One major development in regional government since the 2010 Election was the decision to redistrict Bay County. The resulting plan reduced the number of Districts from nine to seven. This project was ostensibly taken on to reflect demographic and population shifts in the County and as an attempt to reduce costs.
One immediate impact of the redistricting was that the plan placed two incumbent Commissioners in the same District. Political veterans Don Tilley and Tom Ryder, both Democrats, faced off in the primary election with Tilley winning the right to appear on the November ballot against Republican Ric Fletcher.
Of larger significance is that the “new” 7th District was left as an empty seat, with no incumbent. Three political veterans - Mike Lutz (D), Dennis Poirier (R) and Matt de Heus (G) are vying for the seat, which may very well decide the balance of the County Commission for the next two years.
Below, we meet the candidates, as they answer some key questions about this race and the issues facing Bay County.
Review: The Bay County Commission recently came out in support of the creation of a new County-wide water authority and the construction of a new $59.6 million dollar drinking water treatment plant. Where do you stand on this proposal and, more generally, what is your feeling about projects that seek to regionalize and consolidate services?
de Heus: Based on my extensive background in mergers and acquisitions, I am mildly skeptical of “consolidation plans.” My concern here is that the proposal, which is centered upon the new water plant, is actually being proposed over the desire to change the control of water systems in the region and not the actual need for new infrastructure. Water plants are generational investments and I don't know that there is any proof that ours are obsolete. The biggest issue with consolidation projects, in my experience, is they rarely yield the promised results. I am more for co-operation at this point than consolidation.
Lutz: The idea for a County-wide water authority has been discussed for many years. This regional water treatment plant will be a good thing for all residents of Bay County. With the change from going from our current water intake to the connection to the Saginaw-Midland water supply system our process costs will be less. With all the entities being owners of the plant and the system we should receive a better value for our dollar and stabilize the cost of water in the future.
Poirier: I am in favor of the creation of a new County-wide water authority and the construction of a new drinking water treatment plant. Anytime duplicate services between entities can be combined, that in my opinion is a good thing. However, I would want to make sure that the cost of the project is feasible for us to afford, and it is something that will save the County money.
Review: What do you believe are the biggest opportunities for economic development for Bay County and what do you see as the County Commission's role in facilitating regional economic growth?
de Heus: I am lucky to have traveled extensively and have seen many successful models for economic development - both here and abroad. In most of the instances where we sited plants or made significant investments, local officials were involved in the planning and they played a key role in facilitating our success. I've been on the other side of the table and have managed projects that created hundreds of jobs. Locally, I believe the biggest opportunity is continuing to develop the local food processing industry. Packaged foods are popular, have a high “value added” to the producer and build on existing regional assets.
Lutz: The Bay Area has been in decline for years. The population has decreased due to the lack of job opportunities available in the private sector. One of the roles of the County Commission is to help create the environment for business to grow and develop. We need to keep taxes low so that we do not overburden the business community and allow them to invest in business growth. Small business has the ability to create jobs and they need our support.
Poirier: The Biggest opportunities lie within our industrial parks such as the one in Monitor and most recently the Up Town at Rivers Edge Development. As a county is our job to offer support in allowing industrial parks to continue to capture tax dollars, as they have been to operate and create economic growth. There are others in the county who would seek to take those monies away from parks and divert it back to the county. When a park has finished developing to its full potential I support tax monies reverting back to the county after a park has been fully developed to its potential.
Review: The predominant discussion around County budgets in the last several cycles has been over spending cuts and projections of future shortfalls. What areas would you target in County spending and what is your approach to budgets.
De Heus: The current County Budget is over 800 pages, so I will not pretend to know its intricacies. There appear to be items that could be reduced, but my guess is these are “priorities” to others and my feelings wouldn't be universal. Though I had to play the “grim reaper” role in business and have introduced and enforced many “austerity budgets,” I am not running on the idea that we should cut anything. We need growth in this region, starting with reversing our population decline. Growth will lead to revenue, which will mean we can afford the services we have come to expect.
Lutz: The budget needs to be balanced, not only because it is law, but morally as to not be a burden on the residents. We as County Commissioners are to be good stewards of the residents' trust and monies. We need to continue the things that work and eliminate the ones that don't. I will be looking at the whole budget, just as I did when I was the 5th District County Commissioner.
Poirier: I believe anytime that you can consolidate any services that are duplicated this is the first place we should look to. All options need to be laid out on the table and there can be no sacred cows when it comes to the budget. When a budget is presented to us by Mr. Hickner I would work with my fellow commissioners to trim all of the fat and waste while still providing the services that the county is mandated to provide the tax payers.
Review: Since the last election, Bay County has been through a redistricting, with the number of seats on the County Commission being reduced from nine to seven. The "new" 7th District was left vacant in this process. What impact do you believe this structural change will have on this election and on the governance of Bay County going forward?
de Heus: Redistricting was a necessary process, given shifts in County population. The actual number of Commissioners is probably a moot point, as the costs for running the Commission are a small fraction of the County Budget. The biggest issue here is purely political. In recent years the Commission seems to have been dominated by partisan politics. It is likely that the first six Commission seats will split 3 /3 for the major parties. Electing an “independent voice” in the open seat will mean we do not cement a majority in the election, requiring everyone to appeal to common sense moving forward.
Lutz: The structural change in numbers is less; however the commissioners who will be sitting at the table must work together as a group to accomplish the role of the Bay County Commission. If they work together, then we will move Bay County forward and if they do not then they are not doing the job they were hired to do.
Poirier: First and foremost this new structural change is a good thing for the tax payers since it eliminated two commissioners. If you look at similar counties to Bay County's population you will see that the majority do not have any more than 7 commissioners. Secondly we are saving the taxpayers money by eliminating wages and benefits we are obligated to pay another two commissioners. With only 7 commissioners now on the board, obviously my votes and decisions as a commissioner will have just a little more impact on how things will be decided in the future and I take that responsibility very seriously.
Review: Why do you believe you represent the best choice for the voters of the 7th District when they go to the polls on November 5th?
de Heus: Business people will tell you: When the problems are complicated, you hire an expert. My experience in the public and private sectors - as a businessman, educator and engineer - are unique in this race. While I may not carry an affiliation from one of the corporately backed parties, I actually bring more experience in economic development and job creation than any candidate in any of the Commissioner races. Regular readers of the Review will know where I stand on many issues. I hope others do the research and realize the best choice this time around is to Vote Green.
Lutz: I believe that I am the best choice for the voters of the 7th District because I have the background of success. I own and operate my own successful construction business. I have helped move the City of Essexville forward as one of their City Commissioners. While serving on the Bay County Commission as the 5th District Commissioner I helped move Bay County forward. As a working man with a family from our community, I know, first hand, the problems we all face. I will bring this leadership ability of success to the Bay County Commission again when elected.
Poirier: I have experience at both the city and county levels as commissioner for two terms on each board. I am familiar with making the tough decisions because I have had to make many of them on the Bay City Commission and the Bay County Commission when I served. I think voters can be confident in me from day one that I will make the right decisions with them in mind every time I cast a vote. I will hit the ground running from day one and go to work for the taxpayers of my district to represent their interest first.