City candidates talk policy
MARQUETTE — Five of six candidates running for the Marquette City Commission addressed questions from voters at a candidate forum Wednesday organized by the League of Women Voters of Delta and Marquette counties.
Candidates are running for three open seats in a regular election Nov. 7.
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Baldini and Commissioner Peter Frazier are running to keep their seats against newcomers Tony Ghiringhelli, Justin Brugman, Jermey Ottaway and former Mayor Pro Tem Fred Stonehouse, who was absent from Wednesday’s forum. The term of Commissioner Mike Conley, who is not running, also expires in November.
The forum was moderated by Darlene Allen, unit leader of the Marquette LWV. Audience members submitted questions on note cards during the forum, which were read by Allen and answered by each candidate in random order.
The forum, attended by more than 50 people, covered topics ranging from jobs and economic development to environmental conservation, childhood poverty, homelessness and city codes.
It can be viewed online at on the LWV Facebook page and on Youtube at youtu.be/tlhH-E7iNJY.
The Mining Journal, to remain fair and neutral, selected just one question to feature each candidate’s answer, in addition to covering the candidates’ positions on some points of interest.
Baldini defended some of the policies and directions taken by the commission during his tenure. He said the city has done a good job balancing development with preservation of lakeshore access.
Addressing short-term rental regulations adopted by the commission in May, which Baldini opposed, he said he believes they may need to be rolled back pending state legislation.
Most of the other candidates also expressed disapproval of the short-term rental regulations. Frazier, who voted for the regulations in May, said they were to ensure everyone’s buildings were up to code and to protect neighborhoods.
Another question asked if commissioners would support a community benefit ordinance to hold businesses to their commitment to hire local workers.
The three new candidates said they would support such an ordinance. Baldini said the “devil’s in the details” and said an ordinance could drive development to Marquette Township. Frazier said it could interfere with the bidding process.
The highlight question was: “What ideas do you have to supplement the tax income lost with the ‘dark store’ issue?”
Since 2012, the “dark store” tax loophole has allowed big box stores and others to cut their property taxes by as much as 60 percent by arguing they should be taxed as if they are empty or “dark.”
Baldini said, “Peter White library has been negatively impacted by it because of the reduction in revenue from the townships. The city of Marquette does contribute to the pool for the attorney fees. Obviously we’re very concerned about it. … It’s going to require change in Lansing. … I think it’s an issue we plan I think to ask candidates for governor ‘what are you going to do to help us with this one’ coming next year.”
Brugman said, “I think we should continue working with the state Legislature, especially with the incoming state (representative). Rep. (John) Kivela was a pretty strong voice for the dark store issue. I’m hoping that the next one will continue being a strong voice towards fixing our budget crisis with the dark store.”
Frazier said, “The dark store issue is big for a lot of areas of the city, the museums, the library, there’s a lot of things the dark stores have hurt that we as a city cannot fix. … We could talk to the state, try to get more funding from the state. That’s not always possible, the state keeps their money when they can; they don’t really give it out that much. … We’ve hired tax lawyers, we’ve done everything we can to fight it as a city.”
Ghiringhelli said, “We need to work with the county, we need to work with the state, we’ve got to fix these tax loopholes, and we’ve got to get back revenue sharing. That’s killing us. … I believe just this week, they fixed it to where it was more of a deed restriction thing, and it seems like it’s starting to go in our favor. One thing that was nice about the dark store issue is that the citizens actually reversed this, and the citizens were behind this a lot, and we had a lot of momentum going there and we still do.”
Ottaway said, “This is a very difficult thing as far as city government standpoint. … It’s something that is not only a local issue but is, like these guys already said, is county, state, it’s something that kind of needs to be worked on together and combatted, you know, from the public on up. I think when it comes to lost revenue, we need to do anything we can do to get that money back.”
A closing statement submitted by Stonehouse read in part, “Marquette is facing a number of difficult challenges. The imminent closure of the Presque Isle Power Plant, our largest taxpayer, and continued loss of state revenue sharing are only two of those challenges. It is critical our city commission have members of proven civic leadership and experience to make the difficult decisions to keep Marquette moving forward.”
Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248