What price beauty?

ISHPEMING – The Ishpeming City Council made an appearance at the Ishpeming Downtown Development Authority meeting Monday to talk beautification.

After Councilwoman Elaine Racine expressed her reservations about the DDA’s budget for beautification at the city council meeting Friday, the council decided to attend Monday’s DDA meeting to share their input. In order for the entire council to attend without violating the Open Meetings Act, they scheduled a city council meeting for the same time as the DDA’s meeting.

Racine said that while she loves the flowers, she thinks the DDA is paying too much for them. Yvonne Leaf, who does all of the city’s beautification work, is paid $40 an hour for her services.

DDA Chairman David Aeh said, speaking for himself, that sometimes you get what you pay for, and called Leaf’s work “first class.” He also said that the $40 an hour is “a package deal” that includes Leaf’s gasoline, expenses and often one or two people who assist her.

“We need to understand what we’re getting for the $40 an hour,” he said, “and that sometimes the $40 an hour is an excellent value.” Aeh said that Leaf’s compensation, compared with Department of Public Works employees – who sometimes do some of the city’s landscaping work – doesn’t include some of the “ancillary fringe benefits” given to DPW employees, such as vacation time and unemployment benefits.

Racine said the city and the DDA’s focus should be on infrastructure, which she says is in dire need of repair.

“When we have potholes all over in the TIF district, streets that need to be paved, sewers that need to be done, water mains that need to be done,” she said. “It would be like putting brand-new carpet in your house when your roof is leaking.”

Aeh argued that the results are worth the cost, but also suggested implementing some sort of community sponsorship program to help offset the DDA’s beautification expenditures next year.

“We aren’t saying that the work isn’t valuable, but it’s a case where maybe we can defray the cost of some of the work with sponsorships,” he said.

Aeh said members of the public have approached him and urged him not to cut the budget, saying that it looks great and that it’s something they’re proud of.

Aeh also said that the money the DDA has allocated for beautification is “a small, single-digit percentage” of their budget. He said he feels the DDA owes it to the taxpayers to “spend every penny as if it was their own.”

The DDA’s beautification budget for 2013 is around $40,500, according to DDA board member Stacey Willey, but Willey said that this year they are under budget. She said she thinks that if the money is spent “smarter,” the city’s beautification work can be done on half of that amount, and that by organizing community volunteers to work under Leaf and by making cooperative arrangements with area businesses to get beautification materials for wholesale prices, the DDA’s costs will be significantly lower without sacrificing the quality of the Leaf’s work. Willey also said that some of the money spent in the past couple of years, when beautification was over budget, was to install sprinkler systems around the city. Though their initial cost was a strain on the beautification budget in the short term, Willey said these systems will prove in the long run to be a sound investment.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.