BELDING — After much discussion by council members Tuesday evening, Belding will now have another year to spend its remaining fund balance of federal funds to be used to renovate the historic Pere Marquette Depot building.
An agreement for state and federal grants originally received in 2009 for the depot building and Dial-A-Ride bus garage in Belding was extended into 2015 after council members voted to approve the extension.
Council members voted 3-1 in favor of the extension, with Councilman Joe Feuerstein opposed and Councilman Tom Jones absent.
The city received the grant in the amount of $124,450 in September 2009, however, $90,000 worth of renovation work has yet to be completed on the building, which is utilized by the city’s Dial-A-Ride program.
The revision extends the agreement until April 2015, allowing the city sufficient time to complete the projects.
According to City Manager Meg Mullendore, had the agreement not been extended, the remaining $90,000 in funds would have been reimbursed, leaving the city financially responsible for the renovations, which include the building’s heating and cooling systems and exterior lighting.
The item was originally on the meeting’s consent agenda, but Feuerstein asked that the item be pulled into “new business” to allow for more detailed discussion.
Feuerstein said he was concerned about voting for an extension on something that has seen little progress in four years.
“I cannot understand why, with the money just sitting there, this was not done,” he said.
Mullendore proceeded to explain that because the depot building is a state historic structure and receives federal funding, there are specific State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) guidelines that must be followed by contractors who would perform any maintenance or renovation work.
“There are some intricacies that are involved with the specific building due to the historic nature of it and having SHPO regulations attached to it,” she said. “As a result, when it is being bid on, anybody who submits (a bid) has to adhere to all of the SHPO requirements.”
Mullendore said those requirements have essentially “eliminated the ability” to have anybody perform that work at a reasonable price.
“I think we need to do a little bit more due diligence in the next request for proposals that we receive,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that we can do to try to get people to bid on this to do the work.”
“In four years, we haven’t had anything done,” Feuerstein reiterated, stating he doesn’t agree with adding an extension without a guarantee that the work would be competed.
Mullendore said she understood Feuerstein’s concerns, but said not renewing the extension would mean losing the federal funding.
“This is money that we’re being offered by the federal government and the state to do these things,” she said. “To not renew this would basically mean this money is gone. We would forego it and, in essence, give up the funds.”
Mullendore said everything from the exterior and interior paint of the building, to the lighting and design of the building’s bathroom, all features must be designed to meet the era in which the building was constructed.
“Everything has to be consistent with when the building was built,” she said.
Feuerstein said he still couldn’t believe that no one had submitted reasonable bids.
“Has it been researched what kind of elements are needed? What kind of lights are needed?” he asked.
Mayor Ron Gunderson said all specifications had been researched and were specifically listed in the bids.
“I understand your argument Joe,” Gunderson said. “But I don’t understand how, if we can get this money paid for, why we wouldn’t accept it?”
“I just can’t understand why it wasn’t done,” Feuerstein said.
Gunderson responded that it was simply due to the tight regulations.
“I’ve had enough,” Feuerstein responded.
Council members then approved the motion with Feuerstein opposed to the motion.
Council members also approved the authorization to establish an industrial development district for Belding Tool and Machine in a unanimous vote.
According to Mullendore, the district would allow the business to be eligible for the application of Industrial Facilities Tax Exemption.