STANTON — With apologies to Malcolm Rebennack Jr., better known as Dr. John, members of the Montcalm Alliance were “in The Right Place … but it must have been the wrong time …”
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners didn’t vote for or against a millage request from the Montcalm Alliance on Monday, deciding instead to send the proposal to a public hearing next month.
Monday’s meeting got underway with a lengthy public comment session. The majority of the comments were against imposing a countywide millage to fund the Montcalm Alliance’s proposal to join forces with The Right Place for local economic development.
After public comment, Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township made a motion to approve the Finance and Personnel Committee’s vote from earlier this month to recommend the full board approve the Alliance’s request to enact a .1 millage to generate $163,000 to fund the Alliance’s efforts. The proposal calls for the millage to be implemented via Michigan’s Public Act 88 of 1913, without a public ballot vote.
However, Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview declined to allow Johansen’s motion.
“I’m going to rule that motion out of order for the reason that even though we have the ability to enact it as a tax, we still have to have a public hearing,” Carr said. “I don’t believe that motion is valid in its current form.”
Johansen then made a motion to hold a public hearing about the proposal at the Jan. 27 full board meeting. Commissioner Ron Baker of Howard City supported the motion.
Commissioner Ron Retzloff of Crystal Township made a motion to amend Johansen’s motion to instead hold the public hearing in February so local townships, cities and villages could have more time to learn about the proposed millage. However, Retzloff’s motion died due to lack of support.
Commissioners then voted 6-3 to hold a public hearing on Jan. 27. Commissioners Baker, Johansen, Ron Blanding of Greenville, Steve DeWitt of Coral, Betty Kellenberger of Carson City and Tom Lindeman of Greenville voted “yes” while Commissioners Carr, Retzloff and Ron Braman of Vestaburg voted “no.”
Carr’s vote against the public hearing does not mean he supports the millage — far from it. After the meeting, Carr told The Daily News he was prepared to vote against the millage proposal Monday.
“I think it was really clear from the people I spoke with that very few people want any part of Public Act 88,” he said. “PA 88 just seems like it’s got way too many warning signs. Today I heard enough reasons why people weren’t in favor of PA 88 so I was prepared to vote no on that today. I think some of those yes votes (from other commissioners) were just a matter of, ‘well, what does it hurt, we’ll wait another month and give people time to weigh in on it and make a decision then.’”
Gratiot County viewpoint
Several Gratiot County residents were present Monday to offer their own viewpoint of how Public Act 88 was implemented and then repealed in their own county.
Gratiot County District 5 Commissioner Scott Showers of Ithaca read a letter he had emailed Montcalm County commissioners over the weekend. The letter detailed how Gratiot County established the Economic Development Corp. in 1978, which in turn contracted out services to Greater Gratiot Development Inc. The program was funded through contributions from local government units, private donations and user fees. Showers said Greater Gratiot worked well and contributed greatly to the county’s economic development and increased the county’s tax base.
However, when Michigan began scaling back revenue sharing payments, local units of government and private donors ended their annual donations to Greater Gratiot. The Gratiot County Board of Commissioners learned about PA 88 and voted to enact a countywide millage as a new funding source for Greater Gratiot in 2010.
Showers said commissioners told the public PA 88 was a temporary measure and that the issue would be placed on a ballot for a public vote in a year. However, the following year, commissioners again imposed PA 88. Showers did some research and came to the conclusion that PA 88 is not Constitutional in light of Michigan’s Constitution of 1963. He was inspired to run for a county commission seat and was successful, along with several others.
“It was a defining moment,” said Showers of when the commissioners who supported PA 88 were voted out of office last year as a result of enacting PA 88. “I think you can see from the described history that PA 88 has been a bit of a lightning rod and not the manna from heaven that some would like to describe.”
The newly elected Gratiot County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing to gather feedback about other options of funding Greater Gratiot instead of using PA 88. As a result, a special millage request was placed on the ballot and voters overwhelmingly approved the request last August, thus ending the county’s use of PA 88. Washtenaw County is currently the only other county in Michigan using PA 88.
“I urge you to take your time and completely study and understand the original intent behind PA 88, as well as study the 1963 Michigan Constitution,” Showers told Montcalm County commissioners. “You don’t need to be an attorney to understand that the 1963 Michigan Constitution, the Headlee Rollback Amendment and Proposal A were all intended to limit my and your authority as elected officials to arbitrarily levy a millage on property owners.
“We are supposed to be a nation of laws, not a nation of men,” Showers concluded. “We at the local level need to be setting the example of how we can govern ourselves in a Constitutional manner, not exhibiting the bad behavior we continually see play out in Lansing and Washington D.C.”
Showers’ comments were met with rousing applause from some of those in attendance Monday.
Another Gratiot County viewpoint came from Roger Cook of Ithaca, who previously served as a Gratiot County commissioner and was also previously employed as Montcalm County’s controller.
“The budgetary risks you would run if you would impose PA 88 are high,” Cook said. “There is a serious move afoot in Lansing to repeal PA 88. Should you approve it and impose it without a vote, the odds are very high that it will be repealed because it flies in the face of Headlee so much. For one year, you would have a box of money, then the next year it would be gone, causing you to replace it with other funds in the county.
“I’m opposed to PA 88,” Cook said. “As a budget person, I would advise you to consider that also. Many of us are working hard to get it repealed.”
Montcalm Alliance viewpoint
Greenville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Candy Kerschen, who is secretary of the Alliance, used her turn during public comment to read an editorial that was written by Alliance members and published in Saturday’s Daily News. Kerschen also read a letter from Greenville Tool & Die in support of The Right Place and a letter from Federal-Mogul in support of the PA 88 millage.
Montcalm Community College Vice President for Student & Academic Affairs Rob Spohr, who is vice chairman of the Alliance, admitted the millage request is a “divisive issue,” but said Alliance members just want what’s best for the county.
“There’s this idea out there that PA 88 is unconstitutional,” Spohr said. “PA 88 has been the law of the land for a long time. You are given the opportunity to levy taxes when it is for the public good. There is nothing that is more for the public good than economic development. No matter what you do, there’s people who are going to be upset. But this is your responsibility.”
Howard City Village President S. Michael Scott, who is a member of the Alliance and previously served as its chairman, said the Howard City Village Council recently voted in favor of the PA 88 millage, “after considerable discussion and review of the facts.”
“This is an opportunity for Montcalm County,” he said. “We’ve got to move forward. Right now we can’t do everything in Montcalm County. We’re a global economy. We need The Right Place. We’ve been very successful with the Montcalm Alliance and what we’ve done, but that’s been at a local and state level. Gratiot County enacted 88 and it’s working. We’ve got what the Alliance is doing and it’s working, but we need more. I think it’s the right thing to do at this time.”
Consumers Energy Public Affairs Manager Yolanda Lewis, the new chairwoman of the Alliance, asked commissioners to support stable funding for the Alliance by approving the millage.
“I keep hearing (concerns from people) about (millage) money being spent in Kent County,” Lewis said. “This money will stay in Montcalm County.”
Among the many people speaking up during Monday’s public comment session was Lori Althoff, who recently moved to Stanton from Wisconsin. The outgoing woman said she’s been going from town to town in Montcalm County in order to become more familiar with the area.
And everyone she talked to had one thing on their mind.
“Countless people brought up this situation,” she said of the millage proposal. “This situation and circumstance was repeatedly brought up so I know it’s a big concern for Montcalm County. My biggest concern is, if we’re going to take .1 mill from this county, it would be great if it stayed in the county. This is a really awesome county.”