Tuscola County Commissioner Craig Kirkpatrick, left, tells commissioners it’s premature to increase the budget for the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp., though Commissioner Christine Trisch, right, made a motion to approve the increase. Most commissioners agreed with Trisch, voting 3-2 to provide more funds. (Photo by Tom Gilchrist)

Raise for Tuscola County EDC raises some hackles

Tuscola County Commissioner Craig Kirkpatrick, left, tells commissioners it’s premature to increase the budget for the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp., though Commissioner Christine Trisch, right, made a motion to approve the increase. Most commissioners agreed with Trisch, voting 3-2 to provide more funds. (Photo by Tom Gilchrist)
Tuscola County Commissioner Craig Kirkpatrick, left, tells commissioners it’s premature to increase the budget for the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp., though Commissioner Christine Trisch, right, made a motion to approve the increase. Most commissioners agreed with Trisch, voting 3-2 to provide more funds. (Photo by Tom Gilchrist)

Tuscola County commissioners voted 3-2 to increase the budget for the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. on Thursday in a move one commissioner called “reckless and irresponsible.”
The decision by commissioners – the second increase to the organization’s budget in several weeks – provides the agency with an $80,000 budget for the next fiscal year – up from $50,000.
Commissioners Thomas Bardwell, Tom Young and Christine Trisch voted in favor of increasing the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp. (TCEDC) budget for one fiscal year – a year in which Trisch said TCEDC officials and supporters could “show the value” of the organization.
Commissioners Craig Kirkpatrick and Matthew Bierlein – who co-chair the board of commissioners’ finance committee – voted against the increase, noting the county has more pressing budgetary concerns in preparing for the start of its fiscal year on Jan. 1.
“I support the EDC, but I will tell you that what we did today was reckless and irresponsible because we don’t know where we’ll be (financially) because of the large variables that exist,” Kirkpatrick said after Thursday’s meeting.
“Right now we’re in the middle of contract negotiations, and we haven’t got those negotiations settled,” said Kirkpatrick, adding there are “huge costs that aren’t determined yet for courthouse security and courthouse fire protection.”
Kirkpatrick called the budget boost premature.
“That’s what happens when you have two county commissioners who are (TCEDC) board members and one whose wife is the chairman of the (TCEDC) board,” said Kirkpatrick, referring to Trisch and Young, and Young’s wife, Christine Young.
A 2015 ballot question saw 61 percent of Tuscola County voters oppose instituting a 0.2-mill, six-year property tax to finance the TCEDC.
According to its website, “The Tuscola County EDC is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising the quality of life in Tuscola County through economic development.” It is led by Executive Director Steven Erickson, Communications Director Vicky Sherry, Office Manager Glen Roth and a 19-member board that meets monthly.
Funding for the TCEDC primarily comes from local governments and contributing businesses.
Trisch emphasized Thursday that she asked county commissioners to boost the TCEDC budget to $80,000 for one year.
“I’m only asking for one year of this – give us one year with these funds, this is not into eternity – I’m asking for one year, a raise in these funds, so we can … show the value of the EDC, and then maybe come back to do another millage request and have the ability to help people in the county understand how important (TCEDC workers) are, and what an added value they are to us.”
During Monday’s meeting, Sherry told commissioners that in order for any Tuscola County municipality to apply for Community Development Block Grant funds, a municipality – such as a village, city or township – must comply with requirements to become “Redevelopment Ready” by Oct. 1, 2017.
The “Redevelopment Ready Community” program certifies communities that have “best practices” in place in areas such as community plans and public outreach, zoning regulations and having “redevelopment ready” sites.
No municipality in the county is in compliance with the new program, Sherry said.
“This is a brand new mandate, and none of them have signed up for it,” Sherry said. “None of them even knew about it.”
The new state requirement was one factor prompting Trisch to urge the one-year budget increase for the TCEDC.
“I’m asking this county for one year of an increase to help our EDC meet this new mandate from the state of Michigan, so that our municipalities can be ready to take on businesses if they need it,” Trisch said.
County Register of Deeds John Bishop addressed commissioners from the audience before the vote, saying “I don’t want to throw another monkey wrench into the works, but I guess what keeps coming up in the back of my mind is the fact that all your constituents won’t agree to the special millage to fund this organization.”
Bishop noted that members of the public have “been in here en masse to fund (Michigan State University-Extension),” and added that “I believe the EDC is very essential, but apparently many of your constituents do not see the value in it.”
Commissioner Trisch said “I think that a lot of that is our fault because we have not done everything that I think that we possibly can do to tell people what the EDC is, and because of the secrecy – the nature of their business – people don’t understand how much they actually do.”
Kirkpatrick said county commissioners increased the TCEDC budget for the next fiscal year from $50,000 to $55,000 within the past few weeks to provide money to reimburse EDC workers for mileage and to pay for cellphone costs of EDC workers.
Trisch stressed to Sherry, Erickson and Roth that county commissioners “have to assure that you have the funding you need in order to get this job done.”
She urged commissioners to look at other line items on the county budget as possible places to cut costs.
“I would look at line items on the budget – (such as) increases in administrative costs for the county – maybe we don’t need to have those increases,” Trisch said. “We’re always talking about refilling jobs, and I see every job that has been requested again has been refilled.”
Trisch said county leaders are “desperate not to lose another $1.2 million project in this county,” a reference to the Sept. 19 Caro City Council decision to vote against recommending necessary liquor licenses for a proposed rum microdistillery/restaurant in Caro.
“That hurt,” Trisch said. “That was 30 jobs. And it was not the fault of the EDC at all. EDC had not one thing to do with that poor gentleman not being welcome in this town.”
Commissioner Young – a former employee of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. – credited the TCEDC office with helping bring Gov. Rick Snyder to the Thumb area last week. Snyder visited the Garfield Inn in Port Austin, the Dairy Farmers of America milk-processing plant in Cass City and a Huron County plastics plant on Friday.
“This is his first trip into the Thumb area, and he was so impressed with the things that we’re doing,” Young said. “He made the comment that he wants to see more value-added ag projects. He wants to see the raw material turned into flour, the bagged beans to make chips.
“We’ve got the governor’s attention. Had it not been for the EDC office, the governor would never have come to the county.”
Nonetheless, Commissioner Bierlein said that before commissioners increase the EDC budget, they should first reach a new contract with unionized county workers.
“Until that’s finished, I’m not comfortable increasing anything,” Bierlein told an audience of about 20 people. “We haven’t even talked about what it’s going to cost to put a fire alarm (system) in the courthouse.”
Indianfields Township Clerk William Campbell criticized the TDEDC when addressing commissioners.
“You’ve been told a few things about the history of Tuscola County recently that need to be corrected,” Campbell said. “You’ve been told that 18 years ago, EDC brought the ethanol plant to Caro. That’s not true. It wasn’t 18 years ago, and EDC had absolutely nothing to do with the ethanol plant coming to Caro.”
Campbell said he, Henry Jaster and former Caro village Manager Dave Murphy discreetly showed the company proposing the ethanol plant the site where the plant eventually was built in Caro. The company proposed the plant for a spot in Vassar Township but was met with public opposition there.
“We took them to the (Caro) site, we went over the site, and they said ‘This is it, we’re coming to Caro, we have no interest in Vassar (Township) anymore,’” Campbell said.
“I can tell you this: the board of commissioners, the EDC and even the village of Caro’s council wasn’t aware of this until it wasn’t a done deal,” Campbell said. “The EDC and the county commissioners had absolutely nothing to do with the ethanol plant coming to Caro.
“Now you’ve been told by (state Sen. Mike) Green that without the EDC, Tuscola County would be dead. I can tell you this: With EDC, Tuscola County has been dead.”
Campbell said the TCEDC didn’t prevent four industries – including the Metavation L.L.C. foundry in Vassar and Plastech Manufacturing Co. and Caro Manufacturing Corp. – from leaving the county.
Trisch, however, said the TCEDC can’t prevent a business from closing down or leaving the county.
“The EDC does not run their books, it does not run the way they do their business, and it does not conduct their sales,” Trisch said. “The EDC is not responsible when a business goes out – as in (Metavation) foundry. The foundry went out because they did not have a customer base … and they were not run properly on the administrative side.”
Sherry said the TCEDC played a vital role in helping the ethanol plant build in Caro.
“All the incentives, every major negotiation once they got past the point of whether (the ethanol plant owner) wanted to buy that property, had the EDC involved,” Sherry said. “The EDC was a major, integral part in making that happen.”
Commissioner Young, then employed by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said he worked at length with TCEDC officials to pave the way for the ethanol plant in Caro.
“Oh my God – I spent so many hours and days with (former TCEDC executive director) Jim McLoskey on that plant,” Young said. “We worked with getting the agricultural renaissance zone, we worked with Consumers Energy getting gas, we worked with Detroit Edison getting power, we worked with the railroad to get a railroad spur in there, we worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation to get the acceleration lanes in and out.
“I can’t believe how many hours we spent on that project.”

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