Packed house at Ontonagon Council meeting
The Ontonagon Village Council Chambers were packed with people at Monday night’s council meeting. While some of those attending were there to show their support of the council, many were there to either get answers or show their dissatisfaction with the council.
What has been a topic for years is the Rose Island paddle-craft landing, which is a kayak landing that uses a slough in water that Council Member Mike Mogen stated should be checked by the Western U.P. Health Department.
“If needed, a sign should be erected,” he said.
The paddle-craft landing has been reported to be a $70,000 project. Different residents have spoken up at recent meetings alleging that the project is now over $120,000.
One of the issues brought up at the meeting was the water flow. One of the issues as to the problem with the lack of a good flow of the water was how the removal of the old swing bridge altered the flow.
Village President Ken Waldrop gave a timeline on the paddle craft landing and stated that over the past four years, other expenses have incurred. He also stated that this project has not been finished.
The landing is located on Rose Island of which ownership of the village street on the island has been questioned. Waldrop read a series of land transactions from previous owners stating that the street is owned by the village. A Rose Island property owner stated he has deeds acknowledging what Waldrop claims.
This issue has been brought up numerous times over the years by another Rose Island property owner, Tom Hamilton. Hamilton received many disparaging comments from council members, and was not at the meeting. Hamilton recently had serious health issues.
Waldrop and Mogen also attacked the coverage of this issue and other issues reported by the Daily Mining Gazette.
Another major topic at the past two meetings has been the maintenance and use of sidewalks. According to state and local ordinances, Waldrop stated that it is up to the landowner for the maintenance of a sidewalk. Although Village Manager Joe Erickson stated that some of the sidewalks are considered specific routes where the village is responsible for plowing and maintenance. This is on sidewalks that children would use going to and from school.
When it came to the village investing any money in public facilities, Waldrop brought out on numerous occasions the loss of Smurfit-Stone, and the decrease in tax revenues. According to Waldrop, this has made it difficult for the village to do certain projects as fast as what the public may want.
The village’s financial woes were brought out by Erickson in his report on the Aspirus-Ontonagon Hospital Michigan Employee Retirement System (MERS).
“In 2008 when the hospital closed, the village assumed the MERS pension liabilities of the hospital employees when it was sold to Aspirus,” Erickson said. “The village agreed to be responsible for the pensions of 150 hospital employees, to keep the hospital in Ontonagon.
“In 2009, with the start of the recession, the MERS pension assets lost 25% of their value. The village is responsible for any pension shortfalls and the slow economic recovery didn’t help. In 2010, the largest tax payer in the village, the paper mill, closed and the resulting drop in property values and population greatly impacted the village.”
Erickson stated that nearly half of the village general fund is now spent on the hospital pension.
Waldrop and Council Member Tony Smydra talked about the investment the village has done at the Ontonagon Fire Department.
Waldrop, Smydra and Mogen all commended the many volunteers and organizations that have done things for the village and its residents.
It was at the meeting that Richard Ernest gave a report on the Downtown Development Authority and all that they have done. His presentation went over the new village park with Lake Superior beach front access. Ernest thanked Norm Pestka Construction for his help on this park.
One event in the downtown area is CopperFest, which the council agreed to close River Street on July 21 and 22.
The Village Council approved spending $3,834 on benches, picnic tables, bike racks, and trash receptacles. The total cost for this is $16,612. The Ontonagon Regional Inclusive Community Coalition (RICC) will donate $7,601, and the Portage Health Foundation has a grant for $4,881.
The council tabled the decision on the sale and/or processing of recreational marijuana in the village limits. Appointed to the Marina Commission was Tom Colgin. New office hours for the village office was approved. The public will be able to take care of business at the office from now till right after Labor Day. The office hours will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.