County board OKs rec authority

HOUGHTON – The Houghton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday narrowly approved the articles of incorporation for a bi-county authority for a year-round trail system.

By a 3-2 vote, the board approved the articles for the Houghton-Keweenaw Recreational Authority, which would pursue easements on 100 miles of private property.

Commissioners Scott Ala, Anton Pintar and Tom Tikkanen voted in support of the proposal, while Vice-Chair Tim Palosaari and Chair Albert Koskela voted against it.

Speaking in support of the plan was Calumet Township Supervisor Paul Lehto, who the county board designated in May as representative on a task force to develop the recreational authority.

After feedback from the county board, the method by which a proposed millage could be added to the ballot has been changed. Previously, the recreational authority could vote to place on the ballot up to two-tenths of a mill in a millage, or up to two mills in a bond proposal; that authority now sits with the Houghton and Keweenaw county boards. Voters would then have to approve the millage during a general election.

“It’s not taxation without representation,” Lehto said.

Lehto said the majority of funding would likely come through grants or donations.

In another change, if the authority wanted to dispose of property, it would go to either Houghton or Keweenaw county. People can also go to their appointed board members and ask them to change the bylaws, which the board can amend, Lehto said.

Koskela said he wanted more time to gather input.

“I talked to some of the townships, and they didn’t know about it,” he said.

Lehto said it had been brought up regularly at the Houghton County Townships Association meetings.

Palosaari asked to amend the articles to remove the possibility of a millage.

Tikkanen said while he shares the desire to avoid unnecessary taxes, a millage would only happen if approved by a majority of voters.

“When it comes to this, I think there’s enough safeguards for the will of the people to prevail,” he said.

In other action, commissioners:

heard a report from Ala about ongoing issues at the Michigan Works office. Ala read an email from the board about “the ever-increasing potential of disallowed problematic costs,” which had reached more than $209,000. That included more than $140,000 in violations of the cap on training services without obtained required expenses, $55,000 in improper expenditures in the Workforce Investment Act and youth program, and $12,900 in questioned costs for not following federal procurement requirements in obtaining audit and payroll services.

“This $209,000 could ultimately fall back on the six counties (served by the office),” Ala said.

Ala said through the Western U.P. Alliance, they have made a request for a new judiciary that would take the judiciary function from Gogebic County to Central Michigan Works. At that point, they would go through the funds to see what money is still available, then transfer the money to the Western U.P. Alliance.

“At that point, the Alliance would then decide who works at Michigan Works,” he said. “That would be our time to pick a new director.”

Ala said the board is advertising for a new director on its website.

In other business, board members:

named Koskela as chair and Palosaari as vice-chair.

set meeting dates and times for the upcoming year. Meetings will remain at 5 p.m. on the Tuesday after the second Monday of the month.

approved rules of order for the board, with the modification that commissioners will get their agendas and supporting documents via email.

approved commissioner committee assignments: Koskela was added to the Copper Country Mental Health committee; Tikkanen, Pintar and Ala to the Western U.P. Peninsula District Health Department committee and Koskela to the Upper Peninsula Commission on Aging committee.