City budget, water rates on Fraser mayor’s mind for 2016

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published January 6, 2016

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FRASER — The new Fraser City Council is looking forward to the new year.

At the end of 2015, Mayor Joe Nichols discussed the biggest points of emphasis moving forward for Fraser. While stressing that there is not a specific issue that stands out, he added that the council’s ability to work together will either result in prosperity or contention.

“Now we are on the same team and it’s a brand new day,” Nichols said. “We need to work together and do the best business that’s right for the city. Whether it’s right for us personally, we have to make sure it’s right for the 15,000-some residents in the city.”

The monthly council meeting in January will include a visit from Plante Moran, which will address the city’s actual budgetary woes and concerns. Audits help put the figures on the table so the city knows which direction it has to take.

Nichols said pension and union funds, along with contractors for public workers and police officers, are vital to financial well-being. Also, taking increases or additional roll-ins that increase the bottom line is not a recipe for success for the betterment of the city.

“If I don’t do anything else the next four years, I want to make sure the city is healthy,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that cuts start at the top and trickle down. I don’t cut down and rank and file. I’m a working man’s mayor, and the single most important people are the ones getting it done every day.

“I want to make sure everyone that works here that makes this machine work is taken care of.”

Included in the financial discussion is a concern with the city’s water rate structure. Residents have been upset for a long time, Nichols acknowledged, but a solution will not be derived overnight.

The goal is to find a real, sustainable fix that lasts in the long term. A gimmicky, stop-start plan is exactly the opposite of a viable solution, and Nichols trusts his fellow council members to relay ideas that lead to a more realistic scenario.

“We’ve got a very intelligent and willing council body that can come up with several different ideas and put them to the test and give the people a good answer,” he said.

Other items of note include addressing the council’s seventh seat, the city’s towing contract and the future of City Manager Rich Haberman.

Nichols said he is not assigning blame toward the last administration for never filling a seventh seat, but he stated their plan didn’t work and that the council needs to make sure citizens won’t deal with an incomplete government again.

In the case of the towing issue, Nichols has met with Haberman and the two agreed: The city will basically start the process over again, including receiving new bids, acquiring new quotes and completing a full specification list that contains no gray areas.

Nichols, Haberman and City Attorney Jack Dolan had plans to speak about the issue after the holidays. There is no definitive timetable, though a goal of 90 days was mentioned.

“The (way the previous council handled the contract) was a little bit jaded, or at least speculated that it was jaded,” Nichols said. “The way to go about that is a clean slate. The reality is that we need to step back and understand that doing a business for the city, whether it’s towing, trash or snow plow, whatever — everyone who is putting their hat into this is bidding on the same items.”

As for Haberman, whose contract expires in January, his future remains uncertain.

“I’ve enjoyed the time with Rich Haberman in my two months in transition,” Nichols said, “and I’m assuming he wants to stay with the city."

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