County has concerns about NLA surcharge fund balance

ALPENA – The Northern Lights Arena surcharge fund was set up as a way to help cover the cost of any repairs or replacement needed to the original equipment and building as it ages. The money in it however is slowly trickling away, making it a concern to the county, who would have to pay for the cost of any large issues that would cost more than what the fund has in it.

One dollar is taken from each ticket sold to arena events and is deposited into the fund and the money can’t be used unless it meets the county’s requirements and has a two-thirds vote by the commissioners. The trouble is the fund is slow to grow because it is being nickel and dimed from small withdrawals on a regular basis.

During Friday’s meeting Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said there was about $90,000 left in the fund after some purchases were approved. He said the arena has been open for a decade and he believes there should be more money in it by now. He said $90,000 may seem like a lot of money, but if a roof or compressor needs to be replaced it would drain the fund and almost assure the need for additional funds to fix.

“Right now we are spending it as fast as we are bringing it is,” VanWormer said. “That building has been open for 10 years and to only have $90,000 in it, there is something wrong with that. It is something we are going to have to address. All it would take would be for one big thing to go wrong and the money is gone.”

The arena management had requested three expenditures from the fund at the county’s finance committee meeting on Dec. 18. One was for $238 to replace a section of glass at the rink, while the second was for $296 for a motor for on of the compressors. The largest expense will be for a new water heater. The bid for the new appliance will be issued and it will be installed at the arena in a new location. Private donors and fundraising will cover the cost to have the new heaters installation moved.

Chairman Cam Habermehl said too often the money being used from the surcharge fund is for purchases that are only a few hundred dollars or less. He said the policy in place needs to be re-examined so small repairs can be made outside of the fund.

“It is something I think we are going to have to look into,” Habermehl said. “It seems like we are using it for things like door knobs and small things and that really isn’t what the fund was designed for.”

In other business:

* the commissioners approved the 2013 hazard mitigation plan. The plan is mandated by the state and covers all emergency response scenarios and response plans. It is needed to be eligible for Homeland Security grants, as well as money from FEMA.

* Habermehl appointed Commissioner Scot McKenzie the county’s liaison to Northern Lights Arena.

* the annual organization meeting has been moved from Jan. 2 to Jan. 3 at 9 a.m. The switch was made due to the Alpena Intergovernmetnal Council meeting on Thursday.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at