More than 200 people gathered in the Odawa Casino Resort's Ovation Hall to hear four featured speakers provide updates on various facets of the community.
Representatives of some Michigan communities at the educational event related difficult circumstances such as police and firefighter layoffs and sales of municipal property to try and cover expenses. But Fraser was able to share some positive developments happening in Petoskey.
Among those were the development of the Bear River Valley Recreation Area, construction of a second public safety station for the city, a balanced budget and several years passing without a local increase in property tax rates.
While Fraser said the disparity in circumstances could have made for an uncomfortable conversation, "Truth be told, I've never been prouder to represent the city."
With the city's taxable property values dropping off by about 20 percent since their 2009 peak, Fraser noted that Petoskey has had to take belt-tightening steps such as eliminating staff positions through attrition and cutting back on some employee benefits. At the same time, cooperative relationships with other units of government have helped the city accomplish some projects more economically.
Dr. Josh Meyerson, medical director with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, reviewed the state of health in the community. He drew in large part on findings from a recent community health assessment conducted by various health-related organizations in a 10-county area of Northern Michigan.
Compared to some other parts of the region, Emmet County residents tend to possess higher levels of income and educational attainment, which Meyerson noted can help in avoiding unhealthy psychosocial stress. He also noted that the Petoskey area has a relatively large lineup of physicians, although shortages exist in some medical categories such as primary care.
Some of the challenges facing the community from a health standpoint include substance abuse -- with 20 percent of local residents reported to engage in binge drinking -- along with one of the region's higher rates of smoking and a 10 percent poverty rate among local children.
Meyerson said local health care leaders have identified three categories in which to improve on the community's health: obesity and chronic disease prevention, access to various forms of health care (including maternity, children's services and mental health), and substance abuse prevention and treatment. Various teams and focus groups will be discussing how to move ahead with these goals.
"This health assessment has been done, and now we're moving forward," he said.
Although the Petoskey school district has faced a tightening funding picture like many others in Michigan during the past decade, its superintendent, John Scholten, noted that local students and staff have excelled in a variety of ways despite the tighter financial picture.
For example, Scholten noted various extracurricular programs -- including athletic teams, debate and robotics groups and vocational education clubs -- that have done well in state-level competition.
He also pointed to two elementary teachers receiving statewide recognition for writing instruction, and the district's recent inclusion on the Advanced Placement program's honor roll. This distinction is awarded to schools that expand participation in the Advanced Placement classes and exams that can help students obtain college-level academic credit while still in high school, while maintaining a high level of performance on the exams.
"We're really proud of what the students and staff have accomplished in the past few years," Scholten said.
With the funding picture for Michigan schools continuing to be tight, Scholten encouraged the audience to stay engaged on the topic and relate any concerns they might have about it to state policymakers.
Elaine Wood, chief executive officer of the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, provided a report on recent local economic trends.
Like the rest of the 10-county Northwest Michigan region, Wood noted that Emmet County's economy depends significantly on tourism, health care and public-sector operations. Although manufacturing is a relatively small part of the local industrial mix, Wood noted that it's showing some signs of larger significance.
"Although manufacturing is a smaller part of your economy, it is faring better than other sectors," she said.
Despite the economic challenges it faced locally through much of the 2000s, Wood noted that manufacturing recently has had relatively low unemployment levels compared to other sectors. It also provides fairly high employee earnings relative to other fields, a strong contribution to the area's overall economy output and high potential for growth.
"Overall, the Emmet County area is showing a very healthy economic condition, and there's always room for a little more diversification," she said.
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