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.

02-28-2022 Vote Explanations (including Fmr. Hospital Property MOU)

Here are my vote explanations from the Monday, February 28, 2022 City Commission meeting. A detailed explanation of my vote on the proposed redevelopment of the former Marquette General Hospital property in central Marquette follows. As always, please reach out to me with any questions at (906) 236-0247, ebonsall@marquettemi.gov, or on Facebook. You can also watch the meeting video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjZ1Tiwc3nc

MOU w/ NMU Foundation on Fmr. Hospital Property Redevelopment: YES (Passed 7-0)

Amdt. to Require Employment of Local Trades Program Apprentices: YES (Passed 6-1)

This was a vote on a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, between the City and the NMU Foundation, which is a nonprofit entity that is NOT the same thing as Northern Michigan University. This MOU is a non-binding agreement which is the first step in the redevelopment of the former hospital property in central Marquette, which is currently owned by Duke LifePoint. Contrary to what some have claimed, this MOU did not include Duke LifePoint as a party, and NMU is not buying the former hospital property. The NMU Foundation is temporarily acquiring the property, assuming significant risk, so that they can work with the City to facilitate its future private redevelopment and return it to the tax rolls – it is NOT being purchased by NMU as many people seem to believe.

Again, this MOU is not a binding contract, and it does not commit the City Commission to approving a future Brownfield Plan. The City Commission and the public will be presented with a detailed, legally binding Brownfield Plan for this site in the next few weeks or months, and we will work with the NMU Foundation as they go through the process of public engagement and selecting a developer for the property. However, as the MOU explicitly states on page 3, “Any future binding contract between the parties [i.e., a Brownfield Plan] will require the approval by resolution of the Marquette City Commission and the City of Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.” This future Brownfield Plan will also include many more concrete details and firm commitments than this preliminary MOU.

This MOU does commit the NMU Foundation to ensuring that, at a minimum, the future master developer of the property builds a significant amount of “affordable and workforce housing as described in the City’s Ad Hoc Housing Committee Final Report.” That Final Report and its definitions of affordable and workforce housing were unanimously approved by the Housing Committee and the City Commission in 2021. I am 100% certain that myself and many of my fellow Commissioners will require more specific, firm affordable housing commitments from the developers and the Foundation before approving any future Brownfield Plan for this project. Thanks to an amendment offered by Mayor Pro Tem Mayer, the future master developer of the property will also have to employ apprentices in licensed local trades programs to help redevelop the site. I also hope that a provision can be included in the Brownfield Plan which requires that the developer pay prevailing wages to workers on this entire project – at the very least, the City has already committed to paying prevailing wages for all City components of the project.

I’ve heard some residents asking why a Brownfield Plan is necessary to redevelop this property; why the developer or the City can’t just pay for the demolition, renovation, and clean-up costs; or why the City can’t simply apply for some grants to cover those costs.

In fact, there are potentially millions of state and federal grant dollars that were partially dependent on the City approving this MOU last night. Duke LifePoint has also offered up $10 million to help with the redevelopment of the property once they transfer it to the NMU Foundation for a nominal price of $1.00. However, the reality is that the City could never hope to obtain enough funding from grants alone to cover the massive costs involved in revitalizing the former hospital property.

There is severe lead and asbestos contamination on the property, and it is also “functionally obsolete,” which qualifies it as a Brownfield site under state law. Most buildings on the property are in poor condition and would be extremely expensive to renovate – that is why the hospital relocated to a new location back in 2015, rather than renovate the existing facility. The demolition, renovation, & clean-up costs alone would exceed the entire annual City budget of around $20 million. For the same reason, no private developer could ever profitably redevelop this property without Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to reimburse them for eligible expenses like clean-up, demolition, and infrastructure. In addition, grant funding will also probably be needed to help cover the huge costs involved.

The honest truth is that if we ever want to see the former hospital property redeveloped, private investment and a Brownfield Plan are going to be necessary – there is no getting around that fact, the numbers speak for themselves.

I have also heard other legitimate questions from City residents. Isn’t the City facing a budget deficit right now? Isn’t the City currently getting tax revenue from the old hospital property? Aren’t Brownfield Plans partially responsible for the City’s current budget deficit? The simple answer to all of these questions is yes, but we need to look at the details behind these simple answers before coming to premature and incorrect conclusions.

By delaying the point at which Brownfield redevelopments start paying property taxes into the City general fund, Brownfield Plans do play a role in the City’s structural budget deficit. Any observers of City politics in the past 2 years will know that I have voted against recent Brownfield Plans that I did not feel were in the best interests of City taxpayers and regular Marquette residents, and I have not been the only City Commissioner to do so.

However, the real problem is that the City hasn’t raised taxes in over a decade, while at the same time losing millions in tax revenue from the Presque Isle Power Plant closure and Tax Tribunal and “dark store loophole” appeals. The City Commission has not yet decided how to fill the $1.9 million hole that still remains in our budget even after last year’s budget cuts, and we do need more public input before making any final decisions. But the can has been kicked down the road long enough, and has landed in the current Commission’s lap. The choice we now face is between finding some form of new revenue until these Brownfield projects start paying taxes into the general fund, or making deep cuts to City services for the next decade or more. It is not legally possible for the City to just go back on past Brownfield Plans, as some residents have suggested – that would be an illegal violation of legally binding contracts.

And yes, the old hospital property currently generates about $150,000 in tax revenue for the City each year, but even ignoring other community benefits like affordable housing, new public spaces, and the huge long-term increase in tax revenue from redeveloping the property, the reality is that a Brownfield Plan would give the City over $4 million in new revenue to upgrade City infrastructure in that neighborhood, which is far more than the roughly $2.25 million we would otherwise get from that property over the next 15 years. We also need to consider that, if this property is not redeveloped soon, Duke LifePoint could (and probably would) simply cut their losses, relocate their on-site staff, and claim a property tax exemption, depriving the City of even the minimal tax revenue we currently receive from the former hospital property. Finally, after 15 years, the taxes generated from this property would be far, far greater than they are now – the total private investment in this property will be $160 million (NOT $650 million, as was inaccurately reported by local news media today). This investment is equal to about 12% of the entire City tax base (the total value of all private property in the City of Marquette was about $1.366 billion in 2020). That means taxes for all City residents could potentially be lowered in the future, while still providing enough revenue to balance the City budget, provide better City services, and maintain our City parks & infrastructure.

During public comment, some residents claimed that this MOU would potentially create additional legal liability for the City. These concerns stemmed from a clause in the MOU which states that the City could potentially acquire parts of the property from the NMU Foundation. However, this clause was referring to the potential (though certainly not guaranteed) use of the City of Marquette as a very short-term “pass-through” entity for parts of the former hospital property, in order to unlock potential benefits which require property to be publicly owned, like down payment assistance for low-income homeowners or certain grant funds for affordable housing or public spaces. This would NOT occur until after clean-up, demolition, and development was 100% complete, and would thus create zero liability for the City or City taxpayers. In any case, it is likely that the Marquette County Land Bank would be used as a “pass-through” entity for these purposes if necessary, rather than the City of Marquette itself.

There were also some concerns raised about a City commitment in the MOU to fund an environmental assessment of the site at a cost of $52,900 – money which one resident claimed “the City doesn’t have right now” due to the City’s budgetary issues. However, that $52,900 environmental assessment has actually already been completed, and was funded entirely by the Local Brownfield Revolving Fund, a separate, relatively small fund which is directly controlled by the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, not the City Commission. The Brownfield Revolving Fund is intended to be used specifically for expenses like this environmental assessment, and it cannot simply be “raided” by the City Commission to subsidize the City budget. No general City taxpayer dollars were spent on that environmental assessment.

As I mentioned before, I have voted against Brownfield Plans that I felt were not in the best interest of our community. However, when looking at all the facts, I have found no convincing argument that this project, as currently proposed, would not be fiscally responsible or that it would not benefit the local neighborhood and regular Marquette residents & taxpayers. To summarize:

– This project would dramatically increase City tax revenue in the long run, potentially enabling future tax cuts & improvements to City services, facilities, and infrastructure, and in the short run it would also provide millions of dollars for City infrastructure improvements in the vicinity of the former hospital property.

– It would, at a minimum, produce a significant amount of affordable and workforce housing, which is an urgent community need in Marquette, and would also potentially include other community benefits like new public spaces, senior housing, childcare, and new economic opportunities.

– Rather than “ruining the community” or negatively impacting the local neighborhood, this project would do the opposite – it would meet numerous community needs and improve local property values. Passing up this unique opportunity, and instead letting the old hospital continue to sit vacant and crumble into a blighted eyesore in the heart of Marquette, would actually ruin our community and actually reduce property values in the surrounding neighborhood.

We still need to gather more public input and hold the NMU Foundation and the future developers of the property accountable to their commitments. And as was stated multiple times at the meeting last night, this MOU is just the first step in the process and doesn’t commit the City to anything. But if done correctly, it is clear that this project would be a truly once-in-a-generation opportunity that benefits all Marquette residents, and I see no reason why the City Commission should oppose it if the commitments in this MOU are genuinely met. That is why I voted Yes on this MOU, and why I’m committed to making sure this project is done correctly and with plenty of public input.

If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about the former hospital redevelopment, please come to a future City Commission meeting or one of the future public input sessions that will be hosted by the NMU Foundation, or reach out to me directly at (906) 236-0247 or ebonsall@marquettemi.gov. I want to hear from you so I can make the best decisions possible for Marquette.

Place Iron Ore Heritage Trail Millage Renewal on August 2022 Ballot: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a common-sense Yes vote for me, in which the Commission merely voted to renew the existing Iron Ore Heritage Trail millage, and place that millage renewal on the August 2022 ballot for the approval of City voters. This is a millage renewal, so it will not raise anyone’s taxes, and it will support the incredible regional recreational asset that is the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. I would urge all City residents to join me in voting Yes on this millage in August!

02-14-2022 & 01-31-2022 Vote Explanations

February 14, 2022 Vote Explanations

First, it’s worth mentioning that this meeting was preceded by a special City Commission meeting on the potential redevelopment of the old hospital property in central Marquette – no votes were taken at that special meeting, it was merely a public informational session and discussion by the City Commission. I will make another post soon with a much more detailed discussion of the future of the old hospital property, but in short, the City is working with the NMU Foundation to craft a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) soliciting a master developer for the property and a City Commission resolution in support of the NMU Foundation’s efforts to facilitate the redevelopment of this 23-acre vacant site. This will almost certainly require a sizeable Brownfield Plan from the City, which would be paid off over a period of about 15 years. However, I am optimistic and excited about this proposed project. While many more details still need to be worked out and we need a lot more public input before voting on a Brownfield Plan, at this early stage it seems that the redevelopment of the old hospital would not only grow the City tax base and revitalize a large abandoned property which will otherwise become a blighted eyesore in the heart of Marquette, it would also meet urgent community needs for more affordable housing, lead to the creation of new public spaces, grow the local economy, and provide more than $4 million for much-needed City infrastructure repairs in that neighborhood (much more than the total of $2.5 million in cumulative tax revenue that the City would lose over the 15-year lifetime of the Brownfield Plan). More details and opportunities for public input will be coming soon, and please reach out to me at (906) 236-0247 or ebonsall@marquettemi.gov if you have any questions or concerns in the meantime.

Support Marquette County Collaborative for Recovery & Homelessness: YES (Passed 7-0)

Nick Emmendorfer of Room at the Inn speaks.

This was a vote on a letter of support from the City Commission for the Marquette County Collaborative for Recovery and Homelessness. The Collaborative is a newly formed coalition of the Great Lakes Recovery Centers (GLRC), Room at the Inn (RATI), and the Janzen House. They are applying for a major state grant to complete three large projects that would meet urgent community needs: 1) Consolidate and expand GLRC recovery and rehabilitation services at a single county-wide facility, 2) Relocate the RATI homeless shelter to a larger facility to meet the growing needs of people experiencing homelessness in Marquette, and 3) Renovate the Janzen House (a 120 year-old building in need of repairs) and expand its capacity by 3-5 beds. Homelessness and substance use are serious and growing problems in Marquette, the U.P., and the rest of the United States, and while none of these projects will solve these problems entirely or meet the needs of every single person struggling with homelessness or addiction in Marquette, receiving this state funding would truly be a game changer for the most vulnerable members of our community. Moreover, none of these projects would cost the City a dime. I wholeheartedly support the Collaborative’s efforts, and I happily voted Yes along with my colleagues.

Ore Dock Brewing Co. Brownfield Plan: YES (Passed 7-0)

Amendment to Remove 5-Year Revolving Fund Tax Capture: YES (Passed 6-1)

This was a vote on a small Brownfield Plan to help revitalize two blighted properties in downtown Marquette and facilitate the expansion of a local small business, the Ore Dock Brewing Company. The owners of the Ore Dock purchased a blighted building next door to their place of business last year, and bought a small adjacent property from the City in August 2021. The vacant building has been an eyesore in the heart of our downtown for many years, and in addition to being unable to be developed or reused for conceivably any other purpose, the former City-owned parcel (the former site of a railroad track) is heavily contaminated with mercury and lead. The owners of the Ore Dock want to demolish the blighted building, clean up the contamination on the property, and use the land to develop a beer garden and expand their current building footprint and brewing capacity. Their total private investment will be $1.5 million, and they will continue paying their current level of taxes on the property. Of this $1.5 million investment, this Brownfield Plan will allow the Ore Dock to be reimbursed for up to $871,000 in “eligible activities” that they would otherwise be unable to complete profitably – these include demolition of the blighted building, environmental assessment and clean-up, lead and asbestos abatement, and infrastructure improvements. The amount to be reimbursed (and the length of the Brownfield Plan) could be reduced considerably if the Ore Dock receives one or more grants that they have applied for to assist with this project. An extension of the City bike path will also be funded through the Brownfield Plan, connecting the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (which currently ends at Marquette Commons) with the Rosewood Walkway and the Lake Superior waterfront.

Public improvements included in the Ore Dock Brewing Co. Brownfield Plan.

The funds for this reimbursement will come from the marginal increase in property taxes paid on this property. This Brownfield Plan will have zero budgetary impact on the City (all new property tax revenue in the downtown district is captured by the DDA anyway) and has also been approved by the State of Michigan, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), and the Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA). Before voting, the City Commission approved an amendment that cut out 5 years of tax capture for the Local Brownfield Revolving Fund, thereby shortening the length of the Brownfield Plan from 26 years to 21 years and reducing the total tax capture to less than $1 million – I voted Yes, and only Commissioner Hill voted No. The City Commission then unanimously approved the Brownfield Plan as amended, and despite some initial concerns, in the end I happily voted Yes. I am confident that this will prove to be a positive, impactful, and fiscally responsible move for the City of Marquette and our beautiful downtown district.

Rezone City Property on N McClellan Ave. to Conservation/Recreation: YES (Passed 7-0)

In response to a desire (and two signed petitions) from neighboring residents that the City follow through on promises made by a previous City Commission to preserve the City-owned properties on North McClellan Avenue for conservation and public recreation, the City Commission considered a motion to begin the process of rezoning this property from its current zoning status of “Municipal” to “Conservation/Recreation.” This is the same zoning designation that applies to City parks and several other green spaces in the City limits, and the property is currently a mix of wetlands and woodlands which contains several unofficial trails and is used by residents for recreational purposes, as well as being home to several large, old trees and a wide range of wildlife. Some residents had expressed a desire for a permanent conservation easement on this property, but while that is a possibility in the future, it would take considerable time and require careful planning and consideration – the creation of a conservation and recreation easement for 578 acres of the Heartwood Forest, for example, followed the rezoning of that property for Conservation/Recreation and years of discussions and planning. This rezoning in no way prevents a future conservation/recreation easement, and it is a simple step that is in line with our current Master Plan and which we can take right now to protect this land for future generations of City residents.

Create DDA Citizens Council: YES (Passed 7-0)

Map of DDA expansions over time. The proposed Third Street TIF District would be in the green area.

This was a vote to create a Downtown Development Area Citizens Council to discuss and plan for the potential creation of a new DDA Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for the Third Street Corridor. Although Third Street is officially part of the DDA district, when the DDA expanded there in 2011, it did not extend its existing downtown TIF district to cover Third Street. The DDA, which relies mostly on local TIF revenue to support its budget, currently provides many services to Third Street. However, this essentially amounts to a subsidization of the Third Street Corridor by businesses in the rest of downtown which already pay taxes to support the DDA – all marginal increases in local property tax revenue in the existing DDA TIF district have gone to the DDA since 1992, with City general fund tax revenue from this downtown district essentially frozen at 1992 levels. This is not true of the Third Street Corridor, which pays property taxes to the City general fund at the same rate as any other part of town, and does not pay to support the DDA. This is obviously a problem for the DDA, which needs to complete several major capital projects and continue to provide numerous services to downtown Marquette in the coming years. However, the creation of a DDA TIF district on Third Street, while having little fiscal impact at first, could potentially deprive the City of hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual tax revenue within a decade by essentially freezing the amount of local property tax revenue from Third Street going to the City general fund – any marginal increase in tax revenue would instead go to the DDA. That being said, the DDA Citizens Council will merely be a group of residents of the downtown district who will be tasked with studying the idea of a Third Street DDA TIF district and planning for how such an idea would work. Because this doesn’t commit the City to anything and public input is always valuable, I voted Yes to create this Citizens Council. However, I am very reluctant to limit future City tax revenue at a time when our Third Street Corridor is growing and the City is facing a major budget deficit – moving forward, I will eagerly await more detailed proposals from the DDA and the Citizens Council, and make the best financial decision for the City as a whole.

January 31, 2022 Vote Explanations

Approve Fire Truck Maintenance Agreement with Powell Twp: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a common-sense Yes vote to approve an agreement with Powell Township to use City personnel and equipment to help maintain their fire response vehicles. This actually makes the City money, and because our DPW has specialized equipment and skills that many small local governments lack, we already have virtually identical agreements in place with Marquette and Chocolay Townships.

Purchase New Municipal Tractor: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to purchase a new specialized tractor for the City DPW. Some other City Commissioners and I were initially skeptical of this purchase due to its high price tag of $170,000, given that the City has already implemented significant cuts in the current FY 2022 budget and is still looking at a nearly $2 million structural deficit for FY 2023. However, City staff explained that this was the lowest bid that the City had received which met our specifications (which included various technical capabilities and the ability to operate in all weather conditions), and that it made sense to purchase this particular tractor for two additional reasons: 1) The old tractor that it would be replacing was no longer being serviced by its manufacturer, and it had become impossible to find replacement parts for this older model, and 2) the City already owned an identical tractor (the DPW maintains two municipal tractors in its motor pool), making maintenance much easier and more cost-effective because both tractors would now have interchangeable parts. It still pained me to spend this much on a tractor, but upon further review I learned that it had come in $30,000 under budget, and I found the arguments of our DPW staff to be convincing enough that I was willing to vote Yes.

Schedule Public Hearing for Ore Dock Brewing Co. Brownfield Plan: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was simply a routine vote to schedule a public hearing for the February 14, 2022 City Commission meeting on the Brownfield Plan discussed above.

Statement on 01-24-22 City Commission Work Session on Structural Budget Deficit & Finding New Revenue

Note: This statement was originally shared by Mayor Pro Tem Cody Mayer on his Facebook page on Wednesday, Jan. 26. I was planning on writing my own post about the fiscal challenges faced by the City of Marquette and the recent discussions about raising new revenue, but Mayor Pro Tem Mayer’s post precisely reflects my own thoughts on this issue. I am sharing his statement on this website as my own, while giving him full credit. I would only reiterate that the current budget (FY 2022) that the City Commission approved last fall included significant spending cuts, stopping just short of reductions in the level of City services, and then only with a significant transfer from our dwindling reserve fund. We are looking at a deficit of ~$1.5-2 million for FY 2023. The choice we now face is between: 1) raising taxes in some form until new revenue starts coming in from the various Brownfield developments around town in the next decade or so, or 2) major cuts to City services (road maintenance, public safety, parks and recreation facilities, etc.) that will also hit residents hard. Nobody wants a tax increase, but I do not believe that most City residents would prefer the draconian cuts that are the only alternative.

To the residents of Marquette,

The Marquette City Commission recently held a public work session on our challenging financial situation, and it focused heavily on the revenue side of the equation. The honest truth is that we have already cut all the “fat” we could from the current City budget, but we are still projecting a deficit this year, and the severity of this deficit is projected to increase over the next several years. So, we had to have a brutally hard conversation. The City of Marquette hasn’t increased our property tax millage rate in over a decade, but the cost of doing “business as usual” has increased substantially in that time. We spent most of this work session discussing other possible options, and there just aren’t any good ones. With the cost of virtually everything increasing, revenue going down due to the Presque Isle Power Plant closure, Michigan Tax Tribunal appeals (“dark store” tax loophole), and other factors, and state laws preventing many other solutions like local lodging or sales taxes, our options are very limited.

I want to provide some numbers as well in the interest of being as transparent as possible. A City Operating Millage increase of 1.0 mil would cost the average homeowner an additional $85 yearly/ $7.08 monthly, and the max increase of roughly 2.67 mils would translate into $226 yearly/ $18.83 monthly for the average homeowner. The max increase of $18.83 monthly may not “seem like a lot” to some, but it certainly is a lot when you factor in utility rates increasing, the cost of living going up, and the fact that many Marquette homeowners have limited incomes. Some alternatives, such as a City income tax, are also on the table, and we are still considering all of our limited options.

I don’t want to blame previous City Commissions for kicking the can down the road either – it’s unproductive and doesn’t solve the current problem before us. Obviously, I didn’t anticipate facing this issue 14 months after being elected, but this is just the reality that my colleagues and I must accept. The roots of the City’s financial problems may lie in the past, but the current City Commission bears full responsibility for solving those problems.

I know that some of you may want us to cut spending instead of raising taxes, but ask yourself this: What department’s budget would you slash? What City services and infrastructure do you think we could live without? Our parks? Our roads? Police and fire? Snow removal? At the end of the day, cutting City services isn’t a viable answer.

This was just a work session – we will have further public discussions and public forums on this topic, whether that be virtually or in-person (hard to know these days), and all City residents will have an opportunity to be heard. All I ask is for everyone to stay engaged, stay informed, and give us time to make the best decision possible. I will do my best to keep everyone informed.

12-20-2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Hemlock Park Housing Development Agreement: NO (Passed 4-3)

Site map of the Hemlock Park housing development which the City Commission voted to subsidize with $2 million in infrastructure funding on Monday night.

This was a vote on a Development Agreement between Hemlock LLC (a subsidiary of Veridea Group) and the City of Marquette, in which Hemlock LLC agreed to invest at least $5 million in a housing development on Parcel 12 of the Heartwood Property in south Marquette (a 29-acre parcel which they purchased from the City in 2018), and the City agreed to fund $2 million in infrastructure for the development, including streets, sidewalks, water and sewer pipes, and electrical service. Hemlock LLC plans to invest a total of $19 million and build 60-70 single-family, owner-occupied homes (a mix of detached houses, duplexes, and townhomes) by 2023.

I am not opposed to this development. This property has been designated for future sale and development since the City purchased the Heartwood Property in 2005, we need to grow our local tax base given the City’s budgetary issues, and I’m sure there is a market in Marquette for nice homes in the $280-$400,000 price range. I like the plans for the site – it seems like it will be a nice, walkable, family-friendly neighborhood with a playground and sledding hill, located near the NTN South Trails and the ski hill. And extending utilities to this property would also potentially make City utilities available to the NTN South Trailhead and the ski hill in the future.

However, on Monday night the City Commission was not really voting on whether this site was going to be developed. We were voting on whether the City should borrow up to $2 million to pay for the infrastructure necessary for it to be developed, a cost which developers generally pay. That is a very different question.

When the Commission was first informed of this development by email on Dec. 9, we were told that, based on “initial discussions with the developer … the houses [in this development] could be sold at the middle-income price point,” although we didn’t have official figures at that time. In fact, this language about “middle income housing” was still included in the description of this development in our agenda on Monday night. So it was a bit disappointing to learn at the work session on Dec. 13 that these houses would start at $279,000, and that only 6 of the 60-70 homes would be sold at that price point, with the rest going for $300-400,000.

I still remained open-minded and cautiously optimistic, but a week later, none of the requests that several my colleagues and I made regarding commitments on price points, deed restrictions limiting resale price and requiring principal residence occupancy, or expanding the number of sub-$300k units were included in the final Development Agreement. It also became clear that the playground and sledding hill will probably only be open to residents of the Hemlock Park development – residents of Granite Pointe, Shiras Hills, or the mobile home parks nearby probably won’t be allowed to bring their kids to the playground or go sledding there in the winter. In return, we were asked to set the cap on the City infrastructure contribution at $2 million, rather than the $1.8-1.9 million we had discussed previously.

I think it’s important for us to remember the context of the community that everyone on the City Commission was elected to serve. The City of Marquette’s poverty rate is 25%. Now, it’s unrealistic to expect that people in poverty would be able to buy a house, but even Marquette’s median household income is just $44,000 according to the 2020 U.S. Census. A home that would be affordable for a family earning 80-120% of that median income (the “workforce housing” income range) would cost about $200,000, give or take. And based on some calculations I did recently using several reputable online mortgage calculators, a family would need to earn about $100,000 per year to afford to buy any of the homes in this proposed development, which would put them in the top 15% of household incomes in the City of Marquette.

Of course, the City Commission represents all City residents, and higher-income families need homes that they can live in, too. But this infrastructure funding is essentially an indirect subsidy for this development, the cost of which is borne by ALL City taxpayers, not just Veridea/Hemlock LLC or the homeowners in this development. I just don’t feel comfortable voting to borrow $2 million to subsidize a market-rate development in which none of the units are going to be affordable for 85% of the people I was elected to represent, and in which at least 90% of the units are going to be sold for over $300,000, especially when we do not have any firm commitments on price points in the Development Agreement or any deed restrictions preventing someone from buying one of these homes and selling it for a large profit a year or two later. After all, those profits would essentially be paid for by City taxpayers. I was contacted by a couple dozen constituents about this project, all of them opposed to it, and one of them told me that, “It seems like this project is basically subsidized unaffordable housing.” I didn’t know what to say at the time, other than to admit that they had a point.

Now, I agree that market-rate housing could still help with the housing crisis that Marquette is facing, if we had units available at the bottom of the market in that $200,000, “workforce housing” price range. But we don’t – there are currently only 6 houses for sale right now in Marquette for less than $250,000. As a result, I worry that when people sell their current homes to move into these units, that could just end up being a recipe for further housing price inflation, especially with investors willing to pay in cash for well over asking price as soon as houses are hitting the market.

And while this $2 million investment would pay for itself within 10 years from new tax and utility revenue, I feel that the way that some people chose to frame this development was fundamentally wrong. Not only is not truly “middle-income housing,” but the idea that we either need to accept bad deals like this to grow our tax base OR cut City services due to our budget shortfall is the very definition of a false choice. There is an alternative – we could have chosen NOT to take on $2 million in additional debt, reserving that bonding capacity for a future project that would produce some affordable housing or yield other public benefits. Had we done that, this property would have certainly been developed anyway – the developer publicly stated as much in the meeting on Monday night – and the City tax base would have grown significantly without the need for any City subsidies. That’s not to mention the fact that growing our tax base doesn’t help very much with our current budgetary shortfall when that new tax revenue won’t offset the $2 million infrastructure investment until a decade from now, and when a large portion of our limited budget is already devoted to debt service.

For all these reasons, I voted No, along with Mayor Pro Tem Mayer and Commissioner Hanley. The rest of my colleagues voted Yes, and the Development Agreement passed 4-3.

Climate Action Resolution: YES (Passed 7-0)

Severe damage to the old Lakeshore Blvd. from “50-year” winter storms in 2017 and 2019.

This was a vote on a resolution which commits the City of Marquette to eliminating the City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and creating a Climate Action Work Plan to achieve this goal. This goal is in line with the State of Michigan’s goal of achieving statewide carbon neutrality by 2050, and the Paris Climate Accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (which will require the world to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050).

This was a campaign promise that I made when I was running for City Commission in 2019, and I was incredibly proud to see this resolution pass unanimously on Monday night. I was also humbled and inspired to see a surge of grassroots support for City action on climate change from City residents, with dozens of City residents of all ages and backgrounds showing up at multiple City Commission meetings to make their voices heard, and dozens more calling and emailing the Commission urging us to approve this resolution.

It’s also important to note that there are several years of history behind this resolution, and that climate change has real costs to the City of Marquette, and by extension, to all Marquette residents and taxpayers. In 2017, 584 City residents signed a petition urging the City Commission to pass a resolution like this one. The Commission declined to do so, although some Commissioners supported the idea. Since then, Lakeshore Blvd. and Shiras Park have both been destroyed by “50-year storms” which are no longer 50-year storms – if we do nothing, the “gales of November” will come earlier and earlier and be more powerful each year. Extreme winter weather, from heavy lake effect snow to the “polar vortex,” will also become more common. That means millions of additional taxpayer dollars spent on infrastructure repairs and snow removal. It means we may no longer be able to enjoy our lakeshore the way we do now. We have already had to spend millions of state and local tax dollars on relocating Lakeshore Blvd. to protect vital City infrastructure and reduce erosion of our public lakeshore. Millions more will surely have to be spent by the City in the future if we do not reduce emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst potential effects of climate change.

Major coastal flooding in Marquette due to historically high lake levels and a severe winter storm.

To me, that is an unacceptable outcome, and we must do our part to avoid it. To be fair, the City has already made a lot of progress on climate change adaptation (preparing for climate change) and mitigation (reducing emissions to limit climate change), but we don’t have the luxury of sitting on our laurels – we can and should be doing much more to reduce emissions and prepare for a changing climate.

Join National Opioids Settlement: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a motion to join a national legal settlement in which 4 major Big Pharma companies are being required to pay $26 billion in damages to individuals and state and local governments for their role in the national opioid epidemic. Clearly the opioid crisis has severely impacted our community and our country. In 2016, there were 42,000 opioid overdose deaths nationwide – in 2021 there were over 75,000. Opioid overdoses have exceeded car accidents as a cause of death in the United States for the past 3 years. The reality is that this is largely a manufactured epidemic. These four companies are certainly not the only entities that are responsible for the opioid epidemic that is afflicting our country, the U.P., and Marquette, but they are responsible and need to be held accountable. $26 billion is certainly a large sum, but no amount of money can ever compensate for the damage that opioid drugs have done, and will continue to do, to our society. I felt that it was critically important that we join this settlement in the interest of justice and helping to repair some of the damage that opioids have done to Marquette and the people who call it home, and I voted Yes as a result.

12-13-2021 City Commission Work Session Summary & Vote Explanations

A site map of the Hemlock Park housing development proposed at Parcel 12 of the Heartwood Property by Veridea Group and their subsidiary, Hemlock LLC.

12-13-21 Work Session Notes

Below you can find my explanations of the two votes I took at Monday night’s City Commission meeting, but first I want to provide my notes on the public work session that preceded the meeting, during which we discussed a proposed housing development in south Marquette. This development, proposed by Hemlock LLC (a subsidiary of Veridea Group), would take place on former Parcel 12 of the Heartwood Property – this 29-acre parcel was designated for sale when the City first acquired the 2,200-acre Heartwood Property in 2005, and prior to my election in 2019, the City Commission sold it to Veridea Group for $209,000 (100% of its assessed value) in 2018. In early conversations with the City, the developers stated that they intended to build about 60 modular, owner-occupied single-family homes which would be affordable for middle-income families. To achieve this, they were asking that the City finance the infrastructure for the site, which would amount to an indirect subsidy of about $40,000 per unit (all of which they guaranteed would be passed on to homebuyers). This would also make City utilities available to the NTN South Trailhead and the campground and ski hill further south.

Here is some of the new information that we learned about this proposed development at the public work session on Monday. First I’ll list what I see as some of the positive aspects of this proposed development, followed by the negatives.

Positives

  1. The project would produce 60-70 owner-occupied homes (a range of single-family homes, duplexes, and townhomes) at a time when Marquette desperately needs more available housing of all types and at a wide range of price points. We certainly need more low-income and workforce housing, but there are also currently only four 3-bedroom homes for sale in Marquette at any price, and only seven homes for sale in Marquette for less than $300,000.
  2. This development would produce new tax and utility revenue for the City at a time when we are facing significant structural deficits. In fact, City staff project that the proposed $1.8 million City infrastructure investment for this project would pay for itself in less than 10 years.
  3. This development would not involve Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF), meaning the taxes from the development would go straight to the City budget, rather than being captured for 15-20 years to pay off a Brownfield Plan.
  4. The site plan intentionally sets aside 10 acres (most of the eastern half of the property) for permanent conservation, including the old-growth hemlock stand from which the development takes its name, “Hemlock Park.”
  5. The NTN is fully supportive of the project, and the NTN “Mossy Connector” trail that runs through the property would be partially re-routed but would be preserved. Again, the NTN could also potentially get plumbing and running water at their South Trailhead as a result of this project.
  6. The developers plan to include a lot of human infrastructure in the proposed development – a playground, a sledding hill, trails through the woods, sidewalks, etc. They want it to be a walkable, family-friendly neighborhood.
  7. There would be a condo association for this development which would severely restrict and potentially prohibit short-term rentals in this new neighborhood.
  8. Even if most of these homes would not be affordable for the average Marquette resident, most homebuyers would probably be locals who currently own a “starter” home in Marquette, or empty-nesters looking to downsize. When they sell their current homes, that would theoretically open up those more affordable homes for sale, allowing families with more modest incomes to become homeowners. There is significant (if disputed) empirical evidence for this “musical chairs effect” in other housing markets, although this evidence is mostly limited to large metro areas.
  9. This project would not have any impact on utility rates for current ratepayers in the rest of the City – in fact, it would improve system-wide reliability and sustainability, paying for itself in 10 years and for its long-term maintenance and replacement costs in about another 10 years.
  10. This project would use high-quality modular construction, which allows housing to be built more quickly and less expensively at the same level of quality as a traditional stick-built home. This would be a great proof of concept for modular housing in Marquette, and modular construction has the potential to produce workforce housing that is genuinely affordable for working-class families earning 80-120% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

Negatives

  1. Shortly before the meeting, we learned that the “middle-income” affordability component of this project was essentially being eliminated due to financial constraints. The units in this project would all be in the $275-$400,000 range – certainly less expensive than a lot of the new construction on Lakeshore Blvd., but not truly affordable for most middle-income families.
  2. The homes in this development would start at $279,000. To be honest, I would still be quite excited about this project if all 60-70 units would be available at $279,000 – we desperately need housing, and as previously mentioned, there are only 7 houses for sale for less than $300,000 in Marquette right now. However, only about 6 of the 60-70 units will likely be sold at that lower price – the rest would most likely be over $300,000.
  3. In the draft Development Agreement for this project, there are currently no provisions guaranteeing that these homes will actually be sold at the price points listed above. There is also no mention of deed restrictions to limit resale value or to require primary residence occupancy for these homes, both of which are fairly standard practices for new developments in hot housing markets like Marquette’s. The developer stated that they would consider deed restrictions and making some kind of commitment about price points in the final Development Agreement, but they were very candid about their reluctance and reservations about doing so. Without these commitments, even after the City invests $1.8 million into infrastructure for this project, there would still be no guarantee that the homes would actually be sold at these price points, and nothing preventing the buyers from using them as investment properties or reselling them a year or two after purchase at a much higher price. This raises serious concerns for me about the long-term affordability of these homes (most of which will not be affordable for the vast majority of Marquette residents to begin with).
  4. Based on some calculations I did using https://www.mortgagecalculator.org/, these homes would be affordable for families earning about $100-$140,000 per year, and only about 6 of these homes (those priced at $279,000) could conceivably be affordable for families earning less than $100,000 per year. Now, these families certainly need homes, too, and I was elected to represent everyone in Marquette, regardless of their income. But am I comfortable essentially applying a $1.8 million, $40,000-per-unit subsidy to this project (using City taxpayer dollars) so households earning six-figure incomes can buy homes for slightly lower prices? I don’t know yet – it certainly makes me feel very uneasy.
The property in question is Parcel 12, top-center in the map of the Heartwood Forest Property above.

To be honest, when I first heard about this project and was told that some portion of these homes were going to be affordable for “middle-income” households, I was very excited. 60-70 genuinely affordable homes within the 80-120% AMI workforce housing price range (i.e., anywhere from about $170-$210,000), or even slightly above that price range – say, $250,000 – would genuinely make a huge difference in Marquette. This is achievable with the right developer and combination of public supports and policies – it has been done in many other communities, in Michigan and across the country, that are facing similar housing crises. However, after the work session on Monday night, I was frankly disappointed.

Now, there is a strong “lesser of two evils” argument to be made here. We do genuinely need more housing in Marquette just to maintain our current population and retain the young families we already have. And without City financing for the infrastructure for this project, Veridea could just build the same development, but likely with fewer community benefits and charging at least $40,000 more per unit, so that even those handful of $279,000 homes would instead go for over $300,000. After all, Veridea already owns the property, and they can do anything with the property that is compliant with its Mixed-Use zoning. The City’s leverage here is limited – we can’t dictate what happens with this property like we could if we still owned it and were putting out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to prospective housing developers. And although these homes would not truly be affordable for most middle-income families in Marquette, they would free up dozens of less expensive homes for purchase – that “musical chairs effect” I mentioned earlier.

That being said, without a solid inventory of at least a few dozen genuinely affordable workforce housing units for sale at the bottom end of the owner-occupied housing market, I worry that this process of “musical chairs” will not actually help very much, as current homeowners looking to “move up” into a nicer, more expensive house will still want to take full advantage of the hot housing market and sell their houses for as much as possible (i.e., a lot more than most Marquette residents can afford). It’s also unclear how many of these vacated homes will be bought by locals and actual families moving to the area, and how many will be snapped up as soon as they hit the market by wealthy out-of-town investors willing to pay well over asking price and in cash. I agree that new market-rate housing development can have a real positive impact on housing availability and affordability, but only in combination with new affordable workforce housing development.

I still don’t know how I’m going to vote on this proposal – it will likely be brought back to the City Commission for a vote next Monday, Dec. 20 – but I hope you found this summary to be informative. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts – you can reach me at (906) 236-0247, ebonsall@marquettemi.gov, or on Facebook.

12-13-21 Vote Explanations

Resolution to Protect Democracy & Promote Ballot Access: YES (Passed 7-0)

This resolution was brought to the City Commission by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, and was similar to resolutions that were recently passed by the elected councils in Munising, Ishpeming, and Negaunee Twp. This nonpartisan resolution affirms the City Commission’s support for the voting rights reforms approved by 67% of Michigan voters (and 76% of City of Marquette voters) through Proposition 3 in 2018, and for state-level efforts to expand access to absentee voting, early voting, and in-person voting on Election Day. It also expresses the City Commission’s strong opposition to legislation which is being considered by the State Legislature in Lansing which would restrict ballot access and voting rights in Michigan. I happily voted Yes. Here is a link to the video of the statement I made on this resolution at Monday’s meeting: https://youtu.be/ejbjEqStv0Y?t=3452

Public Works & Utilities Labor Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote on a new 3-year contract for the City’s DPW and utilities employees – there are 54 unionized City employees in this bargaining unit, AFSCME Local #1852. The contract includes a 2% raise in the first year, with wage reopeners in the second and third years, and some other minor adjustments to compensation. The total net cost of approving this contract was $68,000, which the City Commission had already budgeted for in the FY2022 City budget. Our hardworking DPW employees are certainly worth more – they do a thankless and difficult job extremely well – but overall I felt that this was a fair and fiscally responsible contract given the City’s current budgetary constraints, and I voted Yes.

11-29-2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Hi folks – here are my vote explanations from the November 29, 2021 Marquette City Commission meeting. You can watch the meeting video at https://youtu.be/-UDB2SIFZn8 and please don’t hesitate to reach out to share any of your questions or concerns with me at (906) 236-0247 or ebonsall@marquettemi.gov.

Approve Intent to Sell Resolution for Mixed-Income Affordable Housing Development on McClellan Ave: No Action Taken

Withdraw McClellan Ave. Development from Consideration, & Seek Affordable Housing Development at Other Sites in the City of Marquette: YES (Passed 7-0)

A site plan for the proposed mixed-income affordable housing development on N McClellan Ave., which was not approved by the City Commission on Monday night.

My apologies in advance for this lengthy vote explanation. This was one of the most difficult votes I have taken in my 2 years on the City Commission, as I felt that I was being pulled in two conflicting directions and forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils.” In February 2021, Renovare Development independently approached the City of Marquette with an offer to buy 8.1 acres of City-owned property on N McClellan Avenue, between West Avenue and Elder Drive, to develop it into affordable, mixed-income housing. This proposal was still being fleshed out at the time, and was not brought forward for City Commission consideration until the Ad Hoc Housing Committee had released our Final Report (in June 2021) and the City Commission had formally endorsed the Housing Committee’s Final Report and policy recommendations (which did not occur until last week at our special meeting on Nov. 22). The City Commission did not have any more details about this proposal than the general public did until a few days before Monday’s meeting.

Contrary to some baseless and completely false rumors and conspiracy theories being tossed around on social media and during public comment at last night’s meeting, there was never any “behind-closed-doors” deal between Renovare and the City, no preexisting relationship between Renovare and the City Manager or any City Commissioners, no intent to “pull one over” on the public or “ram this through” without public input, and zero recommendations in the Ad Hoc Housing Committee’s Final Report regarding this specific development proposal. Renovare was just one of dozens of housing experts who gave a brief presentation to the Ad Hoc Housing Committee more than a year ago, and their presence in Marquette predates the Housing Committee and this development proposal by at least 6 years, as they were a key player in the redevelopment of the old orphanage into the Grandview Marquette low-income housing complex.

In any case, the development proposal that we were presented with last night would have included 69 total owner-occupied housing units, including a mix of small single-family homes, duplexes, fourplexes, and rowhouses. At least 50% (35) of these units would have been affordable for households earning 60-120% of Marquette’s Area Median Income (AMI), with Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF) used to provide gap financing to get prices down to affordable levels, and deed restrictions imposing long-term affordability and potentially principal residence requirements for the affordable units. The proposed Brownfield Plan would have been paid off within 8-12 years, and would have been used to obtain affordable price points, not merely line the developer’s pockets.

On the surface, this seems like exactly the kind of affordable housing development that our community so desperately needs – and in virtually any other location in Marquette, it would have been. Truly, I wish we could “copy and paste” this development into 4 or 5 different vacant or undeveloped properties that exist throughout Marquette. However, the crucial complication with this development was that it would have resulted in the destruction of 8 acres of pristine woodlands that have long been a de facto park for local residents – this understandably generated intense public opposition, with over 100 people attending the City Commission meeting to express their concerns, many of which were completely valid. In hindsight, the City was also not as transparent as we should have been, and the proposed public engagement process between the developer and the community should have taken place before any proposal was brought before the Commission, not after. Finally, the deciding factor for me was that we learned at the meeting that 10-12 years ago, when the City Commission voted to extend McClellan Avenue through this property from Fair Avenue to Wright Street, then-Mayor John Kivela and most of the other City Commissioners promised the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods that the remaining woodlands and wetlands on either side of the road would remain undeveloped and would continue to be zoned for Conservation/Recreation. At some point, the zoning of the property changed to Municipal because it was City-owned, but I still felt that the Commission needed to honor those promises that were made to the neighborhood residents in the fairly recent past. To do otherwise would have severely undermined public trust in the Commission and the City as a whole. That is why, after careful consideration, I voted for Commissioner Stonehouse’s motion to withdraw this proposed development from consideration for this particular site, and to continue City efforts to work with developers and build public-private partnerships to develop affordable housing on other vacant, blighted, or undeveloped sites within the City of Marquette.

That being said, while I stand by this vote as the best decision available to the Commission last night, I am far from happy about it. In fact, I am deeply frustrated, and I remain determined to continue working with my fellow Commissioners, City staff, and community partners to promote affordable housing development in Marquette – not 5 or 10 years from now, not even 2 years from now, but right NOW. There is a very real and very urgent housing affordability crisis that is threatening the livability and the future social and economic wellbeing of this community. This Commission has had many City residents share their stories about struggling to find decent, affordable housing with us, including at our meeting just last week. We have also been presented with a mountain of overwhelming data that further proves that we are experiencing a housing crisis. In the coming months and years, the City Commission needs to implement the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee and actively pursue other near-term opportunities for affordable housing development, and I will do everything in my power as a City Commissioner to make that happen.

To be completely honest, this issue is very personal for me. I grew up in a little blue house on Woodland Avenue (which is now worth about 3x what my parents paid for it 30 years ago), and when I was a kid I played in these woods and the many other little pockets of nature scattered throughout the neighborhood – on this property between West Avenue and McClellan, in the woods between Woodland and the Redeemer church parking lot, and I frequently gave my parents a heart attack sledding down the ravine west of Woodland. There were a lot of other working-class families with kids in the neighborhood, and you always got a lot of good candy on Halloween.

I say all that because I wish my family could’ve stayed there. When we fell on hard times like a lot of families did during the Recession, and my parents got divorced, we wanted to stay in our home, but we couldn’t afford to. So over the next 6 years, we moved 4 or 5 times to try and find housing that we could afford anywhere in Marquette, and it was often a struggle. If something like this proposed development had existed at that time, maybe we could’ve stayed in that neighborhood that we loved so much.

Then, after I graduated from college and got a job in Marquette in 2019, it took me 6 months and a lot of luck to find an affordable one-bedroom apartment in Marquette. Ironically, although I’m an elected City Commissioner, I worry every day that someday soon my wife and I will get priced out of our hometown that we both grew up in and want to stay in. Right now, Marquette’s biggest export is our young people, followed closely by families with children and retirees on limited incomes, and the lack of affordable housing is largely to blame for that. Everyone says we don’t want to become Traverse City – well, working-class people of all ages are the bedrock of our community, they are the key to our community’s future, and if we don’t get some significant affordable housing development in Marquette very soon, we will lose those people and we won’t get them back, and Marquette will become a hollowed-out shell of what it once was, a community for tourists and the wealthy. If you don’t believe that, just go ask the folks in Traverse City.

Where are our children and grandchildren going to live in Marquette? Or our retired parents and grandparents on fixed incomes? Or the thousands of low- and middle-income employees who work at local businesses and provide vital services to our community? What about the NMU students and employees who also form part of the bedrock of Marquette? And while we need to think about homeowners, every single City Commissioner was also elected to represent the majority of City residents who (like myself and most of my family members in Marquette) are renters and still pay taxes indirectly through their rent. What about the need for affordable rental housing for them, which was not part of the proposed development on McClellan?

There will be no easy answers to these questions, but 3 things are clear:

1) There is an affordable housing crisis in Marquette that requires urgent action by the City;

2) Thanks to the Ad Hoc Housing Committee, we now know of many specific actions that we can take to address that crisis; and

3) None of those actions will be universally popular, and all of them will require compromise and realism from both City residents and their elected officials.

To those who are disappointed by this vote, I completely understand and I am truly sorry, but please know that this is certainly not the end of City efforts to promote housing affordability – rather, it is just the end of the beginning.

Brownfield Reimbursement Agreement for Vault Marquette Project: NO (Passed 6-1)

This was a vote on a Reimbursement Agreement essentially laying out some additional details regarding the Brownfield TIF reimbursement schedule for the Vault Marquette luxury hotel, residential, and parking garage development on Lakeshore Boulevard. You may recall that the Brownfield Plan for this development was considered at a previous City Commission meeting in July 2021, and passed 5-2 – there was strong public opposition to the project, and I was one of the two Commissioners who voted No at that time. As a result, although this Reimbursement Agreement was arguably a procedural step in the process of allowing the Vault Marquette project to move forward, it was part and parcel with the Brownfield Plan that I voted against just a few months ago, and as a result I did not feel that I could support it in good conscience. That is why I was the sole No vote on this item last night. The City Commission will be presented with a Development Agreement and an Operational Agreement for this project (the final steps in the approval process) sometime in January or February 2022, and I am curious to see what is included in those final agreements.

Approve Police Labor Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote for a new contract with the union representing the Marquette Police Dept. This contract was very similar to other contracts that the Commission has recently approved for other City bargaining units: 2 years in length, with a 2% raise in Year 1 and a wage reopener in Year 2, and some minor compensation and personnel adjustments. The modest increase in personnel expenses ($58,800) resulting from this contract is within the City’s current fiscal constraints and has already been incorporated into the FY22 City budget. I grew up in a law enforcement family, and my mother worked as a secretary for MPD for 30+ years and also served as a union vice president, so I have seen firsthand the invaluable contributions and sacrifices that our MPD personnel and their families make to keep this community safe. Frankly, our MPD officers and support staff are worth a lot more, but given the tight City budget this year, I thought this was a fair contract and a common-sense Yes vote.

October 25, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my vote explanations for the City Commission meeting on Monday, October 25, 2021. You can watch the meeting video on the City of Marquette YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1k-p0KJxUo. As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov or (906) 236-0247 (my personal cell number). Without further ado, here we go…

Approve City Supervisors’ Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)

A different version of this contract was previously rejected by the City Commission at our meeting on August 30 on a 5-2 vote – that previous version would have provided the City’s 8 supervisory employees with 3% annual raises over the course of 5 years. Although I was one of the two Commissioners who voted in favor of that contract, I understood my colleagues’ concerns that this contract had been negotiated before we knew that the City would be facing a steep budget shortfall in FY 2022. Most of my colleagues and I did not disagree with the idea of a 3% annual raise (which is fairly modest by today’s standards), but we did have concerns about locking in these pay increases for a 5-year period given the current uncertainty regarding City finances. Instead, we decided to go back to the negotiating table with the supervisors’ AFSCME bargaining unit, and we were able to come to a compromise which was acceptable to all parties. The new supervisors’ contract which we voted on at Monday night’s meeting was a 2-year deal with a guaranteed 2% raise in 2022 and a wage reopener in 2023, with the addition of the day before Thanksgiving as a paid holiday. I was grateful to City staff and the bargaining team and members of AFSCME Local #1852 for coming to a new agreement and I felt that this was a fair compromise given the unfortunate circumstances, so I voted yes. Hopefully we will be able to get the City in a stronger financial position over the next year, and be able to provide our supervisors with a raise that more adequately reflects their contributions to the City in the second year of this contract. The 2% raise in 2022 equates to $10,839.52 in additional wages, which has been budgeted for in the FY2022 budget approved by the City Commission last month.

Approve City Hall Employees’ Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)

This is another contract negotiated with AFSCME Local #1852, this time with the City Hall employees’ bargaining unit. This contract was largely modeled after the renegotiated supervisors’ contract – in this case, it was a 3-year contract but with a 2% raise guaranteed only for 2022, with wage reopeners in 2023 and 2024 and the addition of the day before Thanksgiving as a paid holiday. The 2% raise in 2022 equates to $30,000 in additional wages, which has been budgeted for in the FY2022 budget approved by the City Commission last month. This contract affects 28 City employees. I voted Yes because I felt that this was a fair agreement given the City’s current fiscal constraints – as with the supervisors’ contract, hopefully the City Commission will be in a financial position to offer these hardworking employees a more adequate raise in a year or two. After all, our people are our most valuable asset, and if we don’t invest in them just like we invest in our roads and our parks, the quality of the City services that our people provide will inevitably decline.

Bring City Attorney Services Back “In-House”: YES (Passed 7-0 as Amended)

Amendment to Require Final Contract to Be Approved by Subcommittee: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was another item brought back from a previous City Commission meeting. The 3-member subcommittee of the City Commission established at our October 12 meeting met and quickly returned to the Commission with a recommendation for how to proceed with bringing the City Attorney back “in-house” and hiring Suzanne Larsen (our current City Attorney) as a full-time City employee. This was technically two separate votes – one vote to approve the City Attorney position as a City employee and terminate our contract with Kendricks, Bordeau, Keefe, Seavoy & Larsen, P.C., and a second vote to formally appoint Suzanne Larsen as the City Attorney and approve the negotiated terms of her contract. The contract itself was still being finalized as of Monday night, but Ms. Larsen, the City, and the Commission subcommittee had agreed upon a $115,000 annual salary, a $50,000 term life insurance policy, and the same benefits package that would be given to City department heads, and an initial contract term of January 1 – September 30, 2022. This is a fair compensation package, and bringing City Attorney services back in-house will increase the City Attorney’s availability to City staff and the number of hours that Ms. Larsen can spend on City business, while saving at least $50,000 per year which can instead go towards balancing the City budget and maintaining critical public services and infrastructure in Marquette. It is also worth noting that Commissioner Davis offered an amendment requiring that, in the interest of Commission oversight and transparency, the previously established subcommittee of 3 City Commissioners should have the opportunity to review and approve the final contract before it is signed by the Mayor and City Clerk. Especially given the City’s current budgetary constraints, this was a common-sense vote to improve the quality of legal services provided to the City while also saving a large amount of taxpayer dollars, and I voted Yes as a result.

Approve Temporary Marijuana Events Policy: YES (Passed 7-0 as amended)

Amendment to Require Review of Policy After One Year: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to approve a new City policy which would allow public or private marijuana events to be held at three specific locations within the City of Marquette: Tourist Park (in May and October only), Lakeview Arena, and the Presque Isle Pavilion. These locations were chosen due to expected event size, designated 500-foot marijuana buffers around public schools, places of worship, and substance use disorder treatment facilities, availability of necessary facilities and services, and the relatively isolated location of these three sites. Under this policy, hosting a marijuana event would require the payment of $700 in fees (which is similar to the $1,000 required by the State of Michigan for marijuana events on state property).

Events at Presque Isle and Lakeview Arena would only be able to take place at the Presque Isle Pavilion and inside the arena, naturally limiting them to a reasonable size, and events at these locations would have to comply with the non-smoking ordinance which prohibits smoking in virtually all City parks. As a result, any marijuana events at Presque Isle or Lakeview would essentially be commercial events, where people could purchase products and could only consume non-smokable products. Smoking could take place at a marijuana event at Tourist Park, but the event hosts would have to reserve the entire campground for the event and events could only take place there in May or October to avoid disturbing campers. Commissioner Mayer also introduced an amendment requiring that the City Commission review this policy after one year in November 2022, and this amendment passed unanimously. I felt that this policy met the growing demand for a space for marijuana events in Marquette, while also balancing that appropriately against the needs and desires of the community and putting in safeguards to protect all three of these beloved City recreation areas. We will see how it goes, and will be able to make any necessary adjustments next fall when we revisit this policy per Commissioner Mayer’s amendment. This is the same experimental, flexible approach we have taken when legalizing marijuana businesses and food trucks within the City limits, it has served us well in both instances, and I think it will do so again with this policy.

Approve Contract w/ MDOT for US 41 Project Cost Sharing: YES (Passed 7-0)

MDOT has completed plans for reconstruction of US 41 between the Front Street roundabout and Furnace Street. As part of this project, City utilities under the highway that are in poor condition will be replaced, and this was a vote to approve a contract with MDOT for this work. This contract requires the City to provide $159,900 in a cost-sharing agreement with MDOT, but this is much less than it would cost to replace these utility lines on our own. Also, because this work is taking place right next to the Founders Landing Brownfield Plan area, the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (MBRA) has already approved the full reimbursement of the cost of these repairs to the City through property tax capture at the Founders Landing Brownfield site, so these repairs will not cost regular City taxpayers anything in the long run. I felt that this was a common-sense vote, and I voted Yes as a result.

October 12, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my vote explanations for the City Commission meeting that was held on Tuesday, October 12, 2021. You can watch the meeting video on the City of Marquette YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksGIudoXPRw As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov or (906) 236-0247 (my personal cell).

Create OPRA District & Approve Obsolete Property Tax Exemption at 136 W Washington Street: YES (Passed 7-0)

Image source: Google Maps Street View, 136 W Washington St., Marquette, MI 49855

This was actually two separate votes which both passed 7-0, and which are both intended to facilitate the redevelopment of the old Book World and Nordic Theatre building on Washington Street into a new distillery and bar, which will be called The Honorable Distillery. The first vote was to establish an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) District at 136 W Washington Street, the former location of Book World and the Nordic Theater which has been vacant for several years. The second vote was to actually provide an OPRA property tax exemption for this property for 3 years – in other words, the property owners will redevelop this vacant, obsolete building into a vibrant new local business, and in return they will only have to pay property taxes on its current (relatively low) value for the next 3 years. After that, the exemption will expire and they will begin paying property taxes as usual in 2025. This is very similar to the 3-year OPRA tax exemption granted to the Marquette Food Co-op, which made it possible for the Co-op to expand into their new location on Washington Street – that exemption expired in 2019, and facilitated the expansion of the City tax base, the creation of a neighborhood grocery store within walking distance of thousands of Marquette residents, and the addition of a new anchor business to downtown Marquette. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) had already approved the tax exemption for 136 W Washington Street, but final approval was up to the City Commission. I voted Yes because this tax exemption is very short-term and the developers need it in order to make it financially feasible for them to redevelop the property. This $2.6 million investment will result in the creation of a great new business and 26 jobs, rehabilitate a vacant, blighted property in the heart of our downtown, expand the City tax base, and benefit the community as a whole. Aubrie and I can’t wait to buy some whiskey from The Honorable Distillery when they open next year!

Authorize Bringing City Attorney Services Back In-House: Tabled (7-0)

Motion to Establish a Temporary Subcommittee to Determine a Process for Bringing City Attorney Services In-House: YES (Passed 7-0)

For many years, the City Attorney was a direct employee of the City of Marquette, and was one of the only two City employees (along with the City Manager) who was directly hired by the City Commission. However, while the City Commission still has hiring-and-firing power over the City Attorney, for the past 16 years the City has contracted out City Attorney services to a private law firm, Kendricks, Bordeau, Keefe, Seavoy & Larsen, P.C. Suzanne Larsen has been a member of this firm and has done work for the City for many years, and she recently became the lead City Attorney. Now, given the ever-growing need for legal services in local government and the fact that the City is facing a very tight budgetary situation, we have re-evaluated this arrangement and have determined that it makes both practical and financial sense to bring City Attorney services back in-house and hire Suzanne Larsen as a full-time employee of the City of Marquette, rather than continue to contract out these services. In doing so, we will simultaneously increase the City Attorney’s availability to City staff and the number of hours that Ms. Larsen can spend on City business, while saving at least $50,000 per year which can instead go towards balancing the City budget and maintaining critical public services and infrastructure in Marquette.

However, while the Commission agreed with the wisdom of this move, many of us had some concerns about the process and wanted to make sure that the Commission to have a bit more oversight and input into the City Attorney contract and hiring process. As a result, we tabled this motion, and then voted to approve a motion to form a temporary subcommittee of 3 Commissioners, appointed by Mayor Smith, to meet and come back to the Commission with a recommendation regarding bringing the City Attorney in-house at the next Commission meeting in two weeks. This seemed prudent to me, so I voted Yes.

Join Marquette County Intergovernmental Housing Task Force: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a common-sense but important resolution to support the City of Marquette formally joining the new Marquette County Intergovernmental Housing Task Force, and to appoint Assistant City Manager Sean Hobbins as our representative on this Task Force. This Task Force is exactly what it sounds like – a County-wide regional group which brings local governments from all over Marquette County together to discuss housing issues and figure out how we can work together to increase housing quality, availability, and affordability throughout Marquette County. In fact, this is right in line with one of the recommendations made by the City’s Housing Committee in our Final Report – specifically, that the City should work together with other local governments and regional planning entities like CUPPAD and the Lake Superior Community Partnership to continue the conversations about housing affordability that have been taking place in the City of Marquette at a regional level. It’s crucial that the City of Marquette participate actively in these regional housing conversations even as we begin to implement the recommendations of our own Housing Committee at a local level, so I happily voted Yes.