THREE OAKS — A debate between the two nonpartisan candidates for President of the Village of Three Oaks centered around infrastructure and future growth.
The Tuesday, Oct. 9, debate between incumbent David Grosse and challenger Tom Flint was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Berrien-Cass Counties and moderated by John Ripley.
In his opening comments, Flint said water is the biggest challenge facing the village in terms of dealing with faulty water meters, the quality of drinking water and the sewage treatment ponds. Other priorities he later listed are managing growth and attracting affordable and senior housing and medical facilities to the village. Flint said he would work to save taxpayer money, plan ahead and not overlook potential problems, work with the village manager and staff and hold regular forums with the public.
Flint also addressed what he called “the elephant in the room” by saying he works at Journeyman Distillery (which is at the center of the town’s sewage system issue) 20 hours per week at $10.50 per hour. He said it is a good job and he is glad he has it but he has received no campaign money from his employers. He said he would rely on his 25 years of business experience working both for large companies and being self-employed.
Grosse began his opening statement recalling the serious financial trouble facing the village when he joined the council 12 years ago and thanked all those that worked to get the village in its present good shape.
Grosse said the most immediate challenge is the wastewater treatment plant and who will pay for the needed upgrades. After months of study, Grosse said the council is close to deciding on what upgrades to make in the sewer treatment system and then will decide how to fund it. He said it is not about Journeyman Distillery or any one business, but wastewater treatment is a cost of doing business and he doesn’t like the idea of raising taxes for every resident to pay for treating industrial waste.
In response to a later question about water rate increases, Grosse said the village will find a way so the average person isn’t stuck with a major water bill increase. He said the village has to determine the final numbers before approaching businesses and the question of financing. Flint said he is absolutely committed to doing everything to keep water rates from going up, but said something has to be done to meet the current challenges and stressed the importance of working with businesses as partners in solving the problems.
The next two priorities listed by Grosse were working with developers to bring affordable and senior housing to the village and regrouping the sidewalk replacement plan that had been sidetracked.
After Flint described his style of leadership as being an inclusive manager who listened to everyone in order to find the best ideas, Grosse simply said he agreed. Both candidates also agreed that the police and emergency response teams are doing good work and deserve more demonstrations of appreciation from the public, with Grosse adding that the police wages need to increase to remain competitive with neighboring communities.
Both candidates agreed that economic growth and attracting young families to the community are areas that need to be addressed and also managed. Flint cited the smaller lot sizes and active Planning Commission as factors contributing to the village’s ability to manage growth. Grosse emphasized the need for controllable growth in order to maintain the charm of the village.
Describing the need for downtown parking as “a nice problem to have,” Grosse said there is a need for more signage to direct people to the lots away from Elm Street and also said businesses should assume some responsibility. Flint said parking is a village responsibility and not the businesses and said he would challenge the council to come up with a plan for parking, signage and alternatives such as a possible trolley.
In response to a specific question about the Farmer’s Market, Grosse said the village gave the management of the market to the only entity responding to the Downtown Development Authority’s request for proposal after it decided the village might be able to gain a small benefit from the market. Grosse said the previous manager did not respond to the request.
In other questions related to previous council action, Grosse said the sale of Watkins Park to Berrien County was a way for the county to give the village some needed cash flow and that the park was repurchased by the village through a land contract ahead of schedule. He said the dissolution of the previous DDA was due to the improper collection of tax monies and the decision that abandoning the previous body and starting over again was the best solution.
Flint responded to a question about recusing himself from action dealing with the Journeyman by saying that any action he took would be on behalf of the village and how it dealt with infrastructure problems, not a particular business.
In closing, Grosse said he was motivated to run for one more term because of a sense of caring about the village and its people that goes back to his grandfather. He told how his grandfather, who owned the village’s water company for years, had taken care of customers and sold to a lower bidder because he felt the village had been good to him over the years. Grosse said he first ran for the council in 2008 during its financial crisis because he vowed if the village went down, it would not be because he didn’t try to help. He said it was the honor of his lifetime to have served for the past 10 years.
Flint said he was running for village president as a way of expressing his gratitude to the village and its energy and its people. He said when he bought his home a little over a decade ago, it was the “most ridiculous, reckless purchase” of his life. However, two years later he got sick and Flint said the village “healed me and what made me whole again.” Flint said he loved the village and that his goal in running is to make it “not just the gem but the heart of Harbor Country.”
In closing, everyone was urged to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6, by Ripley, co-chair of Voter Services Committee of the LWV-BCC.