Dickinson protests phone legislation

By JIM ANDERSON

News Editor

IRON MOUNTAIN – Dickinson County commissioners are opposed to state legislation that would make it easier for phone companies to discontinue traditional landline service.

The county board voted unanimously Monday to object to Senate Bill 636, which would become effective in 2017.

The legislation is opposed by the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) as well as Michigan police chiefs and sheriffs. It cleared the Senate in December and is now before the House.

In protesting the bill, law enforcement authorities say it puts seniors and rural residents at risk during emergencies because Internet-based land lines and cellphones are less reliable.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which also opposes the bill, says it wrongly puts the onus on customers to ask regulators to ensure they have a reliable alternative. AARP says there are no assurances that alternative services will be affordable.

In supporting the bill, phone companies hope to streamline regulations to free up money to spend on more cell towers and updated fiber optic networks. Traditional landlines are being used by fewer and fewer customers, the companies say.

According to MAC, the proposed legislation would take away the authority of the Michigan Public Service Commission to oversee the discontinuance of landline service and instead place it within the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC has not been in the business of regulating Michigan telephone service, said Dickinson County Commissioner Joe Stevens, who offered Monday’s resolution in opposition to the bill. “This is taking away state and local authority,” Stevens said.

In other action, the county board:

– Received year-end numbers showing 9,160 enplanements at Ford Airport in 2013, which is 840 boardings short of the 10,000 needed to qualify for $1 million in Federal Aviation Administration infrastructure assistance. The airport last met the Airport Improvement Program threshold in 2011, the first time since 1995.

– Congratulated Wilderness Ridge Farms of Sagola for again claiming the North American Six-Horse Hitch Classic Series world championship at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colo. The Belgian draft horse team from Wilderness Ridge Farms, owned by Bob and Judy Gunville and managed by Bud Miller, also claimed the prestigious title in 2012.

– Received and complimented County Mine Inspector Steve Smith on his written annual report. Highlights from the year, Smith said, included fencing for a large deep pit near the Fumee Lake biking trail; progress on a plan for all mines in Norway; various work in Iron Mountain, including closing the Ford Exploratory area behind the Department of Public Works, fencing at Pewabic, and progress on a comprehensive plan for repairing a number of other fences.

– Received a report from County Treasurer Lorna Carey that shows $24,952 earned through interest on county funds in 2013, down from $27,975 in 2012. The slight drop is mainly due to a decrease in interest paid by banks and investment companies, as well as a decline in the amount the county had invested, Carey said.

– Received Carey’s report showing $2.01 million in 2012 delinquent property taxes purchased in 2013, down from $2.36 million a year ago. The interest collected on delinquent taxes was also down, falling to $236,780, compared to $346,624 the previous year. Board Chairman Henry Wender commented that it was good to see a drop in the amount of delinquent taxes.

– Appointed Wender as the county’s representative on the Upper Peninsula State Fair Board. He will replace Commissioner John Degenaer Jr., who is stepping down from the U.P. board, but remains on the Dickinson County Fair Board.

– Approved a request from Sheriff Scott Celello to repair two additional showers in the jail at a cost of $8,200. The county had already budgeted $15,000 for jail repairs and authorized this extra work as it will be more cost-effective to do it now. The money will come from 2014 contingency funds, said Controller Nicole Frost.

– Authorized the purchase of a 2003 Ford F-150 truck (72,000 miles) for the parks department from Town & Country Sales of Quinnesec for $10,900. The truck purchase was part of the county’s 2014 budget. Quotes were also received from Riverside Auto & Truck Sales of Iron Mountain and ERA Chevrolet of Norway.

– Authorized Friend of the Court Heidi Van Slooten to purchase a new Savin MP 2501SP copier/printer/scanner/fax from Orbit Technology of Iron Mountain for $4,000, including a service agreement. The purchase will come from the office’s discretionary funds, with no contribution from the county’s general fund.

– Authorized County Clerk Dolly Cook to advertise a partial term on the Western U.P. Substance Abuse Board; four three-year terms on the Dickinson County Fair Board; a three-year term on the Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare Systems Board; and three three-year terms and a partial term on the Dickinson County Planning Commission.

Jim Anderson’s email address is janderson@ironmountaindailynews.com.