During a packed town hall meeting Thursday night at the New Baltimore Police Station on Green Street, city council candidates answered questions from the public and the Citizens Advisory Committee.
Many questions were aimed at getting candidates’ views on the future of the city’s downtown, general city improvements and the possibility of leasing the aquatic center. The candidates are vying for open seats on council in the Nov. 8 election. Mayor Larry Smith is running unopposed.
Improving Downtown New Baltimore
Many questions raised at the meeting dealt with the city’s downtown and how the candidates planned to improve the area.
A few candidates talked about the need to fill the former police station on Front Street with a new business that would bring more people downtown.
“Where the old police department used to be, I think that we should encourage any developer that would like to come into town and put a nice restaurant in,” said Jim Morisette Sr., a lifelong New Baltimore resident running for a two-year term on the council.
When asked what he would like to see happen to the former police department, Planning Commission Chairman Karl T. Rutledge, who is also hoping to secure the open two-year term seat, said he would like to see a change in the building’s function.
“There has been talk both in the DDA and at the planning commission regarding multiple-floor living space with a walk-in business on the first floor, office-type spaces on the second floor, and possibly condos or living spaces on the thirdfloor,” Rutledge said.
Candidates also stressed the desire to bring in additional businesses that would draw more people downtown.
“We do have potential here and we have the ability to promote it, “ said Zack Stanton, a longtime city resident running for a four-year term. “As I’ve talked to business owners downtown and throughout the city, what they’d like to see is a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs can go and set up their business. Something that clearly names point by point by point what you need to do, who you need to talk to if you want to set up a business in this city.”
Stan Russell, a city resident in the race for one of the three open, four-year term council seats, added that he’d like to see more activity in the downtown park, such as a splash zone for children, which he said he thinks would add to the beach area and bring more foot traffic downtown.
Frank Krause, who has lived in the New Baltimore area for 13 years, also said he would like to improve the beach area downtown.
“There’s nothing to keep people there,” Krause said. “I think we need a concession stand, or a restaurant--something to keep the people there.”
Other City Improvements Sought
In addition to improving the city’s downtown, residents also wanted to know what the candidates planned to do to improve other parts of the city.
Incumbent Florence Hayman told the audience that she would like to develop a five-year plan for road repair.
“We have some roads in our community that are really disintegrating and we really need to pay attention to our roads,” she said.
Incumbents Ken Butler and David Duffy both said they would like to see the path along County Line Road finished.
When asked his opinion on the water tower located downtown, Duffy said “It’s been a landmark for a lot of boaters, but it is in poor disrepair.”
“We’ve looked at redoing it or taking it down, but both are very, very expensive projects to undertake,” Duffy added. “I personally think we should redo it, but we have to look at what’s financially feasible to do with that water tower.”
Morisette told the crowd that one thing he would like to see improved right away would involve expanding the city’s fire department.
“The fire department is still in need of a larger facility or at least another bay or a substation out by County Line,” he said.
Stanton noted that grants could be pursued by the city to help fund improvements, such as building rehabilitation. He said he would like to bring new technologies to city hall that would improve efficiency and save money.
Russell also added that he would like to bring technology into the city, as well as add programs for younger age groups to the recreation department.
Fate of Aquatic Center Lease
Many residents at the meeting asked the candidates about their views on the proposed leasing of the Anchor Bay Aquatic Center.
Both Butler and Duffy said that an agreement is possible, but they would both like to talk to surrounding communities about becoming a part of the plan.
“The partnership with Anchor Bay and the city of New Baltimore, I think, is something that could be a viable project to do together,” Duffy said. “The potential loss to the city is huge, and even though the school district did propose they would split the losses with us, anyone going into any sort of business doesn’t want to budget for a loss.
“We have to look at Ira; we have to look at Chesterfield. They’re using these facilities too. Are the cities or the townships themselves helping kick in for the rental, the custodian and the upkeep of the facility and supplies? It’s not there.”
Hayman said she voted against leasing the facility because, even with the proposed $1 yearly lease agreement, it would cost nearly $400,000 to move in after paying for supplies, lifeguards, telephones and electricity.
“Regardless of whether or not we’re going to move to the aquatic center, the existing recreation center clearly does not meet the needs of this community,” Stanton noted. “Just at a most basic level, it doesn’t have insulation, so in the winter months we see about $3,000 a month in heating bills because the heat goes straight through the roof.”
To learn more about each city council candidate, look out for Patch's profiles on them running throughout next week.