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Marquette City Commission approves 2021 budget

MARQUETTE — The Marquette City Commission approved the city’s upcoming fiscal year budget on Monday night.

The commission voted 7-0 to adopt the 2021 budget and general appropriations act after previously holding budget hearings throughout August.

Part of the budget discussion surrounded absentee ballots and paid postage. City Clerk Kyle Whitney confirmed at the meeting that every resident who registered to vote absentee this year will have paid postage on their ballots for the upcoming election and next August’s election.

“During the budget hearings, there was some discussion about funding for return postage,” he said. “We’re already obviously paying postage on the applications and ballots that we mail out. When we mail out, there’s an envelope that’s included with the ballot that you can use to get it back. We have put return postage on those envelopes for November, and the plan in the office is to continue to do that.

“The postage budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2021 was already bumped up with anticipation of increased absentee balloting, and looking at the numbers we have for this year, we’re going to be paying postage for the November 2020 election and then the August 2021 election out of the coming budget. That would have required an increase if the state of Michigan did not tell everybody that they’re going to refund us for the pre-paid postage in November, which is a pretty large expense.

“As it stands, we’ll be pre-posting postage and we’ll be sending postage-paid envelopes in August 2021 and it’s going to be a significantly smaller expense I think, but it’s already included in the budget that you’ve already seen, and moving forward from that you’re probably going to see in subsequent years an increase in that postage budget, though.”

Before voting to approve the budget, concern was also raised by Commissioner Evan Bonsall regarding land division and lot splits.

Pages 17 and 61 of the 2021 budget propose that the city change the land division fee of $150 per application to $150 per division, due to the fact that the city receives many applications with up to eight divisions being requested on a single application.

Bonsall motioned to amend the proposal to keep the $150 fee on a per-application basis, but the vote failed 6-1 after some discussion among commissioners.

“A lot of that has to do with the amount of staff time it takes to do these divisions,” said city Chief Financial Officer Gary Simpson. “It’s not really meant to punish people, but it’s just meant to help the city recoup the costs that it takes to provide that service.”

Bonsall proposed keeping the fee per application due to the concern a per-division fee may drive away potential housing development within the city.

“My concern about this is that you’re going to have a very significant increase in the amount of money a developer would actually have to pay for a lot division if you’re doing it per division versus per application,” he said. “Although it’s relatively small in comparison to total development costs … it’s kind of like death by a thousand cuts, and I think that especially at a time when we’re trying to expand the supply of housing, especially more affordable housing, perhaps smaller, more modest units in the city, that we might be creating a disincentive by taking this action.

“I completely 100% agree with what Gary is saying, I’m not disputing it, but I think that at a time when housing affordability is a significant concern and we’re hoping for some new housing development in the city, I think that it’s a little bit misguided for us to be erecting a significant barrier to land division and housing density.”

While other commissioners weren’t comfortable with amending the proposal on Monday, most recognized that the issue is an important one and are open to discussing the matter again at a later date.

“I guess I’d feel more comfortable if it was wrapped inside some ideas and policies that would be promoting the building of housing,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Hill. “I’m concerned that a one-off may not get us exactly where we want to go, but I know the housing report is going to be coming and there will be more ideas there. I’m wondering if that would be the time to take up these kinds of policy proposals.”

Commissioner Sally Davis said, “I think it’s worthy of further investigation. Perhaps it’s not at this point that we are ready to deal with it, but I would love to take a look at it again in a larger package, especially as we’re looking at the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee and what their recommendations will be. I think we can and should take a look at it again in the future.”

The adopted budget for fiscal year 2021 can be viewed at www.marquettemi.gov.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the commission reappointed Carol Steinhaus to the Peter White Public Library Board of Trustees through May 1, 2025; amended Chapter 48 of the City Code to eliminate the need for additional public hearings on annual water, sewer and storm water rates; and approved a brownfield plan for Upper Peninsula State Bank’s new branch to be built at the former Burger King location on West Washington Street.

The commission also approved two property sales and extended the deadline of a purchase agreement on another. Parcels 9-11 of the Heartwood Forest area were approved for sale to Veridea Group, LLC, and a sale of 1.48 acres of city-owned property near Marquette Branch Prison was also finalized to be sold to the state of Michigan for development to expand a prison warehouse. Founders Landing Joint Venture, LLC, requested an extension of its purchase agreement for Parcel 2A at Founders Landing, which the city granted for 75 more days.

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