Category Archives: Government

Village Council Moves Forward on Construction Projects

vix village council
Members of the Vicksburg Village Council held their March meeting at the Centennial community room in the Allen Edwin development on 22nd Street. They are from left to right: Julie Merrill, Rick Holmes, Carl Keller, Bill Adams, Gail Reisterer and Tim Frisbie. Colin Bailey was absent when the picture was taken.

By Sue Moore

The first official steps were taken by the Vicksburg Village Council toward a $13.6-million bond issue to replace aging sanitary sewers, storm sewers and water lines. The money is being requested as a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program.

The bonds would be repaid from sewer and water bills in the village over a 40-year period. Major construction is expected to take place from July through September, 2020.

The council also voted to apply for a $250,000 grant funded through a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Economic Development Category B Program. Mike Swartz of Prein & Newhof, the village’s engineering firm, explained that this was a new program to help with resurfacing local roads. The money is being asked for reconstruction of Mill, Washington, Pearl and Spruce streets in conjunction with the proposed sewer and water line projects.

Many meetings have taken place with utility companies who might have an interest in the project to determine if they might want to coordinate with the big dig in the village. Merchants in downtown stores also have been consulted since Main and Prairie streets will be impassable during these three critical months.

In addition to this major construction project, the village is also accepting $250,000 from the Kalamazoo Area Transportation System (KATS) to begin construction on an extension of the village trail. The village would be required to match the amount with about $50,000 . The extension would go from TU Avenue north to the Schoolcraft township line. Eventually the trail would connect with Portage and Kalamazoo County trails that stretch from South Haven to Galesburg and Battle Creek. The 1.3-mile village trail extends from North Street in the village to TU Avenue.

Matching funds for the trail will come from the Downtown Development (DDA) Vision Campaign conducted in 2015-2016.

Village Manager Jim Mallery explained to the council members that sewer and water rates had not been raised since 2003-04, and thus haven’t kept up with the costs of maintaining the system. The council also approved $19,000 for an alarm system for the lift station pumps that would help sound alerts if there is a critical failure in one of the seven locations.

A contract from ITRight for an information technology upgrade was also approved at $5,500. Last year the village spent $14,800 for IT services, Mallery told the council. The three-year contract represents a nice savings, he said. One goal of these improvements is to provide on-line live streaming of village council meetings.

With all of these decisions that directly affect the work of the Department of Public Works employees, Mallery took time to praise the four members of the staff who attended the meeting. “The way they keep the streets and sidewalks up is really special. They made critical repairs to the village plow trucks when the big winter storms blew in last January. Their teamwork and willingness to get the job done is exemplary,” Mallery said.

Dirk VanKrimpen, a resident on the east side of Sunset Lake, voiced concern about the high lake level. He believes the lake is being contaminated by the homes on the west side of the channel going upstream to Gourdneck Lake that do not have village sewers. He believes boards controlling the lake level need to be lowered so more water will flow through Portage Creek.

Village Council Receives Angels Crossing Report

tom ham 2
Tom Ham, owner of the management company running Angels Crossing Golf Course awaits his turn to speak at the Vicksburg Village Council meeting. In back of him are Jim Mallery and Tracy Locey, village officials.

By Sue Moore

A thorough review of operations at Angels Crossing Golf Course was presented to the Vicksburg Village Council by Tom Ham, owner of the management company that now runs the day-to-day functions of the golf course.

He listed the challenges he has experienced during the year he has been in charge: Accounting practices were not detailed enough to gain specific information from past years. His projections are based on his one year of experience. Budgeting for 2019 revenue forecast for golf is dependent upon weather and other factors beyond his control, he said. He explained the restaurant costs and the pro shop potential revenue and the costs of maintaining the course and making structural improvements.

Some early complaints were real and largely based on conditioning of the course. They died down after changes were made, he said. Ability to take credit card payments for the beverage cart out on the course was helpful. The clubhouse has a power issue for the golf carts that has only been partially solved. A new phone system has lowered costs and made for better efficiency, he said.

The restaurant ran out of ice every day because the small refrigerator kept breaking down. “We brought in another one that was twice the size and so it’s a non-issue now. The buffet didn’t have chafing dishes so we bought some new ones because when the food looks nice it even tastes better too. Lighting in the dining room was harsh. We’ve installed decorative lights to soften the whole atmosphere.”

Capital improvements are needed, Ham said. The maintenance people have a small sprayer adequate for the greens but is used for the entire course, costing a lot more in labor to apply fertilizer. The bunkers need repair and the quality of the turf needs to be consistent, he explained.

He shared his vision for the future. “The view from the practice green is breathtaking but we are not taking advantage of it. I see having that space used for weddings on the green. Remove some of the trees and brush to achieve a view of the clubhouse from the road (W Avenue) so people know we are here. Utilize the assets we have. The nine-hole area that was never fully developed could be turned into a nice short-hole game area for practice or for golfers who don’t have time to play a full 18 holes.”

“We want to position Angels Crossing as a premier destination facility,” Village Manager Jim Mallery said. “It’s the primary asset the village has. We have the structural part in place now with employee policies defined. My pride is in making the golf course fiscally positive. The course is now profitable.

“We’ve paid the bills and can now look at options under our ownership,” Mallery added. “Our focus as a staff is 95 percent on the governmental activities of the village. We are going to rely upon Tom to make the golf course work over the next few years. It can’t be sold until 2023-24 due to the bond issue that can’t be paid off early. I’m excited about the course and cautiously optimistic about the golf business to let the numbers shake out. We do not use any tax money for operation of the golf course.”

In Other Business

Appointments were announced to seats on the Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Historic Village Committee by President Bill Adams.

Kyle Mucha was named to replace Carl Keller on the Planning Commission in a key appointment: The next round of review for the Mill development is expected to take place in 2019. Jennie Holmes and Veronica Levin will round out the parks board. Julie Merrill accepted a seat on the Historic Village Committee.

Mucha, a Western Michigan University graduate, works for the City of Portage in Community Development. In his interview he hoped the village leadership had a plan to give as time and attention to smaller development projects. Other projects that might come before the Planning Commission while working on the bigger Mill project also need careful consideration.

Council members were also going to be busy serving on sub-committees for the 2019-2020 fiscal year with assignments to the Fire Authority, the Downtown Development Authority, the Library board, Sewer and Water Authority and the Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study board.

Discussion centered around the new interview process that has been set in place for these appointments. Trustee Tim Frisbie asked staff to put together a chart with all the appointments and determine if the committee members were required to live in the village or could they be drawn from outside the boundaries.

The Brownfield committee which consists of the entire village council met and approved modifications to the brownfield plan to cover work at the former Bronson/Vicksburg Hospital on N. Boulevard for asbestos removal costing up to $174,875.

Budget amendments were offered as part of mid-year corrections by Mallery. This included an increase in estimated participation costs with the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority amounting to $122,000 out of a total budget of $682,000 for all participating entities.

Local Businesses Ask for Schoolcraft Sewer Updates

By Travis Smola

Representatives from Clark Logic and the Wind + James event center were on hand at the Schoolcraft village council meeting to ask for an update on the proposed sewer project.

Greg Dilone Jr and Windy Clark said they wanted to get an idea of where things stand on the village’s economic development plan and proposed village sewer projects as they try to figure out how they will re-purpose the former elementary school building that Clark Logic purchased. Whatever the project, they would like to take advantage of the sewer if it is going to be built.

“I have ideas just rolling through my head, but we had to kind of take a step back,” Clark said. “We would probably not do much until we had some sort of idea there was going to be a city sewer.”

“To be quite honest, we still don’t know at this point,” Village President Keith Gunnett said. “I think the council and most of the people in the village feel we need sanitary sewers, at least in part if not for the whole village.”

Gunnett said he expects a new petition to go around in the next three to four months asking to build the sewer. Dilone asked how many signatures they’d need on such a petition to get the ball rolling. Gunnett said the village would need would need signatures from 50 percent plus one of the village’s property owners. Trustee Michael Rochholz said many people want sewers, but the costs are a big part of what scares people. Education is a key to getting people on board.

The council believes it will look at two alternatives if a project goes forward: outfitting the entire village with sewers or concentrating on the U.S. 131 corridor and other select areas. In any case, Gunnett told Dilone and Clark, they were probably looking at a timeline of two to three years.

Trustee John Stodola also recommended they keep an eye on chances to work together with other issues such as a school facilities project currently being discussed. “There are a couple of really big projects going on parallel [to this one],” Stodola said. “As we go through this we should really pay close attention to each other.”

The council also recommended Clark Logic make its wishes known to the South County Sewer and Water Authority.

Village council members also briefly discussed a letter they sent to the South County Fire Authority board asking for more clarity from the Fire Authority on their operations due to concerns on a late payment that was due to the village in August but didn’t arrive until January.

Village Manager Cheri Lutz said there was a chance they simply forgot to send a statement, but the payment has since been resolved. The council members were careful to credit the emergency responders for the work they do, but felt they needed to send the letter just as a part of doing due diligence on making sure things run smoothly.

“We need to have a good relationship working back and forth,” Rochholz said. “We have to pay attention to what’s happening and they have to be responsible for it.”

Rochholz further encouraged the other council members to attend the fire authority’s board meeting where a discussion of its budget is planned to get a better picture of things. He also felt they need to request the fire authority board to present its budget to the council in the near future.

At a later meeting with the village and Fire Authority board members, the differences were discussed and resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, according to Tracy Locey, a member of the authority board and supervisor of Brady Township. “It was a misunderstanding. We are comfortable with their concerns. Hearing their perspective will help us move forward together now,” she said.

Vicksburg Village Council Discusses Water Bills

tower 3By Sue Moore

Over 1,500 business and residential water bills have been reviewed by staff at the village hall with 15 percent identified as needing further review. “We have a two-decade old problem that the village has put off fixing,” Jim Mallery told the village council.

A full report for billings that need correcting will be provided to the council in April, Mallery promised. “In the past if someone objected to their charges, the staff would change the bill to appease the people with the issue but never attempted to correct the problem. It was the big elephant in the room that they didn’t want to take on. There was a problem with some of the meters too. If a resident had a pool, there were two meters and the amount simply inputted wrong each quarter, so the problems kept going on. There was also the size of the flow that wasn’t recorded. Some families had one-inch flow listed when it was really only a three-quarter inch pipe.”

Valves would break and need replacing. Each one costs about $4,000. Randy Schippers, head of the Department of Public Works (DPW), is identifying the entire system’s layout and preparing a 10-year plan to replace the valves and put in a proper maintenance program. It will cost about a quarter of a million dollars over the next 10 years.

There is a great need for a third water well in the village, Mallery told the council. “We are at 77 percent capacity. When we get to 80 percent the state will require us to build a new well, so we need to get ahead of the game.” The village has a proposal by the engineering firm of Prin & Nuehof to explore a site at the cost of $8,000, Mallery said. “We can apply for a grant in the future but will use water funds for now. With 107 new homes coming on line in Centennial development in the next few years, we will be over the 80 percent threshold.”

Village Council Takes Steps to Approve Brownfield Plan

vix brownfield 1
Presenters for the Brownfield Plan associated with the Mill project are from left: Rachael Grover, Lisa Phillips and Ken Peregon the chairperson of the Kalamazoo County Redevelopment Brownfield Authority.

By Sue Moore

The Transformational Brownfield Plan associated with the proposed Paper City development at 300 W. Highway Street at The Mill was approved by the Vicksburg Village Council at its first meeting in January. Representatives of the Kalamazoo County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority outlined the steps needed for the Plan to receive final approval. Following local government approval, the Plan will be submitted to Kalamazoo County for its approval, and then on to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Strategic Fund for final approvals.

The brownfield is half in the village, half in Schoolcraft Township, so the township’s board also needed to vote approval at its January board meeting, said village President Bill Adams. He told the Vicksburg Brownfield committee members that they were the first step in the request for the approval process. The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners will have the request on its agenda in March.

Rachael Grover, administrator of the county Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, explained that upon approval of the plan state and local taxes can be used to reimburse eligible brownfield activities to remediate the site. The transformational aspect of the Plan would bring an additional $10 million in state taxes to reimburse these eligible costs after completed.

This Transformational Brownfield Plan is Kalamazoo County’s first submittal and may be the second approved in the state. Tax capture begins five years after the plan is approved. After 31 years of tax capture to reimburse eligible expenses, it is estimated that local tax jurisdictions would see more than $500,000 per year in additional tax revenue. “If nothing is done to the site, there would never be any revenue and only a dilapidated building to deal with,” Village Manager Jim Mallery pointed out. “The property owner is paying the increase in taxes each year as The Mill increases in value,” Grover said.

Village Council Expects to Reduce Millage in June

village hall 2By Sue Moore

“We want to take a deep dive into reducing the millage at .5 of a mill in our next fiscal year and again in 24 months,” Village Manager Jim Mallery told the Council. “Village President Bill Adams tells me every week to figure out how to lower the millage rate.”

If approved by the council in June, it would be the first time in Vicksburg’s history that the millage rate has been reduced without being required to do so by state statute, Mallery said in written comments.

The tax rate levied by the village on 2018 summer tax bills was $15.63 per $1,000 taxable valuation. The total taxable valuation was about $83 million. The village has budgeted $1.17 million from property taxes for the current fiscal year.

“As a municipal manager, I understand it is not my job, nor your expectation, that I am liked by everyone. Instead, I am charged with the expectation that I will make decisions that put our village first and that I will provide this council with information and data so that the majority can set the policy that we, as staff, are charged with executing. I am overjoyed that the audit for the first time was clean for fiscal year 2017-18 as presented by our auditors, SK&T, tonight.

“The capital improvement plan for the village has been sub-standard at best and non-existent at worst. That change begins starting tonight. Staff is recommending the establishment of a tax stabilization fund of $150,000 that will enable us to lower the millage rate [along with planning] for future capital asset needs. Our goal is to develop strategies that will avoid debt.

“I am proud that we will not be presenting any additional general fund debt obligation to this council. It is vital that we continue to invest the village’s revenue wisely, to ensure that each dollar that is entrusted to us withstands scrutiny, is ultra-transparent and has been provided an opportunity to reflect the wishes and desires of the majority,” he said in his statement.

The previous council assigned $125,000 to a municipal building in January 2018. “I am recommending that $425,000 of the unrestricted general fund balance be committed to a municipal building. This would bring the committed total to $550,000 to build a municipal building with a total estimated need of $1.4 million.

Capital improvement spending includes a proposal to allocate $85,000 for a dump/plow truck in the 2019-2020 budget. Nine other capital expenditure items totalling approximately $228,000 were projected over the next 10 years.

“In the past, the general fund has been used much like a checking account in our own personal finances,” Mallery said. “They were spending what was available. Past leaders were operating without any plans, contingencies or proper emergency funds in place. Now if we do not properly plan financially for basic needs – police and DPW vehicles, equipment and technology to name a few – the fiscal years in which the need becomes an emergency will have a dramatic negative impact on that fiscal year’s budget.”

“We are looking at how we spend money that’s transparent and organized,” said Trustee Rick Holmes. “What challenges me in talking about millage relief as our number one priority, I ask is having a new village hall the greatest priority? The previous council has voted to set aside money and I understand that, but when I talk to my constituency about tax relief, they say it’s too expensive to live in Vicksburg. Parchment City is the only municipality with a higher tax rate than Vicksburg’s. It’s priorities that are my challenge, so in this case I owe the people who voted for me to keep my word and vote no.”

“Millage rates are tricky if you are looking them up on the county’s web site,” Mallery shot back. “Look at the special assessments others have that are not included in the millage rate. We offer many services that don’t require extra assessments, like plowing sidewalks in the neighborhoods.”

Adams answered, “I respect Rick’s thinking, but we are on the right path now. This may not be enough of a millage reduction, but our capital plan is a statement of where we want to go in the future.”

“Others in municipal work must be jealous of the opportunities that are on the horizon of our journey in the village,” Mallery said.

Village Council Delays Authorizing Retail Marijuana Sales

oath vix vc
Carl Keller, Julie Merrill and Rick Holmes are sworn in at the December Vicksburg Village Council meeting.

By Sue Moore

Marijuana Resolution Decision

The Vicksburg Village Council voted what amounts to a wait-and-see approach on whether it should license companies to grow and sell marijuana. Retail sales of pot were approved by the voters in November in the state of Michigan.

The ordinance the council passed lets the village government make a more informed decision. It would do this by listening and surveying residents, conducting public meetings and keeping people informed via their website. A decision could be made in January 2020 on an ordinance, Village Manager Jim Mallery told the trustees.

“There are too many unknowns right now,” Mallery said. “The safest way right now is to opt out. We can always come back in. The state doesn’t have its guardrails – rules and regulations – out yet.”

Air Scrubber to Reduce Odor

Complaints have been received about the odor emanating from the Van Elderen manufacturing plant in the Leja Industrial Park. Mallery said he had met with the owners who have committed to implementing an air scrubber that they purchased from a plant in South Carolina. It arrived in Vicksburg with some parts damage which has slowed the installation. A crane will be brought on site to install the scrubber in the facility. It promises to reduce the odor. The owners from Martin, Mich. want to be good citizens, Mallery said. Trustee Reisterer said the odor was so strong near her property on Michigan Avenue that it sometimes makes her sick.

Hears Brownfield Information

Three presenters laid out plans for a Transformational Brownfield plan for the Mill property on W Avenue. Rachel Grover, resource coordinator for Kalamazoo County’s planning and development department, explained the next steps necessary for the village to take with the brownfield application.

She walked the council through the need for approval as part of the local units of government involvement in accepting and submitting the plan to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Lisa Philips, the environmental consultant who has worked on the project since its inception, described the amount of pollution on the site.

Significant amounts of fly ash have been found as the residue from burning coal to generate electricity. There are heavy metals in the components and volatile compounds in the soil, she said. There are vapor intrusion concerns along with a caustic pit that includes dioxins. Some of this was discharged into the creek on the east side of the building. Tax increment financing (TIF) money can be used to help clean this up. The soil can be taken off the site and moved to an all-care location.

“If nothing is done to the property than there will never be any taxes from the property,” Mallery said as he explained to the council what the money in the Transformational Brownfield plan would pay for.

Water Tower Fixes

It will cost $148,000 to do interior coating treatment to the village’s water tower in 2019, Malley told the Council. It has been six years since the interior has been worked on. There is a plan in place to serve the public so there will be no disruption of water service during the work, he said.

Redevelopment Ready Community

By authorizing a village application to become a Redevelopment Ready Community, the council set in motion a process that will take up to three years to complete. The cost connected to applying is negligible, said Village Manager Jim Mallery. He did cite some expenses that would need to be made such as an upgrade to the village’s web site, while noting his promise that the village would operate with complete transparency. It is designed to promote effective redevelopment strategies through a set of best practices. Other participating communities include Boyne City, Grayling, Grand Haven and Ferndale. These are examples of communities with a clear vision for their future and the fundamental practices in place to get there, according to the Pure Michigan website.

There are six main best practices set out by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation which oversees the application process. They include community planning, public outreach, zoning regulations, a review process, recruitment and education. Some of the village’s sub-governmental boards will be included in this best practice model; the members will need to make an application to serve on the DDA, Historic Village Committee, Parks and Recreation and the Municipal Building Authority.

There are many benefits to the community as the village goes through the process, said Trustee Tim Frisbie. “I hope we can even have the meetings live on Facebook, so the public can see that their money is being used in the best way possible.”