By Pat Maurer
Once again, City resident Al Demarest took the Clare City Commission to task over their proposed plans to develop a 60 acre Industrial Park on the north side of the city.
Recently the City received word that Clare is eligible to apply for a $2.3 million Economic Development Grant for infrastructure work and a new water tower on the north side of Clare. If the grant is approved, the money could be used to help fund the project.
At the August 5th City meeting, City Manager Ken Hibl said, “This is just approval to apply and it and we only recently learned about it. This does not commit the City to the grant, if we get it. We would determine how to fund the rest of the project if, and when the Commission decides if we should even do it.” He added that the estimated cost of the project did not include improvements to Colonville Road and that other grants would be sought for that.
Hibl added that the Commission had approved seeking a grant from the EDA three months ago to fund a new water tower. He said, “We have been talking about an expansion for eight years, since 2005. This grant would put us in a position to develop infrastructure there.” He continued, “Because we are a ‘depressed area’, the EDA would pay 60 percent of the cost.
“How would the city pay for the rest of that (project)?” Demarest asked at that meeting. “It would be an enormous cost to the city. You are proposing a major bonding and major borrowing. That scares me to death with the present economy.”
He repeated his concerns at the meeting Monday. “I was on this commission for nine years,” he said, “and two members at this table were vehement in trying to shut me down, shut me up. I don’t shut up easily.”
He questioned why the City had not posted a Public Hearing notice on a proposed transfer of the property to the city. “There was a Public Notice posted August 16 on transferring 200 acres to the city. This isn’t on the agenda and there’s been no Public Notice. Why hasn’t the City posted any information?”
At the August 5th meeting City Manager Ken Hibl had said that the owners of the property earmarked for the proposed Industrial Park, The Northern Group had said they would give the City 60 acres of the 200 that they own there. One of the EDA requirements is that the City must own the property.
Demarest also noted that when the 200 acres is annexed to the city that the city will become responsible for [upkeep of] on mile on Colonville Road. “You are required to post the meeting,” he said. “If the grant request [application] fails, will this [annexation] request be withdrawn?”
He continued, “This is really an interesting project; I don’t see how you are going to do it.”
Demarest urged the Commission, “Put this issue on the ballot and see if the citizens want you to do it. Let the people make the decision.”
Commissioner Tom Koch agreed with Demarest. He said, “I don’t understand any of this. I think the only ones who want this are the City Manager and the Northern Group.”
He continued, “It looks like we would be spending up to $3 million than the grant. We simply can’t afford it. I think it would be very irresponsible of this board to put the city in debt. I believe the city residents should vote on this; see if it is what they want.”
Hibl responded, “In the 14 years I have been at the City, we have never brought any project to the city that we couldn’t afford.
The Commission agreed to put the question on whether to ask voters about the project on the agenda for the next meeting.
Other business at the Clare City meeting Monday included:
*A “CodeRED presentation about an emergency and information notification system for city residents.
*Approval of the low bid of $6,488 from Rite-Way Asphalt Paving for resurfacing approximately 200 feet of Witbeck Drive.
*A Public Hearing and the first reading of proposed changes weed control requirements on the City ordinance. The change would eliminate the exception requiring maintenance of three or more adjacent lots.
*A report from City Treasurer Steve Kingsbury that the fund balance for 1012-13 improved.
*A closed session to discuss Tax Tribunal preparatory actions.
*Notification that City Manager Dick Acker will retire on October 31.
The next meeting of the Clare City Council will be held on Tuesday, September 3 due to the Labor Day holiday.