Montcalm County commissioners quiz Economic Alliance director about Greenville participation, wind energy project
Apex Clean Energy has been working for several years now to install a wind turbine farm in multiple townships throughout Montcalm County. Apex is a current investor of the MEA and has contributed financially to the MEA since 2020. Carr has publicly spoken in support of Apex’s project and he has also signed his own personal property leases with Apex, while Blomstrom has publicly voiced her concern with Apex’s project.
STANTON – Montcalm County commissioners quizzed the new director of the Montcalm Economic Alliance (MEA) about the city of Greenville’s lack of participation with the organization, as well as about the “hot topic” of local wind energy development.
MEA Executive Director Olivia Blomstrom appeared before the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Monday to provide an update about the MEA, which she was hired to lead last December. The MEA partners with The Right Place, a regional economic development organization based in Grand Rapids, with the MEA paying The Right Place about $100,000 annually for its services and for Blomstrom’s position.
Blomstrom detailed how she has been working to help local businesses retain and hire for multiple positions lately, which led to a question from Commissioner Adam Petersen of Montcalm Township.
“Whenever I meet with businesses, they share confidential information and they also share what is going well and what’s going not so well. And I try to take what’s not going so well and connect them with a resource,” Blomstrom explained.
“Who do you think in this county benefits from the most from it (the MEA), as far as municipalities? Would Greenville be the biggest beneficiary?” Petersen asked.
“Greenville has the highest number of businesses, so I would say yes,” Blomstrom responded.
“I guess it doesn’t seem right to me that Greenville doesn’t invest in what you guys do,” Petersen opined. “Is there any reasoning behind why they don’t?”
Blomstrom referenced an issue between the city and the MEA in 2019 which was previously covered by the Daily News in two stories.
After 2017, the city of Greenville stopped financially contributing to the MEA and in response the MEA sent the city a letter in 2019 saying Greenville City Manager George Bosanic was no longer allowed to be a member of the MEA.
At that time, Bosanic told the Daily News he had “serious concerns with the services provided” by the MEA and The Right Place, and added, “A lot of the stuff that’s happened in Greenville, there’s probably a pretty good chance it would have happened if The Right Place wasn’t involved.”
In October 2019, Bosanic and the Greenville City Council discussed the issue publicly further, with Bosanic specifically pointing to efforts surrounding the process of bringing Foremost Farms USA to the city’s industrial park as a factor in his frustration, saying, “At that time, the team, so to speak (MEA Board), left us hanging … it should not have happened that way, and so we have those concerns.”
“They weren’t feeling that there was an economic benefit for them and that they could handle their economic development pieces all on their own,” Blomstrom summarized at Monday’s meeting. “Meeting with the manager of Greenville recently (Bosanic) and talking with him, he shared like, ‘I want to go to business meetings, I want to go out there and do what you’re doing with you.’ And I understand that; however, when I do walk into a business, they get the option before I meet with them if they want the city manager or their local leader there with them – and nine times out of 10, they do not. The things that they’re going to share, they don’t want the city managers to be aware of, they want to have those confidential conversations and get linked up with whatever resources they need. Greenville not participating, that is their choice.”
“I just think it’s atrocious that Greenville Public Schools can be an investor, but Greenville proper cannot,” Petersen responded. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know why someone that is benefiting the most is contributing zero.”
“Since Randy (Thelen) joined The Right Place (as the new president and CEO), I know that communications have been opened with George and the city of Greenville so that is a relationship that we continue to foster and hope that they can return back to being members again,” Blomstrom noted.
“Me too,” Petersen replied.
While many local townships previously contributed financially to the MEA, Montcalm Township is currently the only township to do so, along with a handful of other municipalities.
“That thing with Greenville has been kind of a big stumbling block for me over the years as well and with the townships I represent,” Commissioner Patrick Q. Carr of Cato Township noted. “When this started, several townships participated but the rumble always was, why not Greenville? I think that’s kind of a sore spot with people still to this day.”
“I can completely understand that,” said Blomstrom, adding that a second township may soon be financially contributing to the MEA.
“We’re trying to rebuild those relationships,” Blomstrom said. “Part of that is me going out and talking to the townships instead of just showing up once a year. I think it’s important for the investors to hear from me more often.”
Current investors of the MEA include Apex Clean Energy Holdings LLC, Bruce Noll, the city of Carson City, Commercial Bank, Consumers Energy, EightCAP Inc., Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, Greenville Area Community Foundation, Greenville Tool & Die, Greenville Public Schools, Howard City Downtown Development Authority, Isabella Bank, Josh Gibbs, the village of Lakeview, Mercantile Bank, Michigan One Community Credit Union, Mid-Michigan District Health Department, Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, Montcalm Care Network, Montcalm Community College, Montcalm County, Montcalm Township, The Right Place, Sidney Bank, Spectrum Health United Hospital, the city of Stanton and United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties.
The current MEA Board is comprised of President Dave Seppala (the west regional president of Isabella Bank), Vice President Michael Falcon (the Howard City village manager), Treasurer Gae Wolfe, Josh Gibbs who handles fundraising and special projects, The Right Place representative Eric Icard, Montcalm County representative Brenda Taeter (the county’s controller-administrator), past president Rob Spohr and members-at-large Darrin Dood (the Lakeview village manager/police chief), Bruce Noll and Megan Rydecki.
‘HOT TOPIC QUESTION’
Carr also had a “hot topic issue” question for Blomstrom on Monday regarding wind energy.
Apex Clean Energy has been working for several years now to install a wind turbine farm in multiple townships throughout Montcalm County. Apex is a current investor of the MEA and has contributed financially to the MEA since 2020.
Carr has publicly spoken in support of Apex’s project and he has also signed his own personal property leases with Apex, while Blomstrom has publicly voiced her concern with Apex’s project.
Olivia and her husband Brian Blomstrom at a November 2020 Montcalm Township Planning Commission meeting asked that township officials take into consideration the concerns of residents before approving wind ordinance amendments.
“There are individuals I believe in the township that are concerned about what this may do both for the environment and property values, things along those lines,” Brian Blomstrom said at that meeting. “This is not something where people are building in their backyard behind a fence, this is something that is going in the air that can be seen from miles and miles around. That being said, it can be disturbing to those individuals to have their way of life impacted by those who want to make some money on their land.”
Brian and Olivia have also posted and commented multiple times on the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook page – a self-described “grassroots coalition of citizens advocating against the irresponsible and invasive placement of industrial wind turbines and solar arrays in Montcalm County.”
“You and maybe your family are all outwardly opposed to the wind development and people see that as an economic issue, right or wrong,” Carr told Olivia Blomstrom during Monday’s meeting. “So your appointment as director of the MEA, how do you address that?”
“My role and my job as the executive director for the Alliance is to put all of my personal and political affiliations aside and do what is best for the economic growth of our county,” Blomstrom responded.
In other matters …
Also during Monday’s meeting, the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners:
• Received and placed on file a list of foreclosed properties from Treasurer Joanne Vukin. The properties will go up for auction on Aug. 24. Visit montcalm.org/government/county_treasurer/property_auction.php for more information.
• Voted to approve a bid of $189,405 from Badgerow Building & Remodeling in Greenville to improve the windows on the county administration building and out-buildings in Stanton. The money will come out of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money.
• Voted to convert two-part-time corrections officer positions into one full-time position for the Montcalm County Jail.
• Voted to make a Veterans Affairs Department part-time driver position full-time at the current wage scale of $13.50 to $17.07; and to change the Veterans Affairs officer 1 status to officer II.
• Approved a 15% wage increase for Commission on Aging direct service aides.
• Approved reclassifying an office assistant position in the Clerk’s Office from part-time to full-time with the county’s concealed pistol license (CPL) fund to pay for the extra $15,000 cost for this current fiscal year. In coming years, the CPL fund will pay $25,000 per year for the position while the county’s general fund will pay $5,000.
• Approved posting for a second part-time kennel attendant position for Animal Control.
• Voted to approve acquiring four vehicles for the Administration Building, Animal Control and Building & Grounds utilizing ARPA funds not to exceed a total cost of $80,000 as previously recommended by the Committee-of-the-Whole. Controller-Administrator Brenda Taeter reported during Monday’s meeting that the county was able to purchase the four vehicles for $77,130 (two from the Hollenbeck dealership in Montcalm County and two from a Grand Rapids dealer).
• Heard a 2022 equalization report from Equalization Director Deb Ballard who said Montcalm County’s equalized value is up 9.45% and the taxable value is up 6.14% for an estimated increase in tax dollars of 6.3455%. Equalized and taxable values have both steadily increased in Montcalm County since 2012, while the personal property value has been increasing since 2019.
• Voted to approve wage increases for Emergency Medical Services non-union positions retroactive to Jan. 2. The wage increases are as follows: Director Eric Smith will receive a 6% raise, going from an annual salary of $85,703 to $90,845; supervisors will receive a 20% raise, going from a range of $24.52 to $28.80 per hour currently to a range of $29.42 to $34.56 per hour; billing and accounts managers II will receive a 20% raise, going from a range of $18.32 to $21.66 per hour currently to a range of $21.98 to $25.99 per hour; billing and accounts managers I will receive a 20% raise, going from a range of $20.46 to $24.17 per hour currently to a range of $24.55 to $29 per hour.
• Voted 8-1 to allow Clerk Kristen Millard to continue using retired clerk’s office employee Jaye Christensen on an as-needed basis to work in the two clerk offices at a cost of $3,000 for the rest of the current fiscal year (half the cost to come from the county’s general fund and half to come from the CPL fund). Commissioner Patrick Q. Carr voted “no.”
• Heard a report from Taeter that the county website redesign is pending and is expected to go live the week of June 27. The county is using some of its ARPA money to spend $47,445 on a contract with Civic Plus in Manhattan, Kansas, to update montcalm.org. Civic Plus also requires an annual maintenance fee of $8,782.
• Heard reports from commissioners Kathy Bresnahan of Pine Township and Phil Kohn of Edmore, both of whom recently attended a legislative conference.
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