Friday, April 29, 2011

Money In The Bank?

OK, so Iron River has some money in the bank,
and did well on the government audit deciding
whether or not it is in fiscal trouble. The score
of 0 we mentioned a few days ago has Iron River
politicos breaking their arms patting themselves
on the back.

But there's a downside. There almost always
is. Today I'll show an obvious one. Unfortunately
at the moment I don't have the time to do a
deeper investigation to find some of the other
pitfalls that are hovering just below the surface.

If you don't properly maintain your infrastructure
it hardly matters how much money you have in
the bank.

As a citizen, what would you rather have? Lousy
streets and buildings that are left wanting of
repairs for years on end and a nice bank balance,
or would you rather have a government always
on the edge of needing a bailout and good roads?

Here's a photo of the alley behind my property
at 413 Plum Street.

This alley was paved. Since 2005 it has
deteriorated and not been repaired, but
has been covered with gravel instead.

Because it is a hillside, as many streets
and alleys are in Iron River, graveling
over the paves street doesn't work very
well, and the City knows that, but this
is their idea of "good enough for the
residents." Is it good enough for you?

Washington Street on the hilltop is
actually one of the better paved streets
in Iron River, and they're going to tear
it all up to put a median in. Still there
are plenty of flaws, like this one at the
corner of Washington and Diamond, right
in the path of most traffic going around
that corner.

And speaking of Diamond, that street is riddled
with potholes over its entire length!

So these are where people live and drive. What
about the parts that the public who come on
vacation see?

The City of Iron River has a pumping station
next door to the Riverside Mall. The roof
has been in the state shown in the next
picture for years. Literally, for years!!!!

This is the face we show the world. But
you must feel good, because the City has
money in the bank!

Other people have pretty strong horror
stories abut the City, and most readers
will know several unique ones.

City "fathers", fix the city up, and don't
feel so good about having a strong reserve.
None of the other communities do, and all
that "fail" will be bailed out, so why in
the heck are you doing this? I wouldn't
want to guess. Your mission is to serve
the public. It is past time you start doing

Bill Vajk

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Non-negative Economic Look at Iron River

For a change, the news about the City of Iron
River is not bad. Ben Smith, our Associate Editor,
acquired the information that the City has been
found by the Michigan Treasury to be in a
sufficiently sound state that a close watch is not

The scale of numbers starts with zero, the best
score, and moves upwards, to depict the level
of alarm that each municipality engenders.

Iron River achieved a zero score. The full table,
as well as a tabulation of several earlier years,
can be found at:

I look forward to the day that the City of Iron
River volunteers the auditor's report as well as
the budget for scrutiny and public comment. If
the City is actually proud of their achievements
perhaps they'll put a copy in the mail to me, they
already have my address. As far as I know, those
are public documents and they should be available
on request. I have to wonder why such records
aren't routinely put up for public view on their
web page. The business of the city is our business,
not the City Council's alone.

The old Russian adage "trust but verify" comes
to mind. Reagan, and others similarly clever,
took that caveat to be a rule of living, as we all
should where governments are concerned.

Bill Vajk

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rearranging The Deck Chairs?

Sarah Palin's recent speech admonishing the
newly elected Republicans in Congress
for "rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking
Titanic" was on target.

This news source generally doesn't comment
on national news unless there's a significant
impact on Iron County, Michigan. This is one
of those occasions.

Standard and Poors has warned the US
Government that we're not matching other
AAA rated sovereigns, and that we have a
negative long term outlook by comparison:

"We have affirmed our 'AAA/A-1+' sovereign
credit ratings on the United States of America."

"...we have revised our outlook on the long
term rating to negative from stable."

This is a prelude to loss of the AAA ratings we
presently experience. A change of as little as
1/10th of 1 percent in interest on the 14 trillion
dollars of national debt that we presently owe
increases monthly payments on that debt by
more than most of us can possibly earn in a
lifetime, even considering the sorts of inflation
we've experienced since the 1929 depression.
That small increase in an interest rate comes to
more than 1.5 million dollar increase (not the
payment, just the increase) per month. That's
roughly $14 million a year for each 1/10 of 1%
increase in interest. Who among us thinks for
an instant that the interest will increase by
only 1/10 of 1%?

How does that affect us here in Iron County,
you ask?

This county lives on grants. No more
infrastructure improvements, new police,
township, or county vehicles would be
available! The "deep pockets" that local
governments have come to rely on for
many of our needs on will be empty. More
paved roads will be graveled over.

The difficulty is, of course, that we depend
on political decisions to solve economic
problems that would be best solved by
knowledgeable hard-nosed non-political
economists whose only interest is in
stabilizing the economy.

The time has come for a new question to
be asked of the politicians in Washington.

"Ask not how much you can gift the folks
who vote for you. Ask, instead, what you
can do to improve this nation!"

Redistribution doesn't work!

Bill Vajk

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BOC Meeting 4-12- 2011

Iron County Board of Commissioners
Meeting April 12, 2011

Commissioner Camp reported that the Iron
County Health Department had achieved a
99% compliance award by the Michigan
Department of Community Health as the
result of a recent audit. The Board considered
this real achievement and the board was
happy to receive the news

They also received the Equalization
Department Report from Director Mussatto.

In other business Iron County received an
allowed increase of twenty cents per month
in the surcharge on telephone lines in order to
finance the 911 system. The board indicated that
they would like more information regarding a
VOIP (Internet telephone) proposal from Merit
a not for profit agency. The MERIT Network has
been in existence since 1966. Their original
mission was to design and implement a computer
network between public universities in Michigan

Merit is in the process of installing a distribution
system near Forest Park School Campus. It is a
program originally installed through University
of Michigan and through a grant has been
encouraged to spread statewide. This reporter
thinks they are offering to provide VOIP telephone
service to Iron County although it was not spelled
out at the meeting because many of the
commissioners were not familiar with the process.
They requested more information.

In other action the board authorized Prosecuting
Attorney Melissa Powell Weston to defend the
County in Federal Appeals Court in the lawsuit
filed by residents William and Gloria Vajk against
the County, the City of Iron River, and the Michigan
Municipal League.

Ben Smith

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Casperson and Huuki

Senator Tom Casperson and Representative
Matt Huuki appeared at townhall style
gathering at "The Station" restaurant in
Iron River, tonight April 9, 2011. They spoke
for approximately two hours to an audience
comprised of local residents.

The audience asked questions ranging from
their positions on the proposal to tax
pensions, to nuclear energy and emergency
financial executives to replace elected office
holders and voiding collectively bargained

Both officials said they didn't think the
Item Pricing Bill was designed to create

This reporter was not able to ask the follow-
up question,"How many jobs would be lost
due to it's implementation?"

The audience was generally polite and
heard the two officeholders both express
support for nuclear energy and the mining
being done in Marquette County.

The previously unidentified sponsor for
the event was later identified as Eric
Koenig of Iron County.

Ben Smith

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


The Notice of Appeal for the federal lawsuit in which
I am suing the City of Iron River, Iron County, and
various officials of both entities, was filed this
afternoon at the Federal District Court in Marquette.

This will move the next phase of the case to a three
judge panel in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals at
Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bill Vajk

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Eternal Vigilance?

A letter to the editor was published in the March
30, 2011, edition of the Iron County Reporter. The
letter concerns itself with the streetscape plan
for Washington Street - Lay Avenue that's been
in the works since at least 2006.

Someone finally woke up.

Consider the Cool Cities Blueprint report:

"In addition, serious consideration should be given
to creating a landscaped median down the center
of Washington. Doing so would not only beautify
the area, but would greatly enhance The Hilltop's

You can find a copy of this report posted on the
internet at:

The Cool Cities Blueprint prepared for the city by
Hyatt Palma in 2006 after several public meetings
at City Hall about the topic cost the taxpayers over
$100,000. In essence the report is a clearinghouse
of a wish list prepared predominantly of items on
the wish lists of some of the "shakers and movers"
in our region. In addition the report plays hardball
in giving kudos to those same shakers and movers.
That sort of thing makes it ever so much easier to
sell the authors next cool cities, or any similar urban
planning project.

The letter to the editor is well founded, but more
than a little late. Streetscape plans have been
created at public expense. This project has been
in the works, one way or another, for some 5

Where has the public outcry against this project
been hiding for the past 5 years?

The following appears on the Jefferson

"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal
hostility against every form of tyranny over
the mind of man.

This is often taken as the basis for our American
creed that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Jefferson was a clever man, and we should be
heeding his advice. It is not enough to take
exception to what the government is doing when
the facts are pushed in our face. In order to
prevent projects like the planned streetscape
at Iron River's Hilltop, the objections should have
been made in 2006 rather than 2011.

The local watchers of government are too few
here in Iron County, Michigan, and the retaliation
taken by our local power brokers has been too
effective. It takes a degree of bravery to stand
up to the onslaught extended by local government

Please see:

for an example.

If we have no personal care about the Hilltop we
still have a strong interest in how and where our
money is being spent. Grants from the state or
the federal government still come out of our pockets.

I wonder if the author of the letter to the editor
has been paying attention to other local government
initiatives that run counter to taxpayer interests?

a new airport of Iron County

Windsor Center

Michigan Townships Association model ordinance:

City of Iron River authorization of a $23,150,000
municipal bond for Northstar Healthcare (hospital)
improvements with a shrinking population and a
resulting loss of over $2 million for the calendar year
2010. In fact, the last break-even year for the
hospital was 2007.

I'll stop here, the complete list is far more extensive.

The planned Hilltop streetscape is Iron River's
"bridge to nowhere," just like the jutting out
sidewalks on Genesee Street were a very bad
idea not clearly thought through considering
the snow clearing we must do all winter every

Please take some time to read the Cool Cities
Blueprint report. Please become more involved
in throwing reins on local government whenever
it is appropriate.

Idle hands are the devil's workshop. For variants
please see:

The problem is that our local governments are
designed to be caretakers, not activists. And the
elected politicians haven't gotten that message,
they appear to think that they're supposed to be
activists, and the voters are supposed to follow
their lead.

In reality, the situation is exactly the opposite
of what we are experiencing in Iron County. It
is the taxpaying electorate that's supposed to be

How about it?

Bill Vajk

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