Dawn Barber recently approached the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees, saying that she has gathered thousands of signatures from people opposed to a municipal services center being built at Furtaw Field.

OSCODA – In addition to agreeing to put a road millage back on the ballot in November, the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees also addressed communication concerns at their Aug. 12 meeting.

Public comments were heard regarding both the special election which was held on Aug. 6, as well as the possibility of a consolidated municipal services center being constructed on Furtaw Field.

As for the latter, resident Dawn Barber told attendees that she has gathered more than 3,000 signatures from those in the community who are against the idea of such a facility at Furtaw Field, which is located downtown on US-23.

She said she expects to have 5,000 signatures – if not more – by Aug. 28, which is when a work session will be held on the matter (see separate story).

“Nobody wants this. Nobody wants you to take the park and turn it into government buildings, when there’s so much other property out there that you could do something with,” Barber said.

“I want to thank the community. I’m so proud of them right now. This has been overwhelming, the response that I’ve gotten from the community about this, because no one wants this done on that park,” she continued.

“It should be just a nice little park that could be for the families in the community, just like it was left to the schools as a legacy for the schools. And I realize, once it went from the schools to the township, that they could do anything that they want with it,” Barber said. “Well, not when it comes to the community, and 75 percent of the community doesn’t want it. And I would go that far as to say that, because they don’t.”

As reported, Oscoda has been working with ROWE Professional Services Company and WTA Architects on a needs assessment for the municipal buildings.

Trustees have mulled the idea of a consolidated municipal services center at Furtaw Field to possibly house the township offices, police station, fire hall, library, community center and senior center, with the potential inclusion of an on-site training area for police and fire department personnel, as well.

According to those from ROWE, Oscoda has numerous old and aging buildings, many of which are underutilized and in need of repair or renovation. The township is seeking assistance in determining the best course of action regarding these facilities, including renovation needs and the potential for consolidation or relocation of facilities and services.

Officials have stressed that the municipal center is not a done deal, and that the township is simply in the preliminary concept/discussion stages.

In response to Barber’s comments, Trustee Jim Baier asked whether those who signed the petition are against the idea of having a compact building, or against the possible location.

“It’s the location, more than anything,” Barber answered.

“But to have a compact building, where’s the money coming from, for one thing?” she asked. “The other thing is, is that I think we have a more important issue on our hands right now, and that is the water problem. I think that needs to be dealt with before anything of huge proportion starts.”

Trustees responded to Barber’s remarks, but not before first hearing from Art Cruse, president/CEO of Crusecom Technology Consultants, which has a call center in Oscoda.

He shifted gears, mentioning the Aug. 6 special election, which put before voters two separate millage proposals.

As reported, constituents approved renewing the .90 mills – or 90¢ per $1,000 of taxable value of a person’s property – in support of operation, equipment and maintenance needs for the Oscoda Township Fire Department.

Voters turned down, though, a 1.75 mills proposal – or $1.75 for every $1,000 of taxable value for property – for road maintenance, repairs, sidewalk improvements and dust control in the township.

The millage request garnered 214 votes in favor, with 274 voters against the measure. If passed, it would have generated an estimated $520,250 in the first year.

When addressing trustees at their latest meeting, Cruse said everyone he has spoken with has asked about where the communication was for the millages.

“I didn’t see any; most of my neighbors never saw them. People downtown knew about it because the signs were out,” he claimed.

Cruse said he, too, noticed signage advising of the election as he was driving, so he and his wife then came back to place their votes, with Cruse also letting his staff know that there was an election that day.

“I’m an IT guy, and I look at the Internet as a perfect way for communication. And I would like to see the board really take into consideration looking at using social media as a way to communicate to the constituents,” he said.

“Your constituents voted you here. We want you here. We want to grow with you,” he went on, adding that he feels the right board members are in place to help move the township forward.

However, he said that if the public isn’t getting all of the information, they’re going to struggle, they’re going to come to the township with petitions and they’re going to put things out on social media to try to get an understanding of where things are going.

When it came time for board member comments, Clerk John Nordeen said he heard similar feedback about notice of the election.

He also pointed out that there were 489 voters who cast ballots, which he said was a low turnout.

But, Nordeen did say that the election was discussed at public board meetings, details were provided in the community newsletter and a legal notice was printed in the local newspaper.

(More specifically, notice of the election was published July 24 in both the Iosco County News-Herald and the Oscoda Press, as prepared by Iosco County Clerk Nancy Huebel).

“I’m not saying that we couldn’t do better in communicating; there’s always room for improvement,” Nordeen continued.

As for Barber’s concerns, Nordeen said that nothing, from his perspective, is finalized. “It’s an idea and we’re trying to figure out if it’s a good one.”

He said there is a process to this, which includes due diligence, fact finding, input from the community and more.

Nordeen shared that he hopes this all trends in a positive direction and that the township ends up with a good result, whatever that may be.

Talks then moved back to the road millage, with Trustee William Palmer asking if the board should place this on the November ballot, but at a lower amount, since the initial figure may have been pushing the envelope a bit.

“The amount was set according to how much road we could get done over the long term,” explained Supervisor Aaron Weed.

“If we lower that amount, then that means that’s much less than we can get done and people are going to wonder why they voted for a millage if hardly any road is getting done.”

He added that 1.75 mills would only be enough to pave a few miles of road each year, since money has to also be allocated for dust control and other road improvements. “So 1.75, actually, I don’t think is enough to really take care of what we need to take care of.”

Weed said there needs to be a balance between not having a high millage, but also getting enough done so the township can keep somewhat of a pace with the degradation of the roads.

“So if we lower it, we’re still going to be in a situation where we’re going to have to do special assessments,” he said, adding that residents are going to ask  why they’re paying for a special assessment district (SAD) if they’re already paying for a millage.

“Unfortunately, we have never had a road millage. We’ve never had funding to take care of these roads. So a lot of these roads were last seal coated in the 70s and 80s,” augmented Superintendent Dave Schaeffer. “And the pace at which they’re degrading, the amount of money it’s going to require to be able to keep pace with how far behind we are, it’s going to be tough.”

He also shared that there are a lot of residents who attend the road and sidewalk advisory committee meetings.

“And it is an educational experience, that the township does not get any funding associated with roads and dedicated to roads. We are simply moving money from the general fund into road improvements, and that is how we fund roads,” he explained. “But we don’t get a piece of the gas tax; we don’t get a piece of registration fees, like cities. So that puts it onto the road commission and, unfortunately, the residents through special assessments to be able to address these road issues.”

According to Schaeffer, Oscoda is one of just four communities in the county which doesn’t have a road millage, with the others being the townships of AuSable, Reno and Sherman. “However, Oscoda Township has the most road miles out of any community in the county.”

Therefore, he said the road and sidewalk committee will be meeting again soon and will need to formulate a strategy as far as how to educate the community and how to be able to respond to the most recent ballot proposal.

Palmer said he expects that there will be a greater voter turnout in November and, with a larger response, perhaps this will have a different outcome for the road millage. “I think that’s a poor showing of only 489 residents out of 7,000 here to determine whether or not we’re going to be able to put money into the roads. I think it’s worth another effort.”

“I agree with that. I’m good with putting it on the November ballot, but I’m not in favor of going less, because that’s going to be more of a detriment than not having a millage at all,” said Weed.

Nordeen pointed out that, regardless of the board’s decision, there is going to be a November election since the school district is putting forth a ballot proposal.

He said the township went out on a limb with the August election, so Oscoda bore the cost of that, but will be reimbursed for the November expenses.

“Just to clarify that point, that would not have been the case except the school decided to not put it on the August election and that’s the reason why we bore the cost,” Weed noted.

Nordeen said he wouldn’t want to put the road millage back on the ballot, as he wasn’t in favor of it in the first place.

“I voted against the road millage, on principal,” he shared.

“I would encourage everyone who voted yes on that millage and didn’t see it come to fruition, to contact the road commission and, more importantly, contact the state of Michigan,” he went on. “I believe there’s a fundamental problem with the way our funding works for roads in the state. This would be a band-aid – this would be letting a bad system off the hook. It might be the best, quickest way to fix our problem; I recognize that. Idealistically, I don’t agree with it.”

“As a member of the road and sidewalk committee since it was created 17 years ago, I think that doing this again and not changing our method of information – as Art has mentioned, and John – is a waste of time,” Baier commented.

He said people need to know what the proposed millages will provide to the community and/or eliminate, such as SADs for roads, claiming that people didn’t know this ahead of the Aug. 6 election. “They just didn’t realize that.”

Baier said the township can do better, and if they put the road millage on the ballot again then they should change the attack plan and better explain the intent of the millages and what would be accomplished with same.

“I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I had mentioned on more than one occasion that we need to put things in the paper, the newspaper; we need to tell them what the road millage would be. There was a little confusion about the fire millage, but it passed also. But none of that was done,” he alleged.

(However, an article in the April 10 edition of the Oscoda Press specifically outlined what each millage would be used for. For the road millage, dollar figures were even broken down as to what projects the committee felt the money would be best spent on.

Baier, himself, was quoted in the article describing that the current formula being utilized – such as with SADs – is that residents pay 35 percent of a project cost, the township pays 35 percent and the Iosco County Road Commission covers the remainder.

Baier said the millage would eliminate the SAD process on such projects for residents, and also provide much more money to complete additional work.

Further, Schaeffer said at the time that the ballot language effort had been in the works since last year and, after the millage committee was dissolved, it was taken over by the road and sidewalk advisory committee).

“The state’s way of funding roads is horrible,” said Weed.

“But, I did spend several years thinking that the county and the road commission could actually improve and that proved to be impossible, just like it was in the 90s and since then,” he said. “So, I think that by not having a millage, our roads are going to degrade, the system’s not going to get any better and it’s going to become more of a problem as more of our roads get turned to gravel.”

He also pointed out that, if the millage were enacted and then the state comes up with a better system, more funds or whatever the case may be, the millage could always be eliminated. “It doesn’t have to be permanent.”

Palmer moved that the same road millage, in the amount of 1.75 mills, be placed on the ballot for November, which passed in a 5-1 vote of the board. Opposed was Nordeen, while Trustee Timothy Cummings was not in attendance.

Weed then responded to the remarks about notifications for the public, saying he brought up the issue of the township communication across the Internet several years ago.

“We’ve tried to come up with different plans for it. Other things have come up and delayed our ability to do things better, such as our website and communication on social media,” he said.

Weed noted that it would be great if any of the board members had suggestions for improving this communication. If a proposal or plan can be created, this can then be implemented to make that improvement.

“It is up to the seven of us to develop plans to have these things happen,” according to Weed, who says things can’t just be blurted out with the hope that the superintendent will take care of it.

“He needs the direction from the board, as to what we expect. He already has a huge workload to take care of. Some of us need to come up with solutions. That’s what we’re elected for, is to come up with solutions,” Weed said.

“That being said, we have communicated quite a bit regarding these things. We talked about the road millage for over a year,” he pointed out, also acknowledging that this reporter has written about the road millage in the newspaper, on several different occasions.

Weed also said that the board meeting packets, along with copies of the minutes, are posted on the township website. Anyone can look these up, see the items that were discussed, see the numbers which were talked about and the conclusions the board came up with and why.

“It’s not that we’re not informing. Maybe there’s some things that we can improve on informing, but there is also the aspect that the general public [has] a responsibility on themselves to also stay informed,” he noted.

As for those who don’t subscribe to the newspaper, Weed said this is not the township’s fault. “We put it out there, our reporter has put it out there. It is the responsibility of the people to say, if I’m going to stay informed, these are the outlets that I need to engage with in order to gain that information.”

(People should also be aware that each regular board meeting is broadcast on television by miCTV, as well as archived on YouTube for viewing at any time).

“If we don’t have a road millage, then I don’t want any of our general fund put into roads because we’re pulling money out of the general fund for something that we don’t own and that we’re not responsible for maintaining – the county road commission is,” Weed continued. “I would rather see that money put into things that our township government is required to take care of, not the things that another agency is required to take care of.”

As for the municipal building being discussed as a possibility at Furtaw Field, Weed said the township has been talking about this for more than six months.

He again noted that this publication has also reported on the matter multiple times. 

Weed reiterated that the information is in the meeting packets, and that Schaeffer has poked and prodded to get people to go to the various community engagement meetings that have been held regarding such topics.

“And only 40 people show up, out of a community of 7,000,” said Weed, referencing the July 9 Oscoda Township Downtown Summit, during which Schaeffer talked at length about why a consolidated municipal services center is being considered.

“There’s only so much that we can do as a township government to motivate the community. Otherwise, we’re going to spend a lot of time trying to motivate people and not actually getting work done,” said Weed.

“So, that’s where the community needs to be engaged. They need to be involved in the process. It’s not going to come in by osmosis. In order for us to run our government the way the community wants it run, they’ve got to be engaged,” he stressed. “So please participate, please keep up with the news, please read the meeting packets. Nothing’s being hidden here. We want people to know.”