Kaliseum public forum scheduled

The Kaliseum is seen on a sunny, winter afternoon in Kalkaska.

KALKASKA — Kalkaska County leaders want to clear up murky waters around the millage proposal to collect taxpayer dollars over 20 years to repair and renovate the Kaliseum ice rink and pool facility.

County commissioners gathered Monday at the Kaliseum to discuss a proposed 1.5-mill levy that would remain on the books for 20 years, if approved by voters in the May election. Meanwhile, officials briefly discussed how Kaliseum Director Krzysztof Oliwa resigned from his position via email in recent days and they must decide whether and when to replace him.

Board Chairman Kohn Fisher said the personnel committee will take up Oliwa's resignation at its Wednesday meeting, including recommendations about advertising for his replacement. Officials may opt to delay any new hire until after the Kaliseum millage vote, Fisher said.

Oliwa's resignation is for personal reasons, Fisher said, after a near-deadly car crash in New Jersey in which his daughter was badly injured. Oliwa is not expected to return from his daughter's bedside for some time, he said.

But the new director vacancy was not the only topic on the table.

Among the concerns raised by members of the public who attended Monday's meeting were the lack of a new business plan to attempt to generate more revenues for the Kaliseum, as well as exactly how many millages would be on the books and how many would be levied on Kalkaska County taxpayers.

Springfield Township Treasurer Bonnie Gonyer asked about the two existing Kaliseum millages applied to the tax base and how they would be handled should voters approve the proposal on the May ballot. "The commission could decide to collect all three?" she asked.

Fisher said the board's intention is to pay off the initial bond with a combination of that tax fund's balance and any additional needed tax revenues that would be collected under the initial voter-approved proposal from 1996. If voters approve the 1.5-mill combined renovation and operations tax, there will be no need to collect the current 0.25-mill operational levy so the board won't, the chairman said.

Gonyer said not everyone in Kalkaska County will be inclined to believe that promise from the board. "People aren't exceptionally trusting," she said.

Fisher said he will investigate the legality of the board making an official vote to void the existing Kaliseum operational tax rate on the contingency that voters approve the proposed measure. "Let's make sure we can legally do it first," he said.

Also, both Gonyer and Elizabeth Dunham, who is from the Kalkaska For Peace group, questioned the commissioners' plans to develop a business plan for the Kaliseum to generate more than current revenues. That work remains underway, Fisher said.

Commissioner Dave Comai, however, said the Kaliseum may be able to make more money, but taxpayers shouldn't get their hopes up for the facility to ever turn a financial profit.

"If the people of Kalkaska are not willing to pay for this, then we should stop now because I don't think you're going to turn this around. The data I have says it will never make money," Comai said.

Marsha Hanna, coordinator for the Friends of the Kaliseum group, said the hope is to have a series of frequently asked questions and their answers about the facility's needs and proposed millage details printed on handouts in time for a public forum scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, at the Kaliseum. The Friends group invited education officials and employees at the Otsego County Sportsplex to attend the public forum to talk about the advantages of public pools, she said.

The nearly two-decade-old Kaliseum has fallen into various degrees of disrepair after maintenance and equipment replacement failed to be funded for years. The facility has run into the red every year since its construction, requiring general fund tax dollar transfers to cover basic expenses — payroll and utility bills.

Proposed renovations to the ice rink and pool building in Kalkaska are expected to include improvements to structural and mechanical elements, plus a pool expansion to allow the facility to host future competitive swim meets and perhaps sponsor a swim team. Continued maintenance costs also are included in the project’s plans.