Belding City Council rejects property donation

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:48 am on Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BELDING — A piece of property being gifted to the city of Belding was voted down Tuesday night in a 3-1 vote in favor of accepting the property.

According to the city charter, at least four council members need to approve a gift agreement in order for it to be effective.

Councilwoman Andrea Belding recused herself from the vote, citing a conflict of interest and took a seat with the audience. Councilman Joe Feuerstein voted against the resolution, resulting in only thee “yes” votes from the remaining council members to accept the property, resulting in a failed motion.

The property, a vacant piece of land located to the south of Flats on the River to the west of the rail corridor to the north of Congress Street and east of the Flat River, was to be gifted on behalf of the Harry Perkins estate.

The agreement included the city paying a total of $3,303.84, including appraisal costs, taxes, and the completion of a Phase I environmental report.

The agreement also stated that the property would be used as a public park suitable for recreation by the general public.

Before a vote was taken, Feuerstein made it clear that he was voting down the gifted property.

“Over a month ago this issue came up and at that time I told (City Manager Randy DeBruine) that I would not vote to accept this property unless it was available for sale, because we only have two (vacant) pieces of property that are available in this city,” he said. “If a business wants it, then fine and dandy, I’m for it. If it was a donation for a park, the donation should have been made to the Rails to Trails, not to the city. If they wanted a park, they could have afforded it.”

Mayor Ron Gunderson spoke for about 10 minutes about the property, as well as his thoughts on Belding’s recusal from the vote.

“I can honestly say since I’ve been sitting on City Council, this has had to have been probably the most exhausting resolution that I’ve ever had to work on,” he said. “(Andrea Belding) put an offer on the property knowing it was going to be gifted to the city. She has every legal right to do that, she has every legal right to do that as a business owner.”

But Gunderson said he “had a hard time believing” that a fellow council member could do such a thing when they serve as a liaison to the city recreation advisory board.

“She is representing this city as liaison to the recreation board as a council member, but yet she admitted that (the property) was something that was available for her,” he said. “Ethically, I think it’s wrong.”

Gunderson said he felt that the vote by the city for the property “had been tainted” by the situation.

“Joe has upheld what he believes in and this has nothing to do with a personal attack on Andrea, this has nothing to do with not wanting businesses in town,” he said. “It’s very important to me that we show a strength of unity in this city.”

After the motion failed, Andrea Belding returned to her seat and was given the opportunity to speak during the council comment period at the conclusion of the meeting, and did so for about 10 minutes.

“When you sit on (city) council you sit in a precarious position because not only are you here to serve the public, but you also have a personal life that maintains within the community that you live in,” she said.

According to Belding, five years ago she and her husband, Chris Belding, asked for assistance from the city in trying to purchase a building for their business. Belding said they did not receive the assistance they were looking for and lost faith in the city.

“Part of the reason I decided to run for (city) council was to help assist businesses and to understand the business owners and the challenges they face in this community,” she said. “This city needs to be more business friendly, yet I sit here and I’m banging my head against a brick wall because we’re not business friendly.”

Belding and her husband currently own and operate a janitorial business, but she said the property she placed a bid on was not to be used for that business.

She said she placed her bid upon learning that a building had previously been located on the property. With the knowledge that a new building could be constructed on the property, she and her husband decided to bid on the property.

“I had countless hours of conversation with Randy (DeBruine),” she said. “I was very upfront with him in my intentions, and he told me the property would probably be sold anyway if the city acquired it.”

Belding said she felt uncomfortable trying to purchase the property under a sealed bid process conducted by the city, because of her position on city council.

“Recusing myself from this vote was morally and ethically the right thing to do given this situation,” she said. “I feel like my husband and I have been treated as if we’ve done something wrong. I tried to speak more with Mr. Gunderson and Mr. DeBruine, but was denied. (This situation) really started to shed some light on some of the complaints I’ve had over the past few years.”

Belding said she disagreed with Gunderson’s statement that this was not a personal attack on her.

“All that I and my husband were trying to do is invest and bring a business into this town,” she said. “I need you all to appreciate the position that puts me in as a councilperson. In no way should me being on this council prohibit a business from coming to this community.”

Belding said she no longer has any interest to acquire the property.

In other news, council members approved a motion to renew authorization of Blue Care Network as the health insurance provider for city employees.

According to DeBruine, city employees are facing an almost 16 percent increase in medical premiums from Blue Care Network, which will be a total of a 10 percent increase at $31,000.

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