By Mike Kruzman /

Livingston County officials are continuing with a grant application for a new Meals on Wheels facility, but the final fate of the project is still uncertain.

Livingston County Meals on Wheels has been in the community for 30 years, but has never had a building of their own and has had to relying on renting and sharing space. They are in the process of applying for a Community Development Block Grant for $1-million that could be spent on new building construction. The building project, which would be erected on a 1.3 acre parcel in Hartland Township, is expected to cost $2-million, of which, Livingston County would contribute $500,000.

At their online Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, the Livingston County Commissioners discussed continuing with the grant application in these uncertain times where budget reductions will likely be necessitated. Commissioner Doug Helzerman felt it was important to stick with their commitment, saying that history may not look back on them kindly if they don’t continue to move forward. He said in his mind, this is something they can do, and something they should do.

Commissioner Jay Gross concurred with Helzerman, stating this was an important program with a lot of senior citizens that depend on it. He recommended continuing with the application, and then if it was approved, they can vote on whether or not to continue.

Commissioner Carol Griffith noted Meal on Wheels’ importance to the community, but was concerned about the county’s lack of security on the $500,000 if Meals on Wheels defaulted on the building. Legal counsel informed that if things went bad, the chance of the county getting that money back would be minimal. She also wondered if it wouldn’t be more efficient to find an existing location or warehouse in an industrial area to prepare and then deliver from. The grant only allows for a new building, however.

Margaret Davies, executive director for Livingston County Meals on Wheels said that in looking at warehouses and buildings over the years, the money needed was always almost as much as a new building.
Commissioner Kate Lawrence said they believe in Meals on Wheels and want to serve the senior population, but as an elected official, she doesn’t think it’s prudent for them to go this route when they have an unsecured interest. She supported looking at other venues and using their investments in seniors where they know they will get the best bang for their buck.

Commissioner Bob Bezotte agreed moving forward with the application, but also with Griffith on looking at other options. He was concerned about transparency between Meals on Wheels and Paragon Management, one of the partners in the project. Bezotte also noted that Oakland County would be benefitting from this service for nothing. He agreed with Green and Helzerman that this needs to be a priority, but said he has concerns he needs addressed before voting “yes.”

Commissioner Wes Nakagiri has been against the project and his opinion hasn’t changed. With over half of the Meals on Wheels recipients being residents of Oakland County, and Oakland County not contributing to the project, he said asking Livingston County taxpayers to pay for the building was inappropriate. He proposed Meals on Wheels using the kitchen facilities at the jail, saying there was no capital cost in that. Nakagiri said that now with COVID-19 issues and a budget that will be under pressure, they have a choice moving forward with this building, that in his opinion, they ought not to do.