Verkest gives State of Harrison Township address

By: Kristyne E. Demske | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published November 24, 2021

 Harrison Township Supervisor Kenneth Verkest gives the State of Harrison Township address Nov. 5.

Harrison Township Supervisor Kenneth Verkest gives the State of Harrison Township address Nov. 5.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

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HARRISON TOWNSHIP — In a speech peppered with jokes — including how a venue change meant that the State of Harrison Township address was actually being given in Clinton Township — Supervisor Kenneth Verkest laid out all the good things that were being accomplished in the community.

The Nov. 5 speech, hosted by the Macomb County Chamber of Commerce, was held at the Frederick V. Pankow Center. Although it had been scheduled to be held in the John R. Armstrong Performing Arts Building — which is technically in Harrison Township, Verkest said — the event was instead moved to a different building in the Pankow Center, the majority of which is in Clinton Township.

In his 11th year as supervisor, Verkest said this was his 10th such address.

“We survived another year of COVID,” he said.

In addition, the township Board of Trustees has three new trustees and a new treasurer who are making improvements in the township, including better investment options, lower fees and “significant improvements” to the township’s video and cable broadcast system. The treasurer’s office is working to implement more online payment options with lower or no fees. The township also took steps to bolster its information technology security with new servers and anti-ransom software.

Technology helped the government to run more smoothly during COVID shutdowns, he pointed out, but he said the Board of Trustees welcomed the return of in-person meetings at the end of March.

“As a deliberative body, we are much more effective when we can meet in person,” Verkest said.

He also pointed to a new mini station for the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the township’s renewed contract with that body as supporting their work and showing them the appreciation “they deserve.” Over the course of the past year, five probationary firefighters became full members; and the township purchased a new ladder truck, fire engine and 15-foot Sea Wolf rescue boat. Two new ambulances, both of which can provide advanced life support, have been ordered.

All of that is being bolstered by a new cost recovery program the township is using to bill insurance companies for emergency services, which has brought in $105,000 in the first year.

Verkest reported that the assessed values of properties in the township increased by 5.83%, although taxable value is limited to 3.28% because of the cap on the increase that is tied to the rate of inflation. The township voted to outsource assessors in February, and three township employees went to work for the new company, resulting in a savings of $100,000 annually.

The Building Department has seen a record number of permits pulled for projects, he said, and there are 15 new projects planned for the industrial corridor. Verkest said he feels that new flood plain maps adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, are not the right move for the area and amount to what he called a “donor tax” as homeowners are forced to pay insurance premiums they may never have to use.

“Adding this flood plain to Lake St. Clair is wrong,” he said. “There’s just not enough volume in the Great Lakes to create that type of destruction.

“The communities all along Lake St. Clair need to band together, need to take on FEMA and get rid of this horrible tax.”

Along with approving improvements to pump stations in the township, the board also approved the preliminary engineering for sanitary sewers in the center of the township to be ready for when grant money is available to pay for a project.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when we are going to do it,” he said. “Waiting to face fines or lawsuits is not responsible, and neither is missing out on grant funds due to a lack of planning.”

He said recreational offerings in the township have continued, thanks to the Parks and Recreation Committee.

“Our Parks and Recreation Committee is growing,” he said. “Last year, they didn’t let COVID stop Christmas. They devised a drive-through event.”

From hosting a road rally to beginning the township’s Hometown Heroes program, Verkest said the committee has made a difference in the community, as has the Beautification Committee, which installed a new sculpture in the township and helped with a large tree planting.

He also thanked the good corporate citizens who have come to the township after the approval of medical marijuana facilities in 2017 and recreational marijuana facilities in 2020. Fees collected from those industries have brought in more than $1 million to Harrison Township, which has been used in the Building and Fire Departments but also will be put toward the repair and replacement of the Freedom Trail bike path.

Looking forward, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel discussed plans for a new station for the Macomb County Sheriff’s Marine Division, including improvements to the seawall. The South River Road bridge is planned for replacement in 2023, he said, and while the actual construction may create difficulties for those who live out on the point, he hoped that it would be a boon for the area once it was completed.

Macomb County Public Works Officer Candice Miller said she was “delighted to hear Harrison Township is putting some money into rehabilitating some of those” sewers.

Investing in infrastructure is important for future economic prosperity, she said, as well as for protecting natural resources.

“Stormwater management is very important,” she said. “You can have economic prosperity at the same time you think about the environment.

“We really have to think about having the political will to invest in our underground infrastructure. We know it has to be done. We’re all working together to do the best we can.”

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