GLADSTONE - Gladstone residents voiced their opinions about the community during a town hall meeting with community assessment facilitators from the Michigan Rural Council. The gathering was held at the Gladstone Sports Park Monday night.
The town hall was the final part of a day-long community assessment run by the MRC. Throughout the day, the facilitators visited with city employees, boards and commissions, churches and other community groups to collect data, which will be used to guide the city toward new goals.
"You were lucky enough to have city staff that was aggressive enough to apply to be a part of this program. It doesn't cost them a cent," said Julie Hales Smith, MRC facilitator.
During the town hall, residents were asked to name challenges faced by the city, the city's assets, and explain how they would like to see the city in 10 years. Attendees were then broken into groups to suggest long- and short-term projects the city could undertake to reach those long-term goals.
One of the major challenges noted by residents was the lack of connectivity to Escanaba. A bike path was mentioned as a way to connect the two cities, but even automotive traffic between the cities is seen as a challenge.
"People have no problem heading to Escanaba for whatever, but there was sort of this perception that it was somehow mystically farther from Escanaba back to Gladstone," said Smith, referencing to how the challenge was presented by a group at an earlier meeting.
Despite the ways the city has tried to explain the tax rates to residents, many felt taxes were too high to attract new home buyers.
"It doesn't matter how you break it down, it's still reality that this is what it costs to live in Gladstone. Whether it's paying for the city or paying for the school or whatever it is, it still costs that amount," said resident Debby Chase.
Residents viewed the city's two industrial parks, the sports park, and the campground as major assets.
"They probably ought to expand (the campground) because it brings in money, they take and buy things from the businesses in the area, and it's just a big draw," said resident Bob Boros.
The small town feel and walkability were also considered assets by those at the meeting, however, many voiced concern over the safety of crossing the highway.
"The highway divides this town in half and I don't know if there's a way over the long-term ... but a walkway, or a catwalk, it'd be so much easier," said resident Jeff Waeghe.
After breaking into groups, the residents who attended the meeting reconvened to share the projects they wanted for the city. Projects included a community garden, a bike trail between Escanaba and Gladstone, free WiFi in the downtown, summer programs at the ski hill, an information center, campground expansion, signs promoting local businesses placed on the highway, more use of social media to promote the city, and walking bridges over the highway.
Residents also signed up to help with the new projects suggested at the meeting. The information gathered at all of Monday's meetings will be compiled into a report and used by the city for future planning projects.