Category Archives: Government

Schoolcraft Village Council

Schoolcraft village council trustee John Stodola
John Stodola discusses the changes to Schoolcraft at the Village Council meeting.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Village Council awarded a contract to Kalamazoo-based Balkema Excavating to install a second water main from the well house.

The main is redundant, a fail safe in case of an issue with the other main. Balkema was the only bidder on the project which was initially estimated at $178,000 by engineering firm Prein & Newhof. Balkema’s bid came in well under that at $160,455.

“We were pleased with the price. And we were very pleased with the contractor who gave us that price,” Prein & Newhof representative Thomas Wheat told the council. “Balkema is one of the better contractors in town. Especially with it being such a critical part of the system.”

Wheat said they felt confident Balkema would be able to handle some of the bigger challenges of the project, such as running the pipe through the foundation of the old block well house building.

Prein & Newhof also got an estimate on an alternative that would have dealt with the removal and replacement of hot mix asphalt at the site. But the cost of that project was bid at $52,192, causing the village to postpone the work.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Rob Coffman noted that work will also be done to some aging infrastructure in the well house where they will be adding items such as new pumps for chlorine. He budgeted $15,000 for that work.

The council also approved two new ordinances. The first, ordinance 236, deals with solicited printed materials and primarily affects newspapers. It restricts newspaper deliveries to approved newspaper boxes. It also prohibits leaving unsolicited materials on or in mailboxes or anywhere on sidewalks or public parks.

The second new ordinance, 237 now limits the dates fireworks can legally be used in the village. Under the new ordinance fireworks use is limited to December 31 and until 1 a.m. Jan. 1, the Saturday and Sunday preceding Memorial Day, and June 29 to July 4. Fireworks will now only be allowed on July 5 if the day is a Friday or Saturday. The last dates fireworks will be allowed are Saturday and Sunday preceding Labor Day. With these dates, use is limited until 11:45 p.m.

Violation of the ordinance, which is now more in line with the state, could result in a $1,000 fine. Police Chief Bryan Campbell said officers will issue one written warning with a copy of the statute. A second violation will result in the fine being issued. Campbell said they rarely see use outside of one major holiday.

“Really, from what I’ve seen, it’s mainly the Fourth of July,” Campbell said. He noted there are several other subtle changes that address adult supervision of minors and the use of fireworks that go across property lines. “Even if it’s legal to do it, if your fireworks are going into your neighbor’s yard, that’s a violation,” Campbell said.

Village Council President Keith Gunnett called the new ordinance an improvement because of the reduction of noise it would bring.

Bomb Squad Takes Over the Mill at Vicksburg

By Sue Moore

A bomb threat in small-town Vicksburg would be unsettling to village residents. But not a staged one. It turns out The Mill is a fine place to stage a bomb threat and send a robot in to find and remove it.

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety (KDPS) bomb squad conducted the drill.“The Mill was a perfect location to learn how to navigate the small passages with our robot Andros-F6B. The robot would seek out the previously planted bomb and haul it to a safe place for detonation,” said Mike Kelley, bomb squad commander. “We liked the concrete walls of the mill, that the building was abandoned and we could control the situation. It could resemble a real-life situation in a building such as a hospital.”

“We serve all of Kalamazoo County with our bomb squad,” said KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas. “We had about 20 calls last year for suspicious packages. When the need is there we call all hands on deck. The five members on the squad have training in how to operate the robot and how to work with potentially dangerous and unknown contents.” The robot costs in the neighborhood of $125,000 and has been in KDPS possession since 2000. It was financed by grants and donations to KDPS. It has been used many times, most recently to secure a pipe bomb that was found in a house in the county, Thomas noted.

The crew began the exercise by planting the fake bomb within the cavernous mill, then unloaded the robot from a truck parked outside. The robot is equipped with a camera, sensors and a jaw-like device that can pick up an object and move it to a place where it can be detonated. An X-ray camera is used to survey the contents, all the while transmitting pictures of it back to the control room in the truck. The remote control was operated by Detective Sara Choi, a bomb technician. Choi was assisted by bomb technician Matt Bombich, a laboratory specialist in the Forensics Lab. Bombich is a Vicksburg resident who serves as a volunteer co-leader of the Vicksburg middle and high school robotics teams.

Once the suspect bomb was safely out of the building and in an open space, the robot and any people were out of the way, the squad detonated the object. The sound was as loud as a 12-gauge shotgun. Commander Kelley joked that birds in the area can expect a feeding frenzy with the bird seed packed into the practice bomb.

KDPS has also been active in the Mill conducting 3D laser scanner training in recent weeks.

The 3D laser scanner initiative was started to provide training for the Kalamazoo Crime Lab in the use of its equipment. They also plan to provide three dimensional and scaled data to the Vicksburg High School engineering class, which has been doing 3D mapping of the Mill for its project-based course work.

After the practice was over, Chief Thomas made a pitch for recruits who want to become police officers. She said the ideal candidate might be looking for a new and different line of work. Starting pay increases as certifications and training are completed and increases with tenure within the department. The defined pension plan is good too, she told the crowd of camera operators and reporters from MLive, WOOD TV and Fox 17 News.

Vicksburg Reviews Downtown Infrastructure

streetscape 1
Matt Levandoski, a consultant from Prein & Neuhof, presented five different options for the downtown streetscape to business owners at a meeting on May 14. These have now been narrowed down to two and will be reviewed at the June 4 meeting at R & R for the public.

By Sue Moore

Some downtown Vicksburg property owners and businesspeople appear dubious about proposals to reshape the main business block of South Main Street with changes to sidewalk widths, parking and traffic flow.

Several alternatives were presented by Village Manager Jim Mallery at a May 14 meeting, as the village prepares for a two-year program to upgrade underground utilities, including the block of Main Street between Prairie and Washington.

Digging up part of the street provides an opportunity to reshape it to meet needs for several decades to come, Mallery pointed out.

Some of the five alternatives presented at the meeting included widening sidewalks for more of an outdoor cafe-like setting, changing angle parking to parallel parking or vice versa, providing a bike lane and restricting traffic to a one-way southbound lane. The proposals reduced parking on the block, from the current 36 spaces, some more than others.

The loss of parking concerned several businesspeople, although Mallery said opening a village parking lot adjacent to the Post Office would make up for the difference.
Mallery attributed the need for changes to change in peoples’ habits in transportation and the trends the planners believe are happening in cities and villages across the country.

“The trend is in non-motorized transportation, livability, walkability and a safe environment for core business districts,” Mallery said.

He added that studies show development in Kalamazoo County moving toward the southwest. When that land is gobbled up, it’s predicted the next movement will be southeast toward Vicksburg. For a number of years until 2010, population of the village was steady at 2,200. Since then it has grown by about 50 percent to 3,400. “We are sitting in a positive way for attracting business to downtown Vicksburg,” Mallery said.

The state of Michigan provided grant funding to study infrastructure throughout the village. The study came back with a list of projects estimated at $30 million, much of it for sanitary sewer improvements.

This is especially imperative on 22nd street, in the Allen-Edwin development which has fueled much of the population growth. A six-inch sewer needs to be replaced along with a lift station. The downtown has the oldest sewers in the village; they need replacement.
Sewage which now flows from 22nd Street to Highway Street will be redirected through Washington Street to S. Main to E. Prairie and on out to Spruce Street. There it will intersect with the rest of the village sewer system and be pumped through Portage to the Kalamazoo City sewage treatment plant.

The project would not be doable without a 40-year USDA loan available to municipalities of less than 10,000 population. “This will increase costs for rate-payers of the system,” Mallery said, “but the need is so great, we can’t afford not to finance it in this way.” It will add another 30 to 40-year life span to the current system.

Plans for the sewage system improvements are to be prepared by a June 6 village council meeting. Bids for underground work need to be let in August so downtown work can begin by July, 2020.

Before the public meeting Mallery had formed a committee of business owners. He said he will take comments about Main Street changes from the public meeting back to the committee for further refinement before it goes to the council for review. The design sketches for the five alternatives are available on the village’s website.

Fire Authority Presents to Schoolcraft Village Council

By Travis Smola

The South County Fire Authority presented an overview of its budget and operations to the Schoolcraft Village Council ahead of the council’s second May meeting.

Both parties have been trying to set up the presentation for a while. The meeting was spurred by a late payment by the fire authority back in January that was eventually resolved. But it did result in the council sending a letter asking for more clarity from the fire authority.

Fire Authority Treasurer Tracey Locey was on hand to give the presentation and answer questions by the trustees, mostly about the authority’s accounting practices.

Locey acknowledged there were some weaknesses in accounting practices it is trying to fix. She also attributed many of the weaknesses to the small size of the organization. Locey told the trustees that prior to 2015, the authority had not done any capital planning for future purchases, which made things awkward when a truck broke down and a replacement was needed. “It wasn’t planned for in our budget. We hadn’t been saving for it,” Locey said.

The authority was able to find the money needed for that truck. However, they then took the advice of village Manager Cheri Lutz to start planning and saving for big purchases ahead of time. Locey also said they started to do more inventory and cross-analysis of the equipment the authority used to better determine expenses and what it needs every year.

While the allocation costs to the village of Schoolcraft have gone down this year, Locey said costs of operation for the authority have stayed mostly the same in recent years. There was one year recently that was more expensive due to workman’s comp claims. Trustee Michael Rochholz wanted to know more about the claims and if they had any correlation with new training the department is doing now.

Locey explained that the claims were mostly bad luck. One was from a firefighter slipping on a patch of ice. In another incident, a firefighter was injured when a nail punctured protective gear.

The hiring of a full-time chief has been vital in cost savings. Locey said the call volume in the village is increasing every year, but with the chief monitoring calls in the station, he can call off firefighters from responding to basic medical calls where they aren’t needed. “We think that we’re better managing our manpower with that full-time chief,” Locey said.

Locey couldn’t answer all the council’s concerns at the meeting. Kathy Mastenbrook asked about the auditor’s management letter that identified a number of material weaknesses resulting in significant adjustments to account balances. Locey said she couldn’t address many of Mastenbrook’s concerns immediately, but she agreed to bring the auditor, Siegfried Crandall, into a discussion with Mastenbrook later for more clarity.
The two sides agreed to continue discussions to try to smooth out any differences going forward.

Vicksburg Village Seeks to Add Staff

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery has proposed adding a full-time staff member to communicate with residents, attract new business and serve as liaison with village boards and committees.

The village will seek a grant from the Vicksburg Foundation to fund $37,500 per year, half the cost, for three years. This person would also be responsible for the village website and social media.

A new policy for appointed boards and commissions was enacted by the Vicksburg Village Council at its May 6 meeting that was praised by council members for being open and transparent for anyone seeking one of these positions.

Road work on major streets in the village was announced for W. Prairie, Richardson Street and north and South streets in the Leja business park at a cost of $185,485. Local streets to be repaved include E. Raymond, Hamilton, Adams, and South Davis at a cost of $144,200. Mallery explained that the money comes from state Act 51 road funds only. No local tax money is included in the work plan.

Work on two railroad crossings is expected to start in June and be completed by Canadian National Railroad by July. This includes the W. Prairie and N. Main crossings but not the one on Boulevard.

Another grant request was approved to seek $2,000 from the Vicksburg Foundation to help with the cost of the June 6 state of the village luncheon at the R&R Event Center. The public is invited.

Lenny Jaworski Retires from Planning Commission

Lenny Jaworski & PC
Schoolcraft Township Planning Commission members surround Lenny Jaworski who holds the plaque presented to him. They are from left: Greg Feldmeier, Barry Visel, Charlie Bibart, Eric Jasiak and Dave Reno. Absent: David Aubry.

By Sue Moore

Thirty-five years is a long time for anyone to sit through countless planning commission meetings for a local unit of government. Leonard “Lenny” Jaworski has this milestone to be proud of, said Virginia Mongreig, Schoolcraft Township clerk.

“The time and energy he has spent working through all of the issues and circumstances over the past 35 years is a true testament of Lenny’s dedication to this community. Not all of these issues have been easy or uncontested,” said his business partner, Matt Holysz.

His experience will be greatly missed, said Barry Visel, who has been on the board for 15 years. “He was very helpful when the master plan was updated because he knows the agriculture business so well. He knew the history which tied it altogether in how we wanted to keep protecting our farmland. His forte is soils and water, which is vital in keeping the agricultural land preserved for a township that believes in this,” Visel said.

“I was always amazed how he could pull up the history and ownership of the different properties we were discussing, I guess that comes from being 30 years on the Commission,” Trustee David Aubry said.

“Lenny contributed his extensive knowledge of farming operations in the township to Planning Commission deliberations. Over the years, he represented the township’s farming community interests very well,” according to long-time Trustee Charlie Bibert.

Lenny’s “boots on the ground” knowledge of the township has been invaluable to the planning commission during the planning process. He will be missed, said Dave Reno, another long-time member of that body.

Vicksburg Village Council Awards 12-year Tax Abatement

vix vill co mcm
Steve Shoemaker and Kevin Murphy on the left, listen while Joe Agostinelli of Southwest Michigan First explains the value the owners of MCM Manufacturing will bring to Vicksburg at the Village Council meeting in April.

By Sue Moore

The Vicksburg Village Council dealt with expansion in the Leja Industrial Park at its April meeting.

Miniature Custom Manufacturing in Leja Park was granted a tax abatement for 12 years on its expansion plans in accordance with state law. The company has purchased the remaining two acres of property on the north side of the park and will start construction of a new building for its manufacturing plant. It expects to add 37 new jobs along with a pledge to help fix up the entrances of the Industrial Park to better showcase the development there. Co-owners Steve Shoemaker and Kevin Murphy were lauded by Joe Agostinelli of Southwest Michigan First for deciding to stay in Vicksburg rather than move to Indiana where a similar offer was made.

Village Manager Jim Mallery presented the council with a long research paper on the composition of the seven sub-units of government within the village. These commissions and boards play an important role in village government. They are populated by volunteers and make recommendations to the village manager who in turn takes them under advisement for action items for the Village Council.

This is in line with best practices as the village becomes a Redevelopment Ready Community program, he said. Vetting the members of the various sub-committees will now become the practice of the village manager by ensuring that each person appointed has knowledge of the duties and is a qualified candidate.

Trustee Carl Keller noted the recommendation to have a welcome packet for newly appointed members of each board or commission so they know what is expected of them.

In other business, Police Chief Scott Sanderson summarized the activities of his department with a report on its activities. He headlined the work his officers have accomplished, especially in “serving the community to reduce any fear of crime incidents and promote safety.”

He expanded on working with the youth of the Vicksburg community through the school resource officer, the summer youth programs, the National Night Out in August, the nightly business door checks, the neighborhood canvasses and the customer service checks.

The department responded to 1,527 calls for service in 2018, an increase of 51 over 2017. Criminal complaints totaled 305, a decrease of 30 from 2017. A total of 46 felony cases were logged, an increase of six from 2017, and 223 misdemeanor cases, down from 295 in 2017. The department logged 95 traffic related complaints, 889 non-criminal complaints, 213 citations issued and assisted other jurisdictions 223 times.