Onaway agrees to shared city manager position

ONAWAY – Onaway city commissioners voted Wednesday to share City Manager Joe Hefele with Rogers City.

Commissioners are hoping to save money and take advantage of an opportunity to share the service with its neighbor to the east. According to numbers Hefele presented to City of Rogers City Council members, it will save Onaway at least $31,672 per year. Onaway Mayor Gary Wregglesworth said he thinks the idea is worth a try.

“I think it’s moving forward, I’m hopeful it’s going to work well,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why it won’t.”

Commissioners unanimously approved the plan, with Commissioner Chuck Abshagen absent.

The arrangement could save the city in other ways, Wregglesworth said. Commissioners heard from Hefele about the village of Lakeview and city of Stanton’s shared manager. Their set-up allows both municipalities to save money by going into projects together. One possibility could be road construction projects involving the Michigan Department of Transportation, where Onaway and Rogers City potentially could save on mobilization costs by coordinating their projects.

Commissioner Bernie Schmeltzer said the idea is to examine the arrangement after six months to see if it’s working. If it’s not, Hefele would work for Rogers City full-time and Onaway would have to hire a new city manager.

Rogers City council voted on March 4 to hire Hefele full-time, and to continue exploring the idea of sharing the position with Onaway. At a meeting Monday it held off on approving a contract with Hefele, and set another meeting for March 25 to discuss the matter again.

Hefele applied for Rogers City’s city manager position after Mark Slown left for the same position in Ishpeming in November. As a shared city manager, he’d spend an average of 15 hours a week in Onaway and 25 in Rogers City. The cities already share the services of Mike Vogler as their city attorney, and Rogers City Clerk and Treasurer Terri Koss is serving as the city’s interim city manager.

After the meeting Monday, Schmeltzer pointed out Onaway had a part-time city manager in the past. The city’s Department of Public Works foreman typically would hold the title. This changed in the late 1980s when the city was considering building a sewer system, and officials believed they’d need an administrative city manager.

In other business:

* commissioners adopted a budget for the 2014 fiscal year, one that anticipates $436,770 in general fund revenues and the same in expenses.

* commissioners agreed to a draft of a restrictive covenant on the city’s wastewater treatment plant property. Hefele said it’s a restriction on the property deed resulting from a ferric chloride spill that happened there in 2011. It would forbid any soil being removed from the property or any water wells from being installed there. The city also would have to notify any contractors working on the property of what had taken place there.

The covenant must be approved by the Department of Environmental Quality before commissioners can approve a final draft, Hefele said.

Wregglesworth praised city staff for their efforts in working through the problem.

“This could’ve been disastrous to the city, and all city employees worked extremely hard to get us through something that could’ve wiped us out,” he said.

* Hefele informed commissioners the city didn’t make the first round for Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater Program grants from the DEQ. The city applied for a $503,450 grant, and still could get the funding in 2017.

* commissioners approved buying a machine that can thaw frozen water service lines. It’ll cost the city $2,641, Hefele said, although he’s not sure when the city can get one because workers at the factory that makes them are on strike. The city has had 25 frozen water services this winter, and Wregglesworth said he believes the machine could pay for itself in lost water and sewer revenues.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.