Category Archives: Government

Vicksburg Boil Water Edict

By Sue Moore

A boil-water alert for Vicksburg village residents went out on Friday, September 8 at 11:48 a.m. Residents and businesses were cleared to drink village water on Tuesday, Sept. 13, according to Village Manager Jim Mallery.

This type of notice has only gone out once before during the 25 years that Ken Schippers has been employed by the village as head of the Department of Public Works, village manager and in semi-retirement as the person responsible testing water quality. He routinely takes samples at five locations and sends them to a lab for sampling and reports the results to the state’s Department of Environment Quality (DEQ). A sample taken on Sept. 6 came back with a positive presence of coliform, a bacteria associated with animals’ intestinal tracts. Schippers took more samples on Thursday and Friday. They tested positive even though the village had started adding chlorine to the system at noon on Friday. Vicksburg does not chlorinate its water unless an emergency like this occurs.

Notification went out to schools, day care facilities, Kalamazoo Emergency Management and local businesses. A press release went out at 1:33 p.m. Sept. 8 to radio stations, TV and MLive. A notice was placed on the village’s Facebook page. Village officials were present at the high school Tailgate community celebration that Friday to answer questions. “Every tool in the bag was utilized,” Mallery told the Village Council at its Monday, Sept. 11 meeting.

Still there were some village residents who were unaware of the edict and unhappy about how they found out. “We are exploring additional ways to contact and reach out to our citizens,” Mallery said.

Schippers is investigating where the contamination might have occurred. In the meantime, the water will be treated for 30 days until Schippers and the DEQ are positive the coliform is completely abated.

Trustee Ron Smith encouraged the village to consider better signage downtown. He showed concern about the walkability and bicycling at three corners where it isn’t clear who has the right of way. The speed limit throughout the village is 25 mph, Mallery said. “My car goes 25 mph without even putting my foot on the gas,” Trustee Gail Reisterer said. Mallery agreed to look at options that might make intersections at Washington and S. Main, Kalamazoo and E. Prairie and Michigan and W. Prairie safer.

A community policing forum was announced for Monday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at the District Library where citizens can attend and discuss concerns with the new police chief, Scott Sanderson.

Nonpayment of Sales Taxes for Angels Crossing Revealed

By Sue Moore

The village of Vicksburg has not been paying sales tax to the state of Michigan since purchasing Angels Crossing golf course in October 2009. This was revealed in a report to the village council by Village Manager Jim Mallery at its August meeting.

The amount due in back sales tax comes to $48,825.45, according to accountants from the Portage firm of Siegfried Crandall. They were called in by Mallery to review and analyze sales records since 2009. On top of that, the state could charge a penalty and fines of up to 25 percent if officials choose to do so. “None of these dollars would come out of the village’s taxpayers’ dollars,” Mallery emphasized. “It would come from cash flow at the golf course, which will indeed have an impact on the business plan for Angels Crossing and Creekside Grille.”

How could this happen, Mallery was asked. “There was not adequate review and proper implementation of systems [in either operation]. We will be reviewing the policies, procedures and most importantly the culture of practices at Angels Crossing and Creekside Grille.”

The disclosure was revealed after new Village Treasurer Michelle Morgan was asked to examine all areas involving financials at the two entities, Mallery said. “She notified me the first week of July of a potential issue involving sales tax because she found that the golf course did not have a sales tax license number filed with the state.”

Mallery then dug deeper to find out that Angels Crossing was required to pay sales tax on alcohol and food sales. The merchandise sold in the pro shop was part of Jeff Rohrstaff’s contract with the village and it was determined that he had paid the proper sales tax through his company. Other sales such as memberships and greens fees were determined to be tax exempt as the village is a 501(c)4 a nonprofit entity.

The amount owed to the state of items subject to sales tax from October 1, 2009 to September 20, 2010 was a mere $204.72 according to Siegfried Crandall’s review. But the rate escalated once alcohol was approved for sale: From October 1, 2010 to April 20, 2016, the amount owed was $28,091.36. When food was added by the opening of Creekside Grille, between May 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017 an additional $20,529.38 was owed.

The village has requested a tax identification number from the state and upon receipt of that will promptly pay the overdue amount, accompanied by a request from the village to have the penalties waived, Mallery said.

New Police Chief Appointed in Vicksburg

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The Scott Sanderson family from left to right: Blaine, Renee, Jacob, Scott, Cameron.

By Sue Moore

A new Vicksburg police chief was announced at the village council meeting in August by Village Manager Jim Mallery. Scott Sanderson, soon to retire from the Kalamazoo city police force, has accepted the chief’s job beginning in October.

Sanderson’s specialty is in K-9 dog handling, having served in that special unit for the city. After graduation from Ferris State University in 1993, Sanderson joined the Kalamazoo Public Safety team with his first assignment at a fire station. He worked in traffic enforcement, walked a beat and was a night shift patrolman in his cruiser in all parts of the city.

He made sergeant and was appointed to the K-9 unit in 2001. Sanderson was able to keep the dog he trained at home, so the family became equally attached. When he got new dogs the previous dog would be retired. He only handled one dog at a time while supervising eight handlers and their assigned dogs while working his own. Being a supervisor for 15 years as well as K9 are his specialties, he said.

The family adopted the dogs once they were retired. “The loyalty you get from a dog is the end result of the training and understanding dog behavior. We covered the city and county whenever the need occurred,” Sanderson said.

His goal as he eases into being Vicksburg’s police chief is to get acquainted with full-time officers Henry Kite, Darin Stanfel and Mark Peterson, and the part-time contingent as they work through Mallery’s commitment to community policing. “The police department has been doing great things here, but not many people know about it. I saw the difference community policing has made in Kalamazoo. It has been huge to humanize the badge. It’s all about teamwork to bring the community and police together. When you get to know people in the community, things go so much smoother. I will be out canvassing and talking to neighborhoods and going to their meetings. I want them to know the officers and how we can be of help,” Sanderson told the village council.

Long-time Vicksburg police chief Eric West’s contract was not renewed at the end of June by the village. Mallery has conducted interviews for a new chief over the last month as he culled five finalists from 89 resumes that were received. A panel of local business people and community activists were enlisted to narrow the choice to two. Mallery said that Sanderson is the clear choice to step into the job once his 25 years of service is complete with the city in October.

Village and State Officials Address US-131 Needs

Photo Jul 13, 4 18 25 AM
State Senator Margaret O’Brien on the left, walks along with Schoolcraft Village President Keith Gunnett on Grand Street. On the right is Mike Rochholz, a member of the village council, and State Representative Brandt Iden. Photo by Brian Freiberger.

By Brian Freiberger

With over 20,000 vehicles traveling through Schoolcraft on US 131 each day, why isn’t this village a customer destination?

The answer: speed, safety and perhaps a lack of interest.

That was the conclusion of several village and state officials walking along busy Grand street to discuss the Vision Improvement Plan, proposed to provide the village with a business-friendly and slower-paced environment.

Portage-based Wightman and Associates proposed a 12-foot wide landscaped median from Cass Street to Eliza to help slo traffic, according to Wightman engineer Jordan Parker. Grand Street, five lanes and 76 feet wide from curb to curb, is owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

In 2005, a similar landscape median in the downtown area was removed by MDOT. Removal was to provide space for new 14-foot wide sidewalks through the downtown, said Village Manager Cheri Lutz.

A public workshop in late August or early September will be scheduled to reveal the Vision Improvement Plan.

Parker also said the plan includes the development of Cass Street into a commercial district.

The biggest safety concern is being able to cross the street safely from one side to another, according to Village President Keith Gunnett. “You don’t understand it until you walk it,” said Gunnett. Traffic signals at two marked crosswalks on opposite end of the half-mile downtown allow 20 seconds for residents to cross the street.

The separation between the narrow sidewalk and the road is just two feet. “You can feel the cars when they go by,” said State Rep. Brandt Iden during the walk. “I’ve walked down these streets and talked to a lot of people that have property here. For the business community to grow we must find a way to slow the traffic down and help people cross the streets.”

“Traffic scares off people who want to use the village. Right now, 131 is a divide right down the middle of Schoolcraft, and we need to do something to make this community safer for all,” said State Sen. Margaret O’Brien.

First Public Meeting of Schoolcraft Elected Officials

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Schoolcraft Township elected officials were well represented at the July gathering of locally elected officials. From left to right: Supervisor Don Ulsh; Treasurer Teresa Scott; Trustee John Stodola of the Schoolcraft Village Council; Trustee Greg Feldmeier of the Schoolcraft Township board.

By Sue Moore

The 22 local elected officials and administrators, meeting for the first time as a group, agreed that Schoolcraft’s future growth is predicated upon obtaining sewer connections, at least down U.S. 131 for businesses. What they also agreed in unison, is they like the small-town atmosphere and didn’t want that feeling to change if it meant too much growth.

Representatives from the school, the village, Schoolcraft and Prairie Ronde townships were asked to meet together by Superintendent Rusty Stitt, to consider the future for each entity and how they could work together to solve problems for the community.

“The most important take away from the meeting was that building trails and a sewer system would be the key to attracting new residents,” said Kathy Mastenbrook, representing the village and the school board.

Each representative of their unit of government, reviewed what they were doing to plan for growth and yet, keep it in check. Don Ulsh and Barry Visel, Schoolcraft Township supervisor and planning commission member respectively, noted that the township was the second fastest growing entity in Kalamazoo County after Texas township. The planning commission’s land use plan seeks to control where the growth will occur by limiting businesses to the U.S. 131 corridor and making sure that the rural agricultural low density on the land will stay in tact. It does envision higher housing density on the borders of the village. “We don’t see a lot of big developments on the horizon, Visel said.

The village of Schoolcraft is land-locked with only small parcels to build upon, Cheri Lutz, village manager, noted. The recent visioning plan that will reflect the village’s core values will be finalized in July has lofty goals and some that are very doable as it looks 20 years out, she said.

“Downtown property values are receding because there are no sewers for the businesses,” Greg Feldmeier, said. As a township trustee, he sat through several hearings on whether sewers should be built around the lakes and in the village. Village Trustee John Stodola cautioned, “we are talking about a lot of investment here. The council is trying to protect the poorest segment of the population.”

School board Trustee, Jennifer Gottschalk challenged the township and village officials to just go ahead and approve the sewer construction. She was quickly answered by Trustee Mike Rochholz. “We can’t dictate but we do need to educate and have an understanding of how this would help.”

Jason Walther, school board trustee, offered that lots of people are turned off by the word growth. “In my mind it’s about sustainability. Our school enrollment is tied to having sewers. I didn’t realize that until this discussion.”

As an example, Teresa Scott, Schoolcraft township treasurer said she and her husband had to build a house in Vicksburg because there was no land available in the village suitable for them to build upon.

Trails are the number one issue for people moving into the community, Ulsh said. We are talking with Three Rivers and Portage about a trail going north and south to connect these two entities.

Other ideas for better communications between the four groups represented at the meeting, included a central hub for finding volunteers to act as a clearing house. Stitt volunteered to look into this possibility as a school sponsored initiative and to initiate quarterly meetings with the four units of government. Stoboda, commented on the “great base of talent here, especially the library volunteers who have rallied around a cause. They are the most active volunteer group in the community.”

Vicksburg Village Council Seeks New Police Chief

By Sue Moore

A new police chief is in the works for the village of Vicksburg, according to Village Manager Jim Mallery. He received 49 applications, narrowed them down to five to interview, then to two for final interviews with a recommendation to come to the council at its next meeting.

“The caliber of the candidates was very impressive,” said Trustee Tim Frisbie. He and several other citizens were invited to participate in the interviews. Eric West, the long-time police chief, was not offered a contract once his duties were up on June 30.

At a special meeting in July, council members approved a five-year contract for Mallery. It contains a 2.2-percent pay raise, a small increase in an allowance for truck and phone expenses and a severance package should the need arise. Mallery initiated a change to his pension plan by asking the council to contribute to a defined contribution pension plan instead of the defined benefit plan that the village had contributed to for prior village managers, thus saving the village several thousand dollars per year.

Work on the new water main that is to run the length of Boulevard Street on the west side of the village was slowed when a gas line was hit slightly by the construction crew. It was immediately fixed by Consumers Power and will not hold up the end-of-July completion date, Mallery said. The village will be conducting flow tests once the valve is turned on before water is piped to residents in the west-side housing developments.

Vicksburg Village Council Clarifies Budget

By Sue Moore

A slight reduction in the operating tax for Vicksburg Village was approved by the Council at its June meeting following a budget process started by Village Manager Jim Mallery.
The rate will decline by 18 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation, from $15.93 to $15.75, to more closely align with what other municipalities are doing by lowering their millage rates.

“We are moving in the right direction,” Mallery said. “We have plans on track to be debt free by 2033 while lowering the millage rate to voters in the interim.” He stated that this was an activity- based budget as opposed to the line item budget council members had worked with for many years.

The newest trustees, Gail Reisterer and Tim Frisbie, thanked Mallery for the clarity of the budget descriptions and the time he’s devoted to placing the village on sound financial footing.

The total general fund revenue from the tax is estimated at $1.23 million. Spending is estimated at $1.17 million. Mallery indicated the reduction in millage is possible because the estimated taxable value of property in the village will increase to $83.4 million from $78.4 million in 2016. The village’s total debt is about $3.67 million, with a little more than $252,000 anticipated to be paid toward principal in fiscal 2017-2018. The separate street expenditures, water and sewer funds are not included in the general fund and receive dollars from the village, user fees and the state.

Mallery noted that the police department appropriation is 50 percent of the general fund but was two-thirds of the budget just four years ago. The Vicksburg Foundation has pledged $32,150 for the purchase of two police vehicles. The village will pay the remainder. The department budget includes a chief, a sergeant and four full-time officers, one of them the school resource officer.

In other business, Mallery announced the appointment of Michelle Morgan to become the village treasurer on a part-time basis. “She is knowledgeable and capable with a degree in accounting and many years of experience. She will also work on Angels Crossing financials.”

The largest street and water main repair will take place on Boulevard beginning July 10. The target date for completion is August, before Sunset Elementary begins classes in early September. The village will re-install no-parking signs in front of the school and begin enforcing them.

Several village residents of South Street voiced concern about potholes at the west end of the street. It isn’t on the current schedule for improvement, Mallery said. He and DPW chief Randy Schippers will investigate to see what might be possible in the way of temporary fixes.