After a lengthy discussion Tuesday night, the Culver Town Council voted to fund the Blue Zones Initiative in 2023 by a 3 to 2 vote.

On Tuesday, December 27th Town Councilman Rich West asked to discuss the prior decision made to defund the Blue Zones Initiative with funds from the 2023 budget.  Initially, they had pledged $75,000 to the plan with $25,000 being pledged for the next three years. 

During the December 13th meeting, Town Council President Bill Githens brought up the idea to rescind their decision at the end of the meeting under Council Issues.  He said he wanted to use the funds to give the Culver Police Department more money for officers to keep the ones they have from leaving to move to a department that offers more money. He asked for a motion to rescind the funding in 2023 and it passed with all three Bills, Githens, Cleavenger, and Hamm voting in favor. 

This week, during the Culver Town Council meeting additional discussion, as Blue Zones on the agenda.   Several citizens spoke during the discussion.  Sue McInturff asked why the council changed their vote and found that Blue Zones was not necessary to fund even though it would help the community to live a healthier life.

Councilman Bill Hamm said his examination and analysis found that Blue Zones had issues with data accuracy, and he wasn’t sure people would follow if the government was telling them what to eat and drink or whether to smoke or not. He said while it may have worked in other places, I’m not sure it would work here.  He also wanted to put more money into a mid-year salary raise. 

Bill Cleavenger said he’d received a “ton of calls.”  He said passing a motion under Council Issues isn’t a new thing, they have done it before. 

Bill Githens admitted he was the one to bring up the idea of dropping the Blue Zones funding out of the 2023 budget so that $25,000 could be used for a mid-year salary increase.  He said, “I just look like a real government overreach to cram down people’s throats.” He said there are no deliverables in the first three years and after that time frame it is turned back over to the city and towns to deal with. 

McInturff said the government tells us to do lots of things like to stop at a stop sign or wear a seatbelt.  She said if the program can provide studies and information that citizens can gleam from to improve their health and wellness it will save us all for medical costs.  She felt the town council should have discussed it as an agenda item so the public would have been able to include input before they voted 3 to 2 to rescind the funding.

Resident Russ Mason told the Culver council in his research the biggest accomplishment he found with the Blue Zones Initiatives was a reduction in smoking and he didn’t think that was a great use of money with such little results.  He said there are intelligent people here in the county that could put a program together without spending $6 million.  Mason also said many communities are taking action by creating walking and cycling trails and improving their parks for outdoor recreation. 

Linda Yoder, Co-chairman of the Crossroads Health & Wellness committee and attended the meeting to answer any questions.  She did tell the town council that Marshall County has slipped from 61st of the 92 counties to 64th this last year in our health rankings.  She also said that the county’s population had declined by 1,100 people.  Yoder said to keep and attract new talent to the county requires quality-of-life items such as a healthy community with opportunities to recreate, good schools, and access to good health care.    

Yoder told the Culver Town Council the committee has spent two and a half years looking at the Blue Zones Initiative and making sure it’s the right fit with proven results and measurable results. She said while the full Blue Zones transformation would take a total of 3 years and 8 months, they have negotiated an 18-month Quick Launch contract that would focus on policy work and get started now as they begin to launch the private fundraising efforts.  That will allow them to establish with that initial investment a proven track record before going on to the next phase. The local public funds would assure a commitment to policy change which is fundamental to the work and it will help drive the private investment as well.

Tom Yuhas said the whole Blue Zones thing is new to him.  He shared some observations with members including going to the doctor who asks about your health history, your weight, do you smoke, and activity level.  Everyone knows this kind of stuff, but the problem is we need to convince people to do these things.  He said when he reads the obituaries many people in their 90s suspect that Culver has high longevity.  Yuhas also commented about the trails, bike paths, and the walkability designation the town received.  He recommended challenging people to 10,000 steps a day goal. Tom Yuhas wasn’t sure he was for or against Blue Zones.

Marty Oosterban, Vice President of the Crossroads Executive Team spoke during the meeting and assured the Culver Town Council that they have studied the Blue Zones Initiative for over two years.  He said there is a need for more citizens in Marshall County to fill all the jobs but attracting new residents take effort.  Marty said most people are looking for a good quality-of-life place to relocate and Blue Zones proves that this county is working to be a healthier place in many ways.  He explained that the program will encourage businesses, not mandate them to offer healthier choices. 

Grant Munroe questioned the council’s decision at the last meeting to make a change and not fund Blue Zones in the 2023 budget without community input.  He also asked how anyone could trust the council when they can so easily change their mind and rescind a prior decision.   

Eventually Councilman Rich West motioned to reinstate the funding for the Blue Zones Initiative over the next three years.  He said he was willing to negotiate the amount.  With more discussion, it was recommended to support the program in 2023 with $15,000.  The motion passed 3 to 2 with Bill Githens and Bill Hamm voting against it.