Sent to the Manistee News Advocate with a copy to Bear Lake News TO THE EDITOR:
If you live in the Village of Bear Lake and attended the “are you interested” meeting on Oct. 13 about the $4.5 million upcoming water system – then I’m sure like me you found it “interesting!”
By now you know that any chance you had to affect the outcome was effectively stolen from you a long time ago – probably before the last election in 2014. The chance to do something is slim but not gone altogether.
A group of none village resident “movers and shakers” have worked the system to create a project that has now doubled in cost and which you, not they, will be paying on for the next 40 years.
Forty years — by which time your so-called elected representatives will be long gone, but our children and grandchildren will still be paying for their manipulative choices. Oh, and most likely that debt will have been refinanced to cover the expected 20 year repair and replacement bill too. And, as we learned on Oct. 13 — costs will rise annually with inflation.
The barely 130 families in the Village of Bear Lake are stuck with $1.8 million – not forgetting the additional 40 year interest debt of over $700,000.
And did you think that just because you read that Notice of Intent in the Manistee News Advocate, and signed the petition asking for the chance to vote on this, that what was published actually meant what it said? Missing from that one-time July 6 display ad was a whole bunch of legal references about how many state laws and requirements had to be met for that referendum petition to be legal. Do you think this current village council didn’t know that? Do you think they even care that 41 people stupidly thought that if they asked for a voice they would be heard?
We’ve learned we have small voices, dismissed and drowned out by much louder empowered ones. Just check your village minutes. How many non-residents always seem to be listed in attendance and also seem to have the inside scoop on where this quiet little community is being driven — and the rest of us are all being stuck with the bill.
And if you are a property owner but not a voter in the village then you’ve been doubly dipped — taxed twice and still not allowed a vote!
The horse was smuggled out of the stable three years ago, the door has closed and our tax dollars were used to make that happen. Talk about adding insult to injury.
And if there is any chance at all to do something about this, be sure and vote for anyone except an incumbent council member in November. And when they roll their eyes, with shock and disappointment that we “just don’t understand”, you can look them in their eyes and say “we understand just fine – you don’t work for me”.
Bear Lake property owner
West Point, Ind., resident
TO THE EDITOR:
The Oct. 28 front page story begs the question — does the News Advocate employ fact check?
The article was about Bear Lake Watershed who have diligently pursued a State of Michigan grant for years to map and assess storm water run off into Bear Lake. The headline lead people to believe the SAW grant was for the proposed village water system expansion.
Though others are promoting this project, it is the 286 men, women and children who live in, and pay taxes within, the village boundaries who could be paying for this for the next 40 years. How did it come to this?
Plenty of blame rests with people who should have, could have, done better.
It’s easy to point the finger at people no longer here, the past village clerk and treasurer, non-voting positions. All but one council trustee and the village president, either didn’t take the time to read documents, didn’t take time to learn how to read them, or simply had another agenda. Had they already decided the future “vision” for Bear Lake didn’t include “hillbillies and undesirables,” i.e. the vast majority of us living on $40,000 or less a year? Imagine being told “if you can’t afford to live here you should move.” We have.
At the first ever (despite protestations to the contrary from the village president) October public “information” meeting, we learned MDEQ have been “concerned” about the state of Well #2 since 2010! Do a search of the village minutes. See how many times this is mentioned — zero.
If it was so bad, did MDEQ offer emergency funding assistance to repair or replace Well #2? Did the village council request it?
With an eminent engineering firm involved — did they suggest funding sources in addition to USDA? EPA emergency grants; MI RCAP planning/assessment grants; MDEQ itself via the State Revolving Loan Fund; MEDC (which funded the last project). Wasn’t this why we completed a Wellhead Protection Program — to identify future repairs and protect the groundwater source? No wonder this current council showed no interest in updating the current WHP. Moving the wells and selling the property was already planned.
Did USDA ask, “What efforts have been made to invite public participation?” What did they think when residents resorted to FOIA requests to USDA to find out what was going on? FOIA confirmed suspicions — the application process began with discreet meetings held before the 2014 election. So much for the Sunshine Laws.
If this is such a good deal why keep it so quiet? See the USDA documents at bearlakemichigan49614.com. “Only $45 month?” Can this really cover operating costs plus repay the actual loan bond of $1.8 million, or is it $1.4 million, or $1.6 million? Village taxpayers certainly hope someone knows! $1.8 million, plus $700,000 interest equals the much touted $2.5 million grant, or is it $2.8 million? How would we know? Certainly not from village officials.
TO THE EDITOR:
Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
We have, on many occasions, asked questions of the village council over the past couple years, trying to determine how we got to where we are. Our downtown is falling apart and residents and businesses are leaving. Instead of answers, we have been told to “focus on the future … we are moving forward.” But our significant problems did not develop overnight.
Council members, some of whom have been on the council for years, have through benign neglect, allowed the main street of our village to fall into such disrepair that it is a hazard to people and property. What few businesses remain struggle to survive. It took this village council 11 months since they adopted a new blight ordinance to appoint an enforcement officer and the council has been unable/unwilling to answer questions about where in the blight ordinance process particular buildings are.
This summer, some council blight committee members and a township resident met to interview a person for the blight enforcement officer position. That meeting constituted a quorum of council members without first, as required by law, posting notice of the meeting to allow taxpayers to attend. At the subsequent village council meeting no discussion was held, all that was needed was a vote! This was a blatant violation of the Open Meetings Act.
After attending numerous council meetings and witnessing the lack of questions/discussion by council members before the call for a motion and vote, I suspect that many discussions and decisions are made on village matters including by email prior to council meetings. A clear violation of the Open Meetings Act.
In the last year, the council approved two measures to reduce taxpayers’ right to know what is going on in the village. They voted to destroy audiotapes of council meetings once the minutes are approved, and then they abolished their audiotaping of village council meetings altogether.
Many taxpayers are unable to attend council meetings due to work, childcare, health and transportation issues. Yet the council has refused to use technology (including offers of donated equipment) to improve taxpayers’ ability to understand and participate in village affairs. They refuse to post documents referenced or handed out at council meetings to their website.
The brief and selectively edited minutes of council meetings do not allow for a clear understanding of issues. Draft and approved minutes are also not made readily available to taxpayers by posting them to the website within the time frame required by law. Agendas of upcoming council meetings are also not posted online. Despite requests, the council has not posted notices of committee meetings on their website calendar to encourage taxpayer involvement.
Remember Churchill’s comment … let’s learn from history and not repeat it. Vote for changes to the Bear Lake Village council on Nov. 8. Can you afford not to?
TO THE EDITOR:
There is no record of clear and ongoing communication on the Bear Lake Village council website about the $1.8 million water project this council approved.
They have committed taxpayers in a village of less than 300 people, 140 households and a median income of $35,139 to this staggering amount.
The less communicative the council is, the more suspect their actions and intent. Their refusal to use their website to facilitate our knowledge about how our taxes are spent in a manner that doesn’t require going to the post office, village hall or library is a disservice to taxpayers.
This council has a cozy relationship with residents of Pleasanton and Bear Lake townships who don’t pay taxes. A township resident was appointed chairperson of the village planning commission and has served in this capacity since 2013.
There are no documented efforts on the part of the council to get a village taxpayer for this role. In addition, this commission has not been compliant with Michigan law since its formation and taxpayers have paid over $3,000 for them to attend meetings that hold no legal weight.
Pleasanton Township residents have submitted plans to this illegal village planning commission headed by a Bear Lake Township resident to eliminate camping in Hopkins Park, add a bandshell, beach volleyball and pickleball courts, a fish cleaning station, fishing piers jutting out into the lake and reduce the footprint of the marina to make way for a boat cleaning station. Village taxpayers will be stuck paying for this with increased taxes to cover lost revenue from campers along with the costs of construction of these amenities.
Some suggestions for the park are positive but, is now the time to do this? Village residents are still recovering from the worst recession since the 1920s. This council changed the due date for taxes to one annual date and water rates have been skyrocketing and will continue to do so thanks to the costly water project this council approved.
Yet, the council and township residents are proposing to eliminate over $30,000 in annual revenue for the village from the campers that use Hopkins Park and patronize our businesses. If this is what the township residents want, why don’t they lobby Pleasanton or Bear Lake townships or the Dayton Club to accomplish their goals instead of trying to get their needs met on the backs of village taxpayers?
This council has spent more than it has taken in for three consecutive years and submitted the annual audit late. The state has required them to submit a Correction Action Plan. These important facts are nowhere in the minutes of council meetings.
Churchill said “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Let’s learn from history and not repeat it. We can’t afford not to vote for changes to the Bear Lake village council.