BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, NEWS EDITOR
An embarrassment of riches in a golden era might be cliché but it describes the vibe of this year’s Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce “State of the Community” luncheon.
Speakers from the community pillars of education, city and county government, and economic development oozed positivity and forecast even better things to come before a record crowd of 160 at the annual event.
Following are highlights of the luncheon from the four guest speakers.
Boyne City Main Street Program Executive Director Lori Meeder gave attendees a brief overview of what her organization does—which is working to improve Boyne’s downtown while maintaining its historic character.
“We’re doing lots of stuff to keep downtown vibrant in the community,” she said… “I don’t think you can look at our downtown and not understand how much we embrace our heritage and how important preserving that is.”
Meeder added that Main Street is devoted to supporting sustainable projects like the Dilworth Hotel, which likely would not be financially viable without help from the government.
“Regarding our downtown vibrancy, I think—without exception—we enjoyed a very special summer. It was longer than usual, just the way the holidays felt, I think the weather was wonderfully cooperative to us,” she said, adding, “We had a lot of new and exciting businesses that opened their doors this year.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2) discussed a number of projects and improvements at the county level.
The county’s building department now has service tablets to make fieldwork more efficient.
Also, the building department and the equalization department are upgrading their software so they can begin sharing information by computer, which their old program would not allow.
The county is also working to expand high-speed fiber optic cable to more people in the county.
Also, Charlevoix County is working with Emmet County to provide internet access to rural customers in the area.
Christensen touched on public safety, mentioning the domestic violence prosecutor the county hired.
He also mentioned changes to the FOIA law, the county’s new ORV ordinance and the St. Marys Cement company’s brownfield plan which commissioners approved earlier this year.
Christensen discussed the Boyne City to US-31 non-motorized trail.
“It’s obvious to many of you that the non-motorized trail has not begun. The most recent delay has the lowest of our four bids coming in at $240,000 over the original estimate,” he said.
According to Christensen, the county will be rebidding the project in hopes of garnering more competitive pricing.
“For those of you keeping score at home, in 2013-14 it is delayed over an easement vs. long-term lease argument between the DNR’s parks division and the DNR’s real estate division,” he said. “So, the following year—2014-15—it was delayed due to the long-eared bat and its white nose syndrome, also part of the state’s contribution to this.”
Christensen added, “Now we’re recalculating as the state has rejected the bids and because they were a quarter-million dollars over-budget. In
January 2016, we’re going to go out to bid again with a target start date of spring of 2016.”
Christensen said that, despite the hurdles and delays, the county has been diligent in its efforts.
“I know it comes off and has kind of become a little bit of a joke but the truth of the matter is they are working hard and we’re going to see something eventually,” he said.
Christensen touched on the Ironton Ferry, which recently suffered extensive damage due to a fire which affected its deck and pilot house.
“We’re working with the coast guard and the insurance companies in order to try to get it back open,” he said, adding that that may not happen since the ferry traditionally closes the day before Thanksgiving anyway and the damage to the ferry is so significant it could take too long to fix it.
“It may be closed until next spring,” he said.
The only major road millage project this year was on Ferry Road from Peninsula Road to the Ironton Ferry in Eveline Township—which contributed $170,000 to help widen the road and make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area.
“We’re about 60 percent, in mileage, complete with the roads in the original millage request, and we’re just finishing the seventh year of collection,” Christensen said.
The county is in the planning process of potentially forwarding funds toward next year, which would possibly allow the county to complete
Ellsworth Road to a Class-A road from East Jordan to Ellsworth, make improvements to Deer Lake Road, and Korthase Road all in 2016.
Christensen said planning for future infrastructure needs to remain a priority because the state and federal governments are not going to provide enough road moneys to keep the county’s roads safe.
Christensen said the county’s new parks and recreation millage is funding seven out of the eight request projects across the county.
• Boyne Falls – Boyne Falls Village Park received money for signage and tables
• East Jordan – The old Watson ball field behind Penzien Funeral Home is being re-purposed into a playground for ages 2 to 5
• Charlevoix – Improvements to Lake Michigan Beach playground
• Melrose Township – The beach park on the Bear River will receive new pickle-ball courts and expanded basketball courts
• Wilson Township – Handicap-accessible improvements are being made to Fall Park
• Boyne City – Veterans Park pavilion is receiving moneys toward its renovation
• Hayes Township – Money has been granted for a boat launch at Camp Sea Gull
Applications for the next round of funding will soon be taken. Call 547-7200 for more information.
Christensen said the county’s general fund budget has been finalized at a 1.96 percent decrease from last year.
The county has reduced its operating millage levy from 4.7 mills to 4.6 mills, and officials are on track to lower it to 4.45 mills by 2017.
“This is significant because it’s not only the second tax cut at the county level in the last three years but the 2016 levy at 4.6 mills is the lowest operating levy of the county since at least 1978,” Christensen said.
Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Moss opened his comments by giving kudos to his dedicated school board members, especially 15-year board member Ed Vondra, who recently died.
Moss then gave an overview of the school system’s highlights over the last year and where he sees the school headed in the near future.
“The cornerstone of what we do in Boyne City, and will continue to be, is student success through achievement,” he said. “The district works hard through its school improvement efforts because we truly believe every child can learn.”
Boyne school students have opportunities ranging from robotics and marching band to art and the performing arts.
Moss touched on last year’s winning football team, and the effort to remove snow from the football field prior to a game.
The boys basketball team also ended their season one game short of the finals.
“I will never forget the emotion that was felt after that game,” said Moss.
Moss also discussed Boyne City’s enrollment numbers in light of Charlevoix County’s dwindling birthrate and the reduction in the number of young families with children in the area. He reminded attendees that the district was forced to cut nearly $600,000 from its budget last year in order to remain solvent.
“With some timely retirements, moving some programs and personnel to grants, putting additional responsibilities onto the remaining employees’ plates, it was accomplished—a balanced budget and, consequently, a healthier district financially poised and ready for the future,” Moss said.
Despite falling student numbers in many school districts, Moss said Boyne City Public Schools saw an enrollment this year which was identical to last year’s.
“More importantly, the district surpassed its budgeted enrollment by nearly 25 full-time equivalencies,” he said.
Moss also mentioned that the teacher and support staff unions settled with the school district in August.
Moss discussed some of the partnerships the school has with local agencies, including the Boyne City Police Department, which works to ensure students and staff are secure in the school.
Nearly 13 percent of the district’s staff turned over this year. Moss said it is exciting to see new instructors getting a start in Boyne City schools.
Moss said two major bond proposals the school currently levies could be reduced, assuming the voters choose to continue their support of the measures.
A 3.35 mills levy, which was partially used to construct the new high school and to pay for technology upgrades, could be reduced by nearly 1 to 1.5 mills over the next couple years.
Moss then shared some of his district’s statistics:
• 90 percent of students are involved in some type of extra-curricular activity
• 100 students graduated this May—nine of which were from the district’s Morgan Shaw alternative school
• The class of 2015 earned $655,000 in scholarships and grants
• Nearly four decades of homes have been constructed by Boyne City schools students
• 70 percent of 2015 graduates have enrolled in a post-secondary institution
• Boyne City participates with Baker and North Central Michigan colleges to allow students to take college classes through high school, which allows them to earn an associates degree at no charge by the time they graduate high school
• Boyne schools offers extensive training in hospitality, visual imaging and building trades
Moss then closed his time with a positive pronouncement.
“During last year’s state of the community, you may remember that I thought Boyne City schools is going through a golden era, and that our best days may be in front of us,” said Moss. “Well, I’m doubling down on that. I think our best days are ahead of us.”
Moss said the school board is “visionary” and committed to disciplined budgeting in addition to an ongoing commitment to strive to be among the best school districts in the state.
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain opened his segment with his usual brand of humorous wordplay before knocking on the podium and pronouncing that opportunity has been knocking at Boyne City’s proverbial door—in spades.
“We’ve probably seen more opportunities for moving things forward than at any time in our recent history,” Cain said. “At times, they all seem a little overwhelming.”
Cain mentioned the city’s new $2 million department of public works building which is nearing completion, the paving of Court and Lake streets, the sewer project which stretches from Sommerset Pointe to Boyne City, the Boyne on the Water planning project, the recent archery event, and the chance to obtain the 475 North Lake St. property.
“Addressing any one of these opportunities just a few years ago would have been seen as a great accomplishment for Boyne City and our region,” he said. “The number and scale of the opportunities gives the sense to what’s the new normal that has developed in Boyne City.”
Cain added, “We’re not that sleepy little town that we used to be. We’re the leader of the area.”
Cain also touched on recent votes made by the community to support fluoride, a new city facilities millage, and to decide which candidates would go to the city commission general election on Nov. 3.
Cain then discussed various opportunities the city has been faced with, including the chance to save the city’s major playground in Veterans Park, adding that Boyne City is only one of two communities that have attempted to save the structure instead of simply removing it.
“So much of the progress that we have made as a community—not just Boyne City—has been because of the opportunities we have said ‘yes’ to together,” he said.
Cain closed by saying that Boyne’s future depends upon thoughtfully and carefully considering every opportunity before saying “yes” or “no.”