Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 7, 2013

Leaders mull withdrawal from multi-county agency

SUTTONS BAY — Leelanau County might withdraw from a collaborative agency that provides assistance to roughly 100 county businesses, as well as job placement for the unemployed.

Leelanau’s Board of Commissioners is considering pulling out of the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. The discussion, in turn, prompted concern from county business leaders who cited COG’s role in aiding start-up businesses, providing technical and growth assistance for existing businesses, and placing the unemployed in jobs through the Michigan Works program.

“I think it’s a mistake,” said Sally Guzowski, president of the Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. “It’s short-sighted.”

Leelanau Commissioner Melinda Lautner is leading the charge against COG. She did not respond to a request for an interview. She previously told the Record-Eagle she has concerns about whether the COG is stringent enough with taxpayer money.

Leelanau County spends $5,000 a year on COG dues from its approximately $11 million annual budget. It could feasibly withhold its COG dues with minimal consequences. But if the county withdraws from the COG’s interlocal agreement contract with Leelanau and nine other counties, as is being discussed, it could cost county residents access to the Michigan Works program, terminate COG assistance to businesses and limit the county’s access to federal funds for infrastructure development.

Leelanau Commissioner Will Bunek and County Administrator Chet Janik both said this week no decision has been made on the county’s future participation in COG.

Bunek said he sees the discussion as legitimate, given the county’s need to tighten its fiscal belt, and based on information he received that the COG uses taxpayer money to provide employee bonuses, cell phones and vehicle usage for its employees.

“What I think we as the commissioners are trying to find out is where the money is being spent and is it being spent in a reasonable, beneficial way for the county,” Bunek said. “We are looking at each thing and questioning it. When you are hearing employees at the COG are getting bonuses and cell phones and have cars, (you ask), is the money being spent wisely?”

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