Category Archives: Government

Hoyle Submits Resignation Letter to the DDA

DDA
John DeBault holds the paperwork for Vicksburg business owners to use in their application for a façade grant or loan for their building. Standing in back are DDA members Julie Merrill, Fawn Callen, Mary Ruple. The applications are available at the village office on Kalamazoo Avenue.

By Sue Moore

Kathleen Hoyle resigned as the Downtown Development Authority’s director at their meeting in February. She cited the need to move on with other projects. “I like to leave things better than when I came,” she said.

“I have really appreciated being part of Vicksburg and working with the community over the last few years to assist in moving the village forward to become the fastest-growing municipality in the state,” she said. “The residents have expressed their vision of Vicksburg’s future, planning was completed and implementation has begun, so now it’s time for me to move on to other projects. It has been an honor to work with the Vicksburg community and I know the future is in good hands.”

Board President John DeBault accepted the resignation. He told the board it might want to confer with all the entities the DDA has worked with. “Maybe we moved too fast, doing three projects last year. Maybe two is enough in 2017.”

Rudy Callen, president of the Vicksburg Foundation, told the board not to forget what the DDA was before Hoyle was hired. “There was little or no money, a skeleton crew and no activity. Great things have happened since then. Now is a chance to step back and get in sync with the village. There is so much potential and so many good people here.”

To that end, the board is getting ready to restart its “Façade Loan” program on April 1. A committee was appointed to handle details of the offer to Vicksburg business owners. Members will report back at the regular March meeting. There is also a revolving loan fund available for building owners to improve their properties. Applications will be taken from March 10 to April 28. Those qualifying will have money released by May 10, Hoyle reported.

A special meeting of the DDA trustees was scheduled to review priorities and begin to chart the authority’s next course.

Vicksburg Village Council Takes Action on Its Audit Report

By Sue Moore

“The audit report by Siegfried Crandall for the fiscal year 2015-16 on the village of Vicksburg’s books was a bit unsettling,” said Bill Adams, village president. “Most of their recommendations are now in the rear-view mirror as we have reviewed them and implemented better internal controls with new policies and procedures.”

“All of the monies are accounted for and secured in the proper fund accounts. We want to be transparent and have taken a series of steps to protect our community and the village council. It is rare for a governmental entity to implement fixes even before the audit comes out,” he said.

Steve Bryer, the Siegfried Crandall vice president who presented the audit to the village council in February, said it was a “clean audit” with the general fund in pretty good shape, considering the deficit the village had in 2013 when Adams became president.

However, the report cited ten recommendations that Bryer felt compelled to bring in front of the council for action. They include the following along with the actions taken in response:

• Recommend that the village consider an outside firm other than its auditor to prepare routine financial statements. This is being evaluated in light of the possible increase in costs. Such reports in many local governmental entities are prepared by staff members.

• Bank cash reconciliation was not done right. This was rectified in November of 2016 with the council approving the checks and balances policy between the village treasurer and clerk.

• The village was in non-compliance with its payroll taxes and reporting. New staff and accounting software are in place to assure compliance with federal and state filing requirements.

• Journal entries were not effectively monitored. A policy was passed in January to ensure proper procedures over preparation, review and approval of journal entries.

• Dual check signatures at Angels Crossing need to be in place. The council passed a policy in January that dual signatures would be required on all checks. The golf course has implemented a system for electronic payment to vendors.

• A conflict of interest policy is needed. Such a policy was adopted at the council’s December meeting.

• The DDA needs to be sure that all money spent is for public purposes. In January, a purchasing and procurement policy was passed to ensure a formal requirement is in place to ensure proper controls.

• A written policy for the sale of capital assets is needed. The council approved a policy for asset sales and dispositions at its January meeting.

• A policy is needed to justify free golf for course employees and contractors. A golf memberships and fees policy was implemented at the January meeting to ensure that procedures are in place to authorize, approve, and monitor Golf Fund revenues.

• No more expenditures for goods and services prior to village council approval should take place. In January, the council approved a procurement policy for goods and services expenditures in accordance with state guidelines. The village manager does have limited discretionary up to a certain amount to spend without prior approval.

“Many of the recommendations have been put in place and the rest will be by the council meeting of April 17,” according to Village Manager Jim Mallery.

Power Line Controversy Comes to a Head

2017-02-20 09.35.07-1
Members of the Vicksburg Village Council join with citizens at the village council meeting who support the railroad track route for the new power line proposed for the Vicksburg to Schoolcraft corridor. Left to right: John Kern, Colin Bailey, Rudy Callen, Jackie Koney, Bill Adams, the power company representative Mark Robinson, Caroline Cady, Mark Maki, Steve Goss, Julie Merrill, Matt Shankle, Gail Reisterer, Tim Frisbie, James Earl, Jim Mallery.

By Sue Moore

A window for comments about a proposed backup electrical transmission line between Schoolcraft and Vicksburg closed a few days ago. Residents along the two proposed routes are waiting to learn which of two routes Indiana Michigan Power (IMP) will choose.

The plan calls for a second 69-kilovolt transmission line between the communities. The existing line mostly follows the CN railroad between a Vicksburg substation south of VW Avenue and the existing substation north of the tracks in Schoolcraft.

Although the new line will be built mostly along W Avenue from Portage Road west to a new substation north of the existing one in Schoolcraft, the utility is presenting two alternatives from east of Portage Road into Vicksburg.

One follows the tracks from the Vicksburg substation to the grade crossing at W Avenue. The other extends south from the substation across the Simpson mill property, then west on W to the tracks.

From there, both proposed routes follow the tracks south of W for a few hundred feet west of the grade crossing, then jog north back to W east of Portage Rd.

A spokeswoman for the utility’s parent company, AEP, was asked if the second line mostly along W Avenue is needed because the existing transmission line is considered vulnerable to railroad mishaps. “Not necessarily,” she said. While she acknowledged that there is one short segment where both lines would parallel the tracks, it’s preferable to have a second line on a different route. “It’s not that the railroad route is especially vulnerable.”

A public presentation by representatives of the company took place in Schoolcraft in January. Company representative Mark Robinson attended the Vicksburg Village Council in February to explain the two routes and seek feedback.

He got plenty from Mark Maki, a resident of the Greensborough neighborhood, and Jackie Koney of Paper City. Both testified that the sight of the 69-kilovolt line would directly impact their distinctly unique properties. Maki cited the need to preserve the village gateway on W Ave. when travelling east, as a good impression coming into the village. He spoke of the unsightliness of the poles and transmission wires overhead and the impact it could have on the land values and the sale of the remaining vacant lots in the subdivision, since they would be located at the entrance.

Koney stressed the impact the high wires would have on the wetlands, the nature setting of the mill and its environs, especially the blue heron rookery on the property which would be bisected by the W Avenue route.

Maki and Koney opposed the routing of the new power line along W Avenue. “We prefer the route along the railroad grade,” Koney said. The council instructed the village manager to work with this citizens group to determine what if any action the village should take.

Schoolcraft Village Council Picks Two New Members

sch vc new members
Kathy Mastenbrook and John Stodola are the new village council trustees in Schoolcraft.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Village Council approved a major water rate increase at its early February meeting to fund replacement of an aging water main.

The big focus is the replacement of a 100-year-old water main running from the well house along Cass Street to Center Street. With a recommendation by the water committee, trustees approved two 13 percent increases, the first taking effect over the next two years. The Council noted it will be 26 percent overall when accounting for inflation.

The issue of the aging water main has been something the council has wanted to address for at least the last decade. “If it breaks, we’re in big trouble,” President Keith Gunnett said, noting there would be no pressure for fire hydrants, and customers could be left without water.

He also said the Council is feeling some increased pressure from the state to make these kinds of required improvements to aging infrastructure. The approval also increases the payment grace period from 15 to 20 days and increases the late fee to $15.

The Council also interviewed candidates for two vacant council seats prior to the meeting. School board treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook and 33-year resident and active community member John Stodola were selected to fill the vacancies.

Stodola brings a long history of volunteering in many community and youth sports programs to the table. “I was taught to serve when I was brought up,” Stodola said. “This is the next step for me.”

Personally, he finds it increasingly important to make the village better for his children and grandchildren. Stodola is interested in working more on the village vision planning project for community development. He had already been invited as a citizen to be a part of the project.

“The more input we get from citizens, the better that’s going to turn out,” he said.
Mastenbrook becomes the second council member to serve a dual role with the Schoolcraft school board along with Michael Rochholz. While she knows it’s important to keep the school and village separate, she believes it will also help to build relationships and communication between the village and schools.

She said she wants to help Schoolcraft thrive.

“It’s a transition to continue community service at a broader level besides education,” Mastenbrook said.

As for something she’d like to work on as a council trustee, Mastenbrook noted the increasing number of aging residents in the village, people she deals with daily as a Life and Health Department Assistant at Ayres-Rice Insurance.

To help these residents, she would like to have discussions about the possibility of a senior housing complex in the future, perhaps working in collaboration with Vicksburg.

The other interviewed candidates, Joe Beck, Don Hunt and Kirk Bergland will be considered for a position with the Planning Commission. Gunnett praised all the candidates for their interest, noting other communities struggle to find interested parties for council trustee positions.

“This is really good seeing that we had five people to pick from,” Gunnett said.

Jon Steeby Serves His Country in the Civil Air Patrol

cap-3
Jon Steeby stands beside the Cessna aircraft he flies when on duty with the Civil Air Patrol.

By Sue Moore

Schoolcraft resident Jon Steeby wears his affection for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). He’s volunteered as a pilot for the Air Force auxiliary organization for the past three years. The uniformed volunteers are called to search for downed aircraft and lost hikers, to photograph storm damage and promote Civil Air Patrol at public events.

Steeby serves as a Training and Safety officer with the “Wildcards” MI-248 Squadron located at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. That’s just part of the duties. CAP members train constantly. Members were called on the day after 9/11 to fly 1,000 feet over New York City to assess the amount of damage which couldn’t be determined from the ground. The MI-248 Squadron served in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, taking thousands of photos to assess damage.

His duffel bag is packed and ready to depart 24-7 if the call should come to fly the small aircraft based in Battle Creek. The process is set in motion when the alerting officer gets the call from Emergency Services at the National Operations Center. Dispatch looks for who is nearest to the problem and certified to fly at any hour of the day. The plane is then prepared for flight, weather checked and the best route determined.

Pilots fly as low as 1,000 feet above the ground when scanning the ground for the object they are looking for. An observer will be sitting in the right seat as part of the mission and a scanner in the back seat. Those members are not necessarily pilots but have been taught a specific way to scan the ground for information. CAP volunteers also mentor Cadets who hope to become a part of the Civil Air Patrol in later life or pursue a Military career.

At the age of 58, Steeby is living out his dreams of helping people, flying a Cessna 182 Skylane and participating in training missions that do “really cool stuff. I’m fortunate to have these opportunities” he said.

A special treat for CAP pilots is being a practice “target” for F16 fighter pilots to intercept and escort unauthorized aircraft from restricted airspace. “Typically a pilot does not want to see an F16 fighter off the wingtip, but in this training exercise, it’s all in a day’s work,” he said.

His day job is as Chief Engineer for Eaton Corporation in Galesburg where he manages several teams that design truck transmissions. “A nice perk of the job is driving semi-trucks over the Rocky Mountains and see how well our stuff works.”

A 1976 article about Steeby in the Vicksburg Commercial-Express in 1976 predicted his future interests. It described his exploits as a 14-year-old watching hang gliders on the dunes of Lake Michigan. The son of Gary and Joyce Steeby, long-time Schoolcraft residents, he was praised in the article for his interest in learning to fly airplanes when he was too young to test for his pilot’s license. He paid for his lessons by mowing lawns in Schoolcraft. Before that, he was building and collecting model airplanes. He graduated from Western Michigan University in 1982 and set off for a job in Washington D.C. as a civilian engineer with the Navy.

A friendship with a Schoolcraft High School classmate, Julie VanOrman, blossomed into marriage. The thought of moving closer to home brought the couple to Columbus, Ind., with Cummins Engine Company in 1985. A job offer from Eaton Corp. brought the couple even closer to Schoolcraft, but with a catch: a two-year Engineering Manager assignment to Eaton’s plant in Manchester, England. While there, he performed with a brass band, the only American in it. He had played trombone and baritone in the Schoolcraft High School band and wanted to keep his skills intact.

An emotional moment came just after 9/11 while Steeby lived in England. The band was scheduled to play on England’s Remembrance Day, observed annually, like Veterans Day here. “Their services that day were instead dedicated to the fallen on 9/11 in memory of their American friends.”

Steeby also uses his piloting skills as a partner in the nonprofit Eagle Air Inc. flying club, based at the Kalamazoo Airport. There are 15 owners in the club that share two aircraft for personal use. “The idea is to break even by sharing expenses such as fixed costs for hanger rent and annual inspections,” he said.

In a few months, he leaves for New York state as part of a CAP Mission to escort drone training flights for the Air Force. “I love the team work in coming together involving aircraft and people while doing good things for my country,” he said.

Civil Air Patrol has an Important Mission

cap-10by Tech. Sgt. Glenn Whitt
217th Air Operations Group from an online posting

One of the better kept secrets of the Air Force is its official auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol. Founded on December 1, 1941 by citizens committed to using civilian aviation resources to help bolster the nation’s defense, the Civil Air Patrol was established as a federally chartered nonprofit organization by President Harry Truman on July 1, 1946. Congress passed a law on May 26, 1948 designating Civil Air Patrol (CAP) as the Air Force Auxiliary, giving the CAP three primary missions – emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education.

Today, CAP still serves as the Air Force Auxiliary in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. There are 1,400 squadrons and approximately 56,000 volunteer youth and adults nationwide. CAP operates one of the largest fleets of single-engine piston aircraft in the world, with 550 currently in the fleet. Its squadrons fly a total of approximately 100,000 hours annually. CAP also has ground emergency services with a fleet of more than 1,000 vehicles, as well as a well-established communication network.

Two CAP units are housed at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. The Kellogg Field Senior Squadron is an all-adult unit focusing on search and rescue while supporting all other missions of CAP. The squadron has a Cessna 182T glass cockpit aircraft housed in the T-hangers here in Battle Creek. The Battle Creek Cadet Squadron also meets on the base (in the Security Building) every Tuesday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The cadet squadron is made up of youth aged 12 to 18 years of age, as well as adult senior members to support their operations. These cadets train in search and rescue, learn leadership skills and study aerospace related topics. Cadets are eligible for five powered orientation flights and five glider flights provided by CAP. Other areas that cadets work on are physical fitness, military customs and courtesies and community service.

Prospective cadets interested in the Battle Creek Cadet Squadron and their parents are encouraged to contact the unit commander, Capt. Terry Travis, at 269-719-5470 or mfd1206@yahoo.com to learn more about the program and its benefits. Both units are accepting applications for new members.

Vicksburg Village Council Discusses Noise Problem

By Sue Moore

Manufacturing noise complaints keep returning to the Vicksburg Village Council as residents continue to hear loud sound with some regularity even when doors and windows are closed for cold weather.

Maple Street resident Linda Brenton felt the citizens would have a different opinion if they just knew the full story of what the owner of MLC, the business determined to be responsible, was contending with in trying to run his machinery, yet keep the noise contained. He has had to completely get rid of his original machinery and buy all new equipment to stay in business.

Ron Wolak, a V Avenue resident, has attended the last few meetings to keep reminding the council to keep the pressure on so that when spring comes, people will feel comfortable going outside and not hear the nearly continuous noise.

Village President Bill Adams said he has been in contact with the business owner and assured the audience that everything was being done to figure out the problem and take action on it.

Budget amendments were high on the list of needed council actions for Village Manager Jim Mallery. He cited state law requiring municipalities to spend no more money than has been authorized and approved by the governing body. He presented council members a long list of budget amendments for the second quarter of the fiscal year.

“There was a structural deficit of approximately $100,000 identified within the general fund of the original budget,” Mallery said. “The 2016/17 budget as presented in June listed total revenues of $1,910,300. With the proposed amendments, the total revenues would be $1,404,081 with expenditures at $1,402,284. These adjustments would serve to eliminate the deficit,” he told the Council.

Mallery also instituted a purchasing review for village department heads and staff under an ordinance passed in 2015. “There will be greater detail required in making sure that public money is spent in a prudent fashion,” he said. As a courtesy to his staff and the board, he said he expects any committee or community members requesting an expenditure from the village to submit request to his office 21 days in advance of council action so the request can be researched.

In other action, Mike Swartz, an engineer from Prein & Neuhof, walked the council through the initial results of a study, funded by a state storm water, asset management, wastewater (SAW) grant, conducted over the last two years in the village.

It showed that 77 percent of the village’s sewer lines are in good condition. There are root problems in the clay lines that were installed prior to 1945.

The trustees discussed the many committees that the village has formed over the years as they get ready to reappoint volunteers to participate in village government. “We don’t have enough staff to attend all these meetings,” Mallery said. “We have lots of volunteers serving the village which gives us insight to bounce things off of them and in turn get a lot of good work done.”