IM ponders dilapidated buildings

IRON MOUNTAIN – A comment from a resident about a home in disrepair in his neighborhood led the Iron Mountain City Council to further discuss how to deal with other properties in the city in similar situations with absent owners.

Mike Ciantar, of 518 Houghteling St. in Iron Mountain, talked about a condemned home on his block. He told the council that the grass is very tall and the home has been in a terrible state for 20-plus years.

“There are cats living there, gophers or rats, birds flying into the eaves – it’s a general health hazard,” Ciantar said.

City Manager Jordan Stanchina said that this wouldn’t have been an issue if the county would have gone along with being a land bank for the county and could have bought up these properties when they go to the state tax sale.

“Right now, brokers pay a minimum amount for many properties and when they see the condition they are in, they don’t do anything about them. Then, we have to wait another three years before they are up for the tax sale again. As a city, we don’t have the money to step in and buy them. We go and will cut the grass, and that goes on the taxes but we never see that money,” Stanchina said.

“Even if the county is not interested, we can pay or bid on these properties every three years,” said Councilman Bill Revord.

Stanchina said it’s more of an expense once you get the property and have to tear it down.

“That’s ridiculous that the city would have to start a fund to do something about these properties. We can seal up the holes and cut the grass, but I don’t know how much more we can afford to do,” Stanchina said.

Revord agreed. “The bigger problem is dealing with absentee owners that never pay for anything.”

Stanchina suggested talking more about this since it’s a constant problem in the city.

“Nothing is going to happen unless we do it. There are different conditions of condemned properties. I just don’t know where this one is at,” he said.

Revord said that if they want to get serious about it they need to see what’s available at the tax sale.

“We’ll put together some options and the council can take a look at it,” Stanchina said.

The council also heard about a house on East H Street that is in a similar state of disrepair and also has animals coming in and out of it.

At Monday’s meeting, the council also discussed and approved an employee funding ratio for health insurance premiums with an 80 percent city and 20 percent employee share.

The state of Michigan has passed Public Act 152 of 2011 giving municipalities four options concerning health insurance premiums, Stanchina said.

First of all, a municipality could opt out and use any premium ratio that the governing body approved by a two-thirds majority.

Second, they could use the default method which is the ‘hardcap.’ The state annually sets the maximum yearly premium that a municipality can pay and the employee must pay any premiums that can exceed the maximum amount.

A third choice is that the municipality, by a majority vote of the governing body, can establish an 80/20 city/employee ratio.

And the final option is not to comply with the public act and risk losing revenue sharing in the process.

Prior to Monday’s action, the city had followed the default ‘hardcap’ option.

The city has five groups of employees that make contributions toward their health insurance premiums – the police lieutenants, police patrol, firefighters, department of public works and administration.

All groups except the DPW are under the hardcap paying between 15-15.5 percent.

The DPW, Stanchina said, signed a collective bargaining contract prior to Public Act 152 of 2011, and are exempt from the hardcap until their contract expires in 2015. Although they are exempt, they agreed to pay 15 percent during the last round of contract negotiations.

The city’s health insurance premium renewal date is July 1, and the employees under the hardcap were facing a 25 percent premium contribution based on the increase in rates. The city is currently negotiating with the other unions and has offered a switch to an 80/20 percent ratio as part of the overall package.

The action was needed at Monday’s meeting, Stanchina said since the administrative employees were facing a July 1 renewal. And staying under the ‘hardcap’ would result in a 10 percent increase in premium contributions which would equate to an additional $3,000 for a family plan.

Stanchina added that under the 80/20 ratio, the employee would still pick up an additional $1,400 of premium contributions, which is substantial increase.

“Something is going to bust here. I don’t know how this is going to go. It fits within the budget we adopted, but I’m more interested in the challenge this will present next year,” Stanchina said.

In other action, the council:

– Referred any action on a request to purchase city-owned property from Harry Rahoi to the infrastructure committee for a 60 day review.

– Agreed to a request from the Lake Antoine Association for a $3,500 contribution from the city to carry out the program to retard the growth of Eurasian Milfoil in Lake Antoine. The city contributed the same amount last year and this was a budgeted item. Contributions are also make towards this program from the county, Breitung Township and the members of the association.

– Approved the city’s 2014-15 fee schedule. Changes to the schedule include increasing cemetery prices by three percent; fee for past due reinspections under the Rental Housing Ordinance of $35 has been added; under zoning and related permits, some permits have been desaid with a one or two with related fees reduced by $50 or $150 for combinations of fees being charged; the wording for the lawn mowing charge has been clarified under other fees and is $90 per hour per job with a one hour minimum charge; and a hydrant meter rental fee of $35 a week plus water usage charges has been added. In the past the hydrant meter rental fee was $35 per rental plus water usage fees. The only change is the time period for which the rental fee is charged.

– Amended the administrative personnel policy manual to include the job description for director of police and fire services.

– Approved the Michigan Department of Transportation contract in regards to the Small Urban Program on Park Avenue and Margaret Street.

– Reappointed Julie Badini to the Planning Commission and Rob Barkle to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Linda Lobeck’s e-mail address is llobeck@ironmountaindailynews.com.