BELDING — Belding Council members have long been asking to consolidate the city’s inspection services, and after Tuesday evening’s city council meeting, they’ll be waiting a little longer.
From the beginning of the meeting it was evident that several Belding residents were unhappy with the idea of hiring a firm outside of the city of Belding, and by the end of the meeting, a decision to do so was tabled for a later date by the council.
Tasked by City Council to find a solution, Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore brought forth the vendor Associated Government Services Inc. (AGS) as an option to consolidate.
But during the public comment period before discussion of the item by council members, several community members voiced their displeasure with the company, which is based out of Richland but has offices in Ionia, calling it “outsourcing of city services.”
Belding resident Mike Henry said he was surprised to see the item on the agenda and hoped that council members would place extra focus on the measure.
“I think we need to hire local people and local businesses,” he said. “We ned to stop the outsourcing, and that’s what this is, it’s outsourcing.”
Fellow Belding resident Andrea Belding concurred, stating she was also surprised to see AGS as the only option being presented to council members.
“I read this proposal from AGS three times and I’m floored by this,” she said. “It’s outsourcing. As a business owner, If I’m going to invest money here in the community, I’d like to see it stay in the community. I really, seriously, believe that there is one person in this community that can do this.”
Belding said there is a stigma in Belding that the city doesn’t want businesses to survive in Belding, and hiring an outside firm would only further continue that.
“The plan here is for Belding to grow … but this is not completing that task,” she said.
After complaints from two more Belding residents, council members discussed the issue after input from Mullendore.
Mullendore said the current situation in the city regarding city inspection services is not fair to citizens, as it is fairly disorganized and untimely, putting strain on residents who don’t receive accurate timetables for inspection services.
According to Mullendore, as one example, Belding Zoning Administrator Don Eady also serves as a captain with the Belding Fire Department, and the double duty places a burden on Eady as his duties as a firefighter often come first, without argument, before his work as the administrator.
“As council is aware, this is one of those things that I was tasked looking into bringing in to the city, primarily finding a firm that operates like a ‘one-stop shopping’ service,” she said. “AGS is one of the few firms that actually provide this service in our region. They currently have an office in Ionia and service the city of Ionia through the county. Our residents will notice a marked difference in customer service with this change and will be able to schedule face-to-face meetings at either city hall, site specific or the county.”
In discussing the issue, council members said they were worried that higher fees would likely have to be placed on residents with the hiring of AGS.
“As a council, we did task the city manager to find us a solution, but I’m concerned about the costs going up,” Mayor Ron Gunderson said. “The last thing we want to do is raise fees on residents.”
When asked by Mayor Pro Tem Tom Jones if complaints were evident among residents, Gunderson and councilman Mike Scheid said they has personally witnessed frustration from city residents who must wait, sometimes more than a week, for a city response in regards to city inspections.
“There have been enough complaints that obviously we need to examine what we are doing and figure out a better mechanism,” Mullendore added. “Customer service is one of our charges as an organization, as a city.”
Scheid said he would like more time to go over the issue and have Mullendore look into finding other solutions from within the city.
“I don’t know if we’d be doing a service or a disservice by changing it (with AGS)” he said. “I think we need a little more time.”
Council members voted unanimously 5-0 to table the decision for a later date, asking that Mullendore also find other options to consolidate, possibly with an individual from within the city if it proves to be cost effective.