REPUBLIC - Like a Downtown Development Authority funded by a tax increment financing district, the Republic Township Tax Incentive Financing Authority -the Michigamme River Basin Water Resources Improvement Authority- is designed to capture increases to property tax values to make improvements along the Michigamme River basin.
How to best do that, however, is becoming somewhat of a heated discussion in the township.
Although the original intent of the TIFA was to use the funding to purchase and refurbish the Michigamme River dam - which is owned by TIFA board member Roger Crimmins of Republic Mountain Lake, LLC - to give the township the ability to maintain the water level in the basin, there are those in the township who oppose purchasing the dam.
"It's a political hot potato," said TIFA board chair Chuck Hurst. "If the people want the water level, they're going to have to own some sort of structure."
Among the opponents of purchasing the dam is Township Clerk Paula Stone, who spoke at the TIFA board meeting as an audience member Monday evening.
"The TIFA is a great thing," Stone said during the meeting. "I just think we can't afford a million dollar dam."
Following the meeting, Stone said she felt the TIFA should collect its revenues for a number of years before taking on a large project, like the dam. She also said she felt that Crimmins, the owner of the dam, would be likely to abandon the dam if no other buyer could be found.
"Why would we want to spend money on something that's more than likely to be abandoned?" she said.
Hurst said the township has been in discussion on how to best maintain the basin water level, which provides a waterfront area for the community, for a number of years.
"We're trying to look at different options," Hurst said, adding that although refurbishing the dam would be expensive, some sort of structure, whether a dam or a spillway, would be needed to maintain that water level.
If the dam is abandoned, Hurst said he felt the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would require it to be dismantled.
"If the dam goes, it's never going to be rebuilt," Hurst said.
The TIFA has already been financially supported by the township with about $20,000. During the meeting, the TIFA board decided to approach the township board to see if it would be willing to continue supporting the TIFA and by how much, so that the TIFA could begin setting up a budget. Part of that budget will include repaying the township the support it has given the TIFA.
The lack of a budget has been another of the criticisms of the project identified by Stone.
Board members and members of the public also commented on their concerns regarding the tension that has appeared surrounding the issue.
"I find it disconcerting to listen to the bickering," said TIFA board member John Jilbert. "What do we do to make it go? It's for the benefit of the people. I think the TIFA has to stand on its own."
TIFA board member Todd Rankinen agreed.
"I grew up here. I love this place. I was blessed by being here. That waterway, I swam at the beach... my dad fished with me," Rankinen said. "I was not blessed with children, but if I was, I would want them to have the opportunities I had. Whether that means we have the dam or do not have the dam, let's work together and not fight."
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.