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Youth and Rec tax hike discussed

ALPENA — Alpena County commissioners on Tuesday discussed raising the property tax that supports youth and recreation programs, including the financially struggling county-owned facilities Northern Lights Arena and the Plaza Pool.

The current, 0.5-mill tax was first approved by voters in 2010 and has been renewed twice since. The tax, which costs the owner of a $100,000 house about $25 a year, will likely be up for renewal in 2022 — but the tax rate is still up in the air.

The tax helps keep the pay-to-play fees low in local sports leagues and offers financial support for the pool and arena.

Tony Suszek, chairman of the Youth and Recreation Committee that oversees spending of those tax dollars, told the county board on Tuesday that the committee has about $507,000 in tax funds to be allocated next year, plus $308,000 from this year’s projects that were not done, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that money wasn’t enough to grant all the funding requests received by the committee. Suszek added that the committee believes the money that will be allocated is for worthwhile projects, such as a new boat launch at Long Lake Park, funding for 4-H, and the Alpena High School robotics team.

County board Chairman Bob Adrian asked if Suszek thought asking for a tax increase was in the cards.

Susek said he doesn’t anticipate requests for grants to slow any time soon, and there are still lots of worthwhile projects that can be done if a new four-year millage is approved.

“I thought the requests would go down over the years, as we did projects, but those requests continue to come in,” he said. “If they continue like that, Youth and Rec and the commissioners, we would want to discuss where we are, what we want to do.”

The committee has not wanted to increase the tax and doesn’t like the idea today, Suszek said, but the county is facing a tight budget and allocations from the general fund for things like the pool and arena isn’t really possible.

More money from taxpayers may be the only way to make sure they are able to operate, he said.

He said other things like 4-H rely on the tax funds.

“The costs of operating all of those keeps going up, and they are all vital and important items that you have supported, or subsidized, and we made up the rest,” Suszek said. “I don’t think we can give a yes or no answer for another millage, but we will look into it.”

Older Person Committee Chairman Craig Zelaney said that committee, which gets money from a separate, 0.5-mill property tax, allocated more toward the Meals-on-Wheels program and on money set aside for operations at the Alpena Senior Citizens Center.

That committee has not discussed asking for more money from the voters, Zelaney said, but he added there are still two years left until the senior tax expires. If costs continue to climb, a hike will be considered, he said.

“I think we are doing fine, but if things were to change we would talk about it,” he said. “Right now, we haven’t talked about it at all, though.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.

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