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Marquette County Board closes IRP

Lack of loan interest

By TRINITY CAREY

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 5-1 to close the Intermediary Relending Program at K.I. Sawyer.

The IRP provided funds and high-risk loans for existing and new businesses at the former Air Force base. Loans could be used for land and building acquisition, leasehold improvements, machinery and equipment, among other things. The program was originally developed as part of the Air Force base conversion. The county borrowed $1 million from the United States Department of Agriculture to establish the IRP. State funds were used as part of the required matching funds, board documents state.

All original funding has been loaned out and remaining funding has been paid back with interest. There is roughly $640,000 in the fund and the principal balance on the USDA loan is around $332,000.

A few years ago, the board expanded the number of communities eligible to use the funds to include the cities of Negaunee and Ishpeming and Forsyth and Richmond townships. To date, no loans have been sought.

“At this point there’s nobody asking for the money,” said County Administrator Scott Erbisch. “We tried to get more interest on it, we expanded the program through the board’s authorization and we’ve sent letters out to the townships to see if they have anybody who may be of interest, from cities to townships to maybe take advantage of this … We feel at this time, maybe it’s time to move on from the program.”

County finance staff recommended closing the fund and using $332,000 of existing funds to pay off the remaining balance and keeping $1,500 in the IRP fund to cover loan servicing. Any remaining IRP funds would be placed in the Airport Stabilization Fund, the recommendation states.

Commissioner Bill Nordeen opposed the motion.

“I’m disturbed about it,” Nordeen said. “I think that the IRP program is a good program. It gave money to start businesses, high-risk loans, and I don’t think there’s any less need than there was 20 years ago. If people aren’t applying for them, I think we’re not doing a very good job of getting the thought out there that they’re available because there are places out there that need these things, Sawyer especially.”

Nordeen also noted his shock that people aren’t applying for the funds as it takes a lot of time to get funding from the federal government for rural development. He would rather the IRP be promoted than closed, he said.

The recommendation to close the IRP was approved. But multiple commissioners said they would like to have a separate discussion about where remaining IRP funds will be placed.

The board also voted 5-1 to oppose legislation, which would prevent county commissioner candidates from disclosing their party affiliation on Michigan ballots.

Nordeen was also in opposition of this resolution.

“I think it should be non-partisan,” Nordeen said. “I think at this level, we don’t need to be partisan. I think that judges are non-partisan; I think that township, the city should be non-partisan. That’s my two cents.”

Board Chairman Gerald Corkin disagreed, stating that voters should know the values of their candidates.

“It’s not a big deal, but I think people have a right to know where you sit … If you don’t want to do that, run as an independent,” Corkin said.

According to the resolution, the law is not needed as the current law already permits county commission candidates to withhold information about their party affiliation.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.