Montcalm County commissioners discuss how to fund Montcalm Alliance

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 10:56 am on Tuesday, April 15, 2014

STANTON — The Montcalm Alliance and the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners are still trying to get on the same page when it comes to funding local economic development.

Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer updated the county’s Economic Development & Physical Resources Committee on Monday about the Alliance’s most recent meeting.

Hyzer said there was discussion about funding and different types of funding models, one of which was a proposal to have Montcalm County government contribute $25,000 to the Alliance. The county has historically contributed $5,000 per year to the Alliance.

Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township said the Alliance’s new goal is to obtain contributions from local municipalities and community members to fund an expansion of the Alliance, including joining forces with The Right Place, a West Michigan economic development organization. Johansen said recent meetings have taken place between three local township supervisors and the city of Stanton regarding how to fund the Alliance.

Commissioner Ron Baker of Howard City said the county’s annual $5,000 contribution to the Alliance is way too low and even a $25,000 contribution wouldn’t be enough.

“Montcalm County is way behind when it comes to investing in economic development,” Baker said. “We need to look at that really close and try to get that adjusted.”

“We are on the bottom rung and we are a long way from the top,” Johansen agreed.

Hyzer said even if commissioners decide to contribute an increased amount to the Alliance, it likely won’t be feasible budgetwise until the 2014-2015 fiscal year — even though Johansen said the Alliance is hoping to get a local fundraising effort moving now, not a few years down the road.

Commissioner Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview wondered aloud how much the largest cities in surrounding counties contribute to local economic development compared to what the city of Greenville contributes to the Alliance.

“I think we need to fund economic development in this county with a whole lot bigger number than we have in the past if we want to be successful with it, but I don’t think it’s necessarily all our responsibility,” he said.

Carr also shared concerns he’s heard from his constituents.

“There’s a lot of confusion out there about what’s going on with the Montcalm Alliance,” he said. “At one presentation (to commissioners), the Montcalm Alliance was broke and that’s why they were pursuing PA 88, and then at a presentation down the road those numbers had all changed.

“Why wasn’t the director involved with the pitch for PA 88, why was it a subcommittee?” he asked. “If The Right Place is hired, what will the current Montcalm Alliance look like? I think somebody needs to get a handle on that whole process. Get some sort of an accurate campaign going so townships, cities and villages can figure out if they want to buy in.”

Carr was referring to late last year, when Alliance subcommittee members wanted commissioners to use Michigan’s Public Act 88 to approve a special millage which would bypass a vote of the people to fund the Alliance joining up with The Right Place. The proposal died after commissioners declined to even vote on the issue.

“I believe that if word got out right now that this is what’s being contemplated (local fundraising), my guess is it wouldn’t have much support today,” Carr said. “That’s why I think the Alliance needs to come up with some new plan to spell it all out and have a unified front about what the organization looks like going forward before anyone asks for any contributions.”

The next Montcalm Alliance meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District building in Stanton.

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