Pictured in the undated feature photo are (from left) Boyne City Commissioners Delbert “Gene” Towne, Ron Grunch, Mayor Tom Neidhamer and Boyne City Manager Michael Cain.
BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, NEWS EDITOR
Boyne City’s joint boards and commission meeting revealed new businesses, a major retirement, the need for workers, daycare and affordable housing, and much more.
The Boyne City Commission, along with representatives from Boyne City’s primary boards, commissions and committees, met for their annual information-sharing session on Thursday Dec. 10, 2015, to discuss the progress and goals of Boyne City’s police, public works, economic development, library, marina, historical preservation and other vital service providers.
Kelly Bellant, Vice-Chair of the Boyne City Economic Development Corporation and Local Development Finance Authority (EDC/LDFA) gave those in attendance a thumbnail sketch of 2015.
“This year, some of the stuff that we worked on—between the EDC and LDFA committees—worked on a drainage project in the industrial park. We worked with Friends of the Boyne (River) with that walkway that goes down to the river to make sure there’s no destruction created, and will try to get the drainage in the park sufficient for businesses,” he said. “Also, something that’s been discussed this year, a big concern with a lot of local businesses—not only in the park but, we understand, outside as well—is housing in Boyne City for folks as well as daycare for folks.”
Bellant, who is a purchasing manager at Lexamar Corporation in Boyne City, added that the concerns of housing and daycare seem to be most prevalent among local workers.
The future of local kids is also a major topic of discussion and concern for the EDC/LDFA, Bellant said.
Bellant also announced at the meeting that the Federal Screw Works building located at 827 Moll Drive has been sold to a trucking company called “Northern Logistics,” which currently has a location in Charlevoix.
“They plan to do some logistics help—transfer some materials out of there—as well as potential to rent out some space,” he said.
Bellant said Northern Logistics plans to keep its Charlevoix location—which has been there for roughly a year—for now.
Bellant said Precision Edge and Lexamar have both experienced growth over the past few years.
“Lexamar has grown considerably,” said Bellant… “In 2008, we were around 330-or-so employees. We’re at just over 800 now and we’re finding it very difficult to find people.”
Bellant said Lexamar was 11 workers short as of December but that they have been as many as 40 workers short at times.
Bellant said Lexamar is currently operating 24-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week and, when a worker does not have sufficient daycare, they cannot work their shift.
“I think that provides a real opportunity for the Boyne City area if we can be on the cutting edge of finding solutions to those issues; not just for Lexamar but for other businesses both in the industrial park and throughout our community and the region,” said Boyne City Manager Michael Cain. “I think that would give us an advantage above other communities as well.”
Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer asked if employees were paid more then wouldn’t they be able to afford housing and daycare?
“We’d love to pay ‘em more so they can afford housing in the Boyne area,” said Bellant. “Unfortunately, the auto industry … is a different beast.”
He added, “It’s a tough business to be in.”
Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin asked if the North Central Michigan College/Northern Lakes Economic Alliance Fab Lab, a mobile manufacturing classroom, is meeting expectations.
Bellant said he believes the Fab Lab is good for high school students interested in learning more about manufacturing.
“I don’t know that businesses are getting a benefit,” Bellant said. “I will tell you our business isn’t getting a benefit because we purely don’t have the time.”
He added, “I would love nothing more than to have that Fab Lab there to help train some of our people. The fact of the matter is I gotta have people 24/7 to work on the floor.”
Cain said he has heard good things from other businesses concerning the Fab Lab.
“Seven years ago, the sky was falling. We were wondering if there were going to be any jobs available in the area,” said Cain… “That cycle has flipped. Michigan is known for being cyclical but everybody was struggling to find any job then—now, everybody is struggling to find any employee.”
He added, “This issue with regards to housing and daycare has kind of come up with the Main Street board, at the chamber recently, EDC/LDFA, (and,) affordable housing in various forms was talked about at our city commission meeting on Tuesday.”
Cain said there has even been some preliminary discussion with the Boyne City Housing Commission on potentially creating more affordable housing.
Cain then said the EDC/LDFA’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District is coming up for renewal.
“They have a TIF District very much like the DDA does,” Cain said, adding that decisions will have to be made whether there is continued need for the district, which helped fund the $761,000 drainage project in the industrial park in 2015.
Cain said the industrial district is beginning to run out of available properties.
“If we’re gonna wanna create additional jobs and opportunities in the future, we may have to look at acquiring additional property,” he said.
Cain said the TIF District does not increase taxes. A TIF locks the values of areas like the industrial park and the downtown at certain levels and any growth above those levels goes to the taxing authority.
“It basically takes money from our general fund, from the county millages, from the library—things of that nature—to help promote growth in the community,” Cain said. “I think they’ve been successful tools for us but there’s always some question about that, especially as organizations are struggling with a lack of funds from other resources like the state.”
Boyne City Clerk and Treasurer Cindy Grice, who also sits on the city’s election commission, gave a brief overview of the commission’s duties each election.
“The election commission will be meeting probably four times in 2016 because of four different elections coming up,” Grice said.
The four elections include the March 8 presidential primary, possibly a school election on May 3, a primary in August and the general election in November.
Boyne City Planner Scott McPherson spoke on behalf of the commission. McPherson gave a brief overview of what this five-member board does.
McPherson said there are several types of work which can occur in the Boyne City Historical District, and that the planning department helps the commission ensure those rules are followed to help retain Boyne City’s historic flavor.
“One big project, of course, is the (William H.) White house,” McPherson said. “I think everyone can see it’s turning out fantastic and it’s going to be a great improvement to the entrance of the city.”
Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom spoke on behalf of the Boyne City Historical Commission. Sansom said there are currently four, but potentially seven, members to serve on the commission.
Sansom said anyone interested in joining the commission should contact the city.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us coming up shortly: packing the museum, inventorying all the items, putting them into proper storage, and getting ready for the new city facilities move,” she said.
Sansom said, over the past few years, there has been an ongoing process with putting historic displays in windows downtown to help promote the museum.
The city’s LaFrance Firetruck will turn 100 years old in 2017. Sansom said the commission is planning an event to celebrate the anniversary of the truck at some point. Sansom also said the commission holds tours of the museum for students.
Cain spoke on behalf of the Boyne City Housing Commission.
“The housing commission is doing very well under the new leadership that Jane (MacKenzie) has provided for them the last couple years,” Cain said. “You may recall that, previously, they were at ‘Troubled Status Agency’ which had to do with some of their bookkeeping and record-keeping issues and some financial tracking; no improprieties but just their resources levels.”
Cain added that the housing commission was recently rated at “premiere” status.
Cain said the commission’s housing units are pretty well full most of the time. And, he again touched on the possibility of the commission creating more affordable housing units.
Main Street board
Boyne City Main Street Program Executive Director Lori Meeder gave an overview of the Main Street Board, whose mission it is to keep downtown
Boyne City successful while preserving its heritage through community partnerships.
The Dilworth and Catt projects were two of the big ones Main Street officials worked to help get gap funding for.
Meeder mentioned some of the many exciting new retailers either already in, or coming soon to, downtown Boyne City. Included in those is a restaurant and pub, a brewery, foodie shop, and gift stores.
Main Street events also continued this year with success.
“Pretty much without exception, all the events this year, were really well attended,” Meeder said. “The retailers were happy with the events that we had.”
She added, “Just in general, everything was up.”
The Main Street Boyne Apétit initiative, which was devised several years ago, is set to begin this week.
“We’ve got a really strong contingent of restaurants and food establishments of all kinds in the area,” Meeder said.
She also touched on the “Last River Draw” project. The city hopes to raise funding from private donations to pay for a bronze statue of a logger. The statue would sit on the Boyne River’s edge.
Team Boyne is the economic restructuring committee of the Boyne City Main Street Program.
The group consists of anywhere from 12 to 20 members of city leaders from schools, the economic development sector, city manager’s office, etc., who meet to discuss local issues.
“It’s really a good group of people,” said Team Boyne member Jim Baumann. “It keeps everybody on the same page.”
He added, “We do occasional projects like survey businesses to see how things are going and try to act on problems they have.”
Baumann said one of Team Boyne’s agenda items is to recruit businesses. But, he said that is difficult to do because there is so little space available for new businesses.
Chamber of commerce
Baumann, who is also the director of the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce, said one of the chamber’s main goals this year is to work on volunteer recruitment and management.
Another priority is to improve the chamber’s office building.
Baumann said he also wants to look at the Boyne on the Water plans for the backside of the chamber building, which would make it a gathering place.
Baumann said fund-raising is necessary to pay for the improvements.
A new website is under development for the chamber. And, Baumann said the Thursday beer block party during Mushroom Festival was a success last year, and will return this year.
Baumann also announced he will be retiring in approximately a year. Though, he said, he will continue to work as communications director—possibly as an independent contractor.
Baumann said he is grooming new associate chamber director Kim Altobello MacNaughton for the chamber director position.
Baumann will also be gone for three months this winter but will be working remotely, he said.
Parks & Recreation
Boyne City Parks and Recreation Board Chairman Michael Sheean talked a little about his board’s makeup.
The parks and recreation board works closely with the city parks department, which oversees more than 400 acres of public parks.
Sheean mentioned the improvements made to the new Ridge Run Dog Park, plans to refine the disc golf course at Avalanche Preserve, a mountain bike trail project, the archery event held this summer at Avalanche Preserve, the Rotary Park tennis courts will be restored, and work with the proposed non-motorized trailways are also on the agenda.
“On the Boyne Valley Trailway, we’re working along there. We got realigned in October (2015) by the the MDOT people on how our grant should be submitted. And, we’re following those new restrictions and guidelines and we’re resubmitting in January. So, we should have some information for approval on the grant applications,” Sheean said… “That trailway will connect us to the mountain (Boyne Mountain,) connect us to Boyne Falls, it will connect to the schools—it will connect many things in our community.”
The topic of trails for ATV and snowmobiles also came up briefly during the meeting.
Sheean said there is some interest concerning the recreational vehicles but there has been no official action or planning on the matter.
“With regards to snowmobiles, I’ve been having some real preliminary discussions with Sue Hobbes over at Boyne Valley Township and trying to see if we can get Boyne Mountain interested in having some discussions on that and they indicated they would be to see if there’s opportunities to create some trail networks that could, because they’re extending them into Walloon Lake, tie into the Petoskey trail system, if there’s some opportunities to fill some of the gaps we’ve got here,” said Cain.
Cain also said improvements are being made to Old City Park.
He then touched on the issue of the Veterans Park Pavilion proposed reconstruction project, which Boyne City Commissioners recently discussed in detail.
Officials seem to be unsure as to how the project will be paid for, which design should be used, and what steps to take next.
In the Boyne City Gazette’s most recent update on the project, Cain said a meeting between those in charge of making such decisions was yet to be scheduled.
Sheean mentioned the Boyne on the Water project, which included professional assessments of the city’s waterfront parks. The assessments were combined with public input to create drawings of what the waterfront parks could look like if improved.
“We’re very pleased to see the amount of public input we received on that project that’s been going on in the last six to eight months,” he said.
Mayor Neidhamer said he was sure the Veterans Park playground would also be a top priority in the new year. The playground was found to have high levels of arsenic last spring before being shut down for public safety.
McPherson spoke on behalf of the Boyne City Planning Commission.
He discussed some of the new appointments to the nine-member board and touched on some of the major site plan reviews from 2015—the Glen Catt mixed use project being the biggest last year.
Other projects included the former railroad office, which is expected to become a brewery, and the old train depot which is currently being renovated to become an art studio.
The Boyne City Master Plan update was also completed by the commission this year.
The planning commission’s efforts also helped make Boyne City one of only a few cities in the state to receive the designation as a Redevelopment Ready community.
McPherson then talked about the Safe Routes to School project, which Boyne planning officials have been working on for roughly three-and-a-half years.
“It’s a $200,000 grant per middle and elementary school. So, it’s a total of $400,000 that we have to … improve sidewalks and infrastructure and things that can be related to safe routes for kids to walk and bike to school,” McPherson said.
Construction is expected to begin on those sidewalk and crosswalk improvements later this year.
Zoning Board of Appeals
Patrick Kilkenny, the Boyne City Assistant Planning and Zoning Director, gave an overview on the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Most of the board’s work deals with requests for changes in setbacks so people can move or build things like garages and driveways.
Richard Bouters, of the Boyne City Airport Advisory Board, spoke on behalf of this 11-member group.
“It’s really our charge to advise the city commission on the operation, improvement, maintenance and supervision of airport activities and that property,” said Bouters.
The city owns nine of the hangars at the airport, which it rents to plane owners. Bouters said those hangars are usually occupied.
Bouters said Boyne City keeps its plane fuel prices lower than some other Northern Michigan airports to help it remain “competitive.”
Boyne’s airport allows pilots to pump their own fuel and pay for it using the honor system. Bouters said this has worked fine in the past. And, it means the city does not have to pay someone to pump fuel at all hours of the day and night.
The annual drag races still occur at the airport once per year.
The airport also provides safety classes for pilots.
A program that gives kids free airplane rides is also held at the airport.
Bouters said the board tries to make sure improvements to the airport are made annually.
This past year, security fence was installed. This coming spring, markings on the airport runway are a high priority.
Bouters said a private donor approached the airport last spring to discuss the possibility of helping fund some runway distance markers. That project is also expected to be completed this year.
Bouters said most airports of Boyne’s size around the country offer courtesy cars for people who want to shop and dine in the city.
He said there have been discussions about this over the last few years and, last year, the airport received a car to use as a courtesy car.
“It was very heartening to see … we had 39 people use that car,” Bouters said.
Sixty-two percent of those who used the car came downtown to shop in Boyne City.
Bouters said the airport staff asked people to put in at least a gallon of gasoline to use this free courtesy car. He said some of the people filled the gas tank when they did not need to.
Board of Review
Boyne City Board of Review Chairman Oral Sutliff talked about the work his three-person board does.
“When you get your taxes, you look at your assessment and it’s way out of whack from what you paid for the homestead and you haven’t done any major improvements, you should call city hall and make an appointment to meet with the board of review,” Sutliff said.
The city has an application you must complete. And, Sutliff advised concerned homeowners to put together a presentation on why they feel their property value has been improperly raised.
“I can’t guarantee that everybody that appears before the board will get a reduction. But, I’ll guarantee that anybody that turns in a petition will get a serious consideration,” he said.
Boyne District Library Director Cliff Carey discussed his library board and the library in general.
Books are delivered to the library from around the state three days each week.
The library was open on Black Friday this year to accommodate library users.
Carey said book circulation may be down roughly five percent but more people use the library due to the many services it provides.
The library offers everything from classes and story time, free foreign language software, internet, a business materials section, and much more.
Energy efficient lighting has also been installed in some of the areas of the library. This is saving nearly $200 per month in electricity costs.
The library’s community room continues to be used often—619 times over 12 months; the conference room 244 times, and a smaller room, recently opened, was used by the public 169 times.
The library is using special museum software which allows it to catalogue, digitize and post historical photos and other documents online.
Carey discussed the red barn building the library owns and the possibility for expansion. He said the library would like to have a bigger space for a teen area, and a space where people can collaborate and make things in a utility-type space.
Carey said the library received a $250,000 donation which will be used to construct an addition on the library at some point in the future.
Boyne City Clerk/Treasurer Cindy Grice discussed the city’s compensation commission, which meets every two years to discuss the pay of city commissioners and the mayor. The commission met in 2015 and decided to keep pay at current levels.
Boyne City Commission
Mayor Neidhamer used his time to welcome newly-elected Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin to the board.
Commissioner Sansom said she was looking forward to the new city facilities and the historic clock restoration.
Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne thanked all the volunteers who work on the various city commissions and boards.
Boyne City Commissioner Ron Grunch said it is exciting times for Boyne City with all the improvements and efforts occurring.
“We really are in sync as far as collaborating and reaching out,” Grunch said. “A lot of cities are trying to model their programs after ours. But, the passion and enthusiasm that people have here is—it’s hard to put down on paper.”
He added, “[T]hey wear their enthusiasm and they wear their hearts on their sleeves and roll ‘em up and go to work.”
Neidhamer said the city has nine major projects beginning in the spring.
“It’s fantastic,” Neidhamer said. “I’ve been in a few photo opps but, truly, they (projects) all started under Ron’s watch.”
Neidhamer thanked Grunch for mentoring him over the years and for handing him the reigns of the city commission late in 2015.
City officials lauded the completion of the new Boyne City Department of Public Works facilities at the city’s North Boyne property.
And, planning director McPherson said someone is planning to purchase a local golf course and plans to build a gas station and grocery/convenience store there.
Boyne City Harbormaster Barb Brooks gave meeting attendees an overview of the Boyne City Municipal Marina.
For the last 10 years, the marina has been financially self-sustaining.
Brooks said a fund balance has been generated and is being used to make improvements on the marina. Planning for the marina’s future expansion also continues.
Water & Wastewater
Mark Fowler, the Boyne City Water/Wastewater Superintendent, discussed his operation.
The big project in 2015 was work on the Sommerset Pointe sewer line, which stretches from that development to Boyne City.
Fowler said the sewer line was installed. The city is now waiting for the pump station, which should be up and running around March.
Boyne City Police Chief Jeff Gaither said, in addition to normal police work, the department has updated some of its equipment like rifles and increased officer training on the shooting range with its new weapons.
The police department also started a new policy with its body cameras that mandates officers wear them whenever they make contact with citizens.
Gaither said the cost of the cameras is a concern because the video from them must be stored and copies have to be shared with media and the prosecutor’s office. He also said it takes time and manpower to redact portions of videos before they are shared through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Gaither said new cameras will need to be purchased because the ones they have now can be edited by the officers—a feature which should not be available.
Gaither said his department participates heavily with the local schools and students. And, his officers volunteered to build a soccer wall in 2015.
Officer bike training and an additional bicycle were implemented also this year.
One of Gaither’s officers attended search and rescue school this past year. The program teaches police how to look for mentally challenged persons who go missing.
The department had seven calls for help searching in a 90-day period.
Two officers took evidence tech school classes as well in 2015. The classes teach skills like evidence photography and how to take fingerprints off of difficult surfaces in addition to best practices for processing evidence.
Gaither said his department has also developed new core values statements on how his department wants to respond to the community. Honesty, fairness, responsibility and good judgment—with an emphasis on respect for the dignity and Constitutional rights of the people his officers serve—topped the ideals listed in the statements.
“Too many police departments around the country are getting hammered right now because they don’t respect the citizen, because they don’t take it seriously, they’re not showing the kind of core values that I think need to be shown,” Gaither said.
The core values will be posted in the police station to remind officers what the Boyne City Police Department is all about.
Cain indicated that 2015 was another great year of cooperation—from the citizenry to economic development officials, city workers and local units of government—among city stakeholders.
He reinforced that volunteer recruitment and management was an important issue which needed more attention.
Cain, who had been city manager for 13 years as of the day of the joint boards and commissions meeting, said the city was finalizing an agreement with the owners of the Honeywell building, where the city will likely move the bulk of its daily operations while the new city facilities are built.
Cain said the city will be working on a low and moderate income survey in the new year. This type of survey was also done around 2004 and it allows the city to apply for additional grant moneys. The process must be completed again with current information.
Cain said he is thankful to have been part of all the city has done to improve over the last 13 years.
“We’ve accomplished mighty things in the last over-a-decade-or-so,” he said… “Everything we’ve done to promote our level of service to the community—the standards that we have today—are not just reflective of statements, they’re reflected in our actions that we do every day.”
Cain added, “I think we’ve come a long way. We, obviously, have more to accomplish.”