Fletcher: Consolidation is key to survival

In the early 1800s Michigan’s Lower Peninsula was surveyed, and to this day we measure property from the “Base Line” and the “Meridian” that were established in that survey.

The base line is down by I-94 and the Michigan Meridian line runs north and south over by Vienna Corners. We measure by “Town and Range” with the towns being in a north-south location and the ranges lying east-west.

In the pioneer days it was important to have governments small enough that people could participate easily. After all, travel mostly was by horse and thus, far distances took quite some time to travel to. Eventually we used the rivers and lakes as highways and if you look at a map of Michigan you can easily discern the towns and cities today that were born at a riverbank.

Just coming up the Sunrise Side there’s Port Huron, Sanilac, Harbor Beach, Point au Barques, Sebewaing, Bay City, Au Gres, Tawas City, Oscoda, Harrisville, and then, Alpena. The names are a mixture of French, Indian and names from Europe. What a jumble this development must have been.

Today distance isn’t nearly as important, as travel is easier. While we could travel further between communities, generally speaking that doesn’t occur as governments have stayed the same size as they always have been. By staying small, we miss opportunities for government savings.

Last summer when the Alcona Road Commission garage burned down there was a missed opportunity to consolidate it with a road commission in an adjoining county. Reading newspaper accounts from that time, road commission members were anxious to get the insurance check and rebuild the garage as quickly as possible. There was no thinking “outside the box.” The community seemed tied to the fact that we “had always done it that way.”

Or, when when the voters of Presque Isle County rejected the need for a new courthouse there was no initiative to try to consolidate the courts or other services housed there with other counties to try to save a buck.

As a matter of fact the push is on now to do a renovation because the courthouse had always been there.

The small school districts of Posen, Rogers City, Hillman and Atlanta generally speaking eschew most attempts to consolidate.

I long have promoted one government for all of Alpena County but that has gone nowhere. Instead the city continues to offer deals to its neighbors where it seems the city always benefits. Why doesn’t the partner ever seem to win?

Remember one year ago when new water meters were going to make a big difference in the city’s water and sewer funds? We were told faulty meters were losing the city money.

When I was on the board of directors of Edison Sault Electric Co. we owned the water system in St Ignace. We were losing 50 percent of all water pumped because of leaky pipes. I suspect it’s the same in Alpena.

Since new meters have been installed, the city has increased revenue 5 percent. We now know it wasn’t the meters. Why did we order new meters rather than check the flow in the system by section? If the meters were not the problem, then the solution must be somewhere else.

I’m thinking if we consolidated smaller units into a bigger government entity, perhaps solutions might come easier.

If you don’t agree, then what is the solution? Disagreement is acceptable so long as you offer an alternative to revenue shortfalls and underwater budgets.

Northern Michigan is shrinking, not growing, and we no longer have the tax base to just keep doing something because that’s the way it always has been done.