BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR & CHRIS FAULKNOR, PUBLISHER
More than 40 local and regional elected officials and community leaders convened the annual Charlevoix County Elected Leader Summit on Monday Feb. 26 at Boyne City’s new city hall.
Township, city, and county leaders gave updates on their accomplishments, challenges, and upcoming projects; and, housing experts from the real estate, construction, and governmental sectors discussed the issue of affordable housing.
“We’re here in the spirit of regional cooperation,” said Boyne City Manager Michael Cain, who introduced Matt McCauley, the CEO Networks Northwest, which works with nearly 190 units of government in the northwest Michigan region.
“I strongly believe that, at the end of the day, we’re all neighbors, we’re all citizens, and this type of interaction where you’re just getting to know one another, understanding where your common issues are—what they may not be—that’s a great conversation to have,” McCauley said.
Networks Northwest offers a variety of services which help workforce, businesses, and communities work together.
The Eveline Township representative said they have a great board and people are working well together.
Bay Township launched a new and improved website. The township is also working with a company that uses ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves. And, Bay was able to lay 46 wreaths on the graves of deceased soldiers as part of the Wreaths Across America program.
Melrose Township’s new sewer system is up and running and they are developing a list of people wanting to hook on.
City of Charlevoix is moving forward with a new public service facility to combine the electric and DPW departments. Also, they will be announcing a new recreation director and increasing recreation opportunities. They will also be moving forward with work on Michigan Beach Park, and considering a trash and recycling ordinance looking at exploring the single hauler concept for trash and pairing that with curbside recycling service.
Boyne Valley Township is completing the acquisition of a lot on the corner of M-75 and 131, which will help the township make access to the falls easier for the public. The township is also working on a trailhead which will connect with the trail from Boyne City to Boyne Falls.
Evangeline Township has been working on its cemetery, replacing fencing among other improvements. The township has also been working to improve roads. This coming year they will be doing work on the township hall.
Charlevoix Township officials said the St. Marys Cement project is ongoing though the completion of the project has been delayed by a year. At a recent count, the project was employing nearly 400 outside contractors. The Township is also in the process of saving money for a new fire station. And, work on Waller Road has been completed.
Chandler Township has purchased two new fire trucks, and they have ATV trails open for public use.
Hayes Township is working on phase one of Camp Sea Gull park. They have more than $900,000 in grants to put toward the $1.4 million project.
Charlevoix-Cheboygan-Emmet (CCE) County 9-1-1 Authority will be looking at whether it should upgrade to the system most emergency services dispatch organizations are using.
However, the cost to do so has been estimated at close to $10 million.
This would require an increase in the 9-1-1 surcharge, a new millage, or other means of raising the necessary funds. CCE’s current surcharge for 9-1-1 service is .68 cents. The state average is $2.38.
CCE is one of the few authorities using a stand-alone VHF system, as most in the state have gone to the Michigan State Police 800 MHz dispatch system.
Also, in county business, there were 14 applicants to the Charlevoix County Recreation Millage. The finalists are expected to be chosen and notified in the coming weeks.
Charlevoix County Road Commission will be working on roads on the north and south ends of the county, as well as several township road projects.
Representatives of the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance also attended the meeting. They help foster public and private partnerships.
Boyne City’s big news continues to be the opening of its new city hall, in addition to the Veterans Park Pavilion renovations, work on the 475 North Lake St. Open Space acquisition, and a new fire tanker truck. The city is still interested in working with surrounding communities to help bring snowmobile opportunities to Boyne City for winter recreation.
Boyne City will also have work done later this spring for new aerial maps.
Officials then discussed the opportunities and challenges regarding affordable housing in Northern Michigan.
Andy Hayes of the NLEA opened the discussion by talking about how companies are having difficulty recruiting and retaining employees due to a lack of affordable housing.
“We also have companies we’re talking with right now that are considering getting into the building business to actually start building houses (for potential employees) themselves,” Hayes said.
Brett Binkley of the Antrim Charlevoix Kalkaska Realtors Association discussed real estate trends across Charlevoix County.
“The state of real estate in Charlevoix County is strong,” Binkley said. “And, probably very frustrating if you are a renter or a buyer.”
The price range is around $250,000 and under.
Binkley said there has been little to no new construction in recent years, and that it is quite expensive to build new.
Eric Leister, with the Home Builders Association of the Northern Michigan, talked about construction.
Leister said the HBA went from nearly 300 members before the recent recession to 174 members.
But, he said, “The building industry is strong in Michigan.”
One official questioned how the new building code’s nearly 2,000 changes will affect housing costs and development.
Some leaders said the push for affordable housing will require help from state elected leaders.
The question of “tiny homes” a new trend in houses. Whereas an average American house may be 2,600-square-feet in size, a tiny house tends to average between 100- and 400-square-feet.
At least one municipality said it has made provisions for this relatively new type of housing.
Cain said local officials need to find the proper balance as to what communities will accept with regard to workforce housing.
“There’s a lot of concern about making sure that, whatever we’re doing trying to encourage businesses and support businesses, that we’re not going to do anything that fundamentally changes the character of our community,” he said.
The hope from the annual summit is that officials in attendance will take what they learned back to their respective boards and organizations.