September 30, 2014

Treasurer warns commissioners over park projects spending

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STANDISH — Arenac County’s grant-funded projects — the Blue Water Trail and Point Au Gres Park improvements — could cost the county money despite the county commission’s plans to cover its local match with donations, according to County Treasurer Dennis Stawowy.

Stawowy and board of commission members had a heated discussion regarding the issue during the board’s March 18 meeting. Stawowy said the board’s plan to receive donations and grants to cover its portion of grants for the Blue Water Trail project has not materialized so far.

“You need to have $25,625 worth of local money. You’ve got $7,500 so far,” he said. “You better start kicking the can to get it.”

The $25,000-plus is the county’s portion of a $51,250 grant from the state’s Coastal Zone Management Program, Stawowy told the Independent. Along with that grant, which is being used for the Blue Water Trail development, the county also has to match 26 percent of a $126,100 grant from the Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Stawowy said that grant, which is being used for several park improvements at the Point Au Gres Park run by the county, requires $31,350 to be provided locally.

Overall, for the Blue Water Trail project and park improvements, the county is responsible for about $57,000 in local match funds, but has only raised about $7,500 via donations from the Arenac County Economic Development Corporation and the Arenac County Community Funds.

Stawowy told the Independent he is concerned funds for the grant matches will be taken out of the county parks budget, which could cause an issue in the near future.

“They’re saying they’re going to fundraise the match, so they’re not putting any of the county’s money in there,” he said. “And the money that we’ve spent thus far is the startup money from the parks, which we’re going to need in May.”

County Commissioner Robert Luce said that since the March 18 meeting, the county has received a reimbursement on some of the money spent on the project. Luce said a $10,000 payment made on the project last quarter was reimbursed at 50 percent. In all, when factoring in the money spent versus the money received, Luce said the county is ahead.

“Right at the moment we’re $2,500 to the good,” he told the Independent March 20.

Stawowy said the $5,000 reimbursement was part of the Coastal Zone Management grant. He said it was received by the county March 19. According to Stawowy, in total with grant and local funds, the county has spent about $34,000 on the Blue Water Trail project — $17,000 of which the county will be on the hook for, with only $7,500 raised for the match.

The county board did heed Stawowy’s warning Tuesday, withholding a $10,000 payment to Lapham Associates, the county’s engineering firm for the project, when it approved a motion to pay its book of bills. Luce said during a March 19 Blue Water Trail committee meeting, since the project’s scope has become more material in recent weeks, he and the committee decided to slow down on project spending and see what happens with fundraising for the local match.

“We did say, ‘Let’s take a step back. Let’s wait and see what comes in,’” he said. “We’ve got the final draft done. Let’s give everyone a chance to look at it. We didn’t plan anything more.”

Stawowy said overall, his concerns are that the county is requesting grant monies without having the donations required for the local match before the grant funds are received.

“I would probably try to line up my local match before requesting grant monies,” he told the board March 18.

Luce said the project would help increase tourism in the county, which is why the county continues to push forward.

“One of our main objectives is tourism, and this’ll bring people into the area,” he said during the meeting.

“If you just sit on your hands, you’re going to get sweaty hands,” Luce said.

The Blue Water Trail project is part of larger statewide push to provide water trails for canoeing and kayaking in the Great Lakes. In Arenac County, the project would include signage and staging areas at different points along the Saginaw Bay. Luce said the staging areas are planned for the Eagle Bay Marina, the Point Au Gres Park and the Singing Bridge Public Access.

The DNR Trust Fund grant is for improvements for the Point Au Gres Park, which include electrical hookups, well installation, an extended dock and racks for kayaks or canoes.

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