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Fletcher: Hospital closing another warning

April 10, 2012
Stephen Fletcher , The Alpena News

The alarm clock is ringing. It's time for us to pull ourselves up out of our lethargy and to look around at the new day in Northeast Michigan.

The Cheboygan Memorial Hospital joins the Rogers City and Onaway hospitals in being closed. Alpena Regional Medical Center is what's left between Tawas and the Straits in our corner of the state.

Beach Hall (who knows what he's doing) says that Rogers City is in some financial bind due to Michigan officials eliminating the personal property tax for all businesses except utilities. The Wolverine Power Project has beaten the former Gov. Jennifer Granholm Michigan DEQ challenge just in time to get wiped out by President Barack Obama's EPA mandates on coal.

I haven't read it yet in The Alpena News but the decrease in the personal property tax will be devastating to Alpena local units of government also. The loss of the tax levy means Alpena Township, City of Alpena, and probably the schools will suffer a million dollar plus decrease in operational funds.

I've been suggesting in this column for three years that governments and governmental functions must be combined to save money as a financial crunch was coming. Well, curse me, I was right. It's probably my fault for warning you.

Of course, nothing in terms of real combination of services has taken place. Our local politicians say we are talking more than we used to between the units of government but there seems to be the same old fighting over territorial jurisdictions like sewer and water rates. As an aside I have spoken to both city and township folks about Alpena Power Co. buying the two sets of water and sewer facilities to improve service, stabilize rates, and operate them as a Michigan Public Service Commission regulated utility. I have not heard back from either party.

I wonder if my offer might just be like getting a monopoly on the buggy whip business just as automobiles are taking over, but it is a possibility for us to increase our utility business even as the total size of the service is dropping.

The fact remains that our business of local government hasn't downsized dramatically as our population has diminished. The absolutely best way to convince people to downsize is now upon us: Take away the budgets. The elected officials have paid some lip service to economizing but the results outside of the school systems are paltry.

A paradigm shift must occur in northern Michigan as to how we operate government. The closure of the hospitals is the canary in the coal mine. If the closures weren't bad enough, the other shoe is the dropping of the personal property tax to create a better business climate in the state. This change is decreasing local budgets.

Look now for every affected unit of government to say the tax must be reinstated. I don't think so. Just because the officials never took note of diminishing resources doesn't mean we can't have a much more efficient government locally. This isn't a time to whimper, this is the time for large scale change.

The alarm clock is getting louder.

Stephen Fletcher was graduated decades ago from Cornell University with an A.B. in Economics and from Michigan State University with an M.B.A. He has lived and worked in the decades from graduation until now in the Alpena area. He thinks economics is fun and interesting.



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