EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—Mayor Jean Stegeman delivered her annual “State of the City” address at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“The last year has brought us events to celebrate as well as those that tried us, all of which were overlaid by the continuing COVID pandemic. As a community we continue to persevere and adapt to our collective situation,” she said.
Stegeman said some of the most notable successes for the city in the last year include the completion of various road projects, purchase of major equipment such as a replacement for the sewer vactor, a police vehicle and radios. She said Spies Public Library replaced a rooftop HVAC unit and turbidity meters, which measure the cloudiness of water often caused by the amount of air particles contained in water, were purchased for the Water Treatment Plant.
“The most observable success, which would not have been possible without the John Henes Foundation and the efforts of Johanna and Tom Lewis, was the complete replacement of the old beach house with an impressive new structure that will be utilized by residents and visitors for generations,” Stegeman said.
She said the Lewises also helped to fund the replacement of the walking bridge just behind the new beach house as well as other improvements to the ponds around the park. “The City of Menominee is blessed to be a recipient of such bountiful philanthropy, which to date is just under a total of $780,000,” she said.
Stegeman also highlighted some high points for the city that weren’t as publicly noticeable, including a clean, unqualified audit from Joe Berlin of Cambridge and Co. “During his presentation, he commented on the professionalism of Clerk/Treasurer Kathy Brofka and her team. While the audit firms have changed over the years, the report has not, and we should not take for granted the work of our department head and her staff,” she said.
She also highlighted the work done by City Assessor Peg Bastien, whose work earned the city a perfect AMAR (Audit of Minimum Assessing Requirements) score in the assessing department.
“During the last year we have relied heavily on City Attorney Mike Celello of the firm Mouw & Celello in the arduous undertaking of drafting ordinances necessary for opting into the legalized sale of marijuana in the City of Menominee,” she said. “This issue evoked strong feelings within the community, however it appeared to the council that we should accept the legalization trend that is sweeping the country. Therefore we carefully crafted new ordinances to govern the process, and the permit-issuing process will begin in the coming months.”
Stegeman also highlighted the retirement of several long-time city employees, including Library Director Cheryl Hoffman and Cemetery Foreman Tom LaFleur. “We wish them both a long, happy retirement, and welcome their incoming replacements,” she said.
Speaking on the Menominee Police Department’s K-9 program, Stegeman said so far $82,000 in donations have been raised, with a total of $26,000 in expenses so far. She said two officers have been trained to handle the new police dog, who has been named Dash.
The city still faces numerous challenges, including the high water level which Stegeman said is still wreaking havoc on the shoreline. 980 linear feet of rip rap was placed along Harbor Drive and paid for with various grants through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “This has all but eliminated the severe flooding and rock displacement that has taken place (on Harbor Drive) due to storm wave action,” she said.
The high water issue spreads beyond Harbor Drive to the shorelines of the parks and to River Park Campground, which has experienced severe damage as a result of the flooding. Stegeman said City Recreation Director Joan Kosewski has been continually evaluating the situation at the campground as the city searches for a lasting solution to the flooding.
She said there is still no clear plan yet as to the expenditure of the remaining millage funds for road improvement, nor is there a full understanding of the cost associated with the lead and copper pipe unfunded mandate. She also said there are human resource shortages that need to be addressed within the city, but to her the most troubling issue is the continuing drain on the city’s unassigned fund balance.
“In the last 24 months, the balance has decreased by approximately $350,000. The projected deficit for fiscal year end 2021 is $306,000. This number amounts to just between half and three-quarters of $1 million reduction in our savings account,” she said.
The current balance of the account is $2,349,000. “Simply put, there is a finite amount of money available. We cannot go on this way and remain solvent. COVID and climate change are not entirely to blame for this issue; there are too many cost overruns and avoidable emergencies. This has been an ongoing trend and needs to be addressed immediately,” she said.
She said there are three options available to the council to reverse this trend: increase revenue, cut expenses or both. “The option we do not have is to be presented deficit budgets annually,” Stegeman said.
She also noted that it has been 18 months since the city was granted several million dollars in a bequest from the Klar family for use on the library and recreation. “This gift is not a bandaid for our financial problems,” she said.
“During the next year, we must make progress towards living within our means. As always, I wish to thank the dedicated staff and employees of the city who serve our public, especially during this time. I’d like to thank all the department heads who put in whatever effort it takes to get the job done, even at the expense of their personal time,” she said.
Stegeman also thanked the citizens who serve on various boards and those who volunteer their time without expectation of recognition. “Finally, I wish for steady progress through this once-in-a-century world crisis, and look forward to the day when our local businesses are again thriving, friends and neighbors are gathering and events are held for celebrating. Until that time, let’s all keep working diligently for the benefit of the city and the fine people who reside within it,” she said.