STANTON — The Montcalm Alliance’s request for a countywide millage to fund economic development efforts will be voted on without local voters or a ballot.
Montcalm Alliance members previously presented an overview of their millage request to the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 12. At that meeting, Montcalm Alliance members said they wanted to pursue voter approval of .1 mills to generate $162,000 to allow the Montcalm Alliance to join forces with The Right Place, a West Michigan business development and economic development agency which offers services to support existing and new businesses.
However, at Monday’s Montcalm County Finance & Economic Development Committee meeting, Montcalm Alliance members instead requested commissioners approve the millage themselves, which would be allowed by Public Act 88.
Michigan Public Act 88 of 1913 empowers a county board of supervisors to levy a special tax or appropriate from the general fund for the purpose of advertising the agricultural advantages of the state or for displaying the products and industries of the county at domestic or foreign expositions for the purpose of encouraging immigration and increasing trade in the products of the state and advertising the state and any portion thereof for tourists and resorters and to permit the board of supervisors out of any sum raised, or out of the general fund, to contribute all or any portion of the same to any development board or bureau to be by said board or bureau expended for the purposes herein named.
Committee members unanimously voted to recommend the full board approve the Montcalm Alliance’s proposal Monday. The full board will meet at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 16.
If approved, the millage would be enacted and county property owners would pay a majority of the costs associated with the Montcalm Alliance joining The Right Place. According to the Montcalm Alliance, the average cost would be $3.17 per parcel for county property owners.
Public bailout, failed leadership and poor management
James Freed, the manager of both the city of Stanton and the village of Lakeview, expressed his concern about the Montcalm Alliance’s proposal Monday as he did at the Nov. 12 meeting. Freed is a member of the Montcalm Alliance and one of its most outspoken critics.
“The proposal before you is a public bailout of an organization plagued by failed leadership and poor management and it stands in defiance of the will of the people, which has been expressed at every election in recent years,” Freed said. “The Montcalm Alliance has a positive cash flow, is debt-free and has money in the bank. However, I agree failed leadership and poor management have dogged it. That is why this commission should do the hard work required to reform this organization, rather than vote on a public bailout. Raising taxes is the easy route. Now is the time to push for meaningful reform, not raise taxes.”
Freed said the millage proposal will take resources away from small businesses, family farms and entrepreneurs that could be used to hire new people, purchase equipment and reinvest into the local economy.
“This proposal represents the arrogance of big government,” Freed said. “It says to our job creators and business community, ‘we in government believe we know how to better spend and invest your money than you do.’ And this is wrong. We should enable our current job creators and employers to expand and grow, not penalize them with new taxes to fund a new government scheme concocted by government bureaucrats that have never created a single job.”
Helping and adding local businesses
At the Nov. 12 meeting, Montcalm Alliance members reported their group suffered a net loss of almost $20,000 in the past year and incurred $6,750 in debt to cover operational shortfalls.
However, at Monday’s meeting, Montcalm Alliance Secretary Candy Kerschen said she had some updated, more positive financial information. She said the Montcalm Alliance, which is solely supported by membership dues, received $81,750 in membership dues for 2011-2012 and $49,000 in membership dues for 2012-2013.
“I expected to hear words like bailout today,” said Kerschen in response to Freed’s comments. “It would feel more like a bailout if we were under water and in trouble, but we’re not.”
Kerschen mentioned two examples of how Montcalm County may be missing out on business growth. She said an apple processing plant and a shoe manufacturer were both looking to expand and Montcalm County officials weren’t in the know until it was too late. She said joining forces with The Right Place would eliminate this problem as it would allow Montcalm County to have a full-time economic development manager dedicated to replenishing and growing jobs.
“What we want to talk about is how the Alliance hasn’t been as effective as it could be and how we could step it up and do better,” Kerschen said. “We want to help companies who are here to stay here. We want to make it easy for them to grow here. We also want to seek new companies.”
Montcalm Alliance Vice Chairman Robert Spohr also responded to Freed’s comments.
“This is not a scheme concocted by bureaucrats,” Spohr said. “We volunteer our time to be on this Alliance. We don’t get paid for it. We live in this area. This tax will affect us too. I live right in Sidney. I was a small business owner. I did create jobs. If I believed this was going to negatively impact small businesses, I would be against it.”
Spohr said hooking up with The Right Place is crucial to the Montcalm Alliance’s success.
“We have no stable funding source as of right now for economic development in this county,” he said. “We need to look at not just a funding source, but a stable funding source.”
Unanimous support by committee
All Board of Commissioners committee members in attendance Monday said they supported the Montcalm Alliance’s proposal. Those commissioners included Ron Baker of Howard City, Ron Blanding of Greenville, Ron Braman of Vestaburg, John Johansen of Montcalm Township and Tom Lindeman of Greenville.
Johansen has been outspoken in his support of the Montcalm Alliance’s proposal, saying as a member of the Economic Development & Physical Resources Committee, he is frustrated at the lack of what the committee’s been able to accomplish despite their best efforts.
“It’s really a shame that in Montcalm County that our hog producers have to load their hogs onto trucks, ship them into Iowa, process them and then ship them back to Michigan,” Johansen said. “That’s just one ag issue and I can assure you The Right Place is working on that issue at this time. They’re very in tune with ag issues.”
‘You are defying the will of the people’
Freed reiterated his concerns at the end of Monday’s meeting.
“You are defying the will of the people,” he said. “Public Act 88 is designed where it doesn’t have to go to a public vote. Each of you knows, every one of you in this room knows that if this went to a public vote in this county, it would fail. And that should be taken into consideration. Although it may seem like a small millage, if you stack it upon millage after millage after millage you are destroying the most important thing we have in Montcalm County. Our comparative economic advantage is that we are a cost-effective place to start and grow a business.”
Immediately after Monday’s meeting ended, several Montcalm Alliance members verbally confronted Freed in the commissioners’ meeting room on the third floor of the Montcalm County Administrative Building. A series of impassioned opinions were exchanged.