Chamber Holds State Of Community Luncheon
February 28, 2018
By: Stephen Kent
On Tuesday the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce held it's 18th annual State of the Community luncheon. Guest speakers were Bay County Executive Jim Barcia and Bay City Manager Dana Muscott. After the lunch was served, the two speakers each addressed the full house at the Doubletree then answered questions taken from the audience.
has been with the with for a number of years. She served as interim city manager until being appointed to fill that post full time.
After recognizing the City Commissioners and City employees who were in the audience, Muscott talked about several topics. She said that the City-owned bridges, and the discussion of how to handle these aging structures, has overshadowed everything else in recent months. It's the topic on everyone's mind. Calling to mind the recent meetings between the City, County, Citizens, State officials, and other interested stakeholders, Muscott said that a joint approach, with the State shouldering much of the load, is perhaps the best alternative. It seems clear that the public has little appetite for tolls, private ownership, a huge bridge, or a millage. The discussions will continue in the months to come.
Muscott went on to talk about recent collaborations citing examples like a shared Aerial Apparatus (ladder truck) being built for Hampton Township and Bay City's Department of Public Safety. She also talked about the water main replacement project, including road resurfacing, on Wenona Street from North Union to Hart Street, which is being undertaken by Bangor Township and Bay City's Dept. of Public Works.
The City has also participated in a number of local construction projects including the Times Lofts, City Market, Battery Park and similar projects. The list included the Midland Street business district, road repair projects, and sidewalk replacement.
The successful projects are offset by the recent housing study that addresses the realities of the community. With some 40% of housing represented by a rental property. Some of this includes blighted properties. Muscott noted that the city has a single building inspector, although plans are underway to perhaps add a second. over 2,600 letters of correction were issued in 2017. The city also filed 100 suits, all of which were settled in the city's favor. 691 building permits were issued, a 10.6% increase.
Noting that 2017 ended with a positive outlook, Muscott said that there is much that city residents can do. She said, "Look Ahead, Envision, Partner, Develop". More to the point, tell a positive story when you talk about the city.
County Executive Jim Barcia
followed Muscott and talked about the state of the County. He briefly talked about a new focus the he brought to the job, then introduced his staff and the County Commissioners who were present.
Among a number of topics, Barcia talked about changes at Bay County Animal Control. The organization has implemented a best practices approach with a strategic planning committee. A new shelter was built, the adoption fees were waives, and a "trap, neuter, release" program was started. Putting animals to sleep has become a last resort. Today adoptions are running 90%.
Noting that fully a quarter of Bay County residents are over the age of 60, Barcia said that this is the highest of any county in Michigan. An expanded Department on Aging promotes quality of life as one of the most important goals for seniors. The department is the central hub for information and services, coordinating with federal and state level programs to address the needs of this group of residents.
Addressing the beaches along the bay, Barcia talked of the improved access to the beach at the state park. Beaches are groomed daily and over 600 acres of invasive Phragmites have been treated. The county has also participated in talks with the DNR to address improves the safety of the hunting area of Tobico Marsh.
Touching on the Opioid abuse epidemic, Barcia said that the cost is only exceeded by the suffering of those affected. Saying that leaders can no longer sit on the sidelines he outlined several steps that the County is taking.
Other topics addressed by Barcia included moving the budget process up 2 months to give more time for input. He talked about a new Dental clinic with two doctors and two hygienists that will be opening in May. He mentioned the new Center Ridge residence, economic development successes, and partnerships. And, of course, he talked about the Independence Bridge issues, echoing many of the sentiments expressed by Muscott.
Following the two talks, Mary Kulis
of Consumers Energy, read a number of questions from the audience. Muscott was asked her opinion on the blighted houses on the corridor entering the city. The city is taking measures to address this well-known issue.
Barcia answered a question about shipping. He noted that a study is underway with the Corp of Engineers about deepening the shipping channel. He noted that ships must now navigate the river with only a partial load. A deeper channel could allow full loads and increased business.
Both speakers addressed a question of their opinion of medical marijuana sales. This huge issue, with huge amounts of money being invested, is of interest to the government at all levels. Muscott talked about the city's $5,000 application fees. She said 30 applications were requested but only three have been returned. Barcia said that the county doesn't have a large role. The cities and townships take the lead and the county receives about 3% of the revenue. He did say that the county is being requested to increase law enforcement where the drug is approved. The sentiment of both speakers was "we'll wait and see how much of this investment actually happens."
The topic of bridges came up again and both speakers addressed the issue. Muscott said the city has stepped back a little based on public input. She said the "P-3", or public-private solution is valid, but needs more study. She noted that the commission is open to all ideas.
Returning to the housing study, Muscott says that the city will be focusing on the demolition of blighted properties where that is possible. She again said that with a single inspector, the city needs to add staff.
Addressing the age of the population again, Barcia said that "with a quarter of the county population over 60, we must respond to ensure retirement years are truly the golden years." He said that we are all proud of our seniors and what they meant to the community. But today we must also look at young people who grow up then leave the area for better opportunities.
Barcia also commented on the cost to the county when the number of school children drops. The state grants about $9,200 for each student. If the county loses 90 students in a year, that is no small loss of funding. He also noted that we are very fortunate to have the higher education institutions that we do.
The last question went to Muscott when someone asked her, as Bay City's first female city manager, to offer leadership advice. Laughing that it was not a question she expected, Muscott said that when she was starting her career a consultant participated in a program where employees examined their goals. The consultant told her that she simply wouldn't get where she wanted to be. Times change and by being focused, a young woman can, in fact, reach her goals.