Category Archives: Community

Vicksburg Planning Commission Reviews Details of The Mill PUD

By Jef Rietsma

Members of the Vicksburg Planning Commission appear poised to make a recommendation on whether to endorse a proposed $60 million renovation of the former Simpson Paper Company mill.

Known as the Paper City Mill Project, the ambitious plan – backed by former Vicksburg resident Chris Moore – was scrutinized by commission members during their work session Oct. 3 at Vicksburg High School. An estimated 100 people attended.

The balance of the 2 1/2-hour session was limited to discussion by the seven-member planning commission, whose members directed many of their questions to Village Manager Jim Mallery, Moore, Project Manager Jackie Koney and Paper City attorney Steve Sielatycki. The evening concluded with six public comments.

Because of the work-session format of the meeting, no votes were cast. The commission’s Oct. 17 meeting, however, could feature a recommendation for or against the proposal, which would then be fielded by the Vicksburg Village Council for a final vote Oct. 29.

Both meetings are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at the high school’s Performing Arts Center.

Questions related to live-music events comprised the bulk of dialogue at the Oct. 3 assembly. Koney said Paper City is seeking in its approval, a stipulation allowing it to stage at least two major music-related events annually and additional, smaller performances regularly.

Though the majority of the audience appeared to be in favor of the plan, members of the recently formed Concerned Citizens of Vicksburg have indicated their concerns center heavily on the potential volume of music and the possible length of time into the night it would be allowed. Other issues its members have cited include the development’s impact on the area’s quality of life as well as the availability of parking.

Mallery said if the project is approved, issues related to traffic volume, flow and parking would likely be addressed in greater detail in 2019 with a separate planning commission application.

“The developer needs an opportunity to continue to develop their strategy in determining what size events are best for that property,” Mallery said. “Those discussions will take place similar to the discussions that have taken place on this development agreement. Staff will work with the developer to come to a fair and reasonable agreement that’s legally binding and that represent the core values of this village.”

He went on to note that decibel levels are included within terms of the agreement, and they vary depending on the size of crowd and day of the week. For example, a maximum decibel level of 85 is set for an event at which 20,000 or more people are present.

Also, the agreement in its current state calls for amplified sound to cease at midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 p.m. any other days of the week.

Regarding infrastructure, Mallery said the fee for Paper City to connect to the village’s water infrastructure is in excess of $2.6 million. Meanwhile, Mallery said the cost to improve the wastewater infrastructure and flow rate as a direct result of Paper City’s proposed development is $2 million.

“I want the commission to be assured that we will represent the village’s interest and impact on our infrastructure system,” he said. “Wholeheartedly, we’ll be fair and reasonable, but Paper City realizes there are going to be substantial costs to the water/sewer hook-up.”

The Paper City project is being presented as a Planned-Unit Development. Attorney Lance Zoehof of Warner Norcross, explained that a PUD doesn’t fit into a specific zoning classification within a municipality’s normal ordinances.

He said Paper City’s plan is a perfect application for a PUD considering the extent of its uniqueness and extent of its mixed-use plan.

“As long as they hit minimum requirements that don’t have negative impacts on the surrounding community … the property itself gets rezoned and reclassified, and as long as they stay within their parameters, they are compliant with the zoning,” he said.

Paper City’s proposal includes a conversion of the existing historical structure and grounds to a multi-use facility to include apartments, office space, event space, multiple food- and beverage-production facilities, a craft brewery and beer gardens.

Koney addressed the commission and said Paper City has worked hard to make the process transparent, informative, responsive and responsible. She said Paper City has opened an office in the village’s downtown and staff members have been available to answer questions and address questions in person or online.

“We have given television and print interviews, provided frequently-asked questions on our website, and shared information at local community group meetings such as the Lions and Rotary,” Koney said. “Through all these points of contact, we have heard overwhelming support from the people of this community. We want to be good citizens while retaining the rights and responsibilities to build and run our business.”

Moore will be responsible for at least a quarter of the redevelopment’s cost. A Vicksburg native who now calls Seattle his home, Moore stepped in after plans were presented to demolish the mill, which closed in 2001.

He told commission members he wanted to do something to honor the village by bringing back to life a community icon, albeit in a different capacity from its original purpose.

Still, Moore acknowledged the challenges involved with the planning and zoning for such a project.

The majority of the six people who spoke at the conclusion of the meeting indicated their support for the project. The opponents who spoke reiterated that noise generated as a result of the live music, potential parking issues and traffic volumes were their main concerns.

Former village manager Ken Schippers received a round of applause after concluding his brief statement. He said anyone willing to take on a task as mammoth as renovating the long-abandoned mill should have the community’s support.

Schippers acknowledged Moore, Koney and Mallery for their collective commitment to the process.

“I’d just like you to know that I do put my support behind (the proposal) 100 percent … I hope it all goes well for you,” he said.

Summer Camp Brings Inner City Kids to Schoolcraft

kindness kids 4
Shannon Myers’ family members helped with the Kindness Acts camp. They are from left to right: Linda Gless (mom), Julie Gless (sister-in-law), Brittney Moldovan (daughter), and Shannon Myers.

By John Fulton

Kindness Acts 20:35 is a Christian-based organization founded by Shannon Myers of Vicksburg and her friends and family. The vision for a Christian organization doing random acts of kindness began for Meyers in 2013 after being inspired by a friend who started the Pittsburgh kindness initiative.

Last year Kindness Acts received two generous donations that allowed it to offer a kids’ camp and a fall carnival for children who live or have resided at the Gospel Mission. The owners of the Dome in Schoolcraft, Josh and Amber Baird, are very generous and allowed them to use their facilities for the camp and carnival. Next Level Performance also provided elite sports training and leadership development for some of the campers. Myers said, “We could not have hosted the camp without the partnership of the Dome and Next Level Performance.” Local restaurants including Jaspare’s, Wendy’s and Little Caesar’s have donated meals for the camp. Big Air Bouncers have donated bounce houses several times.

Kids attended the camp Monday through Friday. Random Acts rented buses to pick up and return the them to the Mission at the end of each day. This year about 40 kids attended. They gather for worship, a message and of lots of games and fun, Shannon said, “The volunteers are exhausted at the end of the day but feeling very rewarded.” Another major focus is the fall carnival coming up in October. Last year 80 kids came to the carnival.

Before the camp could get off the ground, Myers needed to find people willing to invest time, energy and finances to support the fledging organization. Myers developed a PowerPoint presentation and invited family and friends to her home to share her vision. About 70 attended that first meeting.

The organization’s name is based on a scripture, Acts 20:35. The scripture in part reads, “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Some of its projects have included feeding people at the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, providing 2,500 survival packs, and donating large household items to help families needing to reestablish a home after being homeless with items such as fridges, stoves, beds, tables. They also host Bible studies for men and women at the KGM. “We aspire to connect families in need with mentors that pray, encourage, and support them with basic life skills, Myers said.

Myers has partnered with the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission in this endeavor for five years. Myers’ family and friends have been involved from the beginning. In 2015 she had a new, supportive and enthusiastic partner join in the efforts, Eric Meyers, her husband of nearly three years.

While talking about growing up, Shannon and Eric discussed how kid’s camp was so very important and fun for them. They wanted to offer that experience to other kids.

Myers said, “We could use 300 volunteers tomorrow. The need is that great.”

If this sounds like a project that you, your church or service club would like to help with there are many opportunities. Email her at kindnessacts2035@gmail.com. “We need delivery drivers, mentors, prayer warriors, volunteers for the camp and carnival, donations of household items, creatives, technology and financial support.

Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @KINDNESS ACTS 2035. Their website can be viewed at kindnessacts2035.com. There you can find out more about the organization and see photos of the projects they are involved in.

Four Candidates Running for Schoolcraft School Board

schoolcraft candidates
Schoolcraft School Board candidates from left to right: Darby Fetzer, Mike Rochholz, Rachel Phelps, and Wade Rutkoskie.

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft voters will face a choice with four people vying for just two open positions on the school board. They were featured in a question and answer public session sponsored by the Schoolcraft PTO in September.

Current board President Darby Fetzer and trustee Michael Rochholz are running for re-election. Challengers are Wade Rutkoskie and Rachel Phelps.

Rutkoskie is a Schoolcraft alum and parent of a seventh grader currently in the district. He has been heavily involved in the facilities study as a member of the committee. He said he chooses to live here despite having other options. “That desire to be a part of a community and to help make decisions to move our community forward is very important to me,” Rutkoskie said.

Phelps used to work in Schoolcraft schools and her husband’s family has lived in the community for over a century. “I have a different perspective as somebody that has been involved in what each day actually looks like in a school filled with children and the unpredictable things that go on,” Phelps said.

Rochholz brings 18 years of experience on the board and is also a director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, having served as its president in 2017. “It really is all about our students and what we do here is paramount to the success of the outcomes of our students,” Rochholz said.

Fetzer has served on the board for 14 years. The last three years she has been board president, saying she has overseen many of the big changes in the district recently. “I’m passionate about student education and having the structures in place to support learning,” Fetzer said.

All the candidates agreed one of the largest issues facing the district right now is the state of their current facilities. “In order to support the great work that our teachers and students are doing, I would change our facilities,” Rutkoskie said. He would like to see them aligned with the way education is delivered in a group or team problem-solving effort.

The candidates were also asked about increasing enrollment in the district. Phelps said it is important to keep the district’s high-quality staff members. “We don’t want to be a stepping stone, we want to be a solid place for people to land and they want to stay,” Phelps said. She also proposed investing in athletics and fixing up the stadium and track to make them more appealing.

The candidates were asked about their vision for the district 10 years down the line. Fetzer said she hopes to see more space for more active learning and an environment where students can feel safe. “I’d to see an even more inclusive environment where people can talk about ‘Gee, I’m dealing with anxiety or depression,’” Fetzer said. “I would like to see those conversations normalized.”

A member of the audience directly addressed the board about safety specifically pertaining to the problem of school shootings. The candidates all agreed the problem has much deeper psychological roots and the problems can probably be avoided ahead of time through conflict resolution and counseling.

Darby Fetzer

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I am community-oriented, bring experience and dedication and will help ensure continuity and continued success of Schoolcraft Schools.

I model excellence in education and am passionate about all of our children being well prepared for life. I understand the value of education and earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, a master’s degree in organizational management and obtained advanced certifications in emotional intelligence.

All three of my daughters excelled at Schoolcraft Community Schools. I engaged extensively in helping to provide an excellent learning environment in the district. I served as president of the Co-op Preschool, vice president and then president of the PTO, taught Project Charlie and Junior Achievement. For the last 14 years, I’ve served on the Schoolcraft Community School’s Board of Education. I have served as trustee, secretary and for the last three years as president. I’ve taken numerous board-related coursework in order to assure our staff and administration have the resources and support needed for on-going excellence.

SCS’s success is no accident but rather the result of long-range planning, diligence and accountability to goals.

I am pleased that in my tenure, SCS’s Points of Pride include: #1 Middle School and High School in Kalamazoo County (source: Department of Education Index), Destination District for Educator Talent in Kalamazoo County, and #1 in Kalamazoo County for fiscal responsibility.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

Regarding long-range facility planning, it’s important that Board members serve a community-based process instead of championing any one solution.

The Board will follow good governance practices by holding subsequent community meetings to provide information, answer questions and obtain input.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

Regarding Standards Based Grading (SBG), I completely support this practice. SBG provides a better picture of what a student knows and can do and aligns with best educational practices. Colleges are finding that students from SBG schools are better prepared and endure longer in post-secondary education.

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

Regarding declining enrollment, a recent survey of SCS School of Choice families indicates that families would move to Schoolcraft if there were available housing.
The district meets quarterly with local municipalities to address shared community concerns (e.g. available housing, village wellhead redundancy).

I bring wisdom, experience and dedication to the board table, helping ensure stability and continued excellence for Schoolcraft Schools.

Rachel Phelps

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I am running as a candidate for the school board because I care deeply for this community, the students and their families, and for the teachers and staff that make our school a great place to learn. I have invested time and energy in this district as a parent, a volunteer and an employee. All of those opportunities have given me the benefit of knowing what Schoolcraft is all about.

How would you recommend communicating the facility planning options to the public?
The Facility Committee has selected two options for the community to discuss and the postcards and website information have been helpful for keeping people up to date. I would like to see improvements to the stadium/track area be included in the upgrades, but ultimately the community needs to provide feedback to that committee on what is important to the voters.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

Standards Based Grading does not benefit the majority of our older students. First, colleges don’t grade this way and translating those 1-4 scaled grades into a GPA that colleges need to see on a transcript isn’t completely accurate. If we are continuing to encourage students to take KVCC/college courses, then we should be consistent in our grading to match up with the next level of education. Second, some students work really hard on assignments and understand the material, but struggle with testing and SBG doesn’t account for that. It will show the analysis and points for the lower testing scores, but not account for the study habits developed and progress that is made from daily assignments. Considering if this type of grading is a short term option in education or something that all schools will adapt to is important as we continue to spend time and money on this. It creates a lengthy report of data, but what does it really do to help students? Will students think high achievement or a perfect score is unattainable?

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

School of choice is a widely used option for families in our county and surrounding areas. Schoolcraft has been a popular choice because of the smaller class sizes, amazing teachers and programs that excel.

If we invest in our staff and in our programs/athletics, and remember the foundation of our school, families will continue to be drawn to our district. Schoolcraft is a community where family, longevity, and loyalty are all important and our school should be a reflection of those qualities.

Mike Rochholz

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I have been a leader with a proven track record of serving the school district, townships and village. The key to these successes is the ability to listen and bring individuals together to collaborate … establishing and seeing through a mission, vision and strategic plan. As a trustee of the school board, it is important to understand that our role is to set the vision and goals for the district, adopt policies that provide the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals, hire and evaluate our superintendent and adopt and oversee our annual budget.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

As for the long-term facilities plan, as a board member it would not be appropriate for me to offer an opinion. Until we have a meeting of the board and I hear what the feedback is from the community committee and the informational community sessions, I don’t have a particular option that I favor.

How would you recommend communicating these options to the public?

As for communicating the potential project options to the community, once decided, we will need to attempt to communicate this in a manner that will reach everyone, as individuals receive their information in so many ways today. We cannot rely on just one mode of communication.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

I do support the Standards Based Grading system that our instructional staff has been implementing. This is one area where we can once again recognize each individual student’s growth potential. If we truly believe that every child can learn, but learn at different rates … we must honor that! Understanding that mastery of subject is more important than the time in a seat is a significant change in education. But if we expect our student’s outcomes to be for career and college ready … this prepares our children for success at that next level.  It also empowers our students to take ownership of their learning and to set individual goals for improvement while having them celebrate their successes.

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

We began the formal process of addressing student enrollment about a year ago. We are actually looking for sustainability in enrollment more than uncontrolled growth. It is not our desire to become a large school district, but we do have to maintain a certain number of students to be able to offer the programming that we currently offer. It begins with academic successes. Many families have brought their children to our schools for the educational benefits that they have learned about. Additionally, we offer many successful extracurricular programs, and the “small school feel.”

Wade Rutkoskie

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

My name is Wade Rutkoskie, and I am 46 years old. I have lived in Schoolcraft since the age of 5, and I graduated from Schoolcraft High School in 1990. My wife of 20 years, Cari, works at Stryker, and my son, Thomas, is in 7th grade at Schoolcraft Middle School.

I received my bachelor’s degree in business administration from WMU in 1995 with a major in finance. I have worked in a variety of industries in the Kalamazoo area, including building management systems and medical technology. Currently I am the Senior Manager of Business Integration at Tekna, a product development company, where I manage client relationships, contract negotiations, financial agreements, regulatory affairs and other business development activities.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

I have served on multiple school facility planning committees to determine the best future for the kids in our community. I’ve also played an active role in the school’s long-term strategic planning committee. When I worked in the construction industry, I played an active role in the construction of our current high school and various district renovations. I have coached Schoolcraft Little League for eight years, and I also coached Schoolcraft Rocket Football for four years. I currently serve as the president of the Schoolcraft Athletic Boosters, a role I’ve held for the past four years. I also have been an advisor for Junior Achievement for several years at Schoolcraft High School.
What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

I would like to be a member of the School Board because I want to help influence the direction of our school district for the future. We have many complex issues to address, and I feel my education, experience and passion for our kids and community will be an asset to the board, as well as provide an opportunity to play a greater role beyond my past committee involvement. I believe that leaders serve others, and my service on the school board would be a way to give back to the community that has given me so much.

Mid-term Election Features Local Races

By Sue Moore

Candidates for the November mid-term election are being featured in this issue. This should help to inform voters early enough to be able to mark their absentee ballot which will be available by mid- October.

There are two local area non-partisan races especially important to our communities. The Vicksburg Village Council race features two incumbents and three challengers for three seats on the council. The Schoolcraft School Board race features two incumbents and two challengers for two available seats.

Voters will need to be sure to go to the very end of the ballot to exercise a vote in these elections, ones which often see a low turnout but are very important to the future of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft.

Each candidate has been given 400 words or less to answer questions the newspaper’s elections board has posed to them. The questions are listed in each candidate’s answer, whether for Congress, the state legislature, village council or school board, along with contact information for each candidate.

Three candidates did not respond to the offer to have a statement in the South County News; Matt Longjohn (Democrat) who is running for Congress against Fred Upton, Alberta Griffin (Democrat) running against Brandt Iden for 61st state representative, and Cody Dekker (Democrat) running for county commissioner against John Gisler. The newspaper did not reach out to two third party candidates, Lorence Wenke running in the 20th state senate district and John Anthony La Pietra in the 61st state representative district.

Fred Upton for Congress (Republican)

What is your position on gun laws at the Federal level?

I have a strong record on the Second Amendment and oppose taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. I also believe there are common-sense steps we can take to prevent dangerous individuals from using firearms to harm themselves or others. I have long supported more comprehensive background checks and banning dangerous modifications. I will continue to pursue solutions that protect our families and the constitutional rights of all gun owners.

What is your position on tax credits for Historic buildings?

I support historic tax credits to stimulate economic development while preserving our heritage. I fought to retain the federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC) in the 2017 tax bill, and support expanding and simplifying the credit. In Michigan, the HTC has helped leverage over $2 billion in investments in the last decade. The $50 million paper mill redevelopment in Vicksburg is one example of the HTC at work.

How can area farmers get workers through immigration reform?

Our farmers have struggled to access a legal workforce for years. The current H-2A visa program is burdensome and inefficient. I have supported overhauling the program as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Congress must reform our broken immigration system, and a functioning agricultural guest worker program should be part of the solution.

What would you recommend for veterans to get their full benefits through the VA?
We must take care of our veterans. Period. I’m pleased to report Congress just appropriated the highest funding level ever for veterans. Specifically, it includes $98.1 billion to provide care for our veterans. If you or a veteran you know ever has a problem getting their full benefits through the VA, please contact my office and we will help get what is deserved.

Rick Holmes for Vicksburg Village Council

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

These questions were not answered.

Rick Holmes, 53, married 20 years to Jennie Holmes. Children: Olivia and Josh, recent VHS graduates. VHS and Ferris State grad (bachelor’s in marketing and associate’s in biology). Lived in Vicksburg School District for over 30 years, 25 years business development experience in the medical device industry, current employer Hill-Rom.

Volunteerism is a core value for my family. I served on the Rocket football board and as a volunteer in Rocket football, Little League softball and elementary basketball coach. My children are now in college which gives me more time to serve our community.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

I support the Mill redevelopment with what I know today and look forward to the release of their proposal. An economic impact study being reviewed by the state of Michigan projects the mill development will result in 220 construction jobs over 3 years and 1,800 jobs in the initial five years of operation. The total impact on the Kalamazoo County economy during the three years of construction and first five years of operation will be $214 million in new wages, $399 million in new property value added, and $60 million in new state and local taxes. It’s not just about the money; it’s also about cleaning up the mill and turning the eyesore into something Vicksburg can be proud of. The Mill’s goals include global artist residencies, unique learning opportunities for VCS students, giving to local food banks, walking paths, becoming a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, developing a blue heron rookery, a bike trail and cleaning up the adjacent stream.

I understand reservations concerning noise and traffic for the large concerts that were included in the proposal. The Mill’s plan is to start with small concerts and in 8-10 years POSSIBLY build to a larger audience of up to 40,000, while using the lessons learned for a positive experience for attendees and the village. My understanding is these large concerts will be two weekends a year – 6 days out of 365. We live in a community where we accommodate one another and a neighbor is simply asking we work with them for 6 days in return for numerous benefits to the village and surrounding areas.

I have no financial gain if the Mill is redeveloped and if elected I am donating my Council salary to local charities. Request to join “Rick Holmes for Village Council” on Facebook to learn more about me and my platform.

Carl Keller for Vicksburg Village Council

Carl Keller qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in public Administration from CMU. Currently serving as Chairperson on Vicksburg’s Planning Commission, Career in Electrical Industry, Current Member and former President of Vicksburg Lions Club.
Community Involvement: Little League – former Board Member, Rocket Football – developed and former President on the Board, Rotary Showboat – participant, Lions Club – participant with Community Clean Up and Salvation Army.

I appreciate the opportunity respond to your questionnaire. However, since I don’t have any final documentation pertaining to the mill, I can’t offer an informed and thoughtful response at this time.

Regarding the downtown area versus online buying, I believe that our village has some great venues to show off the downtown proper. We still can do more via social media to make sure our downtown is highlighted to perspective customers.

Finally, regarding the increases in the water/sewer rates, it is unfortunately the nature of the beast. When you are relying on another entity to provide your service, you are beholden to whatever rates they wish to impose. I would want to make sure we are getting our best value based on the rates that are being charged. I would also like to explore the feasibility of a possible joint venture with Schoolcraft on a Water Treatment Facility, that would serve the needs of both entities.

My wife Kerissa and I have lived in Vicksburg for 28 years. We chose Vicksburg, as it reminded us both of our childhood communities. We proudly raised our two children (Bobby and Brooke) in Vicksburg and now they are out in the world writing their own stories.

I became a member of the Vicksburg Lions Club over 15 years ago, as I wanted to give back to the community. The club worked with me for the betterment of the Rocket and Little League programs. While serving as President of the Lions Club, I made Generous Hands one of the main local organizations we support.

Over 4 years ago, I was appointed to the Planning Commission and began working with other members on the Village’s Master Plan. We reviewed our Zoning and Ordinances to make them more simplified and workable. Since 2016, with the support of the other members, I have served as the Chairperson.

I am running for Village Trustee to bring my experiences and background as a resident of this Village to the council. If honored, with your support and vote, I will always keep the Village and residents my number one priority.

Julie Merrill for Vicksburg Village Council

I have considered it an honor to serve the people of Vicksburg on the village council. I support the planning commission, village council, village manager and all advisors by adding the checks and balances needed to revise and draft a working planned urban development (PUD) for our village and for Paper City. Major efforts are being made by all parties involved to move forward for the current and future residents of Vicksburg.

Please be informed, a revised plan will be forthcoming to the public for their consideration. Look for updates c/o the village office and local media. Respectfully submitted, Julie Merrill- Trustee, Vicksburg Village Council.

Denny Olson for Vicksburg Village Council

My name is Denny Olson. I am a 1972 Vicksburg graduate and I and my wife Karen moved back to Vicksburg 10 years ago. I am self-employed as a rare book and antique dealer.

Over four years ago I got involved in local affairs when some $50,000 in Vicksburg property tax money went missing from our Village coffers. Because of our involvement, WWMT TV3 investigated, the missing money was tracked down and two village employees were fired.

I ran for village council president two years ago by using our “Sell the Golf Course” campaign and I forced the Village to reveal that the Angel’s Crossing Golf Course is some $2 Million in debt.

The course is now self-sustaining.

In turn I unveiled misuse of public funds and out-and-out lying by people within the village and I held those people publicly accountable. Because of our actions, Fire Chief Tracy McMillan is still the chief and we averted a disaster that kept our firefighters from walking out.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

As for the Paper Mill… I have attended eight of the info meetings to get information and listen to our residents concerns. YES, I do support the Project… But I too feel it can be done without huge 40,000-people concerts. I feel what has been put forward is more of a “Wish List” instead of an actual plan and that too many questions have still gone unanswered and until those concerns are fully addressed I would have to vote NO!

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

In order to bring in new business we could see about subsidized rent programs and grants like those in Benton Harbor and Grand Rapids to help young businesses get going. A new bakery, a clothing store or a credit union have been talked about, but yet we see no recruiting to bring in those types of business.

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

As for the water bills, it is a necessary evil that we must all pay. Many of our systems have not been touched since the 1970’s and we are now paying for that neglect.
I have not missed a regular Village Council Meeting in over 4 years, so I knew the increases were coming months ago. I am prepared to represent and protect the residents of the Village of Vicksburg and I will not be a rubber stamp for any person or company that intends to force their will upon this village.

Ron Smith for Vicksburg Village Council

I’m a third generation Vicksburg resident running for a third term on the Village Council. I graduated from VHS in 1961 and retired from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

The Mill revitalization project is an ambitious undertaking unlike any previous venture in the Village of Vicksburg. Details of the project are the subject of intense negotiations between the Village and the developers. As a member of the Village Council it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

What other efforts would you put forth to improve the economic vitality of the village?

Vicksburg has much to offer its residents: K-12 schools, sports, eight public parks including a golf course, a lake, Library, Farmers’ Market, Rotary Showboat, Performing Arts Center, Lions Summerfest, Harvest Festival, Hearty Hustle, Old Car Festival, downtown events, and more.  These are all expressions of the dedication of our citizens, businesses and Village to promoting community spirit and economic vitality and should continue.

People recognize the advantages of small town living, and our population is growing. Consequently, there are very few residential vacancies in the Village. The housing market is brisk. In response to the demand for housing, both Allen Edwin and American Village Builders are actively engaged in new construction.

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

An obstacle to downtown development is the failure of owners to renovate vacant buildings and create viable business models. Vicksburg businesses can’t compete with Kalamazoo-area “box stores,” which in turn are having difficulty competing with online retailers. However, there is always a need for businesses that provide essential services to the community. Examples are the local restaurants and take-outs (at least 14 serving Vicksburg), bars, grocery stores, gas stations, hardware, consignment and general stores, health services, churches, library, barbers and hair salons, legal and accounting services, event center, electricians, plumbers, surveyors and more. We have all of these in Vicksburg, and you can’t get them online!

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

I’m in agreement with the recent letter sent to all residents from Village Manager Jim Mallery explaining the rationale behind the new water and sewer rates and need for infrastructure improvement.

Jen Aniano State Representative 63rd District (Democrat)

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

I am firmly in support of testing for PFAS statewide as a potential public health crisis and environmental catastrophe through legislation such as House Bills Nos. 6320 and 6321. These bills would require a public advisory to be issued when PFAS are discovered in a public water supply or in a well’s aquifer. Property owners would then be notified about the contamination and be provided with resources.

Do you support selling water to the Nestle company at such an inexpensive rate?

I will support all legislation meant to protect our health and safety. Similarly, I do not support selling water to Nestle for pennies so they can profit as a private corporation. This is especially egregious when we are struggling to consistently provide clean water to our own citizens across the state. This issue goes beyond partisanship – it is a matter of the wealthy working together to remain wealthy. Michigan’s natural resources should not be exploited for the interest of a corporation.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

I support our farmers and I believe that marijuana could be an excellent crop for our state so I do support legalizing marijuana. This topic can be controversial, so I am excited to see the decision be brought to voters directly on the November ballot. I will look forward to casting my vote along with everyone else who is passionate about the subject.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

I am a teacher, a mixed martial arts fighter, and I occasionally go shooting. I do not support arming teachers with guns. As someone who is experienced in these areas I feel very strongly that placing guns in the hands of teachers as a response to school shootings is irresponsible and dangerous. I support the Second Amendment but there is a strong line between responsible gun ownership and reckless fanaticism. We owe it to our youth to not politicize their safety and to focus on safe and effective measures to ensure their access to a safe learning environment.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

When I am elected it will be my first time as a publicly elected official. I have held numerous union positions throughout my career and am currently the vice president of my union. During my first term as a representative I would like to decrease classroom sizes, limit the amount of standardized testing in our schools, strengthen our laws protecting workers and unions, and focus on fair and sustainable agricultural practices.

Matt Hall State Representative 63rd District (Republican)

The candidate chose not to answer any of the set questions.

I am running for State Representative to be a strong, principled, common-sense voice for the citizens of southwest Michigan. From knocking on thousands of doors, I know that citizens’ top priorities include continuing to strengthen our economy, lowering auto insurance rates and defending our values.

Let me introduce myself. I graduated from Western Michigan University and WMU Cooley Law School, and am currently a constitutional law attorney. I was the West Michigan liaison for the Michigan Attorney General’s office and worked in the private sector for a combat propulsion systems manufacturer. I am honored to be endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau AgriPac, Police Officers Association of Michigan, Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Small Business Association of Michigan. My experience and support prepare me to represent you well starting on day one.

My priorities as your State Representative will be:

1) Michigan has the highest auto insurance rates in the nation, which harms working families and seniors on a fixed income. I will work to lower auto insurance rates by cracking down on fraud, repealing costly government mandates and giving consumers more choices.

2) Supporting our priorities, including our schools, public safety and roads. I will work to direct more resources to fix our roads by requiring all gas tax money to go toward infrastructure improvements, along with fighting for strong warranties.

3) Strengthening our economy by promoting skilled trades training, lowering taxes, and eliminating overburdensome regulations.

4) Preserving our Great Lakes and improving our water infrastructure to ensure clean drinking water for our families.

5) Protecting seniors from financial abuse, neglect in care facilities and scams, and repealing the pension tax. While working in the Attorney General’s Office, I supported the Senior Brigades, which helped empower seniors and their families to protect themselves and their loved ones from criminals and scams.

With your support, we will work together to take our Southwest Michigan values to Lansing and make our community and state an even better place to raise a family, work and live fulfilling lives. Thank you for your involvement in our community and for your families. I look forward to working hard on your behalf to listen to you, represent you, and represent our principles and values in Lansing.

Brandt Iden State Representative 61st District (Republican)

I am your State Representative Brandt Iden and I have served you for the past four years. I have remained accessible, continue to listen, and work hard to ensure your voice is heard in Lansing. I have continuously voted to enhance community safety, to grow jobs and the economy and to ensure government responsibility.

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

I helped secure $8 million in PFAS testing and cleanup and will continue to advocate for state funding to ensure safe water for all Michigan residents.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

If a majority of citizens want to legalize marihuana, then I believe it is incumbent upon the Legislature to safely regulate both medical and recreational marihuana.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

In today’s environment, school safety is of utmost concern. The parents of our local school boards know what is best for the safety of our children. At the State level, I recently obtained $60 million for school safety infrastructure upgrades and have permanently established the program OK2SAY to help keep our students safe.

Do you support selling water to the Nestle company at such an inexpensive rate?

Widely impactful decisions such as the Nestle contract, should be subject to legislative oversight. Your state legislature should be able to take a proactive role in contractual issues such as this to ensure that your voice is heard.

For my district, I obtained $13 million for our local public schools and $4.6 million towards road projects here in Kalamazoo County. One item I am especially proud to support is the historic preservation tax credit, which supports projects such as our very own Vicksburg Mill. The Vicksburg Mill project will be an incredible contribution to our local economy and will grow jobs right here in our neighborhoods. I am thankful to help this project at the state level and am committed to ensuring that all resources are available to support this endeavor. Moreover, I’ve specifically expanded the urban development credit to include rural and small community real estate development projects. Our small communities are the backbone of our region and we need to ensure they have equal access to economic opportunities in our state.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

I have a proven track record of remaining accessible, listening to you, hosting bi-monthly coffee hours throughout the district, and taking the votes that reflect your voice. Thank you for the honor to serve and I hope to earn your continued support.

Sean McCann State Senate 20th District (Democrat)

I am a lifelong Michigan resident and graduate of Western Michigan University. I’ve devoted my life to serving and improving Kalamazoo County and all of Michigan. I believe that we have an opportunity to change the future of Michigan and move it in a new direction – a better direction – and that’s exactly what I will do in the Senate.

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

The PFAS crisis our state is facing – particularly in southwest Michigan – must be addressed with the utmost urgency because the health of entire communities is at risk. I support legislation to require immediate advisories to communities that have tested positive for PFAS as well as measures to hold corporate polluters accountable for what they dump in our water.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

I support the ballot proposal to decriminalize cannabis. As a senator, I will work with police, fire and health departments to ensure any changes to the law are made with public health and safety as a priority.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

I have talked with teachers in our community about this issue, and the bottom line is that they are already tasked with the important work of educating our children and managing a classroom; the last thing they need is for Lansing to add a gun to the equation. We need to let teachers teach. The best thing we can do to keep our schools safe is to provide police and school officers every available resource to protect students and staff.

Do you support selling water to Nestle at such an inexpensive rate?

No. It’s appalling that the current administration is letting Nestle drain Michigan’s fresh water for their own profit while many communities in our state don’t have safe water to drink. Over 99% of those who submitted public comment on the Nestle permit – 80,945 people – opposed the move. This is clearly the wrong decision for Michigan.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

As a city commissioner for 10 years, I worked to build a sustainable downtown Kalamazoo, strengthen public safety, improve neighborhoods and clean up the Kalamazoo River. I also served as a state representative for four years, where I fought to improve public schools and higher education, reform partisan gerrymandering, protect the environment and improve public transportation. My office operated a district service office to give constituents a local office to contact their representative. I’ll bring my record of small town values, common sense solutions and big city results to the Michigan Senate this November.

Margaret O’Brien State Senate 20th District (Republican)

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

Having been on the ground in Parchment nearly every day since the PFAS news came to light, I know how important it is to establish a long-term plan to protect our drinking water. I’ve recently introduced legislation to create a $2 billion fund for water infrastructure and contamination cleanup throughout the state. Rather than a quick fix, we need real solutions to real problems that focus on protecting our freshwater supply.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

At the end of the day, I will support the will of the people. I do have some regulatory concerns with the proposal as written.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

Earlier this year, I voted to remove the open-carry in schools loophole by voting to allow properly-trained and certified school officials to carry concealed. At the same time I voted to give local school districts the authority to decide gun policy for their own districts. I believe in local control, and I believe that when we empower our local teachers and administrators to determine their own policies, our entire community benefits.

Do you support selling water to Nestle at such an inexpensive rate?

It is important that Michigan properly regulates its environmental resources. Decisions made over the past eight years have helped created 555,000 private sector jobs, and Michigan is back to work again. Michigan has an abundance of natural resources, and we must strike the proper balance between creating jobs and protecting our environment. While I do not know the specifics of the Nestle permit, it’s concerning to sell so much of our water especially given the various water issues across the state. I look forward to continuing our work on these issues with my colleagues.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected?

The constituents of Kalamazoo County are my priority. Each week, I meet with people on issues important to them. Sometimes they need an advocate with a department while others need legislative changes. My legislative accomplishments have come from the district. My work on sexual assault legislation was driven by people from our community. This important work will have a positive impact on many young lives. Additionally, I have worked to lower auto insurance costs, increase investment in skilled trades, protect our schools. It is my mission to serve the people of Kalamazoo. My record is one of working with both Democrats and Republicans. You can always count on me to be your voice. I will be your voice in Lansing, and I will continue to be accessible and responsible to you as your State Senator.

John Gisler Kalamazoo County Commission (Republican)

What would you recommend the county do to solve the homeless situation?

We should engage the numerous private organizations committed to alleviating homelessness. A first step should be to inventory these private resources and NOT another millage! Government is generally a less efficient and less effective problem-solver.

PFAS – what is the Health Department’s responsibility?

The recent PFAS situation is an excellent example of solid intergovernmental cooperation. The EPA, DEQ, county, cities and townships all put forth a coordinated, collaborative effort.

Jim Rutherford, the county’s Health Director, will continue to monitor and test impacted water supplies. He’ll also lead the effort to determine the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure.

Is the Hazardous Waste program effective?

The current program is definitely effective. The Household Hazardous Waste facility on Lamont Street annually collects more than 750,000 pounds of chemicals, lead-based paint and electronics. It helps protect our environment.

What would you do to support an increased recycling effort in the county?

Recycling is a good idea, but decisions should be made by individuals and not imposed by government.

Do you support the resurrection of the Arena project for downtown Kalamazoo?

Absolutely no! Bill Kern, an economics professor at WMU, has studied sports arenas and events centers extensively. He believes a downtown arena will pull food and beverage business from outlying parts of the county. Bill estimates the net economic effect of an arena would be comparable to a new pet store coming to town.

I strongly object to building the arena on the taxpayers’ dime. If it’s viable economically, fund it privately and pay taxes like other businesses.

Event Calendar

Vicksburg

10/5 – Vicksburg High School Homecoming football game, 7 p.m.

10/5 & 6 – Wedel’s Pumpkin Party, Texas Corners.

10/6 – Test drive a Ford at DeNooyer’s Ford on Portage Road, donations to Vicksburg Community Schools, 9 – noon.

10/6 – Vicksburg Big Red Machine Band Invitational starts at 3:30 p.m. at the stadium.

10/10 – Michigan High School Band Association District performance.

10/12 – Vicksburg Ladies’ Library Auxiliary, The Printed Square – Stories about Hankies!, 1 p.m. Vicksburg District Library, the public is invited to attend.

10/13 – Home Again Consignment Store Open House, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

10/17 – Vicksburg United Way Fabulous Flapjack breakfast, 7-10 a.m. Vicksburg United Methodist Church on S. Main Street.

10/18 – Indian Run Golf Course Arcadia Ales Beer Dinner

10/19 – Chap Naz Fall Festival, Indian Lake Nazarene Camp, 5:30 – 7:30

10/26 – Lakeland Reformed Church Trunk or Treat party on Sprinkle Road, 6 – 7 p.m.

10/27 – Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, Art Spectacular, 6 p.m. Vicksburg Community Center

10/31 – Village of Vicksburg Trick or Treat throughout the village 5 – 7 p.m.

11/2 – Prudential Nursery Annual Art Sale, Sprinkle Road, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

11/6 – National Election day 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at local polling places

11/17 – Vicksburg High School Project Graduation Craft Show 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunset Lake Elementary

Climax

11/10 – Climax United Methodist Church Fall Bazaar at the fellowship building next to the church.

Schoolcraft

10/4 – Donut Dolly speaker at the Schoolcraft Library, 2 p.m.

10/28 – Schoolcraft PTO is hosting its 3rd annual Fall Fest, 1-3 p.m. at the High School.

10/31 – Wednesday Trick or Treat in Schoolcraft from 5:30- 8:30 p.m., downtown.

11/5 – Monthly PTO meeting, 5 p.m. at the Elementary school.

11/6 – National Election day, 7 a.m-8 p.m. at local polling places.

Vicksburg Tailgate Celebrates Back to School

By Sue Moore

This year’s seniors at Vicksburg High School were starting third grade when the annual Community Tailgate was first organized. The administration wanted to get athletes, parents and students in the mood to come back to school in the fall. The Community Education department had received so many requests from local businesses to show their wares to this same group that they decided it could best be accomplished by bringing all of these groups together for one rousing start to the year.

From that 2008 start, the event has grown to include over 30 booths and 1,200 attendees in 2017 and major sponsorships by Frederick Construction, the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, Denney Veterinary and this year, DeNooyer Ford and Paper City Development LLC/The Mill.

The Tailgate runs from 4:30-6:30 on Thursday, Aug. 30 between the Middle School and the High School walkway, preceding the football game between Vicksburg and Allegan at 7 p.m. with the Big Red Machine band kicking off the on-field excitement at 6:45. At the Tailgate, there will be free hot dogs, chips and water for all attendees along with trinkets and ice cream passed out by vendors in attendance.

The tradition has taken hold with parents, grandparents, teachers and students taking an opportunity to reacquaint, while learning what organizations and businesses in the community have to offer. It will also be a good chance to view the courtyard and high school parking lot improvements connecting the stadium and the school building. “It’s truly a community celebration,” said Alyssa Thompson, head of the district’s community education department.

Back to School Night in Schoolcraft

By Sue Moore

Schoolcraft has celebrated its Back to School night in August each year with food, a dunk tank, information about school activities and a lot of school cheer.

This year brought a new twist with the special “walk-ride-bike” challenge by Superintendent Rusty Stitt in an effort to raise scholarship money for the Community School Foundation. Stitt wanted to put an emphasis on scholarships as he himself benefitted greatly from those he received as a college student. This was his effort to “pass it on,” he said.

He spent the day walking and riding his bike while broadcasting his progress via Facebook, hoping to receive pledges as he gained momentum. He walked the victorious final lap into the Eagles Stadium.

He was excited to announce that the effort was within $1,000 dollars of reaching the goal of $10,000 at press time. for the $50 for 50-mile scholarship fundraiser. The donations will go to honor Schoolcraft students as they pursue post-secondary opportunities.

The new school year is emphasizing a program led by Matt McCullough, director of innovation, to involve students with the community. Students have worked successfully with Walther Farms, the Schoolcraft Historical Society and local businesses and will begin a seven-month stint with the South County News in October. The English Language Arts (ELA) classes in the high school and middle school will each take a month to prepare a news article to appear in the newspaper. It will be written by the students and submitted to the editor of the South County News along with a by line for the class and the student who ends up with the best story along with pictures they take.

The story assignments will come from ideas created by each class, researched and written by the students themselves. It may involve a survey of the community, school topics or even a subject appearing in the national news, McCullough said. Teachers helping with this effort include Kim Klocke, freshman English and life sciences; Mary Visser, 8th grad English language arts (ELA) and leadership; Kathy Taylor, 6th grade ELA; Doug Martin, 11th and 12th grade English; Tracey Branch, 10th grade and 12th grade English, Karin Lynch, 7th grade ELA.