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Ontonagon Council makes cuts

ONTONAGON — In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, the Ontonagon Village Council agreed to make budget cuts last week. This was addressed at a meeting where some of the members and the village staff were allowed to be in the council chambers, while other council members and the media remained in tele-conference.

“There will likely be some lingering financial effects on Michigan and the village due to the COVID pandemic. The limited economy will have an impact on state sales tax revenues and fuel tax revenues,” said Village Manager Joe Erickson. “The MML (Michigan Municipal League) staff has warned that there will likely be a reduction in the constitutional revenue sharing due to lower sales tax revenues.”

In his managers’ report, Erickson informed the council about the state budget and how that will have an impact on the village. His concern dealt with revenue sharing and a state revenue estimating conference that was set for last Friday.

Erickson and the Finance Committee recommendations included cuts in the following; village council travel and per siem, Public Works wages, wages for part-time parks employees, capital projects for parks, funding for the former Ontonagon Junior/Elementary School on Greenland Avenue, and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

While the council had no objection to a majority of the cuts, Village President Tony Smydra and Trustee Sarah Hopper did not want to see as much of a cut to the DDA. 

The DDA was also a topic of the last council meeting that the Gazette was not informed about. This was due to what a village office worker stated in an e-mail that she forgot to inform the media. However, the Gazette was the only media that did not know about that previous meeting.

The Council agreed to grant the former fish houses on Rose Island to the DDA as a business incubator. According to the minutes of that meeting, “This will open up grant opportunities.”

The only trustee that objected to handing those buildings over to the DDA was Mike Mogan. According to the minutes, Mogan would rather see the Greenland Road School used as an incubator.

That issue was addressed by a taxpayer, Sue Lockhart, during the most recent meeting. The concern was the condition of those buildings as Lockhart stated that the council agreed to hire Richard Ernest as the village building inspector. While not mentioning Ernest name in her comments, she alluded to how Ernest had concerns over the condition of those buildings.

Given that he has been appointed to different village commissions, Smydra has been a supporter of Ernest.

On Sept. 20, 2019, Erickson stated that the village had two applicants apply for the building inspector position, “a gentleman from Trout Creek and Rich Ernest of Ontonagon.” At the March 9, 2020, meeting, Smydra answered a question from Trustee Junior Mark as to that position.

“The person we had anticipated to take that position did not qualify for the position,” said Smydra in response.

At this past week’s meeting, Smydra now stated that Ernest did not apply.

Ernest is with the DDA. As Erickson and the Finance Committee made recommendations to have cuts in the DDA, Smydra objected too, however only Smydra and Hopper voted in opposition to the cuts.

When asked after the meeting was adjourned as to the exact amount of financial cuts, a media representative was told to talk to Erickson privately over the phone the following day.

The council also agreed to make changes on the composition and organizational rules for the Village Recreation Commission. The council also agreed to be a member of the Mutual Aid and Assistance Agreement for the MiWARN system.

Mogen stated that this is a good program to be a part of, as did Erickson.

“The village has provided assistance to other water and wastewater systems in the county. With the COVID emergency, having access to a greater support network for aid and assistance is helpful,” Erickson said.

The council also agreed to assess a fee for those that pay their water bills automatically from their checking account, called the Automatic Clearing House (ACH). Even as Hopper objected due to the difficulty of some people during this pandemic to see any increase, the council supported a 30 cents per month fee added for each ACH water customer.

An idea was brought up to have the council support and promote a day where village businesses would be open for an afternoon to see gift certificates. Those gift certificates would bring in income for the businesses that have been closed and redeemed the first month they were open.

No one from the council commented on that suggestion.

Since the next scheduled council meeting falls on Memorial Day, the council agreed to postpone that meeting, however if needed the council will call a special meeting.

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