Schoolcraft: New well site, rental ordinance in 2023

By Rob Peterson

Among Schoolcraft’s goals for 2023 is to continue popular events, such as the car show.

Finding a second well site and enforcement of a rental house ordinance were high priorities in a 2023 goal-setting session of the Schoolcraft Village Council.

The village hopes to find a second site for the water system within the first six months of the year. The challenge has been finding property available for sale that meets criteria for a safe well.

“The current site is not ideal as it is next to the railroad tracks,” said Village Manager Cheri Lutz. If a train carrying toxic materials were to derail near the site, it could taint the water supply.

Another high-priority item is enforcement of the existing rental house ordinance. It’s been on the books for decades but hasn’t been enforced. According to Lutz, the ordinance is similar to one in Portage and is intended to ensure that rental homes are safe for occupants.

Another local law seeing increased enforcement is the parking ordinance, which prohibits parking in the right of way.

“I will work with our public works director and police chief to find solutions to the homes that have parking issues,” said Lutz. “We’re not trying to be heavy-handed”, she said, but there are safety concerns that need to be addressed.

“We’ll start with the easy solutions first,” she added, stating that it is more difficult on some of the properties due to the small parcel size and the location of septic systems.

The council also desires to continue its “community building events” in 2023. Currently, the village organizes the Music in the Park series and the 4th of July car show.

“We don’t have the staffing to take on a new event,” said Lutz, “but if someone has a great idea, such as a farmers market, we would do what we can to support them.”

In other village news, Schoolcraft continues to lobby with the county board to be awarded federal funds through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA. The county has $1.3 million left in its allocation. Lutz argues that the county should provide money to update the village’s aging municipal water system.

“We are the only municipality that has not received outside funds to assist with the requirement we face to replace lead water lines,” said Lutz. “These unfunded mandates should be a priority” for the county’s unused ARPA funds.

The council also heard an update on the Comprehensive Asset Management Plan being drafted by engineering firm Prein&Newhoff.

The engineer reported that it would cost $3.6 million to replace just the lead service lines; if the mains are replaced at the same time, the cost would rise to $5.9 million.

The initial estimate for installing sewers and running the lines to Kalamazoo would be $18 million. It would likely cost more to go south due to the distance.

Replacing the water lines is required by the State of Michigan. The village does not have funds for either the water lines or the sewer project.

Once again, the council raised questions for the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority (SKCFA) regarding its budget. Council member Kathy Mastenbrook, whose professional experience is in finance and accounting, requested:
An explanation of carryover items that are not listed in the budget.
An explanation of the “Assigned Items” category, which is not detailed in the budget.
Clarification on what was purchased in the “Capital Outlay” items category.
What is being purchased in the “FY Allocations” category.

This is the third year that the council has questioned the authority’s budget. In 2022, the village approved the budget after the authority made changes to its purchasing policy.

Village awards first two improvement grants

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Village Council members in October announced that nine local businesses collectively will be awarded more than $63,000 in grants aimed at property improvements within the village’s Downtown Development Authority boundaries.

The first two businesses were presented their grant awards Dec. 29.

“It is quite unique and special for a village our size to provide this opportunity for locally owned businesses to receive financial assistance like this from their local government,” Village President Tim Frisbie said. “We are proud to present our first two business recipients their grant awards totaling $23,175.”

Historically, the village has provided small grant opportunities restricted to façade improvements. This year’s Property Improvement Grant opportunity focused on investments into businesses and buildings that would add a public benefit in downtown Vicksburg.

The investments complemented the completely remodeled downtown streetscapes and makeover of downtown Oswalt Park.

Village Hideaway, owned by Scott Plankenhorn, invested more than $30,000 by installing a foldable window system that allows natural light throughout the business, as well as providing a trellis bar atmosphere found in larger cities.

Vicksburg provided $15,000 toward the investment.

Meanwhile, Jaspare’s Pizza and Fine Italian Food installed a roll-up garage door façade that provides a welcoming entry point. The view from inside the establishment has been immensely enhanced, village officials said.

“Coinciding with the downtown streetscapes which provided ample opportunity for visitors to sit outside or simply walk throughout our downtown, we have seen an increase in foot traffic within our business since we have made this investment,” said owner Todd Glenn. “Having owned businesses in multiple small communities, I can say without hesitation what Vicksburg does for its downtown businesses is unmatched. This grant is appreciated greatly.”

Jaspares invested almost $16,000 in its front façade, which is entirely new with a roll-up garage door.

Mallery said the village received $12,000 from the Vicksburg Foundation to match its $36,000 to establish the program.

The remaining seven businesses awarded grants will receive the 50 percent match once individual investments are completed. It is anticipated that all seven projects will be completed by June 20.

Vicksburg moves toward bidding for new offices

Christmas in the Village attracted thousands of people.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg municipal officials last month took another step toward construction of a new village office later this year.

During their Dec. 19 meeting, village council members approved a motion to manage the bid process related to the project. The action authorizes Village Manager Jim Mallery to work with Frederick Construction to execute the process.

Mallery said the new building has been on the village’s radar since 2017 and required disciplined financial planning in order to follow through with the project.

“We developed a plan … to start to save money so that we would be in a position to not have to bond or place any burden on taxpayers, and we’ve done that,” Mallery said, reminding the council that its members in early 2022 agreed to a site north of the water tower on Richardson Street.

Frederick Construction has aided the village in navigating a path toward groundbreaking. Frederick’s senior estimator, Ryan Collins, provided the council an overview of the process, noting that a design was chosen in July.

“The past five months, we’ve had eight or 10 meetings internally with the designers along with the village, (and) our goal is to work with the designers to understand what the village needs, those priorities and needs,” he said. “We’re at a point now where we want to get involved and do preconstruction services.”

The process is in preparation of bid-letting for specialized components of the construction process. Those pieces include drywall, concrete, excavation, roofing, plumbing and HVAC.

Collins said there will be a pre-bid meeting so prospective bidders have a clear understanding of what exactly is included in the scope of work. He expects bids to be opened Feb. 14.

“It’ll be a public opening with the village …all bids from subcontractors will be publicly opened and read aloud, and a record will be made,” Collins said. “I’ll take that information back to the office, plug it into a final budget sheet using the lowest-qualified contractor or a contractor we’re going to recommend to you, I’ll put together a package and share that, and that’ll be our recommendation for our final budget based on bids received, who we’re going to recommend, who we’re not going to recommend and why.”

Collins said ideally, there would be three bids received per category. He said groundbreaking could take place as soon as April.
The current municipal office is more than 60 years old, village officials said.

In other action, village council members reported positive feedback from December’s Christmas in the Village and parade, which attracted at least 7,000 people. Mallery said the annual event was easily the most attended gathering in the history of Christmas in the Village.

Also, Mallery said construction of the village’s new Public Works facility is finally nearing completion, as the final check to support the project was to be cut before the end of the month.

One other matter of note centered on details related to an inaugural event coming up in February. Details about the impending IceBURG Festival were provided by Alysse Thomas, Vicksburg Area Chamber of Commerce vice president. Further information about the Feb. 11 downtown event will be announced in the February edition of South County News.

One final matter was addressed Dec. 19: Village council meetings will continue to be held at 7 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month at the South County EMS building. Exceptions are in January and April, when meetings will be held Jan. 16 and 30, and April 17 and 24. As in the past, the village will meet once in July, August and September, on the third Monday.

Following a closed session during the village’s Dec. 5 meeting, council members approved a motion to accept $30,000 from a resident who cut down village-owned trees.