By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
Listen along to the Commission Candidates Forum below
Jim Baumann, Executive Director of the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce moderated the Boyne City Commission candidate forum which was sponsored by the Boyne Chamber of Commerce.
Delbert “Gene” Towne is running unopposed for a two-year term. The other three candidates are
vying for two open seats of Boyne City Mayor Chuck Vondra and Boyne City Commissioner Mike Cummings, both of whom decided not to seek another term.
The first question of the evening came via internet from Dan Reed, former Boyne City Planning Commission. Mark Dole began with an opening statement wherein he said he has lived in Boyne City since he was 6years old.
“I’ve watched this town grow up quite a bit in the last thirty years, forty years … I think it’s heading in the right direction and I’d like to help keep heading it in that direction,” he said. “My main reason for running is I have experience with leadership and I studied government in college and I just want to help the community out.”
Derek Gaylord lived in Boyne City since 1995. He grew up in Grand Rapids. “I love Boyne City. I love the
fact we don’t stop moving forward,” he said. “I want to be a part of the process to keep Boyne on top.”
Tom Neidhamer also grew up in Boyne City and was able to serve as a building trades and industrial arts teacher who helped build more than 20 student-built homes for the building trades class. He has also been a coach of numerous sports.
“I’m a hometown boy and I’ve coached and taught here and I have a passion for the town,” he said. “And, I’ve been on the planning commission for 20 years.”
Towne said he is running because he believes he represents the average citizens in Boyne City. He served four years in the Air Force, worked for decades for the East Jordan Iron Works and has worked as a liaison police officer.
“What I’d like to see is more good quality paying jobs coming into Boyne and I believe we need a good balance between tourism and industrial,” he said. “I know this can be accomplished. It’s going to take a team effort.”
Towne added, “One of the main things I want to see is our tax rate equal to or not lower to our present rate. And, I believe we can do this by careful spending, using grants and sticking to our budget.”
Baumann’s first question dealt with the positive press, new industry and increase in Boyne City’s population; he asked the candidates why they thought the area was so prosperous.
“Because we take advantage of what we have to offer,” Gaylord said. “it’s gorgeous here … I think the fiscal responsibility of the commission have allowed us to maintain a situation where we’re not struggling.”
Baumann followed up by asking Gaylord how he would help maintain the momentum. “We’ve got the tourism segment, we continue that. We have the DDA and the Main Street Program for our downtown area (to) keep our businesses thriving – I think that’s extremely
important,” he said. “We’ve also got the industrial park such as bringing Precision Edge … which is also going to increase our revenues to allow us to maintain our city.”
Gaylord said infrastructure must also be maintained to ensure the city functions well for its residents.
Tom Neidhamer said he believes things are going well due to great leadership, natural assets like the lake and natural beauty and progression. “Someone wasn’t sitting back,” he said. “These people put together a plan that worked.”
Neidhammer added, “We need to be progressive in continuing to think what can we to financially, planning wise, leadership wise to keep business, to keep downtown vibrant, to keep the locals happy, to keep people coming to Boyne City.”
Towne agreed leadership and downtown development is to be thanked for much of Boyne’s successes.
“I’ve heard things from as far away as Lansing … ‘Man you guys have got something going all the time,’” he said. “I think that’s a big deal right there.”
Towne added, “This has definitely got to be a group effort.” Dole echoed the sentiments of his fellow candidates, adding that Boyne’s leaders must not rest on the accomplishments of days gone by, but instead seek out new opportunity.
Baumann’s second question, this time from the audience, was what the biggest challenges are to Boyne’s
Neidhammer said staying number one is the most difficult task. “The biggest thing to stay on top is creative thinking,” he said. “You bring all the creative minds together and keep progressing and thinking what can we do to stay on top.”
Towne said getting businesses to locate and stay in Boyne City is the biggest challenge.
Dole agreed with Towne. “Bringing new businesses in and not just technical businesses, even smaller businesses like the carpenter work and stuff like that, he said. “Them are jobs that a lot of people in this town need because that’s what they’ve done their whole life and industrial work isn’t something that everyone are cut out to do.”
Gaylord said the biggest challenge is fiscal sustainability due to state and federal regulations. “That makes our job much more critical,” he said. “The taxpayers are our shareholders and we need to get them the biggest bang for their buck.” Gaylord added, “Planning ahead
and making tough decisions is what we need to do about it.”
Baumann’s next question was whether the city does enough for seniors. Towne said the city does a beautiful job as far as seniors go.
Dole said the seniors are pretty well taken care of. “If there was ever one complaint that I heard it was the lack of immediate transportation,” he said. Gaylord said he thinks there is always something more you can do for seniors. “The best way we can do that is to remain financially viable so as specific needs are presented to us we can continue to take care of those,” he said.
Neidhammer said there is a portion of the senior population that does not utilize the services which are available. “That’s the challenge,” he said. “Let’s get more people to attend that feel comfortable attending.”
Baumann asked what the candidates’ positions were on snowmobile access to Boyne City. Dole said he believes the access is plenty as it is. Gaylord said he looks at snowmobilers as an economic “spigot” that Boyne City has not turned on yet. “Can the money be used in
Boyne City? The answer is yes,” he said. “I think we need to look at tying it into the trail system.” Gaylord said the locals may know how to get to town, but the tourists who ride snowmobiles may not.
Neidhammer agreed that it was an economic opportunity he would like to explore. “They don’t feel comfortable in Boyne City,” he said. “I think it’s time we explore that opportunity.” Towne said it would definitely be an economic boost to Boyne City.
The candidates were asked if they understand the economic value and health benefits of a non-motorized trail from Boyne City to U.S. 31. Gaylord said there are clearly health and economic benefits from the proposed trail. “The trail is going to be another great asset for Boyne City,” said Neidhamer. Towne said he is definitely for it. “I certainly see a financial benefit for the city having that trail there,” Dole said.
Baumann then asked for the candidates’ thoughts on the potential for combining city facilities. Neidhamer said, “The dilemma is
do we keep ambulance, fire and DPW and police and city hall on the waterfront?” Neidhamer said you need to balance the desire of citizens to remove the facilities from the waterfront with the economic costs of making such a move.
Neidhammer said he has no problem with keeping them on the waterfront, but said the city needs to go through the process of seeing what residents want. Towne said during current economic times, the city must utilize its assets in order to save money.
“Before we spend a lot of money on this we need to take care of our city’s needs,” he said. “If possible I’d like to see our EMS, fire department and police department in one location.”
Dole said the facilities should remain where they are. “Everybody knows where it’sat,” he said. “We need to think about what’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years.”
Gaylord said the city needs to consider its known entities and decide what is best to do while maintaining fiscal responsibility.
Baumann asked the candidates what their feelings are about the Boyne City Main Street Program. Towne reiterated his belief that the downtown development authority and main street program are doing a terrific job. “I think it’s an awesome program,” Dole said. “I think it’s something we should continue doing.”
Gaylord said the program has been an integral part of Boyne’s success. “If the return on investment is worthwhile I say we continue,” he said, adding that government entities should be operated like private businesses.
Neidhammer voiced his support of the program. “It’s been an economic tool that makes sense and I’m in favor of continuing it,” he said.
Baumann asked the candidates their feelings on the city’s tax rate. Dole said, as a property owner, it’s too high. “If we can keep cutting them (taxes) and keep supplying the services we’re supplying now … then I’m all for it,” he said. “If not, then they need to stay where they are or go up.”
Gaylord said anytime officials can find efficiencies to improve those they should pass the savings on to the taxpayer. Neidhamer said he probably would have voted not to lower the taxes by a quarter of a percent like the Boyne City Commission did earlier this year.
“The reason being I think the city is using their money very very wisely,” he said. “In this time when the cost of doing business is going up I think the city could use that money very wisely.”
Neidhammer added, “I’m not for raising the taxes.” Towne said he would like to see the tax rate a little lower or equal to what it is as long as service levels are maintained.
Baumann asked the candidates what they would like to see done with the Devlon property. “Clearly those of us in Boyne City want to see the right thing done,” he said. “We want to see that fence down and something move forward with that.”
Neidhammer said he supports the city 100 percent in all legal actions against Devlon Corporation because the developer has not fulfilled his obligations. Towne said it was a “real shame” that it wasn’t developed. “It’s a real eyesore for Boyne City,” he said. “Personally, I think it would make a good park.” Dole said the city should try to acquire the property and make a public beach and park there with shoppers docks and even a skateboard park for youth.
Baumann asked what qualifications the candidates have for running for office. Neidhamer said growing up and working in Boyne City means he has a passion for the community, and his time as a planning commission member, coach and educator makes him a good leader.
Towne held a job as a quality supervisor which taught him how to run his department at the East Jordan Iron Works very efficiently. He was also a squad leader in the U.S. Air Force. Dole was a foreman in a tank company while serving in the U.S. Army in addition to his study of government while in college.
Gaylord said his six years in the Army and his time as the jail administrator of the Charlevoix County Jail, for which he has been employed for 18 years, have given him experience in working with budgets, legal requirements and delegation of responsibility.
Each candidate was then asked how many city commission meetings they had attended in the past year. Dole said he attended nearly a
dozen. Towne, who is currently rounding out former Commissioner Dan Adkison’s seat, has attended every meeting since May.
Gaylord said he began attending regularly since he decided to run for office, but could not give a specific number. Neidhamer said he has been to a “handful” of city commission meetings.
The final question was what the commission candidates’ one wish for Boyne City would be. Dole said it would be financial stability for the future. Gaylord said he would like Boyne City to be seen nationally as it is locally.
Neidhamer said “vision” is the keyword. “That would be the vision for the leadership from the private business, from the chamber, from the schools,” he said. Towne said he wished everyone will continue working together as one team to move Boyne City forward.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Nov. 8 at Boyne City Hall, 319 North Lake St.
Call (231) 582-0377 for more information.