By Matt Schepeler
Can we all get along?
Officials from the Brooklyn-Irish Hills Chamber of Commerce believe that if area government leaders can come together as one, the entire Irish Hills could greatly benefit.
With that in mind, officials from several townships and villages in the Irish Hills got together last Wednesday at the Artesian Wells Tavern to discuss the possibility of forming an Irish Hills inter-municipality committee.
A state law that allows for the establishment of an inter-municipality committee is fairly open-ended, explained Grant Baumann, Principal Planner of the Region 2 Planning Commission.
“It could be used for solving problems of mutual interest and concerns, including matters such as facility studies for sewers and sewage disposal, water drains, roads and recreation and parks, said Baumann.
It was noted that the idea of forming an Irish Hills inter-municipality committee was specifically for creating a recreation plan, but that it could be used for much more.
To begin the process, officials had to determine exactly where the Irish Hills is located. Cindy Hubbell, President/CEO of the Brooklyn-Irish Hills Chamber of Commerce, which facilitated the meeting, said they determined that the greater Irish Hills area basically incorporates the 52 area lakes. That includes a total of 10 townships and four villages located in four different counties.
“We went around the 52 lakes, and that is how we came up with the 10 townships and four villages,” said Hubbell, noting that while the chamber of commerce is not a governmental unit, the chamber and area governments have similar goals.
“That starts with the quality of life,” said Hubbell.
The chamber of commerce is an organization composed of business owners and professional men and women who invest their time and money in a development program for the entire community. “We strive to improve the economic, social, cultural, commercial, industrial and civic well-being of the Brooklyn-Irish Hills area,” they say on their website.
Governmental units and individual officials can join the chamber of commerce but are not required to in order to participate in the proposed inter-municipality committee.
Hubbell said that benefits of forming an inter-municipality committee could strengthen the Irish Hills as a whole. Since the Irish Hills is located on the edges of four counties, it lacks a true center of power, such as a county seat.
“We felt this would make us more powerful and give us one voice,” she told the gathering, adding it would aid in getting grants and “getting everything accomplished.”
Bob Kellum of Manchester Township agreed. “The Irish Hills has always been sort of the step-child of two or three townships. The idea that there is collaboration amongst townships can draw the center of gravity to the Irish Hills rather than the Irish Hills kind of being on the edge of something. It is something. In my mind, that is one of the biggest shifts that could occur in doing this.” Kellum continued by saying “the sky is the limit as to where it could be taken or what could happen.”
Annette Dupuie, chair of the board of the Brooklyn Irish Hills Chamber of Commerce, noted that another distinct advantage for municipalities to join an inter-municipality committee would be access to the Irish Hills Legacy, the chamber’s foundation, a 501(C)3.
“We have found that with some of our projects, you have to have collaboration with a 501(C)3,” said Dupuie. “In order to get potential grants, you really need to have that non-profit side of it. As a government entity, you will come across that as well. You will get more grant points if you partner with a 501(C)3.”
Dupuie said that the chamber was extending the use of its501(C)3 to the committee and that each municipality represented could benefit.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to the community for forming an Irish Hills inter-municipality committee would be the possibilities for collaboration. Baumann expounded on the recreation planning aspect.
“You could show joint planning, which would be beneficial in obtaining grants, through a joint recreation plan, but each local unit of government would still be in charge of applying for any grant funding that would come to their jurisdiction.”
One attendee asked if this would be a good way to get trails put in the area.
“We need a [joint] plan to be able to go after grants for trails,” said Hubbell. Sybil Kolon, who was representing Manchester Township, gave an example of how collaboration can be beneficial when it comes to trails. “The Village of Manchester and Manchester Township just adopted a joint recreation plan,” she said, adding that as a result “We are feeling pretty good about the ability to connect Watkins State Park with the Village of Manchester.” Kolon also pointed out that there has been talk about connecting the trail at Watkins State Park to Brooklyn.
Other notable points made included:
- John Calhoun of Columbia Township pointed out that there needs to be kayak and canoe launches planned for the River Raisin.
- Dupuie noted that the committee would be autonomous, and not a part of the chamber of commerce. “We are just facilitating getting you all together. We don’t want a say in what you are doing,” she said.
- Cambridge Township supervisor William Genter said he would like to see standardized signage throughout the Irish Hills.
- Brooklyn village manager Jae Guetschow, who has also been instrumental in getting the committee together, said he didn’t see a need for staffing the committee.
- When asked how much it would cost, Guetschow said he didn’t see a need for dues but said municipalities could opt in or out of projects, thereby controlling their expenses.
- It was pointed out that bulk purchasing of computers and other equipment by participating members could also benefit residents.
- No official action was taken. An inter-municipality committee would have to be established by a resolution from each participating member.
- Baumann said if the committee goes forward, it might be a good idea to have an attorney draft a set of bylaws.
- Another meeting is being planned to discuss the issue further and see which entities will be participating.