Escanaba has potential for growth

ESCANABA – With the right tools, Escanaba has a lot of potential for economic development, especially on its north shore, commented the executive director of the Michigan Municipal League who was in town Thursday.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunities here,” said Dan Gilmartin, MML leader, as he met with city council members during a lunch meeting at city hall.

The MML has been in existence since 1899, bringing city and village officials together to learn from each other and develop policies for local government, states the MML website.

Currently, there are 541 municipalities, including Escanaba, which are members of the organization, noted Gilmartin.

The executive director was meeting with the local officials to find out what the city’s projects are and how the organization can help in improving the city’s economic potential. After the meeting, Gilmartin was participating in an asset management conference at Bay College.

A goal of the MML is to keep close watch on state politics and legislation affecting its membership. Funding has been an issue for more than a decade because of a reduction in state revenues for local towns and cities, said Gilmartin.

When City Manager Jim O’Toole asked Gilmartin what the top three legislative issues are for the MML, he responded, “finance, finance, finance.”

The executive director told the city reps there is a tax shift in the state, including a shift in funding responsibilities. He said not to expect the state to restore lost revenues. Municipalities need to find tools to improve their own local economies, he added.

“The MML can get you more tools to develop in your special areas, which may be different from others,” said Gilmartin, noting waterfront development is an asset for Escanaba to improve its economy.

Gilmartin said municipalities also need to work together to find new ways to fund economic development through partnerships.

The MML is currently researching growing communities across the nation to see what’s working for them and to determine what can work for Michigan cities and towns, said Gilmartin, reminding those in attendance that the MML provides research, education and finance services to members.

Other topics discussed during Thursday’s session included legislation on personal property taxes, tax abatements for buying abandoned buildings, landfill insurance hikes and special taxes for specific city services.

O’Toole noted Escanaba has not raised its millage rate since 1988 and can’t afford more property taxes as a solution to financial problems. O’Toole requested MML continue to be involved in improving state funding for local governments.