The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

County board hears storm damage assessment


June 28, 2018


Bessemer — The Gogebic County Board heard key presentations from Jim Loeper and Jim Lorenson Wednesday evening.

Loeper, the county’s emergency management and 911 coordinator, updated the board on damage assessments from mid-June’s rain storms.

He’s recorded $244,314 in damages to public property in the county and $100,000 to private property. This clearly puts the county over the $60,000 threshold to be part of the state’s disaster declaration.

He said he planned to meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials today and then those people “will go back to Washington to meet with the President.”

Loeper said he also had plans to inspect some damaged houses today and understood all roads in the county have been repaired to where they are passable.

Board Chairman George Peterson thanked Loeper for his efforts. “Great job.”

Ambulance service

Lorenson and Loeper both spoke about efforts to secure funding for continued ambulance service in the county. The board was presented with a six-page contract that would provide Beacon Ambulance with $200,000 for services in the county, minus Watersmeet Township, for the remainder of 2018. Lorenon explained Watersmeet has its own contract for ambulance services for 2018.

Board member Jeff Wasley said the board was on record saying it would reimburse Watersmeet at the same rate per person. Other board members agreed that was the plan. Lorenson said that agreement is outside the contract that was being presented at this meeting.

Board member Dan Siirila said the contract made it sound like the county was on the hook for the entire $200,000, while instead the various governmental units in the county were on board for half.

Each city or township will pay on their percentage of the county’s population. County administrator Julianne Giackino said she had received many of the city and township’s signed contracts already.

Lorenson said all the money from those government units will go through the county. Siirila asked that the contract be amended to show what each unit will pay. He also praised Lorenson for his work on the issue. “Without you, this wouldn’t have gotten done.”

Lorenson said there were many people — elected and otherwise — who have worked very hard on the issue. “It’s good to see all these governmental units, the college and hospital work together. There was good discussion, tough questions asked and people worked together in good faith.”

Ballot proposal

The board also saw proposed language for a ballot proposal to fund ambulance service from 2019-2021. There was much discussion about the amounts listed — 1 mill raising $510,000 annually over three years.

Lorenson said they were still working on the number. Loeper said he had been working with the 1 mill as a starting point.

Wasley said he had gone to many of the ambulance committee meetings and thought the total would be closer to $300,000.

Lorenson said that didn’t include adding Watersmeet to the mix starting in 2019 and the need for other expenses, yet the total was still in question.

County Clerk Gerry Pelissero said the board had until mid-August to decide the ballot language in order to get it on the November ballot.

Peterson suggested a special board meeting for July just on the ambulance issue.

Wasley said he’d like to see a break down of the proposed expenses, adding educating the public will be important to getting this passed. “Whatever the number is, we’re going to have to tell the people what they’re getting.”

Board member Tom Laabs and Lorenson concurred about the importance of educating the public about the numbers.

“We’re going to need to educate the public on why they’re voting on something they’ve never had to vote on before,” Lorenson said.

Lorenson also talked about the idea of the county forming a ambulance authority to run the whole thing. He said the authority would not only administer the contract, but also look ahead to future contracts and possible ambulance services, as well as possibly invest in infrastructure like an ambulance or other equipment that might help keep contract costs down if that equipment were leased back to the company.

Board member Joe Bonovetz said Gogebic County is not the only county dealing with this issue across the state.

Lorenson said he would forward similar contracts from Iron and Alger counties.

Prison update

Lorenson also updated the board on the potential closure of the Ojibway Correctional Facility. As a member of the liaison committee at the prison he said he had learned the state has budgeted to close one of its 32 prisons as the state’s prison population has dropped.

He said the state is looking to close a prison in Ojibway’s class and it is one of four on the list, including one in Newberry and two downstate.

Lorenson said the state will look at eight or nine factors, including age and population of the facility, programs offered and economic impact on the community.

He said Ojibway creates 200 full time jobs “with family supporting wages,” adding the county is already below the state’s median income average.

He suggested a regional committee be formed and going downstate to knock on doors in Lansing. “It’s harder for someone to tell you ‘no’ when you’re sitting across the table from them.”

In other business, the board accepted a bid of $2,600 for a 2012 Dodge Charger from Watersmeet Township.


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