Mallery addresses rumors surrounding fire station

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery clarified rumors about the possible relocation of South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority from its South Main and Washington location and chastised those behind information on social media he said was exaggerated.

Not necessarily, countered council member Denny Olsen later in the meeting.

During the village Council’s Aug. 16 meeting, Mallery spent more than 10 minutes giving context to claims that he is behind a movement to evict the authority from its location at South Main and Washington.

Mallery said the issue was blown out of proportion, adding he regrets more effort wasn’t put into contacting him, and less into speculation and hearsay on Facebook postings.

“One of the downfalls of social media is when different people post, not knowing a complete story,” Mallery said. “Social media is instantaneous (and) it’s dehumanizing in that people seem quite often to extend their comments to [those] personal in nature.”

During his five-plus years with the village, Mallery said he has adopted a policy of not engaging in debate in online forums. Regarding the fire station rumors, Mallery said he sent messages to people who appeared to be spreading false information and asked they contact him directly.

Mallery then addressed the issue at hand.

“No one from the village of Vicksburg gave any notification, and specifically myself, that this fire department was going to be kicked out,” he said. “That didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen.”

He explained that the genesis of the community discussion likely stemmed from his past references to the current village office and its many shortcomings, including the fact it is not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

He said a logical step toward possibly relocating village offices is exploring spaces the municipality already owns, which explains how the fire station landed on the radar. Mallery said in the search for a new village office, not spending money and instead using space the municipality already owns is critical.

“Within this budget, we’ll be presenting to the council the exploration of looking at other options, properties, buildings accessible within our jurisdiction that could meet the needs of village hall,” he said.

Mallery then elaborated on a conversation he had earlier in August with the fire authority’s board chairman, Jason Gatlin. Mallery said Gatlin and village council member Denny Olsen confirmed the creation of a three-person exploratory committee regarding facilities.

“(Gatlin) asked me a hypothetical a few months ago – it was a short phone call – on the station at Vicksburg. We discussed it and we did talk about if this village were to move in the direction we felt, that (the fire station) would be valuable real estate,” Mallery said. “There is a formula … to determine where the station is best located (and) I’ll be a strong advocate that that station should be located in village limits, for sure.”

Mallery, who offered a sidenote in saying the village’s 2020 Census shows its population is more than 3,700 residents, stated the fire station has been at its current location for decades and has served the community well.

“However, it is prudent of Mr. Gatlin and the board he is chairperson of to look at the growth, the calls for service,” Mallery said, noting the village’s population boom in its northwest quadrant along 22nd Street. “So, with that, I’ll conclude with there’s been no decision. It’s not even close to a decision … I was asked a hypothetical and gave a timeframe. I didn’t see this coming in front of this village council for a year and a half.”

Mallery said when or if the time comes to discuss relocation of the fire department, he would follow an acceptable protocol and adhere to a formal, transparent process.

Until then, he cautioned social media users about falling for or perpetuating hyperbole.

During council member comments, Olsen offered his take on the matter.

“I’m not a liar. I did not lie … Jim told me that in 18 months the fire department would be told that their lease would not be renewed,” Olsen said. “Jim wants that property back (on village tax rolls) collecting taxes.”

Olsen serves as the council’s liaison to the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority Board. He suggested the council sell the building and its property to the fire authority for $1.

Olsen further recommended the council look ahead and schedule a sit-down discussion with the fire authority board to discuss the fate of the fire station building.

“I have suggested other sites and Mr. Mallery has shot that down,” Olsen said. “I have no problem with us building a new fire department attached to our village hall, our police department, and renting that building to South County Fire Authority.”

He said the fire authority has been offered a location at what is known as the EMS building, on Boulevard Avenue behind the hospital. Olsen said the authority has “dragged its feet” over the past 18 months and he vowed to get a definitive response from authority officials about their interest in the site.

Village checks for animal infestation at vacant home

By Jef Rietsma

A Vicksburg police officer and a building inspector met Sept. 1 with the owner of a vacant home on the 400 block of East Prairie about complaints that it’s infested with raccoons, opossums and feral cats.

The condition of the home was raised by neighbors at the village council’s Aug. 16 meeting. Village Manager Jim Mallery said he was not a part of the Sept. 1 inspection but will be issued a full report the week of Sept 6. He said he had a brief conversation with the police officer and the inspector, Chris Hamilton, administrative manager with South Central Michigan Construction Code Inspections.

“I was told there are, in fact, issues with the house that have to be addressed immediately by the homeowner,” Mallery said. “The full details will be available to me in a written report I’ll receive in about a week.” He added that utilities have been shut off at the home since 2005.

At the Aug. 16 meeting, resident John Fuller told council members the situation is “getting really bad.” He explained his proximity to the home – across the street and three houses down from the residence in question – and said it appears the house has been abandoned for more than 30 years.

“It’s infested with anything you can imagine; raccoons, opossums, cats,” he said. “You can’t even try to enter the house without smelling the rampant stench of (urine-based) ammonia coming from the house.”

Fuller said the location has become especially attractive to feral cats. He said the cats are in abundance and can be found roaming the neighborhood day and night.

“This is something that desperately needs to be taken into consideration, that the village can take care of either the house and the feral cats, or get something under way so we can get some resolution because it’s going to get to the point where I’m going to end up going out and getting my .22-gauge and start putting them down,” Fuller said. “They’re entering my garage and my garage now smells like ammonia. The neighbor next to me has a garage whose door won’t go down and that’s another place where they’re living.”

Dean Frantz, who lives in the 500 block of East Prairie Street, also voiced his concerns. He said it’s not unusual to see raccoons walking across his front yard, going to or from the offending location.

“Tons of raccoons and cats (at the residence),” he confirmed. “There are cats everywhere.”

Grant, crowdfunding to pay for Oswalt Park redo

Vicksburg plans to redo little Oswalt Park at the northwest corner of Prairie and Main with more seating, family-friendly game spaces and a heating element for cool weather, financed via a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and a matching crowdfunding program.

The MEDC will provide the $50,000 grant if the crowdfunding campaign raises a matching amount by Oct. 8, the MEDC and the village said in a joint press release. The fundraising campaign will use a Michigan-based crowdfunding site, Patronicity, via the link patronicity.com/oswalt.

The MEDC’s Michele Wildman, senior vice president for community development, said the campaign “will ensure that an underused public space is activated and updated for a variety of community uses well into the future.”

The press release also notes that the design will “enhance the Village’s newly established social district.”

The village last year applied for and won a social district designation for part of the downtown area from the state Liquor Control Commission. It permits patrons at five downtown liquor-licensed businesses to carry beverages in designated containers among participating restaurants. Oswalt Park, surrounded on three sides by live music, art activities and the village’s downtown shops as well as the restaurants, is included in the district.

“Opportunities like the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places grant match program are a lifeline to small communities such as ours,” said the village’ council president, Tim Frisbie. “Thinking big just becomes bigger with programs like this and growing into these types of dreams are essential to life in Vicksburg growing into a visionary future.”

Schoolcraft receives American Rescue Plan Act funds

By Rob Peterson

Schoolcraft Village is scheduled to receive $162,341 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act approved in March. The village will receive half the money in 2021 and the rest next year. The funds may be used on COVID-related needs or infrastructure.

In preliminary discussions, the village is considering improvements to the water system, which may include replacement of some lead-based pipes and purchase of property for a new wellhouse.

“We have until 2026 to spend the money, so we want to take the time to make the right decision,” said Village Manager Cheri Lutz. “Staff will come up with recommendations and present them to the Council.”

At its July meeting, Lutz reported staff is spending extra administrative time on the ordinance violations that the Council wants enforced, especially fences installed without permits. Some residents are complying with the requirements, but others are being referred to the court system.

The manager requested the council appoint a hearing officer to deal with dangerous buildings. There are apparently two structures that qualify, a distinction which allows the village to take action to protect the safety of village residents.

Larry Piper of Clark Logic has offered to serve in the position. The Council agreed with the appointment. Lutz indicated that she has only used the powers of declaring a building as dangerous once in the last 10 years.

The Council reviewed the South County Fire Authority audit, which again came back with the same concern as before: Financial statements are being prepared by the same people who are conducting the audit. According to the audit, it would be preferable to have an independent financial professional prepare the financial statements.

Council member Kathy Mastenbrook said she is “very disappointed in the (village) finance director and concerned that the board has taken no action on this.”

The council did not accept the report, and a letter was sent to the authority explaining the reason. Since the financial reports were accepted by a majority of the municipalities in the authority, it made no changes to the policy.

The Planning Commission will be reviewing a site plan for 300 Cass Street, a former public school being developed by Clark Logic for two non-profit educational organizations.

The developer has requested that the Village allow on-street parking on Cedar Street, which is contrary to the village’s current ordinance. Lutz recommended a compromise on the regulations, “because we need businesses here.”

The change in the parking ordinance will allow churches and schools to park in the right-of-way, which will allow the development at 300 Cass Street to move forward.

At the August meeting, village staff reported that they are testing a “point and pay” online system so that residents can pay water bills. When it is ready to use, the village will send information along with the mailed water bills.

The village manager mentioned at both the July and August meetings that the village needs one more member for the Planning Commission and two or three more for the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Residents of the village who are interested in joining either board are encouraged to contact Lutz.

Brady Township residents dispute road plan

By Jef Rietsma

Brady Township residents, worried that their deteriorating paved roads may be converted back to gravel, voiced their concerns to the township’s Board of Trustees at a Sept. 1 meeting which included an annual update from the Road Commission of Kalamazoo County.

The concern in part stemmed from inclusion on the road commission’s five-year plan of half a mile of asphalt pavement on 33rd Street north from YZ Avenue to be pulverized and returned to a gravel road in 2022. The proposal also includes similar treatment for another half mile of 33rd St. from XY south in 2023.

The plan, covering years 2022 through 2026, proposes no other conversions of paved roads to unpaved gravel roads.

There was never a formal plan dealing with that part of 33rd St., Supervisor Tracy Locey said. She acknowledged that while 33rd is on the five-year plan, “It is not set in stone yet. There are some options that the township can consider … it’s just a plan at this point and it’s not in our contract for this year.”

The board after hearing from more than 20 residents about the possible pavement-to-gravel plans agreed to reinstate a township roads committee to review road needs, funding, and make recommendations to the township trustees.

Residents raised concerns about dust, safety due to an inability to stop quickly, health and quality of life, harm to vehicles and possible reduction of home values.

Scott Oswalt, a 33rd Street resident, said he and his neighbors formed a Facebook group called “Brady Residents for Better Roads.” He cautioned that any road converted from paved to gravel is going to create a new set of problems of their own.

“Dirt roads are hard to maintain, they’re muddy in the spring and fall and probably most of the winters, they’re dusty, they’re not able to be salted in the winter and they’re hard to plow,” he said. “I fear for the safety of our residents driving these gravel roads in the winter. My farm employees and I drive these roads every day in the winter … up and down hills, around corners. I request a pause on any plans until we can figure out what the heck we do.”

The roads committee will have three to five members. Those interested in serving can find a resident’s interest form on the township’s web site at bradytwp.org later in September.

Locey said the township takes road-related direction and guidance from the road commission. Still, she added, the five-member board of trustees has ultimate say in issues relevant to the roads under its jurisdiction.

“We can always say, ‘No, we think your plan is horrible, now go figure something else out,’” Locey said. “But right now, the township hasn’t taken any action as to what we’re going to do.”

Locey said the road commission has rated the stretch of 33rd Street using a formula and determined it to be in “extremely poor” condition.

“You no longer can just throw down asphalt or do that chip-seal like they did recently on Sprinkle Road, it’s well past that,” Locey said. “Unfortunately, Brady Township, along with every other township out there, has trouble with having enough money for roads.”

Locey said Brady Township is allocated about $90,000 annually from the road commission. The funds, however, are issued on a matching basis. So, to receive $90,000, Brady must put up $90,000. She said as far back as she can remember, Brady Township has always budgeted to meet the matching funds.

Locey said the township asked voters for a property tax dedicated to roads in 2002. It failed. “We don’t have that option (for road funding).”

She speculated the cost of tearing up the section of 33rd Street and reconstructing it would easily fall outside the township’s budget.

Locey said turning formerly paved roads into gravel routes is not unprecedented. She said examples can be found as close as nearby Wakeshma Township.

“I understand what the residents’ challenges are … they live on a road that was paved and now maybe it’s not going to be paved,” Locey said. “I understand their frustration. We had several members of that area attend our board meeting about a week ago and I know that they’ve also gone to some road commission meetings. But I think they feel like they’re not getting everything that they want. Unfortunately, I can’t just say, ‘I’m going to write the check and redo your road.’ It would be great if I could.”

The Road Commission’s managing director, Joanna Johnson, and its engineering and public relations director, Mark Worden, gave a half-hour presentation that covered all aspects of the agency, its funding and operations.

Johnson said the road commission is not trying to make life miserable for Brady Township residents. “We absolutely and totally agree with you that all roads matter and we all want the same thing,” Johnson said. “We don’t need to fight. We are actually here to work together.”

Johnson and Worden appeared to answer many of the questions residents had expressed earlier in the meeting.
Johnson said reestablishing the township’s road committee was a logical next step.
Worden noted Brady Township’s options are:

• Do nothing and continue operating with the same approach as it has the past 20 years.

• Apply a special assessment of each property on a project-by-project basis.

• Pass a township-wide special assessment.

• Offer a township road millage for voters to approve or reject.

5-year plan would grind up part of one road

By Rob Ball

A five-year plan of road projects for Brady Township for 2022-2026 lists projects estimated at approximately $180,000 in each of those years, with the Road Commission for Kalamazoo County paying half from its distribution of state funds, the township paying half from its general fund.

The five-year plan also lists unmet needs totaling $1.7 million.

The agency assigns a number from 1 to 10 indicating quality of road segments in each township, with a 10 assigned to new pavement, a 1 to a road in poor shape. The road commission has proposed to pulverize pavement on a few of those lowest-rated segments, returning them to gravel roads.

An advertisement in this issue of the South County News, placed by a group of Brady residents opposed to reversion of roads to gravel, includes the road commission’s list of 18 township roads in grades 1-4, calling them “poor to failing.”

The roads listed are those shown with red lines on a road commission map of the township. “Red doesn’t mean failed,” said Mark Worden, the road commission’s engineering and public relations director. “Until we deem them as failed, they’re just in poor condition.”

When a road is designated as “failed,” Worden said, owners are notified and invited to a meeting in the township hall to discuss the matter. If needed, warning signs may be posted.

In 2022, the plan proposes work in Brady estimated at $181,750: chip-sealing a quarter mile of X Ave. at a cost of $7,250, filling cracks and chip sealing portions of 30th, 29th and 28th streets totaling three miles at a total cost of $152,000 and pulverizing half a mile of 33rd St. north of YZ Ave. at a cost of $22,500, making it a gravel road.

In 2023, it proposes filling cracks and chip sealing half a mile of 32nd St.at a cost of $27,000, pulverizing and surface paving half a mile of 34th St. from V to VW at a cost of $143,000, and pulverizing another half mile of 33rd St. south of XY Ave. and returning it to gravel, all at a total cost of $192,500.

In 2024, it would fill cracks and chip seal a mile of 32nd St. for $40,000 and gravel, pulverize and resurface half a mile of 34th between W and VW for $143,000.

In 2025 and 2026, the plan proposes preventive maintenance only.

The total estimated cost of the work proposed over the five years: $936,550.

The unmet needs list proposes surface paving of five roads and returning three more to gravel: YZ Ave. from 33rd St. to 34th, 33rd St. from XY to X Ave. and ZY from 32nd St. to 4,140 feet east of 33rd.

Worden was asked approximate per-mile costs of several kinds of road treatments. Reconstructing a mile of asphalt costs about $300,000; returning to gravel, about $40,000; chip-sealing, $20,000-35,000.

Vicksburg Council creates tree committee

By Jef Rietsma

Spurred in part by the loss of trees due to the downtown infrastructure project, Vicksburg village council members approved appointments to a newly formed advisory Tree Committee.

They appointed the following at a July 19 meeting: Council member Gail Reisterer; Vicksburg schoolteacher Kelly Christiansen, retired peace officer and former forester Steve Lange and business owner and former council member Mike Wunderlin.

Village Manager Jim Mallery said committee members will answer to village President Tim Frisbie. Mallery said the committee will field resident concerns and wishes related to tree replacement, and best practices and recommendations for proper tree maintenance.

Frisbie offered a few comments about each committee member:

“Mike is an active Rotary member … he’s seen a lot of the good times and a lot of the bad times in this community, but he ultimately has a passion that just can’t be described. He’s got a lot of great ideas.”

“Steve is a retired Portage peace officer. He was a forester out in California, he knows trees pretty well and we were very fortunate to find him.”

“Kelly teaches in the Vicksburg school system and, in the past, has led the Vicksburg Outdoor Center working with early American plants and trees.”

“Gail Reisterer has a love for Vicksburg … a great organizer, a great planner and has a great vision, so I thought she was a good pick for the group.”

Frisbie said there was debate about adding a fifth member but for now, a four-person committee will suffice, he said.

“They’re developing a plan and a strategy to establish a look of the 1800s to 1900s here,” he said. “Some of the areas where you drive around, we have these beautiful, stately trees. We’ve lost a lot of them in the last 10 to 20 years and we’ve never replaced them.”

Frisbie said Indiana Michigan Power has indicated potential funding is available to help with the purchase and planting of new trees. He said the energy company has literature and resources to guide the village when it’s at a point to re-plant new trees downtown and elsewhere to replace what was removed before the current construction project.

“They can help with (identifying) proper trees under wires, what’s natural to the area, there are some thoughts about considering certain parts of the village … maybe a spruce tree section, maybe a maple tree section, maybe an oak tree section,” he said. “But (the committee) is tasked with looking at it, giving us some recommendations, seeing what funding is available and just helping us with the general outlook in the community.”

Frisbie said the village had a tree committee more than 25 years ago. He said future generations will benefit from the foresight of reviving the group.

Vicksburg village proposes 2021-22 budget

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg’s Village Council was scheduled to hold a special meeting June 28 to consider approval of a 2021-22 budget with an unchanged tax rate of 15.163 mills, $15.163 per $1,000 taxable valuation.

Village Manager Jim Mallery provided a copy of the proposed budget to the South County News. He said the council has reviewed requests for funding the necessary projects, programs and operations for the 12-month period covering the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The proposed budget, Mallery said, supports the village’s 2015 master plan, its parks and recreation plan of 2014 and its downtown development plan adopted in 2014. It was prepared based on input from the seven-member council, Mallery himself, sub-units of government and citizen input through five public meetings held via Zoom. Mallery said more than 60 people participated.

Here’s a breakdown of the proposed 2021-22 fiscal year budget:

Mallery said the general fund is set for about $1.4 million in expenditures, while revenues are anticipated to be more than $1.6 million. He said the village’s general fund amount has increased by 35 percent since 2016.

Other proposed expenses include $249,850 for its Major Street Fund, $109,625 the for Local Street Fund, $832,900 for Department of Public Works, $116,000 to Downtown Development Authority, more than $1.1 million to Angel’s Crossing Golf Course, $3.6 million to its Sewer Fund and more than $1.5 million to its Water Fund. Several of those funds are supported from outside funding sources.

The average household will realize a slight increase in sewer and water rates. Mallery said the new rate will reflect a 3% increase for sewer services and 7% for water. On average, Mallery said, that amounts to an added $1.57 per month for sewer and $1.51 per month for water.

He said the village’s property tax revenue, $702,400 in the 2016-17 fiscal year, is projected this year at $1.1 million. The increase is due to the growth of the industrial park and residential properties – most along 22nd Avenue, Mallery said.

Mallery explained the budgeting process started in February and was subject to many levels of input.

“We do it differently than most … we work off a ‘needs, wants and wishes’ list, where department heads turn in their needs, wants and wishes, and we do that with public works, parks and recreation, and planning commission – which is also the Downtown Development Authority,” Mallery said. “We sent a survey to all the businesses in the DDA, held five neighborhood Zoom meetings, the Historical Society had input and some ideas we hadn’t thought of have been implemented from those neighborhood sessions.”

Parking aplenty during downtown construction

Despite all the construction in downtown Vicksburg, it is still possible to visit and support village businesses. Three parking areas are available to the public and are close to downtown shopping: a lot north of the post office, a lot behind the laundromat and Main St. Pub and a lot behind the hardware store and The Distant Whistle.

While the construction project is inconvenient for customers, continued support for businesses is vital. Residents just need to take a few more steps to provide the continued support village businesses need.

Schoolcraft eyes replacing lead water lines

By Rob Peterson

Schoolcraft Village has until 2025 to complete an inventory of its water service lines and develop a plan for replacing them if they’re lead pipes, one of several requirements under a 2018 Michigan law. The law also gives communities 20 years starting from this year to replace all lead lines, at the municipalities’ expense.

The topic was raised at a Village Council discussion of infrastructure with Tom Wheat, an engineer from the consulting firm of Prein & Newhof.

“There is a mandate, and the clock is ticking,” said Wheat.

While the water in homes is testing free of lead, Wheat said that replacing lead pipes should be a priority after what happened in Flint, where a lead water crisis reached national news and prompted the 2018 legislation.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has published a chart showing numbers of water service lines in the state’s communities and the proportion of those lines which may contain lead. It indicates that 51% of Schoolcraft’s 635 service lines may need replacement. That proportion is slightly lower in Vicksburg, where an estimated 46% of its 1,403 lines may need replacement. Separately, the state agency has published results of lead testing of municipal water supplies. It shows that Schoolcraft measured no lead in sampling conducted in 2018. Vicksburg measured 2 parts per billion in 2019 testing.

Wheat said the village needs a second well for its the water system. While the current well is not unsafe, it’s not where one would put a well today. “There is always a risk when you put a water source in the middle of the village, especially next to a railroad.”

His suggestion was to put a new well north or northwest of the village, away from potential contamination sources.

Wheat said he had reviewed a 1969 sewer study and noted that not much has changed since then. If the village chooses to build a sewer system, he recommended it install sewer lines under the streets rather than through back yards. The process for taking property through eminent domain has become more difficult, he said.

Asked about grants for a sewer project, Wheat indicated that there are none. The best option, in his opinion, is a rural development loan with a low interest rate, a 40-year term and no early payoff penalty.

In other discussion, village resident Jennifer Doorn presented a proposal to allow chickens within the village limits. She indicated that chickens are quieter than dogs typically. The potential for odor is entirely based on how well they are cared for.

Doorn recommended that the number of chickens be limited to four per household, and that roosters not be allowed. She suggested a requirement that the chickens be kept in a coop, and that the coop be kept 10 to 20 feet from property lines.

Council president Keith Gunnett wants to see if there is enough interest before the village spend time and money on an ordinance change. The issue will be taken up again in July.

Gunnett noted for the council that the Department of Public Works has recently lost a temporary employee. It has a full plate with right-of-way code enforcement and the inventory of the water system. The two existing staff members are struggling to keep up, and a third employee is needed. The Village will be posting a new position in July, according to Village Manager Cheri Lutz.

Ken Hoving of Waste Not Recycling described a new transfer station proposed in Kalamazoo Township which would handle trash as well as recycling, construction and demolition debris. According to Hoving, this is a rare capability. If approved, would be the only such facility within two and a half hours of Kalamazoo.

It requires approval from two-thirds of the governmental units in the County; Kalamazoo Township, has already provided its approval. The Village Council voted to support the facility.