Greenville-based group independently pursuing economic development

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 8:24 am on Wednesday, February 12, 2014

STANTON — An economic development millage proposal may have died at the county level, but Greenville officials are continuing to pursue the idea on their own.

Late last year, members of the Montcalm Alliance, a local economic development group, asked the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners to approve a property tax increase to fund the Alliance’s effort to join forces with The Right Place, a West Michigan economic development organization. Certain Alliance members wanted commissioners to approve a special millage via Michigan’s Public Act 88, which would bypass a vote of the people. The proposal moved forward in committee meetings, but the idea died last month after commissioners declined to vote on the proposal, effectively killing it.

During Monday’s Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Finance & Economic Development committee meeting, Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer asked commissioners for feedback about what to do next.

Commissioner Ron Blanding had quite a bit to say on the subject.

“I think I should relay a little information from Greenville about their plan for getting The Right Place contract,” Blanding said. “There’s a group in Greenville with the thought of raising the money in the city, setting up an economic development committee with the Chamber and not going through the Montcalm Alliance at all.”

Blanding said popular opinion among Greenville officials is the Montcalm Alliance is not concerned with economic development in Greenville. He said Greenville officials also don’t think that voters would approve a special millage to fund economic development if the proposal was placed on a countywide ballot, especially because voters have shot down various other funding proposals in recent years.

“They don’t have too much confidence that a millage put before the rural community would pass and they don’t want to wait another year,” said Blanding of Greenville officials. “They want it to happen now. They have over $50,000 committed already from certain people for getting this thing started and raising the money locally with no tax. I can’t mention any names, they’ve asked not to be mentioned, but there is a group trying to get this thing done.”

Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township ran through a list of other local people and groups that need funding, including agriculture/farming, resource conservation and development, 4-H and services for veterans.

“I will quote you, Commissioner Blanding, when you say not all taxes are bad taxes,” Johansen said. “I don’t blame Greenville one bit … but it doesn’t solve the issue of here we have this opportunity to be part of a vital economic development region right here in this county and we can’t fund it. I don’t think a lot of people understand or what the impact would be, but we have considerable resistance because it’s a tax.”

Blanding said he thinks local “animosity” about taxes stems from a higher level, such as ongoing funding arguments among politicians in Washington, D.C.

“The people have got to realize you just don’t get something for nothing,” Blanding said. “In Greenville, (City Manager) George (Bosanic) keeps saying we don’t have to raise the millage. Well no, but they’ve eliminated an awful lot of services. What’s the difference? We’ve got to cover this stuff somehow.

“I think commissioners as a whole have done all that they can do,” he said. “It’s time that the outlying area of Montcalm County realizes that they’ve got to pay their part or growth is not going to exist. People in the area need to participate. They’ve got to realize you can’t just take constantly, you’ve got to give back. Not everything can be done by the government. You’ve got to take an active part and give back.”

The “open conversation” about economic development, as Hyzer calls it, is ongoing.

“The conversation’s good, but I think in the end it’s going to be be between the economic development committee and the full board (of commissioners),” Hyzer noted.

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