04-25-22 Vote Explanations

These are my vote explanations from the Monday, April 25, 2022 Marquette City Commission meeting. As always, please reach out to me with any questions at (906) 236-0247, ebonsall@marquettemi.gov, or on Facebook. You can watch the meeting HERE.

Switch to Mandatory Universal Recycling Cart System: NO (Passed 4-3)

This was a vote to accept two grants from EGLE and the Recycling Partnership (totaling $355,200) to fund a significant change to the City’s residential curbside recycling collection system. Under this new system, all residents will be required to use 64-gallon recycling carts (rather than their own smaller recycling bins), which will be provided for free to each household using grant funds. About half of City residents have already switched to the recycling carts, and they will no longer have to pay the small fee (less than $2/month) to use the carts. Several neighboring townships have already switched to a mandatory free recycling cart system, the grants did not require matching funds from the City, and this change is projected to significantly increase the City’s recycling rate and the total volume of recyclables produced by Marquette.

However, although I understood these potential benefits, I voted “No” for several reasons. First, many residents contacted me to express legitimate concerns about accessibility. For many seniors and people with disabilities who are able to bring a small recycling bin to the curb, it will likely be difficult or impossible to do the same with a heavy, cumbersome 64-gallon cart. It is possible for City residents with disabilities to call the Dept. of Public Works (DPW) to be placed on an “accessibility list” – people on this list may have their trash and recyclables collected from their door, garage, backyard, etc. However, based on the discussion in the meeting on Monday night, it was clear to me that it will likely not be possible for the City to provide this accommodation to everyone who needs it. On a related note, part of the justification for switching to a universal recycling cart system is that it will make curbside recycling collection much more efficient, but these efficiency gains will likely be partially negated by a large influx of residents signing up for the accessibility list, as it will take Waste Management employees much longer to collect recyclables from seniors and people with disabilities on this list (and again, there is a logistical limit to how many people can be on this list, regardless of the actual need for accessibility accommodations).

Second, I felt that the proposed universal recycling cart program was very inflexible – in order to comply with grant requirements, all City residents will be required to use 64-gallon carts regardless of actual need and with no option to use a smaller cart; there is no clear plan to make accommodations or exceptions for residents who genuinely do not have space to store a 64-gallon cart or who live in condo associations and HOAs that prohibit outdoor storage of refuse containers; and there is no way for City residents to decline to accept the cart and simply opt out of the curbside recycling program if they choose.

Finally, every single household living on every residential property containing 1-4 residential units will receive their own recycling cart, but this doesn’t really make any sense and seems to me to be an egregious waste of resources. For instance, I live in a fourplex with 8 other people, and in the more than 3 years that I have lived there, we have never once even come close to filling our two 64-gallon recycling carts in a week – in fact, we usually don’t even fill one. Yet under this new system, we will be required to accept four 64-gallon carts. This might make more sense if, as is the case in most communities with mandatory recycling cart systems, the City only collected recyclables once per month or every two weeks, but it doesn’t make any sense with weekly curbside recycling collection. Sure, these grants technically don’t cost the City anything directly, but that doesn’t make this new system any less wasteful.

All that being said, I certainly hope that I’m wrong, and that the new universal recycling cart program proves to be extremely successful. I’m not opposed to this policy in principle, and without all of the onerous requirements imposed by EGLE and the Recycling Partnership, I might have voted Yes. The new recycling carts will be delivered to Marquette residences in September or October.

Purchase Replacement Fire Truck: YES (Passed 6-1)

On Monday night I also voted to purchase a new Pierce fire truck to replace one of our two aging 2004 Pierce fire truck units. These trucks have served us well for many years, but they are nearing the end of their useful lives, and frankly the City has already delayed purchasing replacements for these trucks for years longer than it should have. As you can see in the images above, these trucks are not in good condition – they are experiencing severe frame corrosion issues (in many places the frame on these trucks is now thinner than the frame for a half-ton pickup truck), and many other components are also deteriorating and in need of repair or replacement. Our Motor Pool and Fire Dept. staff estimate that the risk of catastrophic failure of these trucks is now “very high,” and they expressed that it is a constant challenge just to keep them running. To make matters worse, there is a 22-month waiting list for new trucks, and the cost of new fire trucks is rising exponentially – if we did not order a new truck before May 1, the price would have gone up 7%, with a similar price increase later this year. At a time when the City is facing a structural budget deficit, a massive capital expense like a new fire truck is very difficult to bear. However, by ordering at least one new truck now, we can save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, and we can also use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for the new truck. In total, the new fire truck will cost $829,000 – ARPA funds will cover 100% of this cost, avoiding any impact to the City budget and leaving over $1 million in remaining ARPA funds for the City to use in the future. The City will save up to $150,000 by ordering the truck before May 1, and another $40,000 by paying upon order rather than upon delivery. The new fire truck will also have significantly greater capabilities than the 2004 model it is replacing, and will have a 25-year expected lifespan (with a 25-year frame warranty) vs. 15 years for the 2004 model. Given the high risk of catastrophic failure and the human and financial risks that come with that, I did not feel that it would be responsible to delay the purchase of at least one new truck even further – after all, maintaining public safety needs to be our top priority as City Commissioners, the trucks have already outlasted their expected 15-year lifespans by several years (each truck has about 450,000 miles on it) and in the likely event that one of our fire trucks were to break down in the next two years we would be forced to order a new truck anyway, and at a much higher cost and in a position even further down the waiting list. That is why I voted Yes.

Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Week Proclamation: YES (Passed 7-0)

I voted in favor of a City proclamation recognizing April 29-May 5 as Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Week in the City of Marquette. Marquette is located on the ancestral homelands of the Anishinaabe Three Fires Confederacy and is home to hundreds of Indigenous women, and Indigenous women are murdered at a rate nearly 10 times the national average and are far more likely to be victims of violence, sexual assault, kidnapping, and human trafficking. It is incredibly important that we shed light on this often-overlooked crisis, and while this proclamation is admittedly a very small step, it will hopefully at least raise awareness of the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.P. and the rest of North America, and encourage further study and concrete action to address the systemic root causes of widespread violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Marquette Symphony Orchestra 25th Anniversary Proclamation: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a proclamation recognizing the 25th anniversary of the Marquette Symphony Orchestra and acknowledged the MSO’s incredibly valuable contributions to the Marquette community. I feel that the MSO is a wonderful community asset which I hope we can all enjoy for another 25 years and more, and I happily voted Yes.

Vote Explanations: 03-14-22, 03-28-22, & 04-11-22

Here are my explanations for all of the substantive votes I took on the City Commission in the month of March 2022, and the one vote I took at the City Commission meeting on April 11, 2022. My apologies for taking several weeks to upload the March vote explanations – I normally try to post public vote explanations online within one week of the City Commission meeting in question, but sometimes life, school, and work get in the way, and the past several weeks have been very busy for me in all three of those departments. I hope you understand, and I will post my vote explanations for the April 25 City Commission meeting in the normal timely fashion. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns – you can call/text me at (906) 236-0247 or email me at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov. Here are the video recordings of both City Commission meetings:

March 14, 2022 Meeting Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPTRgu0mRbw

March 28, 2022 Meeting Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6KSnywb53U

April 11, 2022 Meeting Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVXC46eVkhs

March 14, 2022 Vote Explanations

Create City Commission Fmr. Hospital Redevelopment Subcommittee: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a motion authorizing the Mayor to appoint 3 City Commissioners to a subcommittee which will act as observers while the NMU Foundation reviews proposals and selects a master developer for the former hospital property in central Marquette. The subcommittee will serve in a non-voting, advisory capacity to both the NMU Foundation and City Commission throughout this process, although it is important to reiterate that the NMU Foundation will need majority support from the full City Commission to obtain a Brownfield Plan, which will be necessary to make any redevelopment of the former hospital property financially viable. I voted Yes to provide City Commission oversight over this process, and Mayor Smith appointed herself, Mayor Pro Tem Mayer, and Commissioner Davis to the subcommittee.

Kids Cove Playground Budget Amdt.: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a minor amendment to the current City budget. First, it is important to note that this budget amendment did NOT increase the City of Marquette’s spending on the new Kids Cove playground at Lower Harbor Park – in fact, the new universally accessible playground will still be completed without spending any City taxpayer dollars. Essentially, due to design revisions and cost increases, the City Commission was asked to raise the budget for the Kids Cove Playground to $1.5 million, up from $1 million. Marquette Playgrounds for All, a local nonprofit, has already raised the $300,000 match for the $300,000 grant the City obtained to fund this project, and they are well on their way to raising the remaining funds from private donors. We are still planning to begin construction this summer. This budget amendment was necessary to achieve our vision for this amazing new playground, and it has essentially zero actual impact on the City budget, so I voted Yes.

MiNextCities Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): YES (Passed 7-0)

This is an agreement between the City of Marquette and the MiNextCities Program. MiNextCities is working on a roadmap for small to mid-size cities like Marquette to help make Michigan a leader in the deployment of “smart city” policies, capturing the benefits of next-generation smart energy and mobility solutions. This does not cost the City anything, and over the next 3 years MiNextCities will identify local energy solutions backed by research, policy, and urban planning to benefit Marquette residents. Marquette has been selected to serve as a test case to help create a roadmap for other small cities in Michigan, and there is no cost for us to participate. This will also help us achieve our goal of reducing the City’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050, and yield other benefits like helping our government operate more efficiently. This is a very low-risk, high-reward opportunity which doesn’t cost a single taxpayer dollar, and I felt this was a common-sense Yes vote.

March 28, 2022 Vote Explanations

Appoint New Chief of Police & Harbor Master: YES (Passed 7-0)

Marquette’s new Chief of Police Ryan Grim.

Our former Police Chief Blake Reiboldt retired after a lifetime of service to the City of Marquette, and after honoring his impressive service and achievements, we appointed Ryan Grim as Marquette’s next Chief of Police & Harbor Master. Chief Grim has 20 years of experience in law enforcement, and is a truly exemplary officer and leader in Marquette Police Department. I am extremely happy for him and his family, and I gladly voted to confirm his appointment.

Amend WM Solid Waste Collection Contract, Switch to Garbage Tag System: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was an amendment to our contract with Waste Management (WM) which will allow us to switch to a tag/sticker system for trash collection, discontinuing the green City garbage bags. Now City residents can use their own trash bags, and must purchase tags or stickers at the same location where green City garbage bags were previously sold. The tag/sticker system is already used by most other municipalities in Marquette County, will be more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable than the bag system, will resolve major supply chain issues that have led to repeated City garbage bag shortages, and will also save residents money, with the tags/stickers costing $1.35 each versus $1.50 for each green City garbage bag. This is a very sensible change and an elegant solution to the City garbage bag shortage issue, and I voted Yes as a result.

Adopt New Fire Safety Ordinances: Tabled (7-0)

This was a vote to consider ordinance amendments which would have adopted new versions of the NFPA Life Safety Code and NFPA Fire Code, known as “NFPA 1.” However, these changes were extremely complex, and my fellow City Commissioners and I did not feel that we had received enough information on the details and potential effects of these changes to cast an educated vote. We tabled the motion, and asked City staff to gather further information and report back to the City Commission in the near future with additional analysis and alternatives. I am confident that we will be able to adopt new codes which make much-needed updates to our City codes and keep all City residents safe no matter where they live and work, while also avoiding any excessive regulatory burdens that could further increase housing costs and discourage future development in Marquette.

Tourist Park Grant Application: YES (Passed 7-0)

Illustration of the planned access road & parking area in north Tourist Park.

This was a vote to apply for a grant to build a day use access road and parking area at Tourist Park. The grant would provide $250,000 in funding, and require $250,000 in matching funds – however, the entire match would be provided from the Tourist Park Enterprise Fund (which is intended solely to fund capital projects like this at Tourist Park), and would not require a single dollar from the City General Fund. The total cost of the project would be $500,000, and it would be completed in 2023. I felt that this was a very important and fiscally responsible project for Tourist Park, and I voted Yes.

Lions Lakeside Park Grant Application: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to apply for a grant on behalf of the Marquette Lions Club, who have adopted Lions Lakeside Park on South Front Street. Grant funds would be used to make accessibility improvements, enhance the view of Lake Superior, and interpret both the natural and cultural assets of the park. The grant would provide $110,000 in funding, with a $35,000 match provided by the Marquette Lions Club. As with the Kids Cove Playground, zero City funds will be used. As a result, I felt this was a great opportunity and a common-sense idea for our community, and I voted Yes. 

April 11, 2022 Vote Explanations

Amend Eagle Mine Trucking Corridor Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

In 2014, the City of Marquette negotiated a first-of-its-kind Trucking Corridor Agreement with Eagle Mine, LLC. This agreement established firm requirements that Eagle Mine compensate the City on an annual basis for the wear and tear on City infrastructure and other costs imposed by their large mine trucks which operate along a route that runs through the City from Hawley to Sugarloaf to Wright. This was a vote to amend the original Trucking Corridor Agreement to restructure the Eagle Mine’s payment schedule – now, the City will receive a $2.7 million up-front payment this year, with no annual payments from Eagle Mine in the 2022-23 & 2023-24 years as a result. Eagle Mine will then pay approximately $134,000 per year, or up to $621,000 in additional compensation, from 2025 to 2028. This is not reducing Eagle Mine’s obligations to the City – it is merely a restructuring of the payment schedule. It is important to reiterate that this agreement truly was one of the first of its kind, was the result of long, hard negotiations with Eagle Mine, and has served as a model for other communities looking to hold mining companies accountable for their disproportionate impacts on municipal infrastructure. These funds must actually be used for the repair and maintenance of City infrastructure along the Eagle Mine Trucking Corridor, but of course this does offset expenses that would otherwise have to come out of the regular City Budget. I felt that this was a fair agreement for the City, and I voted Yes.