Alcona tries Facebook push for tax info

HARRISVILLE — The recent onslaught of budget cuts in Alcona County has stirred the community, bringing a wave of questions in its wake, and the Committee to Promote Alcona County is working to get answers out to the public in any way possible, including a new Facebook page.

In a world dominated by the digital appetite of younger generations, many voters in Alcona county felt left in the dark about the facts of the failed property tax proposal on the ballot in the August primaries. Many community members and some county officials felt there was not enough information shared online about the millage, which left voters deciding based on misinformation spread through word of mouth or, worse yet, a complete lack of information.

County officials listened, and they are sharing information through every medium available to voters. The Committee to Promote Alcona County started a Facebook page called Maintain Alcona County shortly before the primaries to share helpful information. However, after the tax proposal failure, they are working to improve the page and provide more information and resources online in hopes of a mass community education that will lead to a different outcome when the county again asks voters to approve the tax in November.

The property tax proposal would have recovered revenue lost because of a state law that limits local governments’ income in certain cases.

The committee is made up of some county officials and community members and is open to anyone who would like to support Alcona.

The tech specialist for the county, John Hartley, mans the Maintain Alcona Facebook page in his spare time.

Sharing approved information and official press releases, he said the goal is to inform the public about the reformed millage that will be on the ballot in November.

“It’s basically to get the message of the millage out there,” Hartley said of the page. “To explain it to the citizens of Alcona County. To explain why we need the funding.”

County officials have said the county is facing a $474,000 shortfall for the 2018 fiscal year, even after multiple cuts that have already taken place.

The Sheriff’s Office can no longer provide a school resource officer, and they have been unable to fill a correctional officer position and a position for a road patrol officer. Many community members have voiced their displeasure, especially about the loss of the school resource officer. County board Chairman Craig Johnston said people have asked why the county didn’t ask for a millage specifically for law enforcement.

“For those that say, ‘Why didn’t you do a law enforcement millage?,’ we have,” Johnston said. “You vote ‘yes’ in November, you got yourself a school resource officer, you’ve got a fully funded police department. That’s what that means.”

In addition to the cuts at the Sheriff’s Office, there has also been a reduction in staff in the clerk’s office, withholding from townships money known as PILT — payment in lieu of taxes — for federal land in the townships that from which governments cannot collect property taxes, and reduced funding to the humane society and the Alcona Recreation Area. This is only the beginning of cuts that will continue if the millage does not pass in November, officials have said.

Doug Atchison, the Alcona sheriff, has helped with the Maintain Alcona page in hopes of getting correct information to the public. He said that, when voters began to see the cuts after the failure to pass the millage in August, some admitted they didn’t completely understand how the money would have helped the county or that the lack thereof would take away services. He has stepped up to help inform voters and share press releases with the page.

“We are going to take any avenue we can to get as much information out there,” Atchison said.

Hartley said most of the shared posts receive thousands of views, but he is working to increase those numbers.

Johnston said he looks through the comments in hopes of fishing out misinformation and clearing up misconceptions.

“I know some of the people that are commenting,” Johnston said, “And I will pick up the phone and say, ‘I saw your comment, let me talk to you a little bit.'”

He joked that some people might not want to comment if it means a call from their local commissioner, but it is meant as a way to help the community in a modern day, a grassroots movement. It is to help the Alcona voters understand what the millage will do for the county and how it supports local services.

Only in such a close-knit community could such efforts work to inform voters, and encourage them to understand exactly what their vote in November will do to Alcona.

Even local Judge Laura Frawley allowed a post of hers to be shared. She gave a detailed account of the necessary community functions of each county department. In her post, she urges the public to understand that county officials are doing all they can to safeguard the general fund and, in doing so, are trying to protect the community.

“With the continued decline in revenue over the last several years, they have been repeatedly asked to do more with less and they have worked hard to make the best of it,” Frawley said in her post. “I have worked in a number of different counties over the course of my career and Alcona County has the most frugal, dedicated, competent, accommodating and helpful employees I have seen.”

The millage will be on the ballot in the November elections. It is a 1-mill, four-year tax that would cost a taxpayer about $50 per year if they own a home worth $100,000.