09 February 2021 Vote Explanations

DISCLAIMER: This is a blog post written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall. The views expressed herein are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the City of Marquette, the Marquette City Commission or any of its individual members, or any other City of Marquette officials.

Here are my vote explanations from the Feb. 9, 2021 City Commission meeting:

You can download the Feb. 9 meeting agenda here: https://marquette.novusagenda.com/Agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=2070

You can watch the meeting video here: https://youtu.be/ze2q-_tj7nI?t=284

Coastal Management Grant Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to accept a $200,000 grant from Michigan EGLE which we will use as part of Phase II of the Lakeshore Project, which will consist of lakeshore engineering, landscaping, and rehabilitation to enhance public enjoyment of and access to the shoreline in north Marquette while also preventing future erosion and coastal flooding. The City will provide a $167,469 cash match, as well as various in-kind services, and our partner on the Lakeshore Blvd. project, the Superior Watershed Partnership, will provide an additional $12,851 match. This will require a budget adjustment, as we were not anticipating receiving this grant when we approved our FY2021 budget, but we can accommodate this cost through bonding like we routinely do for capital improvement projects – the long-term cost of funding this project through bonding will be negligible, especially when considering the long-term savings associated with preventing serious damage from erosion and coastal flooding. As a result, I felt that voting Yes was not only the right choice for protecting our lakeshore and our environment, but the fiscally responsible choice as well.

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

The City and Marquette Firefighters Association Local 643 agreed to a 3-year contract which includes a higher rate of overtime pay, a conversion from salaries to hourly pay, and keeps employees’ share of health care premium costs at an affordable level. However, like other City contracts negotiated in the midst of the fiscal challenges and uncertainty resulting from COVID-19, the firefighters’ contract does not include a regular pay raise. The lack of a pay raise is not ideal, but our firefighters will now be compensated more fairly for the significant overtime they often work, and managing the increased overtime costs (about $40,000 in additional compensatory time per year) and hourly wages (about $80,000 more per year) will be much easier for the City. The rest of the contract changes were limited to minor language changes. I felt this was a fair compromise between the City and the firefighters’ union.

Reimburse Firefighters for Unpaid Overtime: YES (Passed 7-0)

It was recently determined through a U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) investigation that the City has been improperly calculating firefighter overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act since at least October 2018. No one in the City administration or the Marquette Firefighters Assn. Local 643 bargaining unit was aware of this problem until an anonymous complaint was filed with the DOL, and action was immediately taken to correct it. The DOL determined that the City owed our firefighters a total of $12,000 in back pay, but did not require the City to pay a penalty. The Marquette Fire Dept. is now in full compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, and has also purchased new payroll software to prevent this from happening again. This problem arose from factors that were unique to the Fire Dept., and we do not believe that similar issues exist for any other City departments. While the City certainly did not do this intentionally, I think this is a reminder of why collective bargaining rights and strong labor laws are so important for working people. I voted Yes to provide our firefighters with the back pay they were owed.

Hire City Manager Search Consultant: YES (Passed 7-0)

In December 2020, our current City Manager Mike Angeli announced his intent to retire at the end of May 2021, and the City Commission formed a subcommittee consisting of Commissioners Davis, Mayer, and Stonehouse to develop a process for hiring our next City Manager. They issued a Request for Proposals seeking a consultant to help the City attract a large and diverse pool of applicants, and received 6 responses. The subcommittee recommended Walsh Municipal Services, LLC as being a truly outstanding applicant based on their scope of services, proposed process, favorable references, and their expertise in municipal executive recruitment in Michigan. I was also impressed with their emphasis on diversity and inclusion of women in the City Manager search process – 3 of the last 6 municipal managers they have helped Michigan communities hire have been women. I’m sad to see Mr. Angeli go, but I have every confidence that Walsh will help us attract an excellent pool of talent from which we will hire our next City Manager.

Rezone 5 Properties as Medium Density Residential: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City approved a new Land Development Code and zoning map in February 2019, and inevitably a very small number of properties were improperly rezoned as part of this very large and complicated process. In this case, 5 residential properties adjacent to NMU’s campus were unfortunately rezoned as “Civic” (i.e., for public use), because the City mistakenly believed that they were part of NMU’s campus, which is all zoned Civic as well. However, they are in fact all privately-owned single-family homes, are definitely not part of NMU’s campus, and are located in a neighborhood which is zoned Medium Density Residential (i.e., allowing single-family homes as a permitted use and duplexes and ADUs as a special land use). This was simply a common-sense vote to correct this simply mistake and rezone all 5 properties as Medium Density Residential.

Marquette Housing FAQs, Part 1: Why does the Housing Committee exist?

DISCLAIMER: This blog is written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall, who also serves as the Chair of the City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee. The views expressed in this blog are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee, the Marquette City Commission, or any of the individual members of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee or City Commission.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a series of 100% factual, non-sensationalized, spin-free blog posts answering some “Frequently Asked Questions” about the recent Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report[i], and about housing in Marquette in general. For today, I will start at the beginning:

Q: Why was the Housing Committee formed, and when?

A: When I was elected to the City Commission in 2019, my top priority was making housing more affordable for everyday Marquette residents. A true housing affordability crisis existed in the City of Marquette, and little has changed since then – the median sale price of a single-family home has risen from about $175,000 in 2015 to $220,000 in 2020[ii]; median rent rose 21% from 2015-2019 alone[iii]; 1 in 6 Marquette homeowners and 55% of Marquette renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they are forced to spend more than 30% of their income on housing[iv]; median incomes had risen 36% in Marquette County from 2000-2017, but during that same time period median home values rose 85% and home sale prices rose 68%[v]; the homeownership rate for Marquette residents ages 25-34 was just 8.9% in 2017, nearly 4 times lower than the national average of 34%[vi]; and there was mounting statistical and anecdotal evidence that young people and working-class families with children were leaving Marquette to find more affordable housing elsewhere, a trend which has only accelerated in the past year.

From the start of my campaign,[vii] I had stated my intent to form an Ad Hoc Housing Committee if elected. This committee would study the issue of housing affordability in Marquette and report back to the City Commission with a set of policy recommendations. Barely 2 months after being elected, I had worked with Mayor Jenna Smith to create the Housing Committee and had been appointed to serve on it myself – I was later elected chair of the Housing Committee at our first meeting in March 2020. We stopped meeting from April-July 2020 due to COVID-19, but resumed meeting via video conference on a monthly basis in August 2020. We have met 9 times in total.


Q: How was the membership of the Housing Committee decided, and by whom?

A: The Housing Committee is composed of 8 Marquette residents with a wide range of experience and knowledge. Members were appointed by the City Commission as part of an open application process, with most representing existing City committees or specific areas of expertise, but with 2 of the 8 seats reserved for everyday Marquette residents. The Committee ended up including lifelong Marquette residents and relative newcomers, residents of all ages and incomes, homeowners, landlords, renters, and people with extensive experience in planning and zoning, low-income housing, housing development, real estate, Brownfield redevelopment, housing-related community organizing, and more.[viii] The Housing Committee is NOT just a cabal of developers, landlords, and real estate agents – it is a diverse group that truly represents the larger Marquette community.


Q: What was the Housing Committee’s mission, and what tasks was it assigned?

A: The Housing Committee was tasked with studying the housing challenges facing the City of Marquette, and reporting back to the City Commission with a set of policy recommendations intended to increase housing affordability and housing choice in Marquette. Our sole purpose was to find ways to make housing more affordable and increase housing options for Marquette residents, NOT to help landlords or developers make money (they’re doing just fine on their own) and NOT to increase the City tax base. We were required to submit an Initial Report of Findings[ix] to the City Commission by Jan. 15, 2021 (essentially a polished draft designed to elicit constructive feedback from the Commission, the public, and various City departments). Our Final Report is due to the City Commission before the Housing Committee dissolves on June 30, 2021. The report that was submitted to the City Commission last month is an INITIAL report – that’s why it says “Initial Report of Findings” right on the title page. This is something that some people unfortunately seem to have overlooked.

Finally, it is important to remember that even the Housing Committee’s Final Report will not include mandates or final decisions, but recommendations – the Housing Committee is a temporary advisory board, and does not have the power to make policy. That power ultimately lies with the City Commission alone.

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about the Housing Committee’s Initial Report, suggestions for the Final Report, or any special knowledge or experience that you would like to share with the Committee, please reach out to me at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov or (906) 236-0247. And don’t forget to check back here and on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/evanbonsall4mqt for future housing-related blog posts!


Sources:

[i] “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. https://www.marquettemi.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Marquette-Ad-Hoc-Housing-Committee-Report-to-the-City-Commission-01-15-21.pdf

[ii] “Neighborhood Report – Marquette, Michigan.” Upper Peninsula Assn. of Realtors and Stephanie Jones, Realtor. 8 Sep. 2020. Appendix B in Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.

[iii] 2015 and 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

[iv] 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

[v] “Housing Market Assessment – Marquette County.” Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Commission (CUPPAD), Dec. 2020, pp. 25.

[vi] “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021.

[vii] https://www.evanbonsall.com/issues/

[viii] https://www.marquettemi.gov/adhochousingcommittee/

[ix] “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021.

Why I’m Running

Marquette is my hometown. I was born at Marquette General Hospital, was raised here and went to Marquette public schools, and I’m a proud lifelong resident of the City of Marquette.

I’m running for the Marquette City Commission in 2019 because I plan on living in Marquette for the rest of my life, and I want to help make sure that our town remains a great place to live, work, and raise a family for many years to come. I’m sure that you can tell from the pictures above that I’m a little younger than your average City Commissioner – if elected, I’d be the only Commissioner under the age of 30.

However, I am running now because I am convinced that the decisions we make as a city in the next 5 years will impact Marquette’s future for the next 50 years, and my generation will have to live with the consequences of those decisions for the rest of our lives. A majority of Marquette residents are in their twenties and thirties, and this new generation deserves a seat at the table as we discuss Marquette’s future.

Young people and working families want to stay in Marquette, but rising housing costs and a lack of economic opportunity are increasingly forcing people like me, including many of my friends and family, to move out of the City or leave the U.P. entirely just to make ends meet. This doesn’t just erode our local tax base – if left unchecked, it will drain our community of its economic and social vitality.

We need to make sure that Marquette can grow without sacrificing the unique qualities – our public lakeshore, trails and parks, forestlands, our downtown, and an affordable cost of living – that make people want to live here in the first place. And our local government has a vital role to play in that effort.

But I also want to hear what you think! Please reach out to me at 906-236-0247 or evan@evanbonsall.com. Also, if you want to learn more, please check out the rest of this website and follow me on Facebook. If I have your support already, thank you! If not, I hope to earn it in the coming year.