By Charlie MacInnis, Emmet County Commissioner, District 3
The Emmet County Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 last Thursday to borrow $15 million to fund a variety of capital expenditures. Mine was the lone dissenting vote. Everything on the list of planned projects may be considered good for the county, but when one lays out our community's hierarchy of needs, the largest item, a $7 million observatory building at the northern tip of the county, does not rise to the top. Public support for it is thin. Another $3 million is designated for ambulance facilities, but no written plan exists stating how the money will be spent.
Since Thursday, many people have thanked me for my no vote.
Taxpayers have long memories, and when they see their tax dollars used in a way they oppose, they take out their anger any way they can. Often, that means they will vote against some other tax proposal, even if it is for an essential investment. Our public schools tend to be the easiest target for voter ire.
The first chance that Emmet County voters will have to vote on a tax proposal will be in the primary election on August 5 when they will be asked to renew a quarter-mill assessment for ambulance service. It should pass. But, even there, enough questions hang in the air to give voters pause.
Recent comments by county commissioners suggest that the funds from the millage may not go to the county's current provider, Allied EMS, a nonprofit organization that has been sustained by heroic donations from Harbor Springs benefactors. There has been talk of the county taking over the ambulance service completely, although a public-private partnership has been the verbally stated plan. Voters should know exactly what they are voting for.
There is some small progress: the county board voted Thursday night to approve a belated request from the ambulance advisory committee's chairman for $5,000 to hire a consultant to study the ambulance issue and offer recommendations. It is hoped that the recommendations can be made very soon, but the primary election is only seven weeks away. The issue has been studied for years. Fortunately, the good work of HARBOR Inc. and its recent survey highlighted our community's strong desire to have ambulance facilities nearby. As a direct result, one of the proposed new ambulance facilities to be funded by the bond will very likely be located in close proximity to Harbor Springs. The community owes a debt of gratitude to HARBOR Inc. for that.
Emmet County does many things very well. The beautiful fairgrounds improvements were financed by the county's last bond issue. I am sure the county will take great care as it spends the $15 million in bond money financed by your tax dollars. Local contractors and their workers should benefit greatly from the projects.
Many people wish they could have been given the chance to vote on the bond. I was thinking of them when I cast my dissenting vote.