by Angie Asam-Staff Writer
Taxpayers in the City of Onaway were sent a survey in mid-January and were asked to return it by Feb. 1. Wednesday morning the city commission met and the first item of new business on the agenda was to discuss the results of that survey.
With 406 taxpayers receiving the survey, 211 or 52 percent of them were returned by the date specified. Of the 80 commercial surveys sent out 53, or 66 percent, were returned, while 158 of the 326 residential surveys (48 percent) were returned.
Of the surveys the city received back from taxpayers 75 (36 percent) supported the elimination of the Onaway Police Department while 65 (31 percent) wanted to keep the police department and allow the roads to return to gravel in some areas if necessary.
Sixty of the surveys (28 percent) supported a tax levy of up to four mills to allow the city to keep the police department and invest in its roads while 11 didn’t check a box and proposed what they believed was another alternative.
Fifteen of the 211 surveys asked the city commission to eliminate the city manager while others asked that they eliminate a position within the department of public works.
With less than 15 percent of the total taxpayers in the city supporting the tax hike the commission moved on to discuss some of the comments that were received both on the surveys and aloud at the meeting.
Many taxpayers questioned why the city has done so many different grant projects over the past several years if they were having financial issues.
City manager Joe Hefele discussed the projects that have been completed through grant dollars explaining why they needed the projects and why the project came about.
“For example, the construction of a new department of public works garage. Brewbakers came to us and said they needed the property or they were going to have to move out of town. So they purchased the property at 100 percent of its appraised value, putting it back on the tax roll and we were able to use the money to construct a better, more energy efficient building that better fits our needs,” said Hefele.
The same was true about the construction of a new police department. A local business owner was interested in the property the former department was on and paid 100 percent of the appraised value for the property. The money was used as match money for a grant which allowed for the construction of the new building which is more energy efficient, is saving the city money and allows for other departments to use the facility.
“Problems occur and I look at the financial constraints we are under and try to figure out the best solution to the problem. That is where a lot of the grants have come in. Getting the grants we have has helped us to put some of these tough decisions off for a few years,” said Hefele.
The commission also discussed how the department of public works operates and other comments received on the surveys.
“The real important thing here is that the city is not on the brink of bankruptcy. We can keep plugging the hole and shuffling money around to keep things the way they are. But with grant funds diminishing at the federal and state level and the financial hardship we are under we need to plan for the future and we can’t do that if we just keep plugging the hole,” said Hefele.