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MAPS combats red light violations

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—School has been back in session for a little more than a month, and with the return to school comes the return of busses to get student there. However, Menominee Area Public Schools’ Director of Operations Steve Sobay said there’s a bit of an issue: Drivers driving past the buses while their stop lights are on.

According to Michigan law, drivers must stop no less than 20 feet from a school bus with its red lights flashing until it begins moving again. This applies to drivers on both sides of the road, unless the road is separated by a physical barrier or a grass median. If the road is separated this way, drivers on the opposite side of the median do not have to stop, but cars on the same side in both lanes do.

He said the drivers are trained to keep an eye on any vehicle coming up behind them and can usually tell if a car is going to try to pass them well in advance of releasing the students. He said they also often have the students on the bus helping them to jot down license plate numbers who do pass the bus when it’s stopped. “So long as the bus driver or the kids helping the driver get the license plate number, it leaves my office as the transportation director, it goes directly to the local authorities and they do what they’ve got to do. It’s pretty much an automatic ticket,” he said.

“We’ve always had the problem,” Sobay said, “but my job is to set up stops to alleviate as much of the problem as we can. What happens in the summer is everyone forgets, and in the first few weeks of school it takes people a bit to get used to the buses again.”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “we’ve had a number of violations on 13th Street in Menominee, which is a 25 mile per hour zone. It’s uncalled for. It’s never an excuse, but you’d think on the highway you’d see more than in town, and that hasn’t been the case this year.”

He said in the past, there had been some confusion between Wisconsin and Michigan laws around busses. Sobay said Michigan had implemented what’s called the “Eight Way system” for busses, which uses flashing orange or yellow lights before the red stop lights to warn drivers that the bus will be stopping. “In Wisconsin, there was no warning; the red lights just went on, so people got confused. But since then it’s a law across the board, which makes it easier,” he said.

He also said a contributing factor to the issue with busses being passed may be the time the buses leave the garage at this time of year. “The busses leave here by 6:30 in the morning, and it’s still dark, so that’s a problem until we have the time change. But the thing that I’ve mentioned at a number of meetings is that a school bus is a rolling stop sign. A school bus can stop any vehicle it needs to, even an ambulance with their red lights on. The drivers are trained to avoid those situations, but legally we could,” he said.

Sobay said the district currently has a few new sign arms on order with LED lights that he hopes will help to further alleviate the problem, which he said are due to come sometime this month. Three buses will be equipped with them to start, but Sobay said once everyone sees how bright and noticeable they are it’s likely the district’s entire fleet would get them. “I think the school board will agree with that. We’d be looking at 12 busses, so there’s nine more we’d have to purchase.”

Sobay said a lot of bigger districts that have this problem on a daily basis also have cameras mounted on the stop sign arms. He said that could be a possibility for Menominee in the future, but it hasn’t gotten to that point yet. “If we can alleviate the problem with these stop arms and LED lights, I think it’ll be a huge improvement. I don’t think we’re at a point where we really need the cameras, but if we do I’d say it’d only be the highway buses that would get them,” he said.


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Menominee county commissioners approve budget, wage hikes

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The Menominee County Board approved an $8.88 budget for 2021-22 at its regular meeting Tuesday, with $5.9 million to be collected in property taxes.

Based on the dollar amounts approved for the upcoming budget year, taxpayers collectively will pay 2.3% more in 2021-22 than they did in the prior year. But the amount of the increase could vary depending on whether the property recently was sold.

The county commissioners passed the 2021-22 budget without discussion or objection. Commissioner Larry Johnson was unavailable.

As taxpayers in various part of Michigan have been billed for a larger share of local government spending, citizens in some areas now pay a local income tax instead of even higher property tax bills, said Joshua Wease, clinical professor of law and director of the Alvin L. Storrs Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law.

This reduces the hardship those on fixed incomes or in low-wage jobs face when property taxes rise faster than their personal income does, Wease said. “There’s sort of this balance here between the municipality providing services that citizens want and being able to afford those services. Then you have citizens on the other side, saying we want these services but our incomes are limited. They might not be increasing at the same pace as property is,” Wease said.

While the Headlee Amendment keeps the lid on property tax increases for residents who stay in their homes, the cap comes off when they sell to a new buyer. The purpose of the Headlee Amendment is to limit tax increases on the taxpayers. It’s tied to the rate of inflation as determined by the Consumer Price Index. The inflation rate multiplier is set in October, Wease said. It will be based the averages for 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 and is expected to be low, but it could rise in the future.

In a hot real estate market with more transactions, property taxes in Michigan often increase, Wease said. “The sticker shock of taxes will go to the buyers because the ‘cap’ on property taxable values starts when the property is purchased,” Wease said.

One way to counter the sticker shock is to lessen reliance on property taxes by implementing an income tax, which must be approved by a citizen vote. “An income tax can offer a stable source of revenue. When it comes to municipal finances, stability is usually best for the local economy, and the municipality and electorate as well,” said Weave, who’s from East Lansing, where residents voted for an income tax so that fewer people would be priced out of their homes by higher property tax bills.

While the Menominee County board voted for a smaller budget for 2021-22, it might not stay at the dollar amount approved. On Tuesday, the Menominee County board approved the fourth group of budget amendments for the current, 2020-21 year.

Before voting on the action item, County Administrative Assistant Sherry DuPont said, “There were some changes from the amendments we put in your agenda,” such as items not budgeted for originally and changes to employee insurance amounts.

County Administrator Jason Carviou explained the reason for the budget amendments. “If there’s a 10% difference in what we budgeted for revenue and what we bring in, that’s sort of the threshold for me telling them to go ahead and do a budget amendment for these. There’s others where we didn’t budget any and we did bring some in for that line item. We have to do a budget amendment for those automatically otherwise the auditors will have an issue for that.”

In response to the EagleHerald’s request Wednesday the county provided an undated figure for the amount of revenue it received in 2020-2021. It stood at $9.5 million as of Sept. 28, with about $660,720 to be transferred from the fund balances. The original 2020-2021 budget planned for revenue of $8.6 million, according to Sept. 17, 2020 county documents.

Some of the revenue being transferred from the fund balances, or reserves, to the general fund is for projects budgeted in a prior year but not completed in that budget year, Carviou said in an email. ”Other transfers are when the board approves expenditures that were not budgeted in the original budget,” he said. “However, actual revenue and expenditures determine whether money actually needs to be transferred from any of the fund balances.”

For the upcoming 2021-2022 budget, about $238,333 is scheduled to be transferred from fund balances to pay for capital projects and to make additional contributions towards the county’s pension liability, Carviou said.

Apportionment

In other items, the board appointed Mari Negro, representing the Democratic Party, and Leon Felch, representing the Republican Party, to the Board of Canvassers. Both were elected for four-year terms running from Nov. 1, 2021 to Oct. 31, 2025. These representatives sit on the apportionment committee, which is in the process of determining during public meetings how many districts the county will have for the next 10 years and where the boundary lines will be drawn.

Census2020 population

The 2020 county population declined 2.2% to 23,502 from 24,029 in 2010, and the City of Menominee’s population dipped 1.3% to 8,488 from 8,599 in 2010, according to recently released Census Bureau data. The next apportionment meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Oct 6 at the Menominee County Courthouse, where committee members are expected to decide how many county representatives should sit on the county board and how the district boundaries should be drawn.

NERR support

The county board, which heard a presentation Sept. 14 about the planned Green Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) being developed by the University of Wisconsin Green Bay and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) voiced support for the program with hopes its headquarters will land in Marinette.

The research reserve, with an annual operating budget of $1 million, is expected to bring community and educational components to the area along with tourists. “What they’re asking for as part of that process is support to get that designation,” County Board Chair Larry Phelps said. “It would be beneficial to us if we had it in Marinette.” Commissioners Larry Schei and Steven Gromala said they would like to see it move forward.

Commissioners also voiced support for an electronic ticket record system for the sheriff’s department, and the county board is expected to consider it at its next meeting.

Higher wages

Without discussion, the board approved a 2.5% wage increase, effective Oct. 1, for many non-union county employees, including: administrative assistant for administration, the information systems administrator, the airport’s lead operations technician and operations technician, the chief deputy county clerk/register of deed, the e-911 director, the emergency services coordinator, the equalization director, the friend of the court, all library employees, the chief assistant prosecuting attorney, the assistant prosecuting attorney, the juvenile probation officer, the undersheriff, the administrative assistant for the sheriff’s department, and the veterans service officer.

After a closed-door session, the commissioners approved union agreements for the following: the Menominee County Courthouse Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 406, the 95A District Court Employees Association, the Menominee County Corrections Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 406, and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council #25 E-911.


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MAPS superintendent John Mans dies at 56

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—Menominee Area Public Schools lost “a great advocate” for young people with the death of superintendent John Mans Saturday.

“We’ve lost a great advocate for doing what’s best for our kids,” said Board Secretary Becky Thoune. “Working on the school board with him was an honor. You knew that if he thought something was a good idea, you should probably listen to him since he had been in the schools for so long, serving our district for a lot of years one way or another.”

Mans, 56, graduated from Marinette High School in 1983, and attended UW-Marinette for two years following his high school graduation. He dedicated his life to education, earning a Bachelor of Arts in secondary education and a master’s degree in education leadership from Northern Michigan University.

Mans worked with at-risk kids at Menominee High School from 1988 to 1991, and then at the Menominee Intermediate School District as a transition coordinator. He was the ISD’s superintendent from 2011 to 2016, and then took the role of high school principal. He became MAPS’ superintendent in 2017.

“When I think about John, he really was a selfless leader in the district,” said MAPS Board President Derek Butler. “He gave himself to every student, every faculty, and his heart was in education and giving every kid the best opportunity possible.”

Mans had been involved in a number of athletic associations outside of the schools, notably M&M Area Youth Hockey and the Menominee High School Fishing Club, which is in part how Butler got to know him before he was a school board member. He said Mans was soft-spoken, but cared deeply about the students he served in the Menominee schools and athletic programs. “There’s more to the school experience than just the classroom and the books. It was about ensuring every kid had a safe place and were cared for under his leadership.”

He said Mans’ dedication to young people will not be forgotten by the district or anyone in the community. “When someone’s ‘why’ is in the right place, which is truly caring about kids and the community, that’s why he was so dedicated. He’ll forever, in my mind, be remembered that way,” he said.

Thoune had known Mans for around 30 years, and said he freely and willingly shared what he knew with anyone who asked. “He knew how to point people in the right direction to get things accomplished, and he gave of his knowledge freely and willingly to anybody. He was the most giving person I think I’ve ever met,” she said.

Thoune said Mans never came off as unkind with those he talked to. “He always listened to what people had to say; whether he agreed or not, he would always listen. He was an amazing human, which is what we ask of people. He was always someone you could look up to and know his integrity was strong,” she said.

“He was loved by a lot of people. Was it always easy? No, but that didn’t stop him,” she said.


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