, you have to remove all the concrete and put down a new base, which is terribly expensive.”
The city’s main plan of attack at this point is to apply for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, which is a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Franzoi recommended that the board spend $4,500 to proceed with the application process for the chance at an award of $2 million.
If the city gets the award, the plan is to fix Stambaugh Avenue from Spruce Street to Kofmehl Road and possibly look at one of the side streets, like Blossom or Amber streets.
GEI project manager Craig Richardson, who has been working with Franzoi on the grant application, said it’s difficult at this stage to know the city’s chances of getting the money.
“Usually when we go after certain grants, we have a pretty good feeling of where we might stand. To be honest, we don’t have a clue on this one.
“It’s a risk, we’re aware of that”
Franzoi said the city’s present state could help.
“This is a national competition (for the funds), but, No. 1, we’re a distressed community and, No. 2, we’re a rural community. So we’ll be rated in a different category than New York City or Detroit.
“I can’t guarantee anything, but there’s a fairly large pot of money out there available for projects like this. (And) there are really are no other programs out there for roadwork of this nature.”
The motion to proceed with the grant application carried 5-0.
Also on the agenda was the ongoing blight problems in the city. The state of disrepair of some of the city’s abandoned businesses and homes has produced ample frustration for both citizens and council members.
City attorney Mark Tousignant explained that part of the problem the city is having is finding the right people to cite for what are called “municipal civil infractions.”
“Part of that is because these properties are slipping in and out of ownership by the state,” Tousignant said. “One party will buy it, won’t pay the taxes, and it will go back to the state. So it’s a matter of timing to find who owns that property at a certain point in time.”
Franzoi added that the some of the rundown properties are owned by the Michigan Land Bank, adding another layer to the complex issue.
“It just seems to be a vicious circle,” he began. “They go from one LLC (limited liability company) to the Land Bank and then to another LLC. And it just seems that there’s a small group of property owners that are purchasing them and holding them between themselves.”
In their attempts to solve some of these dilemmas, Tousignant and Franzoi are studying the International Property Maintenance Code. The first edition of the code was written in 1998 and was designed to meet the need of a modern property maintenance code in order to “establish provisions consistent with the scope of a property maintenance code that adequately protects public health, safety and welfare,” according to the International Code Council website.
Mayor Terry Tarsi gave other examples of the city’s frustration, including back taxes owed on the former Coast-to-Coast building and homes within the city.
“Some of these homes are not livable,” Tarsi began. “It blows my mind that people buy these homes and go in there and try to put ceilings back up on walls that have fallen down. Gas has been disconnected, and they’re trying to live there.”
Franzoi responded that the property maintenance code would give the city another tool in its efforts to deal with homes like those described by Tarsi.
“I know blight when I see it …. I prefer that these houses be torn down, but it’s a problem to get there.”
Franzoi said he received a quote on the costs to demolish a blighted property on Minckler Avenue. He said the quote was $19,000 to deal with issues like lead paint and asbestos removal, the demolition itself, hauling debris to a landfill and restoration.
“So even if we acquire some of these properties, the city is between a rock and a hard place to demolish and clean them up.”
City resident Paul Van Minsel responded that it’s time the city stops talking and starts acting on this issue and others like water run-off on Allen Street.
“We have to make a decision about what’s going to be done. We have to correct the problem. We can’t keep saying there’s no money.”
Tarsi concluded the discussion by voicing his personal frustration and said he’s intent on cleaning the city up.
“We’re not going to give up on this. I’m tired of listening to people say, ‘Your town is a mess, your town is dirty, you’ve got a bunch of buildings falling down.’
“I’ve got a year-and-a-half left (on my term) and I’ll go down with the boat on this thing.”