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Ontonagon village council holds hearing on community’s budget

By Houghton Daily

Mining Gazette

ONTONAGON — The Village Council held their annual public hearing on the village budget. While those in the packed the council chamber were happy to hear that there will be no increase in property taxes, the news on the water and sewer rates were not as good.

“The property tax millage of 11 mills will support the budget of this hearing. The proposed millage rate is the same as it has been in the previous year,” Village Manager Joe Erickson stated when opening the hearing.

“The assessment is handled by the county tax assessor. It changes from year to year. If property taxes go up a few dollars, it’s not because the village raised them. We have no control on that.”

According to both Erickson, and Village President Tony Smydra, the taxes have not changed since 2007.

“As compared to last year’s budget, our general fund is down approximately $150,000. The fire department fund has an increase of $200,000.”

Erickson said this was for a new or used fire truck.

The line item budget that drew the most concern of those in attendance dealt with the water and sewer budget. “The sewer fund has about a $60,000 increase. We have some capital projects under that. The water fund has an increase of about $100,000, because we have a water line that needs to be replaced under M-64.”

“(Are) our water rates going to go up?” one taxpayer asked, given that the question was on the mind of many at the meeting.

“The state of Michigan DEQ, they provided us, through the Michigan Water Works Association Rural Water, a rate analysis. According to that analysis, the rates are going to be increased,” Erickson said.

Throughout the hearing, the topic of water revolved around state mandates, which deal with lead and copper.

Trustee Mike Mogan brought up that there is even “lead in the water meters.”

That prompted a detailed discussion as to current and the proposed new water meters. New meters that residents are going to have to pay for and install.

Some of which create an “icing problem” according to Erickson, and other trustees.

Smydra and other trustees brought up the importance of working with State Senator Ed McBroom and State Representative Greg Markkanen in dealing with un-funded state mandates.

Erickson pointed out that even with an increase in water rates, that doesn’t mean the village is going to get more revenues. He pointed out that residents will conserve on water, thus decreasing the revenues.

Tom Hamilton, a village taxpayer expressed his concern on raising water rates.

“15.2% of the residents in the village are at the poverty line,” he said, “However I realize that something has to be done. I sure wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”

One of the concerns voiced by a taxpayer dealt with the documentation and revenues received from the Ontonagon Marina fund.

Erickson stated that the transfer of money back and forth from that fund is based on revenues and expenses, and that is presented on the proposed 2020-21 budget.

“There is an additional $4,000 as we anticipate an increase in revenues,” he said.

Smydra and Erickson reiterated the issue that has been in the forefront of the village for a number of years, and reported, dealt with the anticipated village costs of around $350,000 for the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS) the village is obligated to pay for past and present employees of Ontonagon Hospital.

After the village sold the hospital to Aspirus, the village was still responsible for those pension benefits. “Whether the village sold the hospital or not, we would still be responsible to MERS and the past and present employees,” Erickson stated in a press release after the Feb. 24 council meeting.

However, later in the council’s regular meeting, the trustees voted unanimously to support village employees, including office staff and Erickson in other MERS programs.

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