ROGERS CITY - Members of City of Rogers City Council interviewed Onaway's city manager as a candidate for their own city's open position Wednesday.
Along with hearing about Joe Hefele's qualifications, they also heard one idea of how the two cities could share a city manager. Mayor Tom Sobeck said Hefele suggested an average of 25 hours a week spent in Rogers City and 15 in Onaway. The details are still in the works, but both Sobeck and Onaway Mayor Gary Wregglesworth said they're still interested in exploring the concept.
"I was encouraged by the interview, and I'm still intrigued with the concept," Sobeck said. "Hopefully, we can come to a conclusion relatively soon."
That could be as soon as Tuesday at 6 p.m., when Rogers City officials will hold another workshop ahead of their regular meeting. Sobeck said he and council members will discuss it then, and he hopes they can reach a consensus on whether to pursue the partnership or go another route.
Wregglesworth said he believes both cities could benefit. The two cities already share Mike Vogler as their attorney. City commissioners voted unanimously to explore the idea at a meeting Monday, and he expects to hear more from Hefele at the city's next meeting on March 3.
"I think it's a real opportunity for both of us to save money," he said. "The climate, the outcome out of Lansing, they're pushing us to consolidate services. The money (coming to cities) is not what it was, and there's no realistic expectations the funding is going to get better any time soon."
Hefele said he would hope to earn a salary of around $70,000, with Rogers City paying $45,000, Onaway paying $25,000, and employer costs for benefits being split by the same proportion. He'd be reachable by phone and email, and likely would spend additional time at home handling certain tasks for both cities.
This means both cities could spend money that otherwise would go into the payroll on much-needed infrastructure repairs or other improvements, Hefele said.
One possible drawback is if the job proves to be too much for one person, Wregglesworth said. He added he's unaware of anyone who thinks so, but in recent years Onaway had a considerable number of projects under way.
"When we were doing the sewer projects and the streetscaping, there were a lot of things going on," he said, adding he doesn't foresee the city taking on any similar projects in the near future.
While the cities are separated by 22 miles via M-68, their combined population is smaller than other municipalities handled by one manager, Hefele said. If some emergency required his attention in both cities, he views it as the same as two emergencies in one city.
"You would just have to prioritize," he said. "One of the keys to this being possible is, I believe both communities have outstanding department heads and outstanding staff."
Hefele said he applied for the opening in part because Rogers City is his home town. He graduated from Rogers City High School before getting his degree in communications with a minor in business from Grand Valley State University. From there, he worked as a reporter in Presque Isle County for five years before accepting a job as Onaway's city manager. He's served in the position for 12 years.
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