By Cathy Taylor
Two new County Commissioners were officially welcomed to the Clare County Board of Commissioners at their first meeting of 2013. Rick LaBoda and Dale Majewski took their positions representing District 5 and District 1 respectively, replacing outgoing commissioners Donald David and Jerome Burger.
In their first order of business, Jim Gelios was appointed Chairperson of the Board, with Rick LaBoda appointed as Vice Chair.
A motion was made by Commissioner Karen Lipovsky to change the current term of two years for both the Chair and Vice Chair positions to one year. With very little debate, the motion passed unanimously.
In a separate motion, Commissioner Lynn Grim requested that the Board reduce their number of monthly meetings. Instead of meeting twice a month, all business would be conducted on the third Wednesday of each month. Commissioner Leonard Strouse opposed the idea stating that two meetings per month gives the public more of an opportunity to come in and speak. He suggested having one morning meeting and one afternoon meeting. By a roll call vote, Grim’s proposal passed by a 5-1 margin and will take effect beginning in February.
In a special presentation, Renee Haley, Agent for the Veteran’s Trust Committee, addressed the Board concerning the increased costs incurred for placing Veteran headstones.
Haley stated, “Any veteran that passes away that meets all the criteria from Clare County or their spouse is eligible for a $300 burial benefit from the county. When they are approved for the burial benefit, the Soldier’s Relief Board of Commissioners pays $50 for the setting of a VA headstone. However the cost to set the headstones has gone up over the years and is now $100. Our veterans and their families are being charged for the extra $50. I am asking that the Board raise the headstone allowance to $100.”
Haley went on to say that this should not result in added expense for the county. She claimed, “In our line item for the headstones, we’ve given back all of the allotment we haven’t used, so it shouldn’t be any kind of issue at all.”
“I feel we owe it to our Vets to continue paying the whole amount for them,” she concluded. The motion to approve Haley’s proposal passed unanimously.
Chairperson Jim Gelios asked Haley if she was aware of a letter that was written to the editor of a local paper expressing concern over the cutting of trees that were planted as memorials to make room for the new Veterans Memorial. She said she was made aware of the letter and has tried to resolve the issue.
“No one has contacted me at all,” Haley stated. ” I did try to resolve this issue when I first heard about it. But unfortunately it was not resolvable. It has never been our desire to cut those trees down. As a matter of fact, I said from the very beginning if we can avoid cutting the trees, then let’s avoid it. And just so that you know, it was voted by the school board, the city of Harrison and the Chamber of Commerce that the tree in question is not a memorial tree. It eventually became one, but was not planted for that purpose. And they all voted to allow us to do that.”
Haley said their goal is to try to move the trees in order to save them. She concluded, “But it is difficult to do with trees that size and they are already hard to take care of.”
A significant portion of the meeting was devoted to rearranging and updating appointments to the various boards and standing committees due to the departure of David and Burger. Gelios strongly recommended that the Northern Oaks/Solid Waste Committee remain unchanged, leaving Commissioners Gelios and Strouse to sit on the committee, due to the ongoing issue of the bad odor allegedly coming from the Northern Oaks landfill facility.
Under budget adjustments, Commissioner Grim made a motion to approve a $3591.73 adjustment from the Sheriff’s Department for funds that were marked for purchase of neighborhood watch signs and materials as well as another adjustment from the Sheriff’s Department for $750.00 to pay for snowplowing.
County Administrator Tracy Byard gave a brief summary of the final figures for the Register of Deeds for 2012. She reported that the number of deeds recorded was up by 1,363, the largest year for documents since 2006.
As the final order of business, the ongoing controversy between Grant Township and the Sheriff’s Department was brought to the table. Grant Township has requested reimbursement for the $4,467.75 that was paid to the Clare County Sheriff’s Department for mileage expenses. Commissioner Grim located a 2011 document which verified that the Township unanimously agreed to pay mileage costs for the department rather than reimbursements for maintenance. The issue was reviewed by the Board’s attorney who advised against the reimbursement. The motion was made to deny payment to Grant Township and was carried by a 5-2 vote.
At this point during the meeting, the Board called a closed session to discuss possible settlement options for a pending lawsuit against the county. The members were in closed session for 20 minutes of discussion of the matter.
The Committee of the Whole meeting was very brief. Commissioner Karen Lipovsky presented the revised Finance and Administration Standing Committee’s Clare County Purchasing Policy to the Board. She commended past commissioner Jerry Burger, Administrator Tracy Byard, Treasurer Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger, and County Clerk Pam Mayfield for all of their hard work and dedication to the project. It was decided to refer the revised policy to the next full board meeting. This would give the newly seated Commissioners a chance to review the contents and get up to speed.
Before adjourning, Chairperson Gelios reminded everyone that he will be in Detroit for the settlement hearing on Wednesday, January 16, which is the date of the next Board of Commissioners meeting. It was unanimously agreed to reschedule the next meeting for Tuesday, January 15, at 9 am.