Speer: Tough subjects kick off the new year

Certainly Alpena Municipal Council is wasting no time to immerse itself in sticky and controversial issues.

Monday is just the second council meeting into the new year, yet already council is hearing information and making decisions on things like downtown parking changes and the status of water negotiations and possible rates.

So much for any honeymoon session for new members.

Since The Alpena News reported Thursday the results of a joint public meeting between city and Alpena Township officials to discuss proposed changes to township water rates, my email has been filled with angry notes from concerned residents worried about potential rates.

“Sticker shock” is how one referred to the proposed rates after reading them in the newspaper.

Another was passionate, saying the resident “would have no choice” but to opt for water service, yet it will mean his family will have to give up other comforts to find the money to pay for it or, to ensure his family the kinds of things other families do, would require him to seek a third part-time job.

Still another said the rates could have a “huge negative impact” on the community if not handled wisely, sharing he hoped everyone involved would “go slow” and think things through carefully.

Because of the large rate increase being proposed for consumers, he suggested a gradual phase-in over several years to cushion the severity of the blow for water customers.

My hope is these same people will appear before the township and city boards in the future and share their same thoughts with them. Collectively, now is the time to begin letting elected officials know your feelings about the rates if you ever hope to have a bearing on what ultimately these governments do.

The same is true for downtown parking in Alpena. Changes in parking lot designations, strict enforcement of parking regulations and tougher new penalties for violators all are being proposed to council by Downtown Development Authority members.

Personally, I’m disappointed, for I believe it moves our city from a “progressive thinking” community to one one that seems more “regressive” by this action. Having moved to Alpena 25 years ago I remember very well one of the things that impressed me the most was its lack of parking meters (having just been removed from city streets) and its parking policies. Having come from a community where parking policies were insane, Alpena seemed like heaven.

Today I just find it hard to believe parking has become such a serious enough concern to warrant major changes and tough enforcement.

Still, the issue appears headed to council Monday.

Again, if you have concerns regarding parking changes or believe it tarnishes that “Sanctuary of the Great Lakes” model, perhaps makes us less a “warm and friendly port,” then you should voice your concerns Monday.

Local government is all about you and me. This is where the real decisions occur, and this is where you have the most opportunity to be heard.

Don’t let those opportunities pass you by.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.