ALPENA - Some say maintaining as much experience on the Alpena County Board of Commissioners to help with the transition of a new treasurer, emergency management coordinator and equalization director is vital to what is best for moving forward. Others think the core of the board has been in place long enough and new faces and ideas are past due.
The race for the district No. 5 seat will go a long way in determining if experience wins out over change, as incumbent Gerald Fournier tries to hold off challenger Scot McKenzie on Tuesday.
Fournier, who helped the Boys & Girls Club acquire the county owned land on the Thunder Bay River so it would be eligible to receive grants to make needed improvements, said he cleaned up the zoning issues on the county's property at the airport. Fourneir said this is important for the upcoming unmanned aircraft project, as well as make things easier for other business looking to come to Alpena. He said having his experience and expertise on the board is important.
"It really is very important to have experienced commissioners right now. We are going to have at least one new commissioner, and the new treasurer is going to have some awful big shoes to fill, so without the experienced commissioners there to help this treasurer, it will be more difficult for them to get adjusted," Fournier said. "There are a lot of things coming with the courts, landfill and other projects and I feel the fact that I have been involved in them so far is important for me getting re-elected."
McKenzie said he he has no issues with how the commissioners, including Fournier, are handling the county, but he believes he needed to run because he wants to repay the people for everything they have provided his and his family.
"I have nothing against Gerald. I think he has done a good job. I want his job though. It is something I have wanted to do for many years, but I wouldn't have been able to devote the needed time that I needed to," McKenzie said. "I have always wanted to help the county and I like people; I like working with people and I think it is time for me to give back, so I decided this is what I wanted to do."
McKenzie said the knowledge he has gained from running a successful business in Alpena will help to serve him well if he is elected to be a commissioner.
"I think I have a good business sense and I'm a phenomenal negotiator and I can work with any type of person," McKenzie said. "I think the fact that I started my business when I was 18 years old and it is still operating successfully says a lot in these times."
Both candidates said the largest issue facing the county is the budget. As revenues continue to dwindle and expenses rise, the county's fund balance has needed to be used to balance the budget, which faces a more than $400,000 deficit for 2013. Fournier said he used to be on the finance committee and currently is taking part in budget workshops and is equipped to help make the financial maneuvers needed to stay out of large deficits in the future.
"If our fund balance falls to 19.7 percent there will be layoffs, that is set in stone. So it is important to continue to find ways we can cut costs by consolidating things like we have with the city with IT and the fiber project," Fournier said. "Just look at the Northern Lights Area and Plaza Pool. We made a decision to privatize them and now we are selling ice for a very low price and the arena is flourishing. I expect the same results with the pool. We just don't have the problems we did and it has worked out well."
McKenzie said he wasn't sure if the move to replace the Multi-Purpose Area Coalition with The Park Family Foundation was the right move when it was made. Now that he has seen the benefits of it though, he said he is supportive of it.
"I was really torn at the time, and I hated to see it happen, but now I think it was something that needed to happen," McKenzie said. "The county just has so much going on that it needed someone to run it more correctly and efficiently. I think we will be able to find other ways to do the same thing."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.