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A heated debate Monday night at Bronson Town Hall ended with a 4-1 vote in favor of stalling on an earlier decision to allow a bingo hall within town limits.
“I feel like we should go on,” said Council Member Aaron Edmondson in protest. “It already done been approved.”
But the council disagreed, voting to wait until it had a more complete proposal on the matter.
At the last meeting on Sept. 10, council voted 3-2 in favor of allowing a Bronson food pantry, The Children’s Table, to run a bingo hall to help offset the costs associated with an increased demand for food. Council members Berlon Weeks and Jason Kennedy voted against the motion, telling The Children’s Table President Bill Brown they thought it might open the doors to other types of gambling, something the council had fought last year with an ordinance after two internet cafes tried to open shop.
Still, a majority of the council at that meeting approved Brown’s request, and he set about putting in writing a loose business plan and got the proposed site of the bingo hall, at 680. W. Thrasher Dr., evaluated by town building inspector Robert Niffenegger. And that’s what Brown said he thought Monday night’s discussion on the proposed bingo hall was going to be about. But he was wrong.
Mayor Beatrice Roberts said she had gotten a phone call from an unidentified person who was concerned that Brown was asking that food recipients either make a $2.50 donation or work as a volunteer at the pantry.
“Is there a charge?” Roberts asked.
Brown said they do ask for one or the other to help offset the costs that continue to grow.
At the last meeting, Brown said that, on average, The Children’s Table feeds about 4,500 people a month, though the organization had only received a total of about $4,300 in donations for the year.
Monday night, Weeks, recently learning of the $2.50 per –visit donation, said he thought Brown had not been upfront about the money the organization was bringing in. Four-thousand people times $2.50 a month equals $10,000, he said. “So, bingo would be extra.”
“You’re mistaken with figures, “Brown told him, explaining that one family could have four or five members with only one coming in to collect food.
“I would really like to see hard numbers, Mr. Brown,” Weeks said.
Brown said that, as a non-profit, the information was available online. Weeks asked why the information had not been presented to the council earlier.
“I think we’re going backwards,” Edmondson said, adding that the request had already been approved and that the issue was whether or not the proposed bingo site met code requirements.
“If the information’s bad, you can’t make a decision …” Weeks said.
“I kind of have to agree with Berlon in a way,” said Vice Mayor Franklin Schuler, adding that he didn’t know about the $2.50 donation. “That’s not what I voted for. I really, truly think we should have heard all the details.”
“Anyone who does not have money gets food,” Brown said, explaining that it’s not mandatory that people pay or work, but that it has been asked of them only in recent years because the demand has grown by so much.
“If you don’t want to deal with us, “Brown said, “I would ask you how many people have you fed in the community …”
Weeks told Brown he was not questioning his “goodness,” just his willingness to be “forthright with information.”
“You are a very astute, wise man!” Brown said loudly, pointing his finger at Weeks. “Why didn’t you ask the first time? … the thing we’re talking about is zoning. Am I wrong?”
Council Member Jason Kennedy told Brown that the council “just had some questions.”
“What’s done is done, but it’s gonna’ set precedence,” Kennedy said, referring to his initial objection a couple of weeks ago.
And then the council made its vote.
“If this community, this group, this town will step forward with what we’re doing, we’ll be happy to leave!” Brown said sternly. “I am an honest man, Mister!” he told Weeks, and then he left the building.
“It’s bad when you scrupulize …” Edmondson told Weeks. “You got issues with anything else you see someone doing.”
Things can’t be done this way, Weeks said. “I think he should tell the truth when he came here.”
Roberts, despite questioning Brown early on in the meeting, said she was already aware that the organization asked for a $2.50 donation.
Edmondson, in an agitated tone, told the council it was making a big deal over nothing.
“It’s gambling, Aaron! It’s gambling!” Kennedy said.
A woman from the back of the audience asked how it was any different than the Lotto tickets sold in Bronson.
“OK, let’s move on, “Roberts said.
In other matters:
*The council, in the final reading on the matter, unanimously approved the upcoming year’s property tax rate of 3.6575 mills, which, though an increase in millage from last year, does not raise the taxes paid by residents. The figure, known as a roll back rate, seeks to keep revenues the same from year to year as property values decline, which they have continued to do for several years.
The council also unanimously approved this year’s upcoming budget of $1,841,227.
*Previous Vice Mayor Schuler was unanimously voted in as Bronson’s new mayor after being nominated for the position by Weeks. Schuler nominated Roberts, but it died for lack of a second. Schuler thanked the council for the vote and added that he wanted Weeks to be the new vice mayor, which Weeks agreed to.
“Yeah, man, I appreciate that,” Weeks said.
Schuler said the various committees different members sit on would stay the same.