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County commissioners gift Seville & Wheeler townships with federal funds

By Ralph Echtinaw

The dispensing of Gratiot County’s Covid-19 handout from the federal government continued Tuesday, as county commissioners voted 4-1 to fund projects in Seville and Wheeler townships.

Some $950,000 is left from the $7.9 million the county received through the American Recovery Plan Act. The rest has been used for projects, programs and purchases by the county and multiple municipalities and fire departments. 

Commissioners voted 5-0 on March 1 to hold $1.5 million of the ARPA funds in reserve but now can’t seem to resist giving it away.

Seville Township got $300,000 for a new township hall and fire station. Wheeler Township got $250,000 for a sewer station.

Commissioner John Lemmermann was the sole no vote in granting these requests. “It’s not that I would be saying never, but I feel like we don’t know enough right now,” he said. “I didn’t know that we rescinded the $1.5 million reserve that we toed the line on so carefully last time.”

This was also likely a disappointment to County Administrator Tracey Cordes, who had just made a pitch to spend the remaining ARPA funds on county projects. 

How the remaining $950,000 will be distributed is yet to be determined.

Commissioner Jan Bunting said the county’s general fund should pay for county projects proposed by Cordes, as opposed to remaining ARPA funds.

Commissioner Sam Smith argued against passing additional ARPA funds to townships and cities. He said he checked with ten surrounding counties, and none of them have transferred ARPA funds to cities and townships. The ARPA funds were “a gift, and maybe we made a mistake in deciding to give it away,” he said. But Smith voted in favor of giving the aforementioned money to Seville and Wheeler townships.

Cordes pointed out that townships and school districts get wind turbine money, too. Every township and city also received ARPA money. St. Louis got $763,000 and picked up another $500,000 from the county. All of that will be used to fund a $1.8 million water main project on M46.

Meanwhile, Alma resident Andrew Bare got up at public comments time to say that Alma was shortchanged as the county distributed ARPA funds to cities and townships earlier this year and last year. Bare pointed out that, based on population, Alma should have received much more than the county gave it ($500,000).

“When you look at the allocation in terms of dollars spent per resident impacted, based on populations from 2019 – Alma received $55.70 per person,” Bare said. “This was the least amount received per person of any town, village, or city that requested funding to my understanding.”

Bare calculated that Ithaca received four times as much money per person; Breckenridge received 7.5 times as much money per person; Perrinton received 12 times as much per resident; and Ashley received 21 times as much money per resident.

Bare went on to applaud Bunting for proposing to grant all requests for county ARPA funds in toto at the April 5 commission meeting. This would have cleaned out the county’s ARPA kitty and forced commissioners to dip into the general fund to make up the difference.

“I would advocate that this commission reconsider how many dollars they are holding on to and support commissioner Bunting’s idea to support all on-time municipality requests at 100 percent,” Bare said.

County Commission Chairman Chuck Murphy said the idea Bunting presented on April 5 was actually his idea: “Thank you for addressing the commission,” he told Bare, “and I do agree with you and the proposal that Commissioner Bunting made, you know, I came up with.”

Wind turbine litigation settled

Cordes announced that DTE offered to settle a lawsuit over wind turbine depreciation by waiving 90 percent of what it said it was owed, giving townships, cities, school districts and the county three years to pay it back.

Murphy called this good news and praised State Rep. Pat Outman for the work he did in Lansing toward this result.

However, Consumers Energy and Excelon are not included in the settlement, so there may be more drama to come.

Bunting had cancer

Bunting told commissioners that she recently had surgery for cancer on her face, and more cancer was found in an undisclosed location. County Clerk Angie Thompson drove Bunting to Ann Arbor for three hours of surgery. Bunting expects to hear today what stage her cancer is/was in. “Eleven days ago I didn’t know if I’d be sitting here any longer,” she said. “If it’s stage three or four I’ll probably have to give up my seat. But when I talked to them a couple days ago they thought it was stage one or two.”

Bunting added that she’s taking six weeks off from her job in Alma Schools and can’t lift more than ten pounds.

Bunting praised Thompson for her help: “My friend Angie was like my sister, insisted on going (with Bunting to the hospital). First thing she said to the doctors was ‘I hope she didn’t give you a lot of problems.’ I’m indebted to her for life.”

Check out the county commission’s You Tube video here and go to the 52-minute mark to see Bunting talk about her cancer.

Commission on Aging

Commissioner George Bailey reported that the Commission on Aging struggles with staffing and particularly needs a cook. “It’s tough on them because they’re short staffed anyway,” he said. “They’ve served over 25,000 meals this year. I can’t fault them for anything they do.”

Full disclosure

This reporter is a candidate for county commission in District 2 and will face off against Bunting in the Aug. 2 Republican primary. Furthermore, this reporter is treasurer of the Gratiot County Republican Party, on which Murphy is chair. Smith, Bailey, Bunting and Lemmermann are dues-paying members.

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