GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council has (mostly) placed its support behind a millage proposed by the Montcalm Alliance for local economic development.
In a last minute addition to Tuesday evening’s agenda, council members heard a presentation from Montcalm Community College Vice President of Academic Affairs Rob Spohr, who also is vice chairman of the Montcalm Alliance. Spohr was at Greenville’s meeting to tout the benefits of a proposal being considered by the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners to take advantage of Public Act 88 to implement a .1 mill tax increase to allow the Montcalm Alliance to join forces with The Right Place, a West Michigan business development and economic development agency.
Michigan Public Act 88 of 1913 allows the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners to vote to enact the countywide millage increase without a ballot vote by the public.
The millage is needed, Spohr said, because the Montcalm Alliance’s operating budget — exclusively funded by membership dues — has decreased in recent years, from $81,750 in 2011-2012 to $49,000 in 2012-2013. The tax increase would provide the Montcalm Alliance with an operating budget of $163,000 per year. The millage would cost $3.17 per parcel per year for county property owners.
The lion’s share of the millage funds would go toward engaging the services of The Right Place, a multi-million dollar organization dedicated to advancing the state’s economy. The Right Place has racked up impressive economic gains in neighboring counties, according to Spohr and Greenville City Manager George Bosanic.
“Not having a stable funding stream for economic development is a problem,” Spohr said. “When you see a community that does, you know that community has a stake in it and everybody helps the community.”
Both Spohr and Bosanic admitted that the Montcalm Alliance has had serious management and operational issues in the past. Those issues, Bosanic says, have been addressed in recent months.
“Early on, the city of Greenville was part of the Montcalm Alliance and we actually contributed to them financially,” Bosanic said. “But over time it became clear there was no value to the city to be a part of it. The way the organization functioned was a concern. There was no audit and it was loosely governed.”
All that has changed, however, according to Bosanic. In recent months, the Montcalm Alliance has enacted bylaws and made other improvements. At this point, Bosanic says, he has no reservations about recommending again joining forces with the Montcalm Alliance for the betterment of Greenville and the rest of the county.
According to Spohr, a partnership with The Right Place would greatly increase the county’s chances of bringing in new business and would help existing businesses thrive. Spohr pointed to facts and figures provided by The Right Place that indicate many retained and “created” jobs in both Ionia and Gratiot counties, both of which have partnerships with the organization.
However, Spohr admitted the figures might be open to interpretation.
“Would these things have happened if The Right Place wasn’t there?” Spohr asked. “I can’t tell you, but The Right Place was involved in every one of them.”
Bosanic said he was initially skeptical of putting the city back into a partnership with the Montcalm Alliance and a possible relationship with The Right Place.
“I made it clear that we’re in until we’re out,” Bosanic said. “If this doesn’t turn out, then we’re out again. But everybody is going to benefit. I feel comfortable for the first time in 20 years telling the City Council that they’re on the right track. This is a win-win for Greenville and Montcalm County.”
Councilman Mark Lehman was the only council member to voice concerns that the upcoming Public Act 88 vote by the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners might be seen as an end run around voters. Lehman complained that Bosanic had waited until less than two weeks prior to a Montcalm County Board of Commissioners committee vote on the millage to bring the matter before the council.
“George, you mentioned that you’ve been giving us bits and pieces about this, but I do not recall getting any bits and pieces,” said Lehman, noting that he had gotten most of his information about the issue from recent reports in the Daily News. “It still boils down to are we going to vote to support this and encourage the (Montcalm County Board of Commissioners) to adopt it? If we are, then we are encouraging them to raise taxes.
“It is being presented tonight as if we have to have the city residents pony up money or they’re fools,” he said. “Those are not good options in my book.”
Lehman went on to suggest that maybe funding for the effort could be gleaned from sources other than new taxes.
“But our back is against the wall because the county commission is going to vote on this Dec. 16 and you’re not giving us any other options as far as another avenue to pursue,” Lehman said. “It just seems rather late in the game to be bringing us up to speed on this. I’ve been a skeptic of the Montcalm Alliance for a long time and I’m still a skeptic.”
Bosanic said he would not be pushing the issue so strenuously were it not for the fact he had seen personally the improvements made to the Montcalm Alliance in recent months.
“This plan isn’t perfect,” Bosanic said. “No plan is. There are pieces I’m OK with, but not any I’m uncomfortable with. The Right Place is the right organization.”
Councilman Brian Greene added his support to the partnership, saying, “I’m not a proponent of raising taxes, but I believe this is a solid plan and the return on the investment would be well worth it, considering the size of the investment. I believe this one is small enough that we can absorb the shock and bounce back from it.”
Councilman Larry Moss also supported the millage, calling the move a “good investment” and noting that the county could always pull out of the deal if it did not produce the anticipated results within the next year or two.
Council voted in favor of the measure, with the exception of Lehman, who voted against it.
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners will officially vote on the millage proposal at the full board meeting, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 16.