Street Talk

Street Talk: Saalfeld rebuts Talen on veterans millage

Mr. Manufacturing.

June 20, 2014
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Last week, Street Talk reported that Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen thinks it wasn’t necessary to put a proposal on the November general election ballot for a dedicated millage to increase services for military veterans. Talen said there is millage already approved but not used, so the commissioners could levy it at will to raise the needed money.

The ballot now will ask voters to approve an annual increase of 0.050 mills to raise a little over a million dollars a year from 2015 through 2021. Kent County is currently spending about $300,000 a year for its veterans’ programs.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however.

Commissioner Jim Saalfeld said Talen is “missing the boat,” for a couple of reasons.

First, he said, the unused but authorized millage would raise an amount “several hundred thousand dollars less” than the amount to be generated by the proposed dedicated millage for veterans’ services, if it passes in November.

He said “four one-hundredths of a mill is what the county is not currently assessing in property tax, which it could.”

Furthermore, said Saalfeld, veterans’ groups that met with the county commission in support of a new county millage for increased veterans’ services “made very clear they wanted a dedicated source of funds over a period of time, rather than — as they put it — having to come in year after year with each budget and ‘play the political budget game.’”

Saalfeld said he believes “we owe it to our veterans to give them a dedicated source of funds that would come through this millage, as opposed to saying, ‘Oh, just come in and work with the general fund every year.’”

“Every year, you get a different set of commissioners on the board of directors,” he added, “and what might work one year may not work next year. So I think we owe it to our veterans to give them something that is dedicated.”

Oil and water

GR Mayor George Heartwell has been a voice for sustainability throughout his tenure. Now, it seems he’s raising that voice a bit.

Heartwell attended the annual meeting of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative last week in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where mayors from the United States and Canada put their heads together on a number of issues.

At the top of the list was a call to their respective federal governments and the responsible companies to significantly improve the safety of oil transportation across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin, in order to protect the largest source of fresh water on Earth.

“In our opinion, the reaction on the part of federal governments and energy and transportation companies to devastating accidents like those that have occurred in Lac-Mégantic and in the Kalamazoo River has been slow and insufficient,” said incoming Cities Initiative Chair John Dickert, mayor of Racine, Wis.

Mayors of the Cities Initiative voiced their concern with the recent exponential increase in rail transportation of oil, and the string of accidents, including the devastating derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic last year that resulted in 47 deaths and the destruction of half the downtown area.

Conveyance of oil by pipeline across the basin is also on the rise, with several expansions or new lines planned or recently activated in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin. The 2010 Enbridge pipeline rupture in Michigan that resulted in a spill in the Kalamazoo River illustrated the dangers of poor emergency response to spills into waterways.

Finally, large-scale maritime transport of oil on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River may be expanded if the Superior, Wisconsin, Calumet oil dock project is finalized.

“The increase in oil transportation across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin cannot be at the expense of communities and water resources,” said Keith Hobbs, outgoing chair of the Cities Initiative and mayor of Thunder Bay. “All modes of oil transportation must be held to the highest safety standards.”

At its annual members meeting, the initiative passed a resolution that calls on the Canadian and American governments to establish stronger regulations, conduct more thorough and frequent inspections, and bring enforcement actions before spills and other incidents occur. It also is asking that energy companies be required to pay a fee on oil being transported to establish a compensation fund to help cover emergency response and cleanup, property damage and restoration costs as is done in the maritime sector. The oil producers, transporters and refiners, as well as the federal governments, also are being asked to consult on a regular basis and more transparently with potentially affected communities.

“By ensuring that communities are prepared and informed, energy companies are fully liable and governments are fulfilling their oversight responsibilities, we can make oil transportation safe in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region,” said Mitch Twolan, incoming vice-chair of the initiative and mayor of Huron-Kinloss, Ontario.

Heartwell is a member of the board of directors of the Cities Initiative. “Our Michigan experience with the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River system has been instructive to the organization,” he said. “Cleaning up that spill has now cost over $1 billion and caused irremediable environmental damage. We must ensure that such a disaster never happens again.”

It wasn’t all policy talk for the mayor, however.

The city of Grand Rapids also was recognized with the highest award — Most Progress on Water Conservation — by its U.S. and Canadian peers for the great strides it has made over the last few years. Since 2000, the city has reduced its water use by 24 percent.

“Our commitment to protecting water is evidenced through the years,” Heartwell said. “We work closely with our partners from customer communities to ensure water conservation tops our priority list. Water conservation is an essential part of our sustainability planning.”

Joellen Thompson, the city’s water system manager, was pleased with the award and recognized staff efforts with reaching these goals. “(The) Water Department continues to be recognized for our water conservation efforts. We will continue to track and strive to do more to conserve water and improve our efficiency in operation.”

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is a coalition of more than 110 U.S. and Canadian mayors who work together to promote, protect and restore the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.

Gone, not forgotten

Jim Zawacki certainly has put his stamp on the Monroe North Business District. The CEO of Grand Rapids Spring and Stamping is leaving the business world, but probably not the world of manufacturing.

The Right Place/MMTC-West Manufacturers Council is hosting a reception in honor of Zawacki’s retirement and to thank him for his years of dedication to The Right Place, The Manufacturers Council and West Michigan’s manufacturing community. The event is scheduled for 4-6:30 p.m., July 17, at Cascade Hills Country Club.

Those wishing to thank the man who in many ways changed the face of West Michigan manufacturing should contact The Right Place for more information.

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