The August 28 agenda packet for the Ludington City Council was slightly more interesting and had more low-hanging fruit than the Scottville City Commission's, so I chose their meeting to attend and offer my thoughts. I still had a taste of Scottville, as former Interim City Manager Matt Murphy was there in his new job as an LPD officer. I had a cordial chat with him, despite having a problem with the depictions he made in a police report about when I was removed from the Optimist Hall at one of their city clowncil meetings.
Councilor Ted May was absent and made it even more interesting as the mayor might have an opportunity to break a 3-3 tie on votes. This almost developed, but first I wore a special shirt I had made for the occasion, celebrating my transition from a firefighter to a corruption-fighter:
Ludington's council has admirably encouraged citizen participation in recent years, unlike other public bodies I regularly cover (Scottville, PMCT, and LASD), and are often responsive during the meetings. Three spoke before the council's business was underway.
Barb Densman spoke of the local and national popularity of pickleball and was hoping to see whether the 8 courts currently available might be expanded at Oriole Field or elsewhere, because they are often filled. I have formerly berated the MCC School District for not seeking pickleball and tennis courts in their millage requests that have failed, rather they are looking for nebulous security upgrades and a costly fine arts center, which come at high costs overall and would not address the lack of racket sport facilities for students and adults in the wide-ranging district. Spending a half million on such a project would likely push them over the top with the voters, especially ones more likely to vote, but they continue to focus on 'security and theater'.
Les Russell commented on the "Oversized vehicles and storage containers" ordinance, saying it was misnamed since it would go after RVs and all sorts of trailers parked in front of homes. The ordinance would make it easier to get such off the street as it would move the time they were allowed on the street from 72 hours to 24 hours, saying it was a safety issue for other street users. Chief Christopher Jones would later explain that the change was to make the existing law enforceable, as it was logistically hard to get follow-up after 72 hours. Many of Les Russell's concerns were later echoed by Councilor John Terzano who thought the existing ordinance was more enforceable, adding that an RV could be ticketed if it was noticed in front of one residence and appeared in front of another the next day.
Councilor Kathy Winczewski would agree that it should have more committee work, but the rest of the council disagreed, and in a 4-2 vote, the ordinance was passed and one can now be ticketed for having dumpsters and most RVs in the street right of way for over 24 hours.
Densman's request was also noted later when City Manager Mitch Foster explained he was actively looking for a solution of the pickleball problem, and he would obliquely reply to my comment by saying that the Foster School property was declared a commercial property by the city assessor. The city assessor can claim that the school is an igloo and the playground is a post-apocalyptic industrial renaissance facility, but that still wouldn't make the properties commercial under the corresponding laws-- but here's what I said:
XLFD: (11:45 in) "People are having a hard time getting by, but at least our city hall is wealthy. They raised our taxes by nearly $300,000 this summer and more every summer henceforth, but we see how some of that tax money is used at this meeting. First, the city council is expected to opt out of Public Act 152 of 2011 for the twelfth staright year because providing the most expensive health care option for themselves is more important than living within their means as defined by the state.
Second, they will set a public hearing in order to create a commercial rehabilitation district for the Foster School property including the playground across the street, in order to help them avoid property tax for an expected ten years, with possible ten year extensions. Didn't this same council approve an OPRA district and certificate for these properties even when they weren't qualified obsolete commercial property parcels? It wasn't obsolete commercial property then, it's not a qualified facility this time around, so why are you raising our taxes by $300,000 while you effectively commit tax fraud twice in order to get these out-of-town developers low or no taxes?
Third, our imperial city hall has once again decided that its enterprise zones cannot compete fairly with the private sector in the Ludington area and is helping the state subsidize their Cartier Park campground improvements to the existing bathrooms by $1.4 million. Justin Cooper, best reporter the local paper ever had on this beat, noted in 2021 that "Cartier Park is an enterprise fund, meaning it funds itself, according to Foster. Over the years, Soper has annually set aside just more than $450,000 to replace both bathrooms." Cooper would note that figure was down to just "over $400,000 the next year".
Where's that money even coming from? Since Jill and Russell Soper took over the park every year's actual expenses from 2013 to 2021 has reflected that the campground's fund's revenues were always the same as their expenses, with no expense going towards savings or any other fund. It scares me that a city-ran enterprise fund can secrete over $400,000 into a savings account without any report of that amount in the public record anywhere, other than when grant matches need to be considered.
If that baseline amount is just money borrowed from the Harbor View Marina enterprise fund or other city funds to support grants, then even with $500,000 in state subsidies, which our private campgrounds can never receive, thank God, then the City is still on the hook for nearly a million dollars... [I was stopped and asked for but did not receive 15 seconds to conclude, had I been given that time I would have said]: "For enterprise fund improvements. Kibby Creek, Henry's Landing, Lakeview Campsites, even the campground at Ray's Marina, are all privately run and make enough profits to sustain themselves and fund their own improvements-- why can't our enterprise funds that directly compete with them and take their tax money in order to improve their facilities sustain themselves as they are supposed to? Thank you [END comment]."
The definition of "qualified facility" as regards the CRA being applied for. It is indisputable that Foster School has never been anything other than governmental use property since its inception until when it was sold a couple years ago. So the only way it would be a QF would for it to qualify as commercial property for 15 years, a sesquidecennial. This second attempt of the city to commit fraud is making me lose a lot of respect I have gained for them by observing how bad it has gotten in other public bodies I observe. I will be saying more at the public hearing held at the next meeting on September 11, a hearing which was officially declared at this meeting.
There was no dispute or comment over the accuracy of my assessment of what happened with Cartier Park. It apparently has grown easy for the city manager to manipulate funds around to defraud the state government for maximal exploitation. When they wanted over two million for a grant to create Legacy Park, they had to somehow find over $200,000 in the DDA fund to match the grant. The DDA funds, like the Cartier Park fund, always spent the same amount it took in-- that is until some state grants came around and required a match by the entity, then voila, the wise managers of the funds had painstakingly stored away just enough acorns to get to the grant's minimum match amount. But that money is nowhere to be found in their funds over the decade they were supposedly saving.
And even though I had harsh words for the elitism in our city hall in opting out of a statute that was meant to help cities contain their health insurance costs, they once again passed unanimously to opt out of the hard caps imposed by the state. It's too bad citizens can't opt out of city tax hikes passed recently using the same rational that we know better than city leaders how to use our money.
Councilor Terzano would also object to the other ordinance introduced at the meeting, bringing the city's Minor In Possession (MIP) updated to reflect changes by the state statutes. He would object to the possibility of seeing minors put in jail for up to 30 days for a second offense. The rest of the council did not see a problem and passed it.
The council would approve three actions regarding their parks. They approved permit and fees for using the pavilion area of Legacy Park, where none before existed (noting that the pavilion would not be rented out during times other events using the area). They approved raises of the rates at Cartier Park (basically by about 10%, at $2-3 per day), which they hope will pay for the bathhouses previously noted, that will cost $1.4 million to construct, about 10% of that to plan. Neither Russell Soper (who was present) or other officials would balk at this figure or answer the questions I had earlier. It's embarrassing how our officials do not see how terrible it is having their agency compete with private businesses so unfairly, we need new officials who understand their role.
So after Winczewski suggested new invasive species had been introduced at Cartier Park from yard waste dumped in or near the nearby yard waste dump, and after the mayor presented a certificate of appreciation to Adam Knee for the recent skate tourney, and "Rocky" thanked the council for allowing his Labor Day Show, I took to the mike once again to explain responsible citycraft, courtesy of Charles Marohn, somebody who our city manager brought to Ludington for his municipal wisdom and was widely praised:
XLFD: (57:40) "In Escaping the Housing Trap: A Strong Towns approach, Charles Marohn introduced it by explaining:
Talk of a "housing crisis" pervades American cities. These problems are symptoms of a deeper dysfunction. Over nearly a century, through often well-intended top-down policy interventions, we've turned a complex system that should be adaptive and self-correcting into one prone to a never-ending cycle of boom and bust, crises and overcorrections.
To address the dysfunction at the root of our housing problems, we need to shift our approach. We must move away from a model in which large developers and centralized financial institutions have unprecedented sway over what is built and where, to a more antifragile housing ecosystem in which the bar to entry is low, and every neighborhood can undergo incremental change over time.
Now this should be common sense, I'm on record saying the same stuff and more during and after the city council created our lingering housing crisis by passing rental inspections and other policies designed to upset the housing ecosystem that Marohn speaks of. It's comical how city officials wring their hands and bemoan an affordable housing shortage while simultaneously tripling the already substantial local subsidization of the 106 Laura Street project by creating their own Brownfield Authority to appease out-of-town developers, and also defend the $4.2 million city taxpayers will invest in the Lofts on Rowe property just to create 386 square feet one bedroom apartments that rent for $950, well above the area's average, and do that just so the out-of-town developers can start realizing pure profit much earlier than they should [Again I was stopped at two minutes, I would have finished with]:
"Why is it not surprising in this environment that the City is once again trying to defraud the taxpayers in giving the Foster School out-of-town developers another tax break by trying to call a former school a former commercial property and thereby a qualified facility? We have met the problem, and it meets here twice a month [END comment]."
The Ludington City Council loves to raise taxes on you and loves to put more of a burden on you by granting developers from out-of-town the ability to not have to pay taxes for up to 45 years for some. How exactly are they working for you?
Did I miss something ? On the parking ordinance, When does it go into effect ? It states also the RV , boat , truck , trailers dumpsters etc. after 24 hours can not be parked in the City ? Whats with that ? Ticket and fine , what's the cost of the fine? Read what was in the paper and on the torch , pretty much the same info . no real answers. A number of years ago there was a big deal about parking your RV etc. in your yard unless it was on a paved / concrete drive. Now you can't park in front of your house on the street either. Looks like a good time to load up the RV and get the hell out of town.
The new rules start on page 32 of the packet, the main change in existing rules, at least the one that was somewhat controversial is the time limit dropping from the current 72 to 24 hours (see below), and calling it a violation if your RV etc. is caught somewhere else in the City after it is first 'noticed' by the LPD. So if your relatives park their travel trailer in front of your house, and some busybody calls it in, or one of the jerk officers on the LPD has an issue with you and they put you on their RV violation database, they can get violated while legally parked when visiting a local business or another friend or relative.
I've thought about this over the afternoon. The City rarely does any action without having an additional purpose for doing so, and you can see two items on the agenda that synergize with this action: 1) they approve spending $1.4 million for the Cartier bathhouses, and 2) raise the rates for Cartier campgrounds. Think now, if an RV, camper, travel trailer, etc can't be on the city streets for more than a day without running afoul of the law, where would you go close by to put it? They are hoping it is Cartier Park, because they are going to hear about this enterprise fund purchase for awhile from me, and hopefully a lot more citizens who wake up and see how the City is going down an unsustainable course.
And the shame is that the city manager and the influencers on the city council pay lip service to the Strong Towns philosophy led by Charles Marohn, but their actions fly directly against it. All those special tax break districts they create only encourage out-of-town developers and the banks they use to continue gaming the system at the expense of everyone else. Very inefficient and inorganic-- far, far out of line of what Chuck Marohn told them about back in 2019 on the shores of the PM Lake. If Foster lasts another ten years, stays along the same path, we will all see how today's policies put them in that bad place. Mark my words when it comes to my 25th anniversary.
The shirt was custom-made by the multitalented Tim Iteen of PM Township recall fame. What a neat coincidence that the City's 150th anniversary falls on my 15th year.
Thanks for the report X. I think you're correct about reading between the lines on the parking issue. It doesn't make any sense to reduce the hours if there has been no problems until now. Many residents have family members visiting who have trailers or boats and are just visiting for a short period of time. Where are they supposed to park these tow alongs while visitng family? If parking for 72 hours is a problem then parking 24 is just as much a problem. It is so obvious how these control freaks operate.