By DAVID GREEN
When the Palm Plastics expansion project was derailed in 2009, it looked as though Morenci’s industrial park road project was gone, as well.
That situation changed Monday afternoon. Before the week is over, Morenci could have the promise of a state grant to complete the road project.
Morenci mayor Keith Pennington told city council Monday the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) is interested in moving forward with the project.
Pennington praised city administrator/clerk Renée Schroeder for maintaining contact with the MEDC and urging the agency to keep the road project open.
Pennington learned Monday afternoon the state has federal “stimulus” funds that might be sent to Morenci. If approved, funds would cover the cost of completing the north/south portion of the road through the park—giving access off Main Street—and installing water and sewer lines along the road.
When the project was initially discussed, the city was to contribute $270,000 to the state’s $900,000.
After Pennington told the MEDC that the city no longer has that much funding to contribute, a revised offer shows the city paying $100,000 and a state grant coming through with $1.17 million.
“My opinion would be that even if we had to borrow the money this would be an important project to get done,” he said.
The majority of the city’s contribution would come through the sewer fund. About $440,000 of the project would pay for sewer work.
Councilor Tracy Schell asked if this would drain the sewer fund dry. For the ICE grant parking lots project, the city recently pledged about $50,000.
Schroeder reviewed several fund sources from various department of public works funds, and noted that some money must be reserved for renovation of the city’s older water tower.
City supervisor Barney Vanderpool said the project would give a loop in the water system in the southeast part of town and would provide better water flow for fire protection.
Schell said the new road would also benefit the city in marketing the industrial park.
Audience member Kent Deatrick noted that many streets in town are in need of repair and funds should also be directed for that use. Pennington said the new road would actually increase state funds for road repair.
Councilor Greg Braun reminded council of the importance of the new road in regard to the bridge near Dollar General. The bridge will have to be replaced in a few years and a new road through the industrial park would provide an alternate route through town without diverting traffic past the school.
Pennington said the city has done well in maximizing existing tax dollars by taking opportunities with state grants. More than $2 million in grants have been received in recent years.
“Whatever we have to do with our budget to get there, it will be worth it, including borrowing,” Pennington said. “I am confident we could work it out in the budget when it comes to that.”
In this case, especially, he said, he believes it would be wise to act on a project that requires matching funds of less than 10 percent.
Schell also stated that it would be beneficial to invest in the industrial park so the city is ready to act when the economy rebounds.
Council voted unanimously to commit $100,000 to the project.