MENOMINEE — Despite a recommendation from the Planning Commission to hire SmithGroup of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to develop the city’s master plan, the Menominee Finance Committee wants more information before making a decision.

The Finance Committee met Tuesday, about an hour after the Planning Commission had made its recommendation, but council members were not sold on either the cost or the difference a consultant group from outside the area could offer.

The Finance Committee (March 15) and the commission (March 1) had already received a presentation from CUPPAD (Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission) on a plan to update and prepare the city’s master plan in preparation to become eligible for grants through the state’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program.

But Ryan Soucy, a community planner from CUPPAD, was sent back after meeting with the Finance Committee March 15 to make some changes to the proposal to include more meetings with the council. As he prepared to make a revised presentation to the Planning Commission April 10, its chairman, Kim Coggins, cut off Soucy’s presentation with a suggestion that the city approach other consultant firms for proposals and bids. The Planning Commission voted to recommend to council that City Manager Tony Graff draft a Request for Proposals to seek other companies interested in helping to revise the Master Plan. That was done in the beginning of May.

The city had received four proposals as a result of the RFP; SmithGroup JJR ($29,930), McKenna of Northfield, Mich., working with local representatives from U.P. Engineers & Architects ($35,000); Beckett & Raeder, also of Ann Arbor, ($55,880); and CZB LLC ($68,049). Administrative staff reviewed the proposals and recommended the full council, Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals meet in a joint meeting June 26 at Spies Library to hear presentations from two groups, the Smith Group JJR and McKenna.

Members of the three groups used scorecards to rate the presentations by the two groups and the SmithGroup scored the highest. Graff was asked after the meeting if CUPPAD was still in contention, and he said he was not sure.

The revised CUPPAD proposal came in around $15,000. Graff said Tuesday part of the reason for the lowered cost is that Menominee was being offered the opportunity to become involved in a pilot program through CUPPAD called SLIM (Sustainable-Liveable-Innovative-Master Plan).

Tuesday, Council member Bill Plemel asked why the Planning Commission was not considering the CUPPAD proposal.

Plemel said the city had already budgeted the $15,000 needed for the CUPPAD proposal and CUPPAD had revised its scope of work to meet the requests of the Finance Committee.

He said he realized there were some staffing issues that delayed the work being done by CUPPAD in 2008-2009, but said the organization “has reorganized. This would be a huge savings,” he said.

Graff said the CUPPAD staff was limited, compared to some of the other consultants.

“I have concerns,” Plemel said. “Do we have to spend $30,000 to have someone tells us what our city is going to look like in 20 years (but will not happen)? We just need to upgrade for the RCC.”

Council member Frank Pohlmann said he agreed with Plemel and had concerns about the cost of putting together a plan and whether the plan would be usable to the city. “It’s not so much about the success of the consultants, but how much the community reaches in,” Pohlmann said. He said it also depends on how much the city council is willing to develop and use the document “as a strategy going forward.”

He said CUPPAD presented a similar plan as SmithGroup. “Now to say we have to chose between something that is $29,000 and one that is $35,000, and totally forget about what we had before, I don’t think that would be the right thing to do,” he said about not considering CUPPAD.

Graff said the Planning Commission has the responsibility of seeing that the Master Plan is updated, and said it might not be as comfortable with CUPPAD given all the changes in staffing and subsequent delays of the last plan update.

Plemel said he believed a good Master Plan would be developed better by someone who knows the community, rather than a firm from outside the area.

Graff said he would contact CUPPAD personally, to see if the agency was still interested in working with the city.

Mayor Jean Stegeman was asked her opinion on the recommendation from the Planning Commission. As a former chairman of that group, she said she could understand “their frustration and the bad taste left in their mouth after the last go round with CUPPAD.” She said CUPPAD seems to be a training ground for new, young planners who are “some very talented folks, but they don’t have the experience.”

She said she wanted to see a plan that took the city beyond ideas into implementation.

Graff suggested there may be a way to have one of the consultants from SmithGroup work with CUPPAD, since she provides technical assistance in the RRC program. Stegeman said it was something to explore.

“I don’t think the young man had the opportunity to give his presentation (to the Planning Commission),” she said of the April 10 meeting.

The committee did not take action, awaiting the results of Graff’s contact with CUPPAD before bringing a recommendation to the full council.