February 10, 2016

Despite lack of quorum, Standish residents voice opposition to Gitmo transfer, water rate increase

• Residents encourage city to hold off on passing a resolution supporting federal detainees in Standish Max
• City mulling over water rate increase
• City facing a general fund shortfall of more than $270,000


STANDISH — No official business for the city of Standish could be conducted at a special meeting Oct. 7, since only three council members were in attendance, but people of the city were still heard on issues such as a Gitmo resolution, the city’s financial state of emergency and a proposed increase in water rates.

When it came to Standish Max and the topic of Guantanamo Bay detainees being held there, most of the people in attendance were clear in their opposition and encouraged the city to hold off passing a resolution supporting the transfer of federal detainees to Standish Max until more information is available.

“We’re not getting any answers from our Governor, Rep. Stupak, no one,” said city resident Kelly Kimball.

Kimball was armed with a poster, which showed the effect transferring Gitmo detainees to Standish would have if a one-mile radius surrounding the prison needed to be seized by the federal government as well. She added that she spoke with a city manager in Leavenworth, Kan., where a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility is located, and said the manager told her five miles were cleared in every direction around the facility.

“If it’s Gitmo, they’re cutting stuff down because they need to see. I’m a tree-hugger… I don’t want Gitmo here,” she said. “I don’t want to see people lose their homes. I don’t want to see a bunch of kids get blown up.”

Council member Richard Vollbach, however, said Kimball and others in attendance we’re jumping to conclusions.

“You are assuming facts that we are told don’t exist,” Vollbach said. “I don’t think it’s remotely close to being accurate.”

Others also brought up the city, and Arenac County’s, economy and said they felt that businesses and industry would shy away from the area if suspected terrorists were being detained in Standish. Also, members of the public said military personnel on guard at the facility, and at Guantanamo Bay now, serve on tours of duty, and if the detainees were in Standish, the guards wouldn’t move in permanently.

City council members, though, also rejected that notion.

“They (Department of Defense) told us that there’d be approximately 1,000 people, 500 would be DOD, 500 would be support staff,” at the facility, said council member Jerry Nelson, adding he was asked about available homes for sale.

“It’s ridiculous to suggest this wouldn’t be a boon to the economy,” Vollbach added. “To suggest in light of the financial issues … that we should reject the concept of that prison being filled would be negligent for council.”

Standish resident Dave Munson, who has been spearheading the anti-Gitmo transfer movement in Standish, said the city needed to look at more than just money and think about who would be held in Guantanamo Bay.

“These guys are not soldiers, they’re enemy,” he said. “We shouldn’t treat them as equals. … They haven’t earned the right to step on our soil.

“We are a tourism county, not a terrorism county.”

Mark Winslow said council doesn’t have much say, though.

“If they (federal government) want that place, then I guess we have nothing to say about it,” he said. “If they want it, they’re going to get it.”

“Our options are dwindling,” Nelson added.

Recently, reports said 75 more Gitmo detainees were being released to facilities in other countries, which would bring the number of Guantanamo Bay detainees to roughly 150.

The resolution is scheduled to be further discussed at the regular city council meeting on Oct 15.

This summer, the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility was visited by White House Officials, representatives of the DOD and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to see its viability as a replacement for Guantanamo Bay, which is being closed per an Obama Administration Executive Order.

Proposed water rate increases and budget shortfall

In an attempt to offset the loss of 45-percent of its water and sewer revenue that would be incurred if the prison did in fact close altogether, city council members have proposed raising water rates for residents of the city.

Amounts for the proposed increase, according to city treasurer Peggy Burtch, hover around 38-percent, despite a proposal package passed out at the informal meeting showing a possible 43-percent increase. City residents currently pay $6.70 per 1,000 gallons of water. The 38-percent increase would add approximately $2.55 per 1,000 gallons ($9.25 per 1,000 gallons).

Lisa Hinkley, owner of the Standish Laundromat, said the rates would force her to raise prices for her customers and could ultimately put her out of business.

Standish resident Brent Snelgrove said the water rates would destroy the chances of economic growth in the Standish area.

“With this type of proposal, there’s no chance of getting any industry in here,” he said, adding the city should consider defaulting on its bonds owed to the state. “It raises the interest on that bond. … But a defaulted bond buys you time.

“This (proposal) is a mistake,” Snelgrove continued. “If you default on your bond, that is a viable option.”

Currently, the city owes on three bonds – roughly $4 million and $1.5 million for bonds that funded a water plant and improvements to infrastructure stretching out to Standish Max; along with a bond for Cedar Street improvements.

The latter requires a $603,040 payment in 2015.

Vollbach said these figures are all the more reason that a resolution supporting federal detainees in Standish Max should be passed.

“The cost has to be passed on to residents, yet we’re arguing we should turn down an option,” he said. If there isn’t something else that comes in, we’re carrying the burden on all our backs.”

He also said defaulting on a bond means the city wouldn’t be able to borrow money in the future.

Snelgrove also mentioned that federal stimulus money may be available to fund the development of water and sewer extensions to the Saganing Eagle’s Landing Casino, and added that since Arenac County’s Congressman, Bart Stupak (D – Menominee), both U.S. Senators representing Michigan and the President are all Democrats, there may be enough of a cord amongst them to get stimulus money and make the casino a city customer for water and sewer utilities.

A copy of the city’s revised general fund budget was also available Wednesday, despite no official meeting being held. It showed a $271,800 budget shortage in Standish’s general fund and included proposed elimination of the city police department ($90,000), property sales to the Arenac County Road Commission and DeShano Construction Company ($62,500), equipment sales and layoffs.

These issues are also scheduled to be discussed further at the Oct. 15 meeting.

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