BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS & CHRIS FAULKNOR
The Boyne City Commission continued its process of planning for the future of Boyne City at a Tuesday Aug. 7 work session.
The session also included some city officials who met to discuss the data gathered during recent goal-setting sessions.
“The people have spoken on a number of occasions,” said Boyne City Manager Michael Cain in presenting the results from recent goal-setting sessions and a city-run survey regarding which issues Boyne City residents, visitors, and other stakeholders feel are the most important heading into the near future…. “I’ve always seen going through these steps as tools for you to help inform your decision—not necessarily to make the decision for you or to have staff make the decisions… You folks all have a real good sense of what’s going on in the community and I see the questionnaires, the surveys, as a test for some of our assumptions; about whether they’re real or not.”
He added, “This is the time for the city commission to say here’s what our priorities need to be and what we’re going to focus on in the next two to three years.”
A survey held earlier this year had more than 500 participants and yielded a number of issues Boyne City stakeholders felt were the most pressing.
From that survey, the top five issues were identified and presented to a group of nearly two dozen residents and officials at a goal-setting session held a few weeks ago.
Those in attendance then broke into five groups to discuss and take notes on the five topics:
• Keeping young adults in Boyne
• Water quality protection
• Family supporting jobs
• Downtown vitality
• Affordable housing
Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer said the city should focus on a small number of achievable goals.
Regarding the identification and proposed actions of goals, Cain said, for example, the city should look closely at issues like affordable housing before making decisions like simply working to increase the amount of housing because the issue could be more nuanced than it seems.
“If we’re building more … but at the other end we’re losing more housing units to Air BNB and that type of stuff, have we really gained anything?” Cain said. “Or, are we just treading water and/or losing ground?”
Boyne City Commissioner Dean Solomon agreed, saying that if they don’t identify what success looks like, they are doomed to fail.
“How do we inventory?” Neidhamer asked regarding identifying the amount of housing in the area.
Cain said perhaps getting into specifics this early in the process would be counter-intuitive.
“Until we define what the topics are, I don’t think it really helps us to spend a lot of detail on it,” Cain said.
Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin said he noted a couple issues in the data.
“One was the local versus out-of-towner or resorter in some kind of conflict,” he said, referring to opinions expressed by some surveyed. “It seemed like things are done for out-of-town people rather than local. There was also the other thing about living wage jobs that we need to increase.”
Solomon said it is important to note that the city commission’s own concerns about the future of Boyne is closely reflected in the survey results.
“I didn’t see anything that really surprised me,” he said.
Conklin cautioned that the city formulated the questions for the survey and therefore led the discussion.
Cain asked if the process was done in a way which allowed for a wide variety of opinions to be included.
Solomon said if there was an issue which city officials were clueless on, someone would have mentioned at some point during the process.
Conklin said, in reading the data gathered, he came up with some potential goals to focus on.
Among them, he said financial planning is important, as are educating the public on how the city uses the tax moneys it raises for its operations, working to finalize unfinished projects, and looking at housing.
“One thing we do have control over is some properties in the downtown,” Conklin said. “What could we possibly do there?”
Boyne City Commissioner Ron Grunch agreed about financial planning, adding that bringing someone in with a “fresh set of eyes” could be good for the city.
Cain said it’s going to be an interesting couple of years for the city financially.
Grunch said cutting the city’s operating millage could be a goal.
“I’m sensitive to that,” said Cain. “Our taxes are higher than they’ve been in a long period of time.”
Cain said some may complain about the new city facility but it is what the taxpayers voted for.
“We have to figure out what’s the higher priority?” Cain said. “To maintain the existing services? Provide additional services? And/or cut services … with the goal of reducing taxes?”
Solomon said, even though it didn’t come up much in the survey, the city must focus on using the public’s money as efficiently as possible.
Solomon also said the city’s communication with the public should remain a priority.
Ultimately, the main priorities identified by the commission included remaining financially viable, communicating with the public, looking at the availability of housing, keeping the quality of water high, the local economy, jobs, and the city’s parks and recreation offerings.
A meeting is expected to be scheduled for the Boyne City Commission to discuss its findings and present a summary to the public.