By Sterling McGinn
In an effort to get acclimated with Luce County and meet new acquaintances and contacts, 38th District Senator Ed McBroom paid Newberry a visit on Friday, April 7.
Accompanying McBroom was former 37th District Senator Wayne Schmidt, who now serves as McBroom’s district manager. McBroom and Schmidt heard updates of infrastructure projects and issues affecting the area’s economy.
After the first of this year, Luce County became part of the 38th Senate District, which had been previously represented by Schmidt while Luce County was still part of the 37th District. McBroom is a resident of Waucedah, Mich., and is a fourth-generation dairy farmer.
One of the highlights of their visit last week was a tour of Helen Newberry Joy Hospital and a meeting with hospital CEO Hunter Nostrant. McBroom had not yet visited the local healthcare establishment.
McBroom and Schmidt also met with 92nd District Court Judge Beth Gibson on Friday to discuss judicial matters.
Prior to the visit to Helen Newberry Joy Hospital, both McBroom and Schmidt stopped at Newberry Motors where they met with representatives from the Luce County EDC, McMillan Township, Luce County Commission, and a number of Luce County residents.
During a coffee hour at the dealership, McBroom spoke on the ongoing road improvement project for Luce County Roads 410 and 407. “It has been long needed and I think it is going to be great for traffic,” he said.
McBroom said the road improvement is one of the top projects he is supporting, along with some trail issues in the Western U.P. and a homeless shelter issue in Marquette.
“The appropriations chair has already asked us to submit our priorities, and I put together the projects I have been asked to support around the district,” McBroom said. “I hope to receive funding for them. I knew the road project was already there because Representative Cambensey and Senator Schmidt had been working on it previously.”
A total of $6 million was received for beginning phases of the road project from a Michigan EDC Grant written by Deer Park resident John Waltman, however, an additional $5.5 million needs to be secured to complete the first phase.
The McMillan Township Board has also publicly supported the project and hired a lobbyist to help secure a state budget line-item appropriation for the roadwork.
Although there has been wide-spread support of the project, McBroom says he optimistic about securing the additional funds for his projects. “It is going to be challenging—I don’t know the chair people, they are brand new,” he explained. “We have so many first-time legislators that are suddenly chairpersons in the senate.”
McBroom said that he believes the budget will be complete by the end of June along with a supplemental budget to be finished later in the year. “I really don’t think this [the road project] is going to fizzle here—we are so close,” he said.
McBroom also heard comments from Luce County EDC Director Tammy Henry, who said that Luce County currently has a housing issue.
“I have 100 jobs available in the industrial park tomorrow, but nobody has any place to live,” Henry explained. “Even if we could find the people, they can’t come here.”
McBroom said he has been working on a set of bills for taxing short-term rentals, which would be similar to the taxation of standard hotel room rentals. “Those monies would be used in the local communities for housing, or for law enforcement and emergency support services. Right now, we don’t have a legal mechanism to tax short-term rentals.”
Luce County is not the only area with housing shortages. A copper mining opportunity on the western end of the U.P. would require 1,100 workers, but not enough housing is available.
Finally, McBroom touched on the Newberry Correctional Facility, which is often on the Departments of Correction’s chopping block.
“The Newberry Facility is in the greatest jeopardy of all of the MDOC’s facilities around the state,” said McBroom.
Other locations in the state that had been previously closed were in better condition and had new infrastructure then Newberry.
“It was largely to local and regional politics’ credit that Newberry has been kept open as long as it has,” McBroom said.
Though he admits he doesn’t have answers for the prison predicament, McBroom said he is aware of the economic influence that the facility provides for the area.
“We have to do everything we can to get Newberry on the solid footing…you guys are on really thin ice.”
He is also aware of the current state of understaffing in the state facilities. “I have been helping to sound the alarm for what understaffing is doing and endangering the life of officers and prisoners,” he said.