Summit Examines Regional Cooperation

At the Charlevoix County Elected Leadership Summit, leaders from nearby cities, agencies, townships, and villages gathered at the Boyne Area Senior Center for a good-spirited discussion on cooperation.

By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
(231) 222-2119

Nearly two-thirds of the entities invited to the Charlevoix County Elected Leadership Summit attended the first-ever event. [private] The 16 public entities which met Monday, Jan. 31 at the Boyne Area Senior Center, discussed issues their respective municipalities see on the horizon, and how they could work together to save money and improve quality of life for those in the region 

“This is a great effort up front because the reality we have to come to terms with … is it’s going to be a lot easier for all of us to get along with one another if we work it out ourselves,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen.

“Down the road when they tell us we’re going to have to get along and we haven’t already started talking about it it’s going to be a lot more painful and a lot more territorial.”

Christensen said the broadband cable project in Northern Michigan will begin this April in Petoskey and Traverse City.  “This is the one thing in the stimulus money that’s come through, so far, as it was supposed,” he said.  One of the things the county is working hard on, Christensen said, is eliminating redundancy.  “We’re also looking at places we invest money in and asking them how they’re spending it,” he said. “If anyone has got any ideas this is the time to come forward.”

Mike Cain said one of the big projects Boyne City has worked with other communities on is East Jordan’s Breezeway along the C-48 corridor which runs from Boyne Falls to Atwood.  “In this day and age, the national mantra is regionalizing,” said Boyne City Mayor Chuck Vondra. “What can you do as a group to do things bigger and better as a whole.”  Vondra said some shared services Boyne City utilizes are central dispatch and their fire department.  “The other areas that we’re looking for … are purchasing and bidding,” he said. “Parks and rec’ is a big deal in Boyne City. We spend three or four hundred thousand dollars on parks and rec’ every year.”  He added, “We can share equipment with anybody. We won’t turn our backs on anything.”  Vondra said he would be interested in working with other communities if there were ways to gain efficiencies on various projects.

East Jordan Mayor Paul Timmons represented his city.  “With increasing fuel prices I wonder if it might be wise to look into fuel contracts where you actually figure out about how many gallons of diesel and gasoline you use and then you go to some of your suppliers,” Timmons said. “And, quite often, some of them say put 10 cents a gallon down on it and sometimes over a season, depending on how their suppliers work, it’s an opportunity to save large amounts of our dollars.”  Hayes Township officials said, in recent years, several townships in Charlevoix County worked on a joint effort to make their zoning ordinances more similar to help improve consistency across the board.

Charlevoix Township Supervisor Dale Glass said he thought local municipalities would soon be faced repercussions of the medical marihuana law.  “Now we’re working on a project because our friends in Lansing passed this medical marihuana law which is undoubtedly the most ambiguously silly thing ever done,” he said. “But you can limit where you can have these and that’s what we’re working on now. We put a moratorium so we can get our zoning and planning up to date.”  According to Evangeline Township officials, who are located just north of Boyne City, they work with the city cooperatively on a lot of areas including fire service, ambulance service, planning and zoning.  They said they never budget for revenue sharing because they never know what they are going to get, but that things seem to be going well in Evangeline.

Charlevoix County Sheriff W. Don Schneider said the sheriff’s office has been affected by the economy over the past couple years.  “I’m always being encouraged by my commissioners to reevaluate our position in SANE (Straights Area Narcotics Team),” he said. “We looked at it and … had many concerns about getting our bang for our buck and it didn’t take very long before we realized we weren’t getting our bang for our buck.”  Schneider said Charlevoix was paying $800 a month for a leased vehicle through the state.  “It was not an easy decision to pull out of SANE,” he said. “We started our own team … which comprises of both the sheriff’s office, Boyne City Police Department, East Jordan Police, Charlevoix City Police and the prosecutor’s office. We joined together as a team to fight the drugs in our county.”  The results went from 25 with SANE to 123 with the sheriff’s new team and for much less money.  “We’ve got an extremely serious problem in this county with drugs,” he said. “We’ve got an epidemic of drugs in this county.”  Vondra said the drug team is a perfect example of regional cooperation across the county. 

Pat Harmon of the Charlevoix County Road Commission said his group is doing pretty well considering the cards they’re being dealt.  Down nearly six employees over the last six years, but continuing to improve the roads in the county thanks in large part due to local road millages.

Charlevoix City Manager Rob Straebel said his city is struggling like any other municipality to balance their budget in the face of decreased revenue.  “We’re looking at creative ways to save  money,” he said. “So, if there is an upshot about this economic downturn that Michigan has been in several years I think it is really peaking some creative interest and some creative ideas on what we can do better and how we can do that.”  Straebel said energy efficiency and conservation projects have been at the top of the city’s list of cost-cutting measures.[/private]

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