Ontonagon holds village meeting addressing debt

Opinions on the millage proposed to handle debt payments remain divisive.
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 4:15 PM EDT
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ONTONAGON, Mich. (WLUC) - The Village of Ontonagon is still weighing its options on how to handle owed payments to the Municipal Employment Retirement System of Michigan (MERS).

The Village of Ontonagon owes $8,600,000 to MERS, the system which pays pensions to retirees from the former Ontonagon Memorial Hospital.

At a village meeting in Ontonagon Monday night, the focus remained on how the town will actually pay that debt.

“Right now we’re looking to pass a two mills, county-wide millage,” said Ontonagon Village Manager Willie DuPont. “And we have a lot of naysayers that say we shouldn’t be doing that, but if we don’t get the millage passed, MERS is going to sue us. That is going to happen.”

Of the over $8 million the village owes in total, $436,000 is due now, and the number of retirees collecting pensions from the former Ontonagon Memorial Hospital is still growing.

“I’m not the type to make things up and bring this up if it wasn’t the case, but ultimately we’re behind on MERS payments, and it’s getting worse,” continued DuPont.

Dupont is fairly optimistic that the county-wide millage increase will pass, and a number of citizens attended the meeting in support of it.

“I do support the two mill,” said Ontonagon resident Donna Nethery. “If it is two mill county-wide, that is going to be the best thing to keep the hospital here, and as well as not be such a burden on just the Village.”

However, not everyone is in favor of the millage. Some residents are unhappy with how concerns have been handled in the past.

“When our previous village manager was here, that seemed to cause a lot of the financial strife in the town, there were concerned citizens that mentioned something at the time,” said Jill Johnson, another village resident. “And instead of listening to the citizens and trying to figure out what was really going on, they wanted to keep the citizens quiet on the whole ordeal.”

While others believe the council is doing what it can.

“They [the village council] have been working with the State Treasury,” said Marlene Broemer, another village resident. “They’ve been investigating all the village accounts, the bank accounts and they’ve been working tirelessly. They are dedicated to saving our village.”

The two-mill increase will be on the Aug. 2 ballot for the village, township and county residents.

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