L'ANSE - Many Baraga County candidates are running unopposed for positions in this year's elections, but voters will still have to make some decisions when they head to the polls in next Tuesday's primary election.
Being a primary, voters will only be able to select candidates from one party of their choice, and that narrowed down list of candidates will appear on November's general election ballot.
"If they choose to vote, they'd have to pick Democrat or Republican," county clerk Wendy Goodreau said of the Aug. 7 primary.
On the county level, only one of the five commissioner seats will be contested in November, with incumbent and Democrat Bill Menge running against Republican Calvin Koski in district four.
Menge, who is running for his third two-year term, continues to make job creation and lowering unemployment a priority, but he admits not much progress has been made.
"I've been trying to change it since I started running and it hasn't improved a whole lot since. It's something we have to keep working on," said Menge, who was involved in a family business in L'Anse for 49 years and spent time on the L'Anse Village Council and Downtown Development Authority before moving to Skanee several years ago and getting elected to the county board.
"We can do all kinds of things (to encourage job creation)," Menge said, including working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and communicating better with key stakeholders. "I've enjoyed working with a lot of the people around the state who are more than anxious to get something going around the U.P."
If awarded another term, Menge also hopes to see the completion of an off-road vehicle trail around the U.P. and a scramble area (ORV and motorcycle recreation area) to enhance local tourism possibilities, make important decisions about the county's future 911 system and see county roads repaired.
In addition to his experience, Menge said of his race against Koski: "I think I have a lot more time to devote to this job than he has."
Koski, retired supervisor of nuclear medicine at Baraga County Memorial Hospital and Ontonagon Memorial Hospital, and vice president of the Ontonagon County Rural Electrification Association, doesn't have specific objectives as he eyes a spot on the board.
"I have no mission. I have no agenda. I am not going to say anything against my opponent. I am friends with Mr. Menge, I have known him all my life, I just think it might be time for me to have a turn at sitting on the board," said Koski, who works on a contract basis in nuclear medicine at BCMH.
As a lifelong Aura resident and current Aura Community Hall Association Board member, Koski knows the economic hardships created by Baraga County being between Marquette and Houghton counties, but he thinks a new face may help shed some new light on solving those problems.
"Maybe I can put some freshness into this board. It seems like its not doing much and has gotten stagnant," said Koski, whose wife of 29 years Gail works at CertainTeed, and whose three children all graduated from Michigan Technological University. "I don't think Baraga County in the immediate future is going to be a boomtown like Marquette or Houghton ... but I think if we offer and encourage the private sector it may improve here."
Former Baraga County board member Paul Tesanovich is running unopposed as a Democrat in the third district with current commissioner Pat Reilley stepping down. He will be rejoining the board this year after health issues brought a self-imposed end to his tenure.
"My situation has improved a great deal so I decided to get back on," said Tesanovich, who represented Michigan's 110th district in the legislature from 1994-2000.
He believes Baraga County has the pieces it needs to address the unemployment issues, but recently it's been a lack of cohesiveness and missed opportunities that have impeded progress.
"We have a lot of good people in local government, the chamber of commerce, tribal folks, but I don't believe we have the level of coordination," he said. "I hope to make that a priority."
Current commissioners Gale Eilola, Mike Koskinen and Bill Rolof Jr., are all running unopposed, as are county clerk Wendy Goodreau, treasurer Anne Koski, sheriff Bob Teddy, prosecuting attorney Joseph O'Leary, mine inspector Patrick Osterman and probate judge Timothy Brennan.
County millage proposal
Voters will also decide whether to approve a two-mill levy renewal for another five years - it has been in place for 30 years - which would provide $470,082 in its first year.
"We are a small rural county with all the challenges of maintaining a 495-mile road system in heavy snow country. The local road millage is a key element in making improvements to the roads," said Doug Mills, engineer with the Baraga County Road Commission.
Of the money generated from the millage, 77 percent would go to county roads, 18 percent to streets in the village of L'Anse and the remaining 5 percent to streets in the village of Baraga.
The millage also provides important funding to apply for grants, which often require at least a 20 percent match, according to Mills.
"Without the millage, we would be unable to even demonstrate the financial capability necessary to apply for the grant programs," he said.
The importance of the millage is amplified even more by the Michigan Transportation Fund's stagnant fuel tax, which has remained at 19 cents per gallon since 1997. If the rate had adjusted for inflation, it would be 26 cents per gallon. The road commission is also facing significantly higher costs (diesel fuel was $1.44/gallon in 2000 and has been $3.89/gallon in 2011-12).
"Many of our major cost items have doubled, while we receive less operating funds than 10 years ago," Mills said.
Township races and proposals
Most races at the township level are also uncontested, and several millages are also renewals.
In Arvon Township, three Republican trustee candidates - Homer Elmblad, Keith Erickson and Karl Gipp - will vie for two spots on next Tuesday's ballot. Supervisor James Soli, clerk Lisa Marinich and treasurer Kathryn Drue are all running unopposed.
Arvon Township voters will also consider an ambulance service and Emergency Medical Technician fund proposal, which seeks a .30-mill increase for four years. It would raise $12,167.94 in the first year.
Baraga Township voters will choose between two Democratic candidates for supervisor - Donald Takala and Amy Isaacson. Two trustee spots will be up for grabs between a pair of Republican candidates - Jerry Dompier and Glenn Juntunen - and Democrat Ralph Sackett.
Clerk Michelle Fish, treasurer Catherine Wadaga and precinct delegates John Drennan (precinct 1) and Eric Cadeau (precinct 4) will run unopposed.
Baraga Township voters will also consider a pair of 1.5-mill, five-year levies raising $90,205 in its first year, one for fire operation and equipment, and another for ambulance operation.
L'Anse Township has three candidates - Democrats Herbert Tollefson and Shelley Lloyd and Republican Peter Magaraggia - vying for two trustee positions. Democrats Jennie Nordstrom and John Robillard will challenge each other for one available constable position.
Supervisor PJ LeClaire, clerk Brian Jentoft, treasurer Kristine Rice and precinct delegate Keith Almli (precinct 1) will not face opposition.
L'Anse Township voters will also weigh in on a pair of one-mill, four-year levies that would generate $92,932 in their first year, one to help provide emergency ambulance service and another for fire protection.
All races in Covington (supervisor Steven Salli, clerk Amy Leaf, treasurer Lisa Karcher and trustees Larry Ross and Lisa Tarvainen) and Spurr (supervisor Michael Hosey, clerk Linda Legacy, treasurer Patrick Gallagher and trustees Richard Taylor and Rose Ekdahl) townships are uncontested and no proposals are on the table.
To view a location-specific sample ballot for the Aug. 7 primary election, visit the Michigan Voter Information Center at webapps.sos.state.mi.us/mivote.