Village trustees approve contract for building inspection in effort to move BA Sports debacle forward
By Abigail Walls
Inching toward a solution for the condemned downtown building that spans the distance from Cravingz to the pharmacy, the Village Council this month approved a contract establishing a new building inspector for the Village of Stockbridge.
The resolution approved at the March 5 meeting established a contract between the Village and Associated Government Services, designating AGS employee Bert Gale as the Village’s building inspector and zoning administrator. The establishment of a Village building inspector may help resolve an impasse with local businessperson Judi Cook, owner of Cravingz and BA Sports. Cook’s BA Sports business, located at 122 S. Clinton, has been on hold since January 17, more than seven weeks since an independent architectural consultant determined the building was not safe for habitation. (See Stockbridge Community News, https://stockbridgecommunitynews.com/architectural-consultant-calls-for-immediate-evacuation-of-downtown-stockbridge-retail-building/) and https://stockbridgecommunitynews.com/village-council-moves-forward-on-budget-and-blight-as-ba-sports-remains-closed/)
Stockbridge Township building inspector, Charlie Barnum, had been working with Cook to resolve S. Clinton St. property issues with mixed results. Then at the Feb. 5 Village Council meeting, discussions were held regarding dropping the township’s building inspector and contracting an outside firm. On Feb. 20 the Township notified the Village it would cease to subcontract building, mechanical and electrical services, requiring the Village to work quickly to establish its own inspector.
Cook’s struggle to bring her building, which makes up roughly two-thirds of the Village’s downtown commercial space, back online has been something of a flashpoint for the community. During the public comment period, community members spoke in defense of Cook’s business and expressed their disappointment in both the lengthy process Cook has gone through and the Village’s action in contracting with AGS.
“I wanted to express my frustration tonight with what I call the nitpicking and what I perceive to be power struggles regarding the local business here,” former village councilman Howell Wynne said during public comment. “I want to say the issue is creating a very bad image for how we treat small business in this town. Of course, the image is not always the truth, but what’s in the eyes of the beholder speaks truth to them.” Wynne added a piece of advice. “I believe it’s time for all parties to sit down, get involved, and figure out what’s step one, two, three and four.”
The council and Cook arranged to meet Tuesday, March 13, to discuss next steps for her beleaguered building.
The use of private companies for municipal services is fairly common in Michigan, and the University of Michigan’s CLOSUP survey finds that 35 percent of municipalities report that they are unable to fill critical positions to deliver the desired level of service themselves.
During the recession years following 2008, many communities cut budgets by eliminating their inspector positions or simply not replacing employees once they retired or quit. Contracted services have presented themselves as an attractive middle ground that allows municipalities to maintain local control over inspections and permits while avoiding the expense of retaining their own full time employee.
Village trustees voiced concern that the fees for permits and inspections set by AGS might be more than residents are accustomed to paying or may exceed rates set in the surrounding area. The Village resolution provided to Stockbridge Community News for this report did not specify the cost, and AGS’s Gale explained the difficulty of establishing set fees, as many aspects of properties affect cost.
“If you start comparing properties in other communities around here, I’m not sure what other communities’ rates and fees are other than the ones that we do around here,” Gale said. “We do the City of Williamston, Locke Twp. and Vevay Twp.”
AGS is headquartered in Richland, north of Kalamazoo. In addition to the Village of Stockbridge, it has contracted with the communities throughout greater Michigan, including Charleston Twp., Village of Chesaning, Climax Twp., Ionia County, Lansing Twp., Lawrence Twp., Locke Twp., Paw Paw Twp., Ross Twp., Village of Schoolcraft, Vevay Twp., and the City of Williamston.