|Tom Zoner was first elected as township supervisor in 1998. He previously served as township clerk from 1988 until his election as supervisor, and he has been a township trustee and a member of the township Civil Service Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals. He owns Zoner’s Greenhouse.|
Commerce Township Supervisor Tom Zoner is facing a Republican primary challenger in Trustee Debra Kirkwood in the Aug. 7 primary election for Commerce Township supervisor. There are no Democrats running in the election, so the winner of the primary election will be elected to a four-year term that currently pays $79,039 annually.
The following are questions our staff recently posed to Zoner and his response to those questions.
LEADERSHIP: As supervisor, at what point do you believe you should disregard public sentiment, and cast a vote on an item based on your own knowledge and feelings about how an issue impacts the greater community?
ZONER: Information is power. The more you know, the better the decision. Public opinion should not be taken lightly, nor should it be the sole factor.
Recently, I sided with a suggestion to go and eliminate a (proposed) water tower near a residential subdivision. I knew this was the right location. Our engineers indicated that it was as good as it gets for the location. Why did I agree to change? Because there were other options. It just costs more to do. The people didn’t know what I know. And it was not worth having them living with something that they expected would change their style of life. And on the other hand, if it were the only place, I would’ve gone another way because it would’ve been the right thing to do for the community at large.
BUDGET: Years of revenue decline prompted by falling home values and other reasons have forced a variety of budget cuts. What changes in township budgeting priorities or processes do you advocate to deal with these hurdles? Where could the township’s budget be trimmed back? What, if anything, in the budget should be held harmless from the budget ax?
ZONER: If the revenues decline more — and presently they are holding their own — but if they were to decline, then the only essential items as stated by law would be budgeted. The last three years, we’ve cut administrative cost, hired contractors, changed staff work hour schedules, reduced gas and electric bills, reduced our cell phone uses, and sold all our unused autos and trucks, to name a few. (What) to hold harmless is police and fire (services) because we placed information for the public to vote in a special assessment district for those. That’s provided us the needed financial ability to maintain those services as we had in 2008.
MARTIN PARKWAY: The current economic climate and deterioration in the real estate market has hindered the Downtown Development Authority’s ability to sell the DDA property along Martin Parkway to developers for local and national retail stores. Now the township has to help repay DDA bonds that paid for Martin Parkway project. What, if anything, needs to be done differently to ensure that land is developed effectively? What is your vision for that area of Commerce Township, and the development of the township in general?
ZONER: In the beginning, the DDA plan was to develop a portion of the DDA to a real downtown that would define Commerce Township. M-5 dead ends at Pontiac Trail. The DDA plan was to improve roads. They did that, and it’s working. Next is to stay focused on the plan. They will come, and they will develop.
This is the hottest location in the state of Michigan — 125 acres of this property will be the home of natural resources. Six miles of pathways, water and sewer, storm water retention, unique bridge walkers and bikers can go underneath the road for safe travel through the protected area. I believe we will see some sort of construction in the near future. We don’t have to do anything any different.
We are experiencing a lot of home improvements, a lot of new construction for residential (uses), and I believe even though the taxable values are not going up, there is a lot of building going on in the township. The Building Department is experiencing a lot of building permits, and the development of the township is as good as it’s going to get.
PARKS AND RECREATION: The township has for some time been in the process of acquiring a portion of the Proud Lake State Recreation Area, a final step in which has been put on hold because of state payments in lieu of taxes. Does the township need more open space? Why or why not? What additional steps, if any, would you like the township to take to make sure residents have abundant parks and recreation opportunities?
ZONER: You know, once the land is developed, it’s gone. I think we have done as much as we can for now. We have 28 square miles in Commerce Township. About 10 square miles will never be developed because it’s either wet or a lake. Out of the remaining 18 square miles, the state has 1800 acres of open space or park land. Commerce Township will have close to 1,200 acres of open space or park land when we finalize our purchase (of the Proud Lake State Recreation Area) with the state. I think now we need to plan these areas to meet the needs so that we can enjoy quality of life. Park parts not used turn out to be parts that are used as dump sites. Over a period of time, they can be improved with paths, play scapes, educational centers, soccer fields and other recreational uses. These improvements will make our parks safe from abuse.
I think we’ve done all of that, but in the case where we are talking about making enhancements in those parks, that’s (needed) funding. So the people are going to have to support a ballot issue in the near future, within the next two years. I think in 2014 our open space preservation ballot proposal will be all used up and the money we had in that fund will be gone and purchasing property and making park enhancements. But we need to do more. So if the public wants to continue with the process and where we’re going or what we’re leading them to, then it will be a ballot proposal that will be necessary to fund it.
HAGGERTY ROAD: There has long been a stalemate between Commerce and West Bloomfield townships about Commerce’s desire to widen the two-lane stretch of road between Pontiac Trail and Richardson Road. Do you support widening Haggerty to allow for better traffic flow? Why or why not? If so, what can or should the township do to see the proposal to fruition?
ZONER: I’m going to answer that, but it’s not a “yes” or “no” type question so I’m going to lead you into this. In two years, the Road Commission for Oakland County will be making some improvements to Haggerty Road between Oakley Park and Richardson Road. That’s not part of the DDA thing. That’s part of the Road Commission (plan), and we contributed some Tri-party money to help that happen.
But this will help. But more has to be done. The improvements have to be from 14 Mile Road north to M-59. Union Lake Road is the bottleneck, not Haggerty Road. I will support widening Haggerty Road completely when Union Lake Road is in the plan. A few residents convinced the (township) boards of White Lake, West Bloomfield, and Waterford to pass a resolution that Commerce Township should not improve Haggerty and Union Lake Road to more than three lanes. It would help if these resolutions were rescinded so that the Road Commission can get a grant to make the improvements needed to eliminate the congestion as you see it today.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the township, and how do you propose to address them?
ZONER: Keep in mind we are in an essential mode and it takes money to make improvements. So if there is funding either by grants, ballot proposals, or increased property values, my three improvements for the quality of life in Commerce Township would be to add more non-motorized paths, make park enhancements, and provide for more ordinance enforcements.
It has to be done through funding, and right now we are not into having any extra money. We eliminated our (code) enforcement officer. We hired in a contractor who is doing those, but he is also doing some of the engineering. So there just isn’t enough money to go around to get these things. Non-motorized pathways and park enhancements are going to be a ballot proposal. Ordinance enforcements are going to be able to add that extra element on as property values increase.
WHY YOU? Why specifically should voters choose you over your opponent?
ZONER: Briefly, my experience, my reliability, my leadership, and my dedication. Since I was voted to the position of township supervisor in 1998, I’ve built three new fire stations under budget; added a sub police station to (Fire) Station No. 4; saved over $1 million using (the Oakland) County Equalization (Division) and eliminating the assessing department; kept the township within budget; even in hard times was able to put dollars aside for emergency situations; even added more land for open space; added more play stations for our parks; created a township library; and built a new township hall. My opponent (has done) zero (of that).