By Ralph Echtinaw
City council pondered the possibility Tuesday of asking county officials to share county parks millage revenue ($446,000) with cities and townships that have parks of their own.
The countywide parks millage of 0.3498 mill was approved by voters in 2004 and renewed in 2012. It’s expected to be on the ballot for another eight-year renewal next year.
The millage revenue pays for the operation of Reed, Hubscher, Luneack and Pompeii parks in addition to the bike/hike trail along 127.
Gratiot County Parks and Recreation Director Peter W. Little said via email that 90 percent of the $446,000 that comes in annually is spent. Although “some years we go over, with large capital improvement projects,” Little said.
St. Louis property owners contribute $17,500 to the parks budget through the millage levy.
Of Hubscher and Reed parks, Mayor Pro-Tem Melissa Allen said “I love those parks. I think they’re awesome for the county. (However,) I feel it would be nice for that money to be shared.”
City Manager Kurt Giles, who has been the point man in discussions with the county, said the situation may change if elected officials get more involved.
“It becomes a bit more of a political matter than an administrative matter at some point,” he said.
Asked to elaborate via email, Giles said, “For the area managers to have any success in putting together an arrangement, they need to know their council’s or commission’s collective position, what other local agencies’ goals are… and ultimately learn what officials at the county level are willing to do.”
Allen said that the use of St. Louis parks isn’t limited to St. Louis residents but includes users from surrounding cities and townships who don’t financially support St. Louis parks.
Mayor James C. Kelly wondered aloud how many St. Louis residents use the county parks. “I’ve never heard of anybody using them,” he said.
About half of 16 high school students in the audience raised their hands when someone asked how many of them had used Hubscher or Reed park.
There was talk at the meeting of asking the county to share parks millage revenue through grants to cities and townships that have parks of their own to maintain.
Mayor James Kelly doesn’t think that will work. “After thinking about this for a week I don’t think it will be realistic to ask for grants,” he said.
“I don’t foresee that there’d be any excess left over to produce grants,” said Police Chief Richard Ramereiz Jr.
Ramereiz added that it might be better to use excess parks revenue to extend the freeway bike/hike trail to St. Louis and/or Alma.
Councilman George Kubin said any parks millage revenue sharing that could be realistically achieved wouldn’t amount to much with so many townships and cities vying for a share.
“The county parks millage should be used for the county parks,” Kubin said via email. “If we share any excess with 17 local units it will not amount to much.”
County Commissioner Chuck Murphy was the only county commissioner to respond to a request for comment on this issue. “This has come up at county commission meetings,” he said via email. “And I believe the county will be negotiating with the cities and townships on sharing the parks millage… And I’m certainly in favor of that.”
Mapping water mains
Council voted unanimously to pay $39,500 to the Spicer Group, a Saginaw civil engineering firm, to develop a computerized water line map of the city. This action was already part of the 2019-20 city budget.
DPW Superintendent Mark Abbott said such systems are “incredibly valuable,” as new employees can be handed a tablet computer that tells them where everything is. This process has already been done for the city’s sanitary and storm sewer lines.
Council also approved spending $9,100 (again with Spicer) to develop a map of the city’s transformer service districts. “This would require mapping the transformer locations and the building footprints that they serve,” said Spicer project manager Max Clever in a letter to the city.
Council awarded an $18,680 contract to Seifert Concrete of Ashley to replace about 700 feet of sidewalk, mostly in the area south of M-46 and east of Main Street. Abbott specifically mentioned the corners of Franklin/Hazel and Clinton/Tyrell, where sidewalks are particularly bad. The job includes a handicap ramp at the pool.
Blackford Concrete of Mt. Pleasant also bid on the job ($20,000). Gamble’s Redi-Mix of Harrison submitted no bid despite being contacted multiple times by Public Services Director Keith Risdon. Work is supposed to be finished by Oct. 31.
Abbott originally requested that $30,000 be put in the budget for sidewalk replacement but settled for $20,000.
Council approved a route for the St. Louis High School homecoming parade. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, on corner of North Mill and North street (Frosty Cone). It will then go south on Mill, east on Saginaw, north on Main and right on River, ending in the parking lot between football and softball fields.
Police car grants
The city received two grants from the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program of $27,500 each toward the purchase of two 2020 Ford Explorers that are already being prepped and should be in service with St. Louis police by early October.
The grants cover 55 percent of the cost of each vehicle. The city picks up the rest; $22,500 per vehicle.
Four St. Louis residents have turned in petitions with a sufficient number of signatures to be on the ballot in November for election to city council.
They are Bill Leonard, 73, Don Dean, 70, Roger Collison, 69, and this reporter, 60.
The four of us will compete to fill two city council seats that are open because council members Jerry Church and Melissa Allen are not seeking re-election.
Mayor James C. Kelly is on the ballot, too, but running unopposed.
All candidates are invited to write an article for the Sentinel to introduce themselves to voters.
All council members were present except Jerry Church. Council candidates Leonard, Collison and this reporter were present. Dean was absent.