2012-09-13 / Front Page

Chief Engine Will Be Scrapped

By Martha Stuit

The Chief Wawatam engine has been on Arnold Line property since 2008. The city needs to remove it from the property, and the St. Ignace City Council approved selling the engine for scrap metal, which will generate around $15,000 to $20,000 of income for the city. The Chief Wawatam engine has been on Arnold Line property since 2008. The city needs to remove it from the property, and the St. Ignace City Council approved selling the engine for scrap metal, which will generate around $15,000 to $20,000 of income for the city. The St. Ignace Municipal Marina was profitable this season, marina director Tim Matelski told the St. Ignace City Council Tuesday, September 4. At the meeting, the council decided to scrap the Chief Wawatam engine, separate the assessor and treasurer positions, reassess City Manager Les Therrian’s schedule in 2013, and make city attorney Charles Brown’s presence optional at council meetings.

The marina earned $296,302.22 this season through late August, Mr. Matelski reported. The period did not include the Labor Day weekend, during which all the slips were rented for the first time this year. The marina saw vacancies most of the summer, but received $153,962.95 through late August, and that figure will grow when the rest of August and the Labor Day weekend are added. Diesel, gasoline, and ice bills add up to $59,292.87 in late August, and, once paid, the net revenues will be around $237,000. Marina debt payment will be $45,617. The projected budget predicted a $25,309 profit this year.

Last year at the same time, the marina had lost $39,027.94. In past years, nonprofit organizations received slips at no charge, and boaters purchasing more than a thousand gallons of fuel received a 10% discount, said Mr. Matelski. These policies have been changed, and Mr. Matelski credits these changes for the marina’s improved profitability.

The marina makes 50¢ a gallon on fuel sales. The combination of the marina’s comparatively low fuel prices, proximity to two grocery stores, and attractive setting help to draw boaters, he said, which adds to the marina revenues.

With the earnings, the city council is considering making an extra payment on the loan for the marina construction. Councilman Tom Della-Moretta said the debt payment will rise substantially in three years and he thinks the council should set aside the 2012 surplus for then. The payment will be $76,500 in 2015 and $85,000 in 2016, the final year.

With the busy season over, Mr. Matelski will begin to repair ice damage and lighting on the 10-yearold facility.

The city will hire a firm to haul away the Chief Wawatam engine at the mill slip and scrap the metal because it needs to be moved from the site by the end of September. Purvis Marine, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, donated the engine to the city in 2008. It is one of three 65-ton engines from the railroad ferry Chief Wawatam, which operated between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City from 1911 to 1985. The city has been storing the engine at the mill slip, and Arnold Transit, which owns the property, has asked the city to move it. The engine has historical value, but the city does not have the funds to preserve it and construct a museum to house it, said Mr. Therrian. A transportation museum has been discussed, but money to build one has not been raised. Moving the engine to city property could cost $3,000 or more, Mr. Therrian said, but the scrap value is between $15,000 and $20,000. Two contractors selected as bidders by the city manager have already bid on the project, and City Manager Les Therrian will choose the highest bidder, who will take the engine from the mill slip and pay the city for the metal. At Tuesday’s meeting, city council approved scrapping the engine.

One of the Chief’s engines is restored and on display by the Wisconsin Maritime Museum at Manitowoc, where people can see it operate under their own control. The third engine was destroyed two years ago, according to Jack Purvis of Purvis Marine.

The city will hire a part-time assessor in November to replace Eugene Elmer, who retires at the end of December. St. Ignace will contract the work on a yearly basis, and because the city assessments need to be redone when a new assessor takes over, the city anticipates the new assessor will have a heavier load for the first few years of employment, to accomplish this. A municipality would typically appraise 20% of its private properties each year, but the new assessor would appraise all 1,900 parcels in the city because assessors use their own numbers, not numbers taken by the previous assessor to assume responsibility for the evaluations, said Mr. Therrian. Contracting an assessor will save the city money because St. Ignace will not have to pay insurance or retirement benefits to the individual.

The city’s staff will absorb the treasurer responsibilities when Mr. Elmer retires. The majority of the work will go to City Clerk Renee Vonderwerth, who will receive the treasurer title but already completes some of the responsibilities, including tax billing, reconciliation of bank accounts with city books, and tax disbursements. The council has yet to negotiate how to compensate Mrs. Vonderwerth for the duties.

Mr. Therrian’s position as assistant varsity football coach at St. Ignace is under scrutiny because the city received a letter of complaint about his unavailability when he used vacation days to attend a football camp in early August. City rules say the manager should not take on work other than his employment with the city, owing to the responsibilities the manager must fulfill, however, Mr. Therrian’s contract allows him 15 hours for activities not involving his job or free time. Does Mr. Therrian’s coaching interfere with his duties? The city charter says 100% of his time should be for the city.

“This isn’t the only thing we have done that doesn’t seem right, and that doesn’t make it right,” said Councilman William LaLonde, who wondered how the clause ended up in Mr. Therrian’s contract.

“I have not done anything more or less than any previous mayors have done,” said Mayor Paul Grondin said. “Mayors historically have signed the manager’s contract.”

The contract, signed January 9, 2012, notes that it was approved by the city council at a regular meeting November 21, 2011.

Council clarified that Mr. Therrian cannot coach while he performs city manager duties, but regulating his time outside of work, they said, is hard.

“It is a violation of the charter, at least in my opinion,” said city attorney Charles Brown. “Is Les doing a good job? And I say, let’s let it go.”

Mr. Brown said the public could raise the issue again.

“He’s done a good job for the city so far,” Mr. Brown said, “but it should have been discussed and fully vetted.”

As a coach of the St. Ignace football team for 36 years, Mr. Therrian is employed by a firm contracted by the school to coach. The city received a letter of complaint when Mr. Therrian attended a football camp in Marquette in early August. He used vacation days for the excursion but was not readily available in City Hall when there were questions for him. Mr. Therrian told The St. Ignace News he could be just as unavailable if he takes vacation to go fishing or if he were to go out of the country.

Mr. Brown agreed Mr. Therrian’s contract allowing his other job violates city rules, but he advised the city to wait to address the issue when Mr. Therrian’s contract is up for review in 2013. Mr. Grondin said there is a history of city managers having commitments other than their job, but agreed the precedent does not make it correct to break the rule.

“You could debate it, and maybe it appears as though it is a violation of the charter, I will grant that. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s something we have done going back to our fourth city manager,” said Mr. Grondin.

“If it’s such a big issue, why wasn’t it brought up before, 20 years ago?” asked Mr. Therrian.

Mr. LaLonde responded that now is when there is a complaint about it.

Mr. LaLonde said he wants to remedy the situation so it does not violate the charter.

“Lester is having a positive impact in this community, a positive impact in a lot of young men’s lives,” said Mr. Grondin, referring to his role as a coach.

Mr. LaLonde, however, agreed with Mr. Brown to wait until 2013 to reassess the issue when the contract is up for review.

A millage, passed in 2011, provided the St. Ignace Public Library with around $54,200 in 2012, which the St. Ignace Public Library board funneled into purchasing new books and extending the hours. Mr. LaLonde expressed concern that the wage expenses increased when the millage was only supposed to be for operational expenses. Councilman Jim Clapperton said the wage increase is for paying employees to work more hours, and operational expenses include funding the employees to staff the library because it is an additional cost, not a pay raise.

The library heating system, installed in 2005, needs replacement this fall to reduce costs. Mr. Clapperton said the library board hopes to replace the high-tech, computerized boilers with a less complicated system, because repairs are costly and require skilled technicians. Money to purchase the boilers will come from the millage, said Mr. Therrian.

Starting at the next city council meeting, Mr. Brown’s attendance will be at the invitation of the city, to save money. Mr. Therrian and Mr. Brown will confer prior to each meeting to determine whether the agenda necessitates his presence.

Noted Mr. Della-Moretta: “I would be comfortable with the manager and the attorney hashing out prior to the meeting and coming to their own conclusion, with the stipulation that if a councilperson were to request the attorney’s presence then that would be enough” to warrant his attendance.

Council agreed to the condition.

The city could save between $4,000 and $7,000 a year by making the attorney’s attendance optional, depending on how many meetings he attends, Mr. Therrian told The St. Ignace News. Mr. Brown receives $155 an hour when he is at meetings, which comes to around $300 a meeting.

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