Local municipalities continue to offer service while offices are closed
Trash service, building/zoning, and meetings among challenges local officials must navigate as efforts to stop the coronavirus force limits on options
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Even with their offices closed to the public due to the current coronavirus outbreak, services continue in limited capacities for Crawford County’s townships and the City of Grayling.
Officials said the biggest challenges right now involve open meetings and building/zoning, and the most frequently asked questions involve trash service and event cancellations.
“The biggest question has been the compactor,” said Grayling Charter Township Supervisor Lacey Stephan III.
Stephan said Grayling Charter Township’s compactor site is accepting trash, but it is not taking recycling materials or large items. With the active trash service, the township is trying to keep people separated by allowing only one vehicle at a time and maintaining a distance of at least 10 feet between vehicles.
“They’re gonna have to be patient when they bring it in,” Stephan said. “We can’t do recycling. It’s just too close quarters. Large items, we can’t do that either.”
Cynthia Infante-Inman, Lovells Township Clerk, said trash service has also been one of the main concerns for residents who’ve contacted the Lovells Township office.
“Residents are very co-operative. Most inquiries have been with regards to our transfer stations and upcoming fundraisers,” Infante-Inman said. “Our transfer stations are conducting their regular service hours, but we have instructed our attendants to practice social distancing. In addition, we have told our residents that they should not expect the attendants to assist them; leave the trash bags at the compactor for the attendant.”
With regard to the township’s fundraisers and upcoming events, Infante-Inman said Lovells will not conduct its usual line-up of events for the opening day of trout fishing season in late April.
“Our trout opener festivities have been postponed. Our Historical Society may have ‘end of season’ festivities instead,” Infante-Inman said.
Frederic Township’s trash service is still up and running, but without recycling and large item pick-up.
“Please be aware that your trash will be picked up as always with the exception of no large items until further notice. Our recycle center is also closed at this time,” said Bill Johnson, Frederic Township Supervisor.
Frederic’s Community Center and assessing office are also closed.
Trash service may be one of the most asked about departments, but the townships are facing other challenges as well, such as meetings and approving new budgets.
“We have to do it,” Stephan said regarding the approval of a new budget.
Stephan said the township is trying to work on the budget by “spacing out the board members” and allowing only “four people at a time” from the public if they wish to address something specific in the budget, thereby limiting the total number of people in the room to 10 or fewer.
Stephan said “it’s the time of the year to take care of the contract with the military” with regard to the Grayling City and Township Fire Department. He said the township has been able to do “some video conferencing” to work on the contract.
“Our biggest challenge has been closing out our fiscal year, how to conduct board meetings to accomplish these tasks, and still meeting requirements for the Open Meetings Act, although our commissioner, Sherry Powers, and one of our trustees, Heather Lovell, have come up with a couple of creative ideas,” Infante-Inman said.
(Specifically, Lovells is exploring video conferencing options such as Zoom, Infante-Inman said.)
Frederic Township is moving to video conferencing for its meetings.
“We will be holding our board meetings via video conference until further notice, which can be accessed by Go-To-Meeting. The directions are on the website FredericTownship.org,” Johnson said.
Other challenges? Performing some of the basic duties of the township, including building and zoning.
“This is supposed to be our busiest time of the year. We’re having to do everything electronically. It’s been a challenge,” Stephan said. “It’s been a lot of extra effort but so far so good. We’re able to work through it.”
“The biggest challenges we face is trying to operate our building/zoning department,” Johnson said. “People still want to build and need permits. Anyone who wants a permit can call the (building/zoning) administrator at 989-745-4235. She will set up an appointment to meet. Anything else they can call me at 989-350-8506 and I will meet or handle it over the phone. It makes for a very difficult way to do business.”
Stephan said that although the Grayling Charter Township office is closed to the public, personnel are available to take calls and help residents.
“We’re still staffing the office with a couple of people every day. We can still do phone calls and email,” Stephan said.
“The (Lovells) Township Hall is closed to the public, but the supervisor, Gary Neumann, and myself have phone numbers posted for residents to make an appointment for services needed,” Infante-Inman said.
“The office will remain closed to hours until the governor clears the stay in place order. With this said, we also realize that there are those who may need to conduct township business. Please feel free to call any of us on our cell phones, and we will either meet with you or conduct business in an alternative manner,” said Sandy Baynham, Maple Forest Township Clerk.
(The cell numbers are available at www.mapleforest.org. Click on “Home” and scroll down.)
Stephan said he wanted to urge everyone to “just be patient.” Township officials will answer your question or they will call someone at the state or federal level to find answers, he said.
“If they have a question, call. I can answer almost every question they have over the phone,” Stephan said.
Infante-Inman said the same thing for Lovells Township.
“Be patient. Follow the guidelines set by our governor and president,” Infante-Inman said. “Lastly, please do not hesitate to call for help. We have many residents willing to run for needed supplies, bake bread, make face masks, etc. Leave a message at the Township Hall (989) 348-9215 or email email@example.com. We will get you in touch with the right people. We will get through this together.”
“Please take care and follow the guidelines set by the government. Stay home and stay safe,” Johnson said. “We will get through this together. Please be patient. We will get to your request and answer your questions as soon as we can.”
“Our elected officials will continue working in order to perform necessary government activities,” South Branch Township officials said. “All other township employees will only work if critically necessary, such as first responders and the transfer station employees. Please take the appropriate health precautions and stay safe.”
The City of Grayling is also offering service with a limited staff.
“All city residents are discouraged from conducting business directly at City Hall that can be otherwise conducted via U.S. mail, internet, or by using the drop box located next to the front door of City Hall. In-person appointments for business that is not able to be accomplished (through those methods can) be made by calling City Hall at 989-348-2131,” according to City of Grayling officials. “Our police will continue to serve and protect the needs of our city and community.”
Any other messages to the public from local officials?
Johnson said he’s fielded a lot of calls about the Frederic Music Festival and the Craft Show & Flea Market, annual events slated for June 26-27. He said nothing has changed so far with regard to the festival.
“At this time they are still going on. We have to see how things are going by the middle of May. We will try to make a decision at that time,” Johnson said.
Stephan said people from downstate areas that have a lot of coronavirus cases should refrain from coming up north to their cabins, if they have them.
“They should not be up here affecting us to get away from it down there,” Stephan said.
For more information on Crawford County’s townships and the City of Grayling, here are their websites and phone numbers: City of Grayling – www.cityofgrayling.org, (989) 348-2131; Grayling Charter Township – www.twp.grayling.mi.us, (989) 348-4361; Lovells Township – www.lovellstownship.com, (989) 348-9215; Frederic Township – www.frederictownship.org, (989) 348-8778; Beaver Creek Township – www.beavercreektownship.com, (989) 275-8878; Maple Forest Township – www.mapleforest.org, (989) 348-5794; South Branch Township – www.southbranchtownship.com, (989) 275-8232.