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.
Hemlock Park Housing Development Agreement: NO (Passed 4-3)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
There would be a condo association for this development which would severely restrict and potentially prohibit short-term rentals in this new neighborhood.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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, [email protected], or on Facebook.
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.
Hi folks – here are my vote explanations from the November 29, 2021 Marquette City Commission meeting. You can watch the meeting video athttps://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 [email protected].
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)
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.
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 [email protected] 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.
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 [email protected] or (906) 236-0247 (my personal cell).
Create OPRA District & Approve Obsolete Property Tax Exemption at 136 W Washington Street: YES (Passed 7-0)
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.
Here are my explanations of all of my votes on substantive, non-Consent Agenda items from the September 27, 2021 City Commission meeting. You can watch the meeting at: https://youtu.be/EYv5_EClHuA?t=264
Approve FY 2022 City Budget: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was easily the most important and complicated item on the agenda Monday night. As such, I will be making an entire separate post in the next few days explaining the details of the FY 2022 City budget and the long-term fiscal challenges the City is facing. In short, it’s important to note that this budget was created in the midst of a $5.6 million budgetary shortfall which was the result of numerous decisions going back decades, and after a lot of hard work City staff and the City Commission are close to having a solid plan for overcoming these long-term challenges. This budget is far from perfect, but given the circumstances, I’m grateful that we were able to maintain current levels of City services and staff, keep utility rate increases as low as possible (much lower than the steep rate hikes approved in 2018 and 2019), and take an important first step towards setting Marquette on a more sustainable fiscal path.
This was a common-sense but very important vote to approve a year-end budget adjustment for FY 2021 (the City’s fiscal year ends on September 30 and begins on October 1). This budget adjustment incorporated critical cost-saving measures into the FY 2021 City budget, allowing us to finish the year “in the black” and carry that balanced budget forward into the current fiscal year, which will be a tough one. Without this budget adjustment, it would have been impossible to balance the FY 2022 City budget without major cuts to City staff and services. This budget adjustment also granted limited discretion to the Chief Financial Officer to make necessary adjustments to ensure that we ended FY 2021 with a balanced budget, as some City bills come due at the very end of the fiscal year, after the last City Commission meeting.
Support Recycling Grant Applications: YES (Passed 6-1)
This was a vote to approve letters of support for two City grant applications which would provide significant additional funding for City recycling operations. Currently, our private trash and recycling hauler, Waste Management, frequently fails to pick up residents’ recyclables when they are left out in small bins and rigid containers, and on glass recycling weeks, the glass recyclables generated by City residents are almost completely unusable by the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority due to cross-contamination with other recyclables (plastic, paper, cardboard, metal, etc.). At the same time, for several years the City has been promoting the use of City recycling carts, which are more economical for most residents, and more than 40% of City residents have already switched to the recycling carts. These grants would allow the City of Marquette to provide a free cart for every household in the City that lives in a building with 5 or fewer residential units – those residents currently using the carts would no longer have to pay the small additional fee on their taxes. Because these carts would be provided at zero cost to all City residents who are eligible for curbside recycling collection, the City would ask all City residents to switch to using the carts for their recyclables. I live in a fourplex, and all the tenants in my building use the carts, which are provided by our landlords – they are incredibly convenient, can be stored discretely outside or in a garage or shed, and we never have any problems with our trash and recyclables not being picked up by WM. If we accepted these grants, we would also change our glass recycling system starting next year, shifting to a community glass recyclable drop-off site and discontinuing curbside glass collection due to the ongoing contamination issue. Glass recycling would continue – we would NOT get rid of it under any circumstances. We still need to seriously re-evaluate our contract with WM and continue to put serious pressure on them to improve their curbside collection service, but switching to free recycling carts for all residents and a community glass recyclable drop-off site would solve several major problems all at once at no cost to City taxpayers. I voted Yes because this seems like a common-sense, win-win solution for all City residents – that’s probably why Chocolay and Marquette Townships have already made a successful switch to this system using these same grants just this past year.
Waive PUD Minimum Lot Size for Osprey Court Housing Development: YES (Passed 7-0)
This is an exciting one – the City Commission was asked to waive the normal 2-acre minimum lot size for a Planned Unit Development at 1025 Osprey Court (just off 553/McClellan near Econo Foods), which is a roughly 1-acre lot. This will allow the Marquette County Land Bank and InnovaLab Development Group to build two duplexes which will contain a total of 4 owner-occupied housing units. InnovaLab, based out of Grand Rapids and led by housing expert and former Grand Rapids City Commissioner David Allen, specializes in affordable workforce housing development using modular construction techniques. This property was supposed to be the site of luxury condo development, but went into tax foreclosure in 2009 following the housing market crash. The County Land Bank has been trying to sell and redevelop it ever since, to no avail. However, the County Land Bank recently partnered with InnovaLab and the Michigan State Land Bank to build housing on the site, with the goal to get price points within the upper end of the workforce housing price range (80-120% Area Median Income, or a purchase price of less than $210,000). However, Mr. Allen stated at the meeting that even if they cannot get the price points for these units within the workforce price range, InnovaLab is planning to expand its presence in the U.P. and develop many more workforce housing units at lower price points in the City of Marquette and other communities in Marquette County in the near future. This project is the culmination of over a decade of worthwhile efforts to redevelop this abandoned parcel of land, and will hopefully provide a good case-study for future developments and herald the arrival of a responsible developer of badly needed affordable housing in our community – this is exactly the kind of progress Marquette needs right now in the midst of an unprecedented housing affordability crisis, and that’s why I voted Yes.
The City of Marquette received a $200,000 EGLE Coastal Management Grant in February 2021 for coastal restoration along the lakeshore near the southern portion of the new Lakeshore Blvd. This was a simple vote to approve a $9,600 contract with RES to design this portion of Phase II of the Lakeshore Blvd. project – the total construction budget for the project is set at $140,000, and when complete, the lakeshore between Pine and Wright Street will be transformed into dunes, swales, and coastal wetlands which will mimic the natural environments found along the south shore of Lake Superior to the greatest possible extent. This area will also be 100% open to the public, and this project will not only beautify the area and restore it to its previous natural state, but will prevent the serious erosion and coastal flooding that this area has experienced in recent years due to rapidly rising lake levels and more severe storms on Lake Superior.
Approve City Manager & City Attorney Performance Evaluations: YES (Passed 7-0)
The City Charter requires an annual performance evaluation of the City Manager and City Attorney, who are the only City officials hired directly by the City Commission. At our Aug. 30 meeting, the Commission authorized Mayor Smith to appoint three Commissioners – herself, Commissioner Hanley, and Commissioner Stonehouse – to an evaluation subcommittee. All Commissioners provided feedback regarding the City Manager and City Attorney’s performance so far in their limited tenure in the position, as both were hired within the past year, and established goals for both of them for FY 2022.
The overall evaluation was very positive for both City Manager Karen Kovacs and City Attorney Suzanne Larsen. No increase in compensation was considered for either of them due to current fiscal constraints. I think they’re both doing a very good job, and I voted Yes.
These are my vote explanations for the City Commission meetings on August 30 and September 13 – because the meeting on September 13 had only one business item that required a vote, I decided to post explanations of my votes at both meetings together, rather than make separate posts. I will make a separate vote explanation post as usual for the September 27 meeting, where we will be considering and voting on the FY 2022 City budget and several other important items. As usual, if you have any questions, please contact me at (906) 236-0247 or [email protected]. You can watch the videos of both of these City Commission meetings at the City of Marquette YouTube channel.
August 30, 2021 Vote Explanations:
Rezone 301 W Baraga Ave. to Multi-Family Residential: Tabled Until Sep. 13 on 5-2 Vote*Rezoning request was later approved by City Commission on Sep. 13, see below.
This was a public hearing to consider the proposed rezoning of 301 W Baraga Ave., the St. Peter Cathedral property, from Medium Density Residential to Multi-Family Residential. The Catholic Diocese had filed this request for two reasons: 1) The property contains 11 apartments which are occasionally occupied by Catholic clergy members, which is a non-conforming land use that was not in compliance with our City zoning code, and 2) Catholic Social Services (CSS) wanted to develop a women’s recovery house on the property, which was not allowed in the Medium Density Residential zone but would have been allowed in the Multi-Family Residential zone, pending a separate public hearing and permitting process to allow the recovery house as a “Special Land Use.” There was significant opposition to this proposal from neighbors and parishioners. However, the City Commission was informed just before the hearing that the Church had decided to cancel their plans and look for other locations to develop a women’s recovery house, most likely outside the City of Marquette. As a result of this major last-minute change of plans by the Church, the Commission voted 5-2 to postpone the final vote on the rezoning request until the Sep. 13 meeting so we could have time to gather all the facts before making a decision – I voted in favor of postponing the vote, while Commissioners Mayer and Stonehouse cast the only two dissenting votes.
Sell City Property at 213 S Front St. to Ore Dock Brewing Co.: YES (Passed 7-0)
The City has been in negotiations with Ore Dock Brewing Co. for some time regarding the sale of a City-owned railroad right-of-way behind their bar/brewery on Spring Street, and tonight we were voting on whether to sell the property to the Ore Dock for $40,600. As you can see in the image above, this is a narrow strip of property without easy access from any street, and their plans to turn it into a beer garden were the first realistic redevelopment proposal for this vacant property that have been presented to the City in the many decades that we have owned the property. Fortunately, we came to an agreement on a fair price and voted to sell the property, which will provide another beautiful outdoor social space in downtown Marquette, and provide an opportunity for a successful and beloved local business to continue to grow and thrive. This was a common-sense Yes vote for me.
Rezone 213 S Front St. to Central Business District: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was necessary to allow the new owners of the property mentioned above, Ore Dock Brewing Co., to redevelop this property into a beer garden, which is a commercial use. Another common-sense Yes vote.
Rezone 2700 Lakeshore Blvd. to Conservation/Recreation: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was a vote to rezone a 5-acre, 1,000-foot piece of City-owned public lakeshore across from the Presque Isle Power Plant as Conservation/Recreation. The property is essentially undeveloped but had previously been zoned Industrial/Manufacturing, as it was owned by WE Energies and part of the larger Presque Isle Power Plant property across the street until the City recently acquired it for free from WE Energies through a quit claim deed. This rezoning reflects the City Commission’s desire to permanently preserve this space for public use and conservation, and I hope that this property will eventually be incorporated into a larger Conservation/Recreation Easement and/or Lakeshore Park District which would guarantee that all City-owned lakeshore property east of Lakeshore Blvd. from Presque Isle to Picnic Rocks would be permanently preserved for public use and conservation. There seems to be considerable support for this concept from Mayor Smith and most other City Commissioners, so I’m optimistic that we can get this done within the next year.
Approve New Supervisory Employees Labor Agreement: YES (Failed 2-5)
This was a vote to consider a new contract with the City supervisors, which was negotiated between the City Manager’s office and the supervisors’ bargaining unit (the supervisors are unionized through AFSCME). This contract would have affected only 8 City employees, and would have provided 3% raises each year for 5 years, amounting to a total increase of $86,450 in additional wages over 5 years (i.e., an average pay increase of $2,160 per employee per year). Many of my colleagues expressed concern that this contract had been negotiated in June, before we knew of the true extent of the City’s steep budget shortfall for FY 2022, which represented about 20% of the entire City general fund from FY 2021. As a result of this fiscal uncertainty, several Commissioners expressed opposition to approving a 5-year contract, even if most of us did not disagree with the idea of a 3% annual raise (which is fairly modest by today’s standards and is not currently even keeping pace with inflation).
I understood these concerns, and this is one of those decisions where there really is no “right” answer. However, from my experience growing up in a household where both of my parents worked in local law enforcement, I know first-hand that many working-class City employees and their families often struggle to make ends meet financially, given the rapidly rising cost of living and contractual raises which are usually either nonexistent or fail to keep pace with inflation. I also did not necessarily agree with the argument that approving this small contract (which only affects 8 employees) would set a precedent for other upcoming union contracts that the City has to negotiate in the coming year, as we have approved multiple other contracts in the past year which affect far more employees which included zero contractual wage increases. We need to invest in our people just as much as we need to invest in City infrastructure and City services, because in the end, it is our City employees who provide those services and care for that infrastructure. I voted to approve the contract along with Commissioner Mayer, while the rest of the Commission voted No. This contract will now be renegotiated along with several other union contracts next fiscal year.
Terminate City Lobbyist Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)
This is one of many small bits of “fat” that the City Commission is trimming from the City budget to put the City in the best possible financial position in FY 2022, given our current budget shortfall and the structural deficits we are seeing with many of our City infrastructure funds. Having a lobbyist representing the City in Lansing has been helpful at times, but ultimately I did not feel that we were getting enough value or communication from our lobbyist to justify retaining them. This action will save the City $36,000 each year, and in a year in which tough budgetary choices have to be made, I would much rather spend those taxpayer dollars on maintaining City parks, roads, and services.
Authorize the Mayor to Appoint a City Manager/City Attorney Performance Evaluation Committee: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was a routine vote to allow the Mayor to appoint 3 City Commissioners to serve on a temporary sub-committee of the City Commission to evaluate the performance of our City Manager and City Attorney, and help set goals for them for the next year given that they have both been appointed by the City Commission within the past year. Mayor Smith appointed herself, Commissioner Stonehouse, and Commissioner Hanley to this committee, and they have already been doing excellent work in the past couple of weeks.
Authorize the Mayor to Appoint a City Delegate to the MML Convention: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was a vote to allow the Mayor to appoint a City Commissioner to represent the City as our voting delegate at the annual Michigan Municipal League (MML) Convention in Grand Rapids later this month. Normally the entire Commission and the City Manager would also attend the MML Convention, but this year we have cut City travel funds from the budget due to the City’s current financial constraints. As a result, only Mayor Pro Tem Hill and Commissioner Davis will be attending at their own expense. Mayor Smith appointed Mayor Pro Tem Hill as the City of Marquette’s delegate.
September 13, 2021 Vote Explanations:
Rezone 301 W Baraga Ave. to Multi-Family Residential: YES (Passed 5-2)
*This rezoning request was initially tabled at the Aug. 30 meeting (see above).
Since the Aug. 30 public hearing on this rezoning request, the Catholic Diocese and Catholic Social Services had confirmed that they had cancelled their plans to develop a women’s recovery house in the 11-unit residence at St. Peter Cathedral, and did not intend to change any of the current land uses on the property – instead, they were merely seeking rezoning to Multi-Family Residential to allow them to continue their pre-existing non-conforming use of the property as a residence for visiting clergy members, and did not feel that the property was a good fit for other reuses that neighbors and parishioners had expressed concerns about, such as substance use treatment, rental housing, etc. Some neighbors were still opposed to the rezoning request – based on correspondence and public comments I received from constituents, some people still incorrectly believed that a women’s recovery house was being developed there, while others expressed concerns that at some point in the future the property could be redeveloped into rental housing or other facilities that they found to be undesirable.
I understood the concerns from neighbors, but I voted Yes on the rezoning request for several reasons:
Nothing is actually going to change as a result of this rezoning – it will have zero impact on the daily lives of neighbors or parishioners. The Church has publicly committed to not pursue additional uses of the property for the foreseeable future, and in any case, it is unlikely that the Cathedral property could be redeveloped into rental housing due to the practical needs of the Church, space constraints, and City off-street parking requirements.
This rezoning is merely bringing a long-standing, pre-existing land use into compliance with the City zoning code. This is something that the City does all the time – in fact, because allowing non-conforming land uses to proliferate does have real negative consequences for property owners and the City as a whole, the City has been steadily trying to reduce the number of non-conforming land uses in Marquette ever since the new Land Development Code was adopted in 2015.
Multi-Family Residential zoning is not actually inconsistent with the neighborhood. Baraga Avenue and Rock Street already have a healthy mix of homeowners and renters and many different land uses, including both multi-family and single-family housing. In fact, there are already many properties zoned Multi-Family Residential or Mixed-Use within just two short blocks of the Cathedral property. As a result, while I carefully listened to and understood neighbors’ concerns, I felt that voting to approve this rezoning request was clearly the most responsible option available to the City Commission.
Here are my vote explanations for the July 12, 2021 City Commission meeting – apologies in advance for the length of these explanations and the delay in publishing them, this was a very full meeting packed with complex issues, and a very busy week for me in my personal and professional life. You can watch the video recording of the meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnHN9-EAHF0.
Vault Marquette Brownfield Plan: NO (Passed 5-2)
I voted No on the Brownfield Plan for the Vault Marquette/Savings Bank Building development proposed by Braveworks and their architect, Barry Polzin. I am not at all opposed to development on this property, and I agree that the two private parking lots behind the Savings Bank Building are a wasteful use of space in the heart of downtown Marquette. However, I felt that there were too many unanswered questions about this project and not enough time for public input, and I was not convinced that the proposed development was the right fit for the property in question or for Marquette’s downtown and waterfront as a whole.
There were several reasons why I voted No. First and foremost, I did not feel that the Vault Marquette proposal was the best realistic potential reuse of this property. To review, Braveworks proposed a luxury boutique hotel with over 100 rooms in the Savings Bank Building and a new 5-story building to the rear connected by a glass atrium, with a 5-story, 36-unit luxury apartment building next door and a 220-space parking structure and green roof/public event space in between the hotel and the apartment building. This was a high-density development in comparison to most of Marquette’s downtown and waterfront, and the design seemed to be similar to the controversial Marquette Place development at Founders Landing. 20% of the apartments would also be reserved for renters earning 80-120% of the Area Median Income (AMI), and a private “maker’s space” would also have been included in the development. However, this is a highly desirable property in the heart of downtown Marquette with a view of Lake Superior. Had the Commission rejected this proposal on Monday night, it is virtually certain that within a short time another developer would have come forward with another proposal for the property which could have yielded greater public benefits to the people of Marquette. For instance, the exact same development with the same 20% workforce housing commitment, with the sole difference that the 100+ hotel rooms would instead be developed as long-term residential units, could have produced dozens of affordable workforce housing units, rather than just 7 not-actually-affordable units in the Braveworks proposal. The City would have almost certainly had the leverage to request public benefits like this from future developers, as the Braveworks developers and Mac McClelland (the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority’s consultant) both stated that without a Brownfield Plan “there would be no project,” and that any future development on this site would likely require a Brownfield Plan. In other communities, market-rate housing developments (even those in prime locations like this one) routinely include a certain percentage of low-income or workforce housing units – the common refrain that, “You will never get any affordable housing on the waterfront,” is simply not correct, especially when the City government is actively facilitating the development.
Which brings me to my second reason for voting against this Brownfield Plan – I was not convinced that the workforce housing units promised by Braveworks would actually be affordable for working-class City residents. As mentioned above, at the City Commission work session on June 30, Braveworks committed to setting aside 20% of the apartments in the development for renters earning 80-120% of the Area Median Income – i.e., the “workforce housing” price range which is affordable for lower-middle-income households. However, this would only amount to 7 affordable units out of 36 total units, and Braveworks later revealed at the City Commission meeting on July 12 that the rents for these “attainable” workforce housing units would still be $1,250-$1,350 per month for 500-600 sq. ft. studio and 1-bedroom apartments. This is not truly affordable for a 1- or 2-person household earning 80-120% of the City of Marquette’s median income. For comparison, I pay $680/month for a 1-bedroom apartment 2 blocks from downtown in a nice neighborhood in east Marquette, and according to the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee’s Final Report, the HUD Fair Market Rent for studio and 1-bedroom apartments in Marquette County is $542 and $624 per month respectively, and the monthly housing budget of a household earning 80-120% of the median household income in the City of Marquette is $880-$1,319. At best, units priced at $1,250-$1,350/month would just barely fall into the top end of the workforce housing price range, but it is also important to note that 1) these monthly housing budgets include rent plus utilities, and 2) the median household size in Marquette County is 2.4 people, whereas only 1-2 people could realistically live in a studio or 1-bedroom apartment, so the “median household” in Marquette probably earns slightly more than the households that would actually be living in these apartments. Finally, this 20% workforce housing commitment is purely verbal at this time, and there is a very recent example – the Gaines Rock Townhomes at Founders Landing – of another developer and the exact same architect telling the City Commission that they would build “attainable” housing priced for “the average household” in Marquette in order to convince the Commission to approve a Brownfield Plan, and then going back on their word and instead selling the housing units in question for $400,000 or more.
I was also concerned about the impacts this development would have on the City’s ability to issue bonds to facilitate the redevelopment of other, higher-priority problem properties in Marquette (for example, the old Marquette General Hospital property, the Cliffs-Dow site, or the old Shopko property). The City was being asked to issue about $7.5 million in bonds to finance the construction of the public parking structure that was included in this project. This would bring us $7.5 million closer to our Legal Debt Limit, leaving the City with only about $10 million in remaining bonding capacity for projects that could not be financed through Capital Improvement Bonds (which have a different bonding limit). When you factor in the huge scale and cost of redeveloping the old hospital property (which will require a Brownfield Plan and which needs to happen within the next 2-3 years), as well as the ever-present potential for a devastating (and expensive) natural disaster like the Father’s Day Flood which hit the Keweenaw Peninsula in 2018, I did not see how approving this project would not significantly limit the City’s ability to issue bonds to support the redevelopment of other, higher-priority properties in the coming years.
This vote explanation is already very lengthy, so I will conclude by listing a few other concerns which heavily factored into my decision to vote No:
The Commission first learned about this project barely 2 months ago, leaving no time for proactive public planning, and inadequate time for public input and meaningful negotiations between the City and the developers. I understand that this was due to the time-sensitive nature of Braveworks’ financing for this project, but frankly, that should have been treated as their problem, not the City’s.
Concerns about the impacts of this development on both short-term and long-term traffic patterns and congestion in downtown Marquette were not adequately addressed.
The Savings Bank Building is of course very old, but its clock is still functioning and it is not in dire need of structural repairs or exterior maintenance. This project was not necessary to preserve the Savings Bank Building in the long term, and the building has several active tenants.
The aesthetics of the proposed buildings, at least as presented in the architect’s conceptual illustrations, were not respectful of the historic character and beauty of downtown Marquette. Rather, they would dramatically change Marquette’s downtown skyline, and seemed very similar to the aesthetics of the One Marquette Place building, which most City residents (myself included) do not find aesthetically appealing. Some may say that this is a trivial concern, but I think it is actually very important – after all, when we talk about the best aspects of downtown Marquette, one of the first things we always mention is its historic beauty and aesthetic appeal.
The public feedback about this proposed development that I received from my constituents – in my email inbox, on social media, and at the public hearing on July 12 – was overwhelmingly negative, and given that this will have a huge impact on downtown Marquette, that the City would be issuing over $8 million in public bonds to support this project, and the fact that I was elected to represent the people of Marquette, I felt a responsibility to listen to that feedback.
For these reasons, I voted No on this Brownfield Plan, along with Commissioner Sally Davis.
Deny Rezoning Request for 1651 S Front Street: YES (Passed 4-3)
The owner of the vacant Pizza Hut/Union Grill property on 1651 S Front Street in south Marquette had requested that the City Commission rezone his property to General Commercial to allow the property to be sold and redeveloped as a marijuana retail and consumption establishment. As a City Commissioner, I have always strongly supported the growth of the marijuana industry in Marquette, and I sympathize with the property owner, who has been trying to sell the property for several years. Strengthening his argument for rezoning was the fact that this property has been used solely for commercial uses for over 40 years, and prior to the adoption of the City’s new Land Development Code in 2015 it was always zoned commercial. However, in 2015 the zoning of the property was changed from commercial to Mixed-Use because it is surrounded largely by residential properties. In 2020, the City Commission voted 5-2 to “conditionally rezone” the property as General Commercial, with the conditions that the property could not be used for certain commercial purposes, including “Excess” (i.e., very large) marijuana growing facilities and marijuana consumption establishments – I gladly voted Yes on this conditional rezoning.
However, most of my fellow Commissioners and I felt that rezoning this property to General Commercial with no conditions would permanently allow a wide range of future uses – hotels, motels, gas stations, etc. – which would not be appropriate at this site due to its proximity to a residential neighborhood and a hazardous curve on a busy highway. Instead, several of my colleagues and I encouraged the property owner and the prospective developers, who were present at the meeting, to instead apply for conditional rezoning to specifically allow marijuana consumption establishments. I am not opposed to a marijuana consumption establishment on this property, but I felt that rezoning the property to General Commercial with no restrictions would have been irresponsible and potentially dangerous in the long term, and as a result I voted to deny this rezoning request. I hope the property owner comes back with a conditional rezoning request in the near future.
Allow PUD Amdt. for 6-Foot Fence at 1301 Picnic Rocks Drive: YES (Failed 4-3)
This was a vote on a requested Planned Unit Development (PUD) Amendment for the Picnic Rocks PUD along Lakeshore Boulevard. The homeowner at 1301 Picnic Rocks Drive had been given incorrect information by a contractor and the president of her HOA, and the HOA had erroneously granted her permission to build a 6-foot fence on her property. In reality, her condo association is governed by the City Land Development Code, which only allows fences to be up to 4 feet tall in residential zones, and she never obtained a City permit to build her fence as required by the Land Development Code. Ignorant of this, she subsequently built an unpermitted 6-foot fence because her dog could jump over a 4-foot fence. However, it was clear to me that the applicant had not been acting with any malicious intent and had been genuinely misled by her contractor and the leaders of her HOA. She had already paid $1,900 in fees to the City to request a PUD Amendment to allow the fence to remain, and many of her neighbors and other members of the public had expressed support for her application. I was also not convinced that granting this PUD Amendment request would have set a precedent of any kind, for 3 reasons:
The PUD Amendment clearly stated that the 6-foot fence would only be allowed on the applicant’s property, and that the 4-foot height limit in the Land Development Code would continue to apply to the 14 other properties in her HOA.
When asked at the June 1 Planning Commission meeting whether granting this PUD Amendment would set a dangerous precedent for fence-related variances in the City as a whole, the City Zoning Administrator clearly stated, “No, (because) we review everything on a case-by-case basis … it is the same for variances (outside of a PUD).”
This would also not have set a precedent within this specific PUD, as the circumstances surrounding this PUD Amendment request were very unique, each PUD amendment is considered on a case-by-case basis, and similar PUD amendments had been granted in the past – for example, the City Zoning Administrator described a recent PUD amendment where “they just asked for a setback to go … from 10 feet to 9 feet or something like that, and that was reviewed and approved.”
After visiting the property myself and listening to the comments at the public hearing, it was also clear to me that the fence does not actually block anyone’s view or negatively impact driver or pedestrian safety, so the argument that this would negatively impact other properties seemed to be quite weak. For all of these reasons, I voted along with Commissioners Jess Hanley and Cody Mayer to grant the PUD Amendment and allow the fence to remain on this property, although the majority of the Commission voted against the PUD Amendment.
Street Performers Ordinance: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was a vote to approve an ordinance to allow street performers in public spaces, including on local streets, sidewalks, and paths and on public properties. The ordinance establishes regulations on the permissible location and hours for street performances, limits monetary transactions, provides for keeping pedestrian walkways clear and free of litter, prohibits dangerous activities and the use of amplifying equipment by street performers, and requires that street performers be a certain distance from businesses, playgrounds, and schools. This ordinance was crafted in close consultation with the City of Marquette’s Arts & Culture Advisory Committee. I felt that this was a common-sense policy, and voted Yes.
Presque Isle Open Burning Ordinance: YES (Passed 7-0)
This ordinance amends the City’s current Open Burning Ordinance to reduce the risk of wildfires on Presque Isle, which is significant due to the natural condition of Presque Isle Park and the high visitor volumes and dry summers we have seen in recent years. This ordinance explicitly states that patio wood-burning units can only be used on private property, and that the only fires permitted in Presque Isle Park are those in City-owned grilling appliances provided for cooking purposes – in other words, visitors will no longer be allowed to bring their own grills or wood-burning units to Presque Isle, and campfires will continue to be strictly prohibited. This ordinance was developed and approved with the full support of the Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee. I was glad to see this ordinance finally make it to the City Commission for approval after years of discussions and development, and I voted Yes.
Resolution in Support of MBLP Public Broadband: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was a resolution in support of the Marquette Board of Light & Power (MBLP) developing a publicly-owned and operated broadband network in the City of Marquette and offering high-speed broadband internet service as a public utility like electricity. The BLP is currently conducting a feasibility study, and peer communities in Michigan and throughout the country, including Holland and Traverse City, have already established successful, financially sustainable public broadband utilities that provide faster internet (with upload and download speeds on the order of 1 Gbps, which is currently unavailable anywhere in Marquette County) at lower prices than the private sector. This would be a huge step forward for economic development, education, and quality of life in Marquette, and I hope this happens in the next couple of years.
On a related note, I also hope that in the coming years the City of Marquette (perhaps in partnership with the DDA and the BLP) can provide free, high-speed public Wi-Fi in downtown Marquette. The Village of L’Anse and the Cities of Holland and Traverse City already do this. If L’Anse can do it, why can’t we?
Here are my vote explanations for the City Commission meeting on Monday, June 28. My apologies for posting these a couple days late – I have been dealing with an ankle injury since Tuesday night, and I have also had many other personal and professional commitments that had to take priority this week. As a result, I have not had time to sit down to write these vote explanations until the past 24 hours. You can watch the meeting video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGUvc15SnDQ&t=3667s.
Schedule a Public Hearing for Vault Marquette Brownfield Plan: YES (Passed 7-0)
This vote was only to schedule a public hearing on the Vault Marquette Brownfield Plan for the July 12 City Commission meeting (NOT for final approval of this project). Approval of this Brownfield Plan will be necessary if the proposed redevelopment of the Savings Bank Building and adjacent parking lots into a boutique hotel, apartment complex, and public parking structure is to move forward. The developer is Braveworks, and the architect is Barry Polzin. I still have many questions and concerns about this project, even after the City Commission work session on this topic which was held on Wednesday, June 30. Here are a few of the most important ones:
– How will taking out an $8.5 million infrastructure bond for the proposed parking structure impact the City’s finances and ability to bond for future projects/emergencies?
– How would this development impact traffic flow on Front, Lakeshore, Washington, and Main Street?
– Does the proposed design truly respect the unique, historic nature of the Savings Bank Building and the rest of downtown Marquette’s historic waterfront and skyline?
– At the June 30 work session, I appreciated that the developers committed to working with the MEDC to set aside at least 20% of the residential units in the proposed building as “workforce housing” units that would be affordable for households earning 80-120% of the Area Median Income (AMI), but how many workforce housing units would be produced, what would be the dimensions of these units, and what specific price points would they be offered at? Would City or County AMI figures be used to calculate affordable price points (this is important because the City of Marquette’s median income is significantly lower than Marquette County’s)?
– How many of the 220 spaces in the public parking structure will actually be available to the general public at any given time? The developers have stated that there will be 80-90 spaces available in the lot during peak usage after accounting for parking for hotel guests and long-term residential tenants. It is also unclear whether individuals or businesses will be able to reserve private parking spaces, or what the parking rates and hours of operation will be.
– Perhaps most importantly, what is the “opportunity cost” of approving this Brownfield Plan? In other words, what potential opportunities would the City be giving up if we approve this particular project? Is this the best potential use of this property, or could another developer come along in a year or two with a proposal that might be a better fit and yield more benefits to the community (for example, a 3-4 story building instead of a 5-6 story building, and/or a purely residential development which would allow dozens of workforce housing units to be produced instead of 7 or 8)? Would statutory bonding limits prevent the City from taking out Brownfield Redevelopment Bonds in the future to help redevelop other vacant properties in the City which are in more urgent need of redevelopment than this site, most notably the old Marquette General Hospital campus?
In the next couple of weeks, please contact me and my fellow Commissioners with your thoughts and any questions or concerns you have regarding this proposed development. Your voices truly could swing the Commission one way or another on this one. Our contact info can be found at www.marquettemi.gov/commission/#meetthecommission.
This was a procedural vote to accept the Final Report of the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee. The Housing Committee was created by the City Commission in January 2020 to study the issue of housing affordability in the City of Marquette and report back to the City Commission with our findings and a set of policy recommendations. I have served as the Chair of the Housing Committee for the past 18 months. In that time, the Housing Committee (with the invaluable support of City staff) has done a tremendous amount of research; gathered input from dozens of experts and stakeholders not only from Marquette but from across the state and country; released an Initial Report in January and listened to public feedback on that report; had lengthy and at times contentious debates about various housing issues in Marquette; and ultimately produced a Final Report to the City Commission, which was unanimously approved by the Committee at our final meeting on June 8, 2020. I was glad to see my colleagues vote unanimously to accept the report, and I look forward to holding a City Commission work session on the Final Report in the near future, and working to implement the Housing Committee’s many recommendations in the coming months and years. If we do so, I think we will succeed in our goal of making sure that Marquette remains an affordable place to live for City residents of all incomes.
(Note: while the entire Final Report is 200 pages long when you include appendices, you really only need to read the first 23 pages to see all of our most important findings and our policy recommendations to the City Commission).
Move Ordinance #697 (Wastewater Treatment Plant Bonds) to July 12 Meeting: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was another procedural vote, this time to move an ordinance authorizing $8.5 million in bonds for upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant to the July 12 City Commission meeting for a second public reading and final vote. The City is considering participating in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which would allow us to secure low-interest bonds to make much-needed upgrades to our biosolids handling system at the Marquette Area Wastewater Treatment Plant. The proposed $8.5 million in bonds would be for a 20-year period and would carry an interest rate of 1.875%. These upgrades would allow us to comply with EGLE requirements for biosolids handling, and also allow the City to earn about $200,000 in additional revenue each year by processing waste products from other communities for a fee. The bonds would also potentially be eligible for principal forgiveness after a few years, and the City of Marquette would only be responsible for 84% of the debt service payments, with the remainder paid by Marquette and Chocolay Townships.
This project is clearly necessary, and this is the lowest-cost way to finance it. However, I am seriously concerned about the impact this will have on utility rates in the City of Marquette. The most recent City of Marquette Utility Rate Study, which was presented to the City Commission by Raftelis in May 2020, incorporated these Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades into its calculations, and it recommended significant Sewer Rate increases of 9.5% for the next two fiscal years (FY 2022 & 2023) and an increase in the monthly Fixed Sewer Charge of more than 50% in the same time frame. Those are large increases that many City residents simply cannot afford to pay, and that isn’t even considering the large rate hikes for Water (8-9% per year) and Stormwater (15.25% per year) that are also proposed for the next 4 years by the Utility Rate Study. This will require serious additional discussion by the City Commission as we prepare our FY 2022 budget over the next 3 months. However, for the time being I voted Yes so we could consider this proposed bond issue at our next meeting.
Authorize Capital Improvement & Refunding Bonds: YES (Passed 7-0)
Every year the City of Marquette issues Capital Improvement Bonds to fund major infrastructure upgrades, and we generally try to not take on more Capital Improvement Bond debt than we pay off each year, so these bonds do not result in a net increase in the City debt. This was a vote to issue up to $6,118,881 in Capital Improvement Bonds to replace City streets and water/sewer pipes over the next year. After some discussion, the City Commission approved a Resolution of Intent to issue bonds in this amount at our April 26, 2021 meeting (where I successfully advocated for the inclusion of both Shiras Drive and Newberry Street in the Capital Improvement Plan for this year). This is final step in the process of issuing these Capital Improvement Bonds. We also had an opportunity to refinance previous Capital Improvement Bonds from 2011 and 2012 to obtain a much lower interest rate for the remaining life of these bonds. This will save the City at least $164,000 over the next 6 years. This was a common-sense Yes vote for me.