Category Archives: Government

Trail Extension Expected to Be Complete in Late May

By Sue Moore

It’s possible that walkers of the Vicksburg Trail will be able to go an extra mile or two with completion of an extension of the trail northward as early as May 23, Village Manager Jim Mallery, announced at the April Vicksburg council meeting.

It was conducted online via Zoom with approximately 20 people on the call.

He also assured water customers of the village that home-owners or renters would not be shut off if they were behind on their utility bills. They would have 60 days to pay without penalties. “We will work with citizens to make sure there won’t be any shutoffs during the ‘stay at home, stay safe’ edict from the Governor.”

The budget for 2020/21 could be severely impacted by state revenue sharing funds being cut back over the next several months, Mallery warned. “We are preparing for at least a 15 percent reduction from the state, even up to 80 percent. “I hope it won’t be that much but I want to be conservative and be sure our budget comes in correctly. Each project is being continually reviewed given each day’s shutdown situation. We will run tight these next few months, as it is wise to watch every dollar we commit.”

The weed treatment on the pond between Vicker’s and Apple Knockers is going forward. The parking lot being developed next to the post office will have lights installed and surfacing work done before Memorial Day, Mallery informed the village council. He also speculated that construction on downtown streets would likely take place in 2021, not this summer as originally indicated.

Body cameras for the police department will be requested in a grant application to the Vicksburg Foundation. Mallery asked the council to approve the request. “We are about the only department in the county without this type of equipment.” Along with that $30,000 request was a smaller one for doing a phase one environmental study of the ground that is dedicated to the Leja community garden property on W. Prairie Street.

In other business, Don Wiertella of the Vicksburg Historical Society requested a meeting with the village manager in response to its proposed agreement with the village that was sent on April 10. Could the subject be placed on the council’s agenda for May 4, he asked. Mallery said that he didn’t receive the hard-copy proposal until April 14 and staff would need 21 days for review. He indicated the May 18 council meeting would be more appropriate.

Spears Finds Solace in Family During Business Shutdown

Sy Spears
Sy Spears speaks up during a recent Schoolcraft village meeting.

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft village council member Sy Spears and his family are trying to make the best of a bad situation during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, the family business, Personal Touch Lawncare can’t operate right now.

“That’s definitely the biggest concern,” Spears said. “It’s a concern for my family, but more because we’ve got 15 other people with families who rely on us to get working. We’ve been in communication with them and they understand. It’s just tough.”

Spears and his parents have also been in contact with bankers trying to figure out a way to navigate the choppy economic waters caused by the pandemic. It hasn’t been easy because of the ever-evolving nature of the situation. The small business loan system has proven to be a headache.

“There really has not been much help or direction. You reach out to the banks and they kind of have their feeling and interpretation of it, and then the next day, wording has changed,” Spears said. “That’s been weird, but also kind of frustrating.”

Spears said the winter didn’t help them out this year. The company didn’t do as much snow plowing as it normally does. In fact, it had started to do some spring cleanup and landscaping projects early when the virus hit.

“If this was last year or the year before, I don’t know that it would be as big of an issue for most stuff because it was cold and wet this time last year,” Spears said. “It’s been so nice that people are already out mowing their lawn and stuff like that.”

He also noted that there will likely be a need for lawn care soon because many of their contracts are with apartment complexes and businesses that don’t own a lawn mower.

“After a month, some of these places, they’re going to have some pretty tall grass,” he said.

Spears has also seen his village duties impacted. The last in-person meeting was after the first social distancing guidelines were put in place. It was only 15 minutes long and covered just the essentials.

“We decided no new items would be discussed on the agenda,” Spears said. “It was just approving the minutes of the last meeting and approving things that had already been kind of in motion.”

The Village Council is now looking into options to hold its meetings remotely as many branches of government have had to do in recent weeks.

Spears said one unintended positive side effect of the pandemic has been spending more time at home with his family. One big challenge has been to keep his three children busy.

When the kids aren’t doing schoolwork, they’re keeping busy with art projects and YouTube videos. One big hit has been online tours of museums and zoos.

Spears said they’ve also made a point to get outside and just go for family walks around town.

“The kids bring chalk with them, so as we walk by a friend’s house, we’ll leave little chalk messages,” Spears said.

He said another unintended side effect of this new way of life has been the chance to reconnect with those he loves.

“As not nice as it is, not having baseball, softball, all that stuff, it has been kind of nice just being able to reconnect with your family and not just be on the go, go, go,” Spears said.

Government Shutdown and Communications

By Sue Moore

The Vicksburg Village Hall is closed to the public until further notice due to COVID-19.

All essential services of the Police Department and Department of Public Works remain available.

Utility payments may be made via the lockbox in the door at Village Hall, by mail or online via the Utility Payments link on the website http://www.vicksburgmi.org. Phone numbers: emergency: 911; Vicksburg Police Department: 269-649-1144; Vicksburg Village Hall: 269-649-1919;

The Village Council will hold its scheduled meeting on April 20, The April 6 meeting had been cancelled due to spring break. However, the village will be cancelling all other governmental meetings throughout the months of March and April.

The village manager will be scheduling one-on-one contacts via telephone with members of the Village Council and Planning Commission throughout the week.

From Cheri Lutz, village of Schoolcraft manager

“We have instituted safety precautions for our staff in accordance with CDC recommendations. Last Tuesday (March 17), we closed our doors to the public, and I am getting updated information out to the general public as quickly as it comes in via social media and our website. We are able to work remotely from home and will begin doing that March 24. The Police Department will be open but they are requesting that people call with questions, complaints, etc. I think that we are as prepared as we can be under the circumstances and will modify our operations as needed.”

Vicksburg Post Office, Travis Graham via SaBrina Todd in the Lansing office.

The Postal Service is an essential service for purposes of its compliance with state or municipality shelter-in-place orders or other social distancing restrictions. The Postal Service delivers medications, social security checks, and is the leading delivery service for on-line purchases.

To reduce health risks, we also are temporarily modifying customer signature capture procedures. While maintaining a safe, appropriate distance, employees will request the customer’s first initial and last name so that the employee can enter the information on the electronic screen or hard copy items such as return receipts, PS Forms 3811 and 3829. For increased safety, employees will politely ask the customer to step back a safe distance or close the screen door/door so that they may leave the item in the mail receptacle or appropriate location by the customer door.

From Brady Township Supervisor, Tracy Locey

Brady Township has postponed its regular meeting from 4/8/2020 to 4/22/2020. The office is closed to the public, however the Supervisor, Clerk and Treasurer are going to the office to complete statutory duties with only one person in the office at a time. They are available by email which they are monitoring daily or by voice message.

From Schoolcraft Township Supervisor, Don Ulsh

“We are not allowing the public in the township hall, however we have manned all our offices for our usual hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are considering going to 9 a.m.-1 p.m. because we really don’t have any folks coming by after that time. Our contact numbers will be available if someone really needs to talk to one of us. We will be having a special meeting on March 31 at 10 a.m. to approve our 2020-2021 budget. In addition, we will be having our regular meeting on April 14.”. We will have the door unlocked and anyone that wishes to attend can. However, we will be insisting on everyone, including the board, be seated 6 feet apart. There will be a notice on our door and on our website.

From John Speeter, Pavilion Township Supervisor

“Pavilion Township has closed our office to the public in compliance with the Governor’s EO 2020-2021. Our elected officials are working in shifts to offer services to Pavilion residents. E-mails and phone messages are being returned promptly. Going forward, our Board meetings will be held using telecommunication technology. Residents are asked to monitor our website for notices and cancellations. (www.paviliontownship.com)”

Vicksburg Village Council OKs Funds To Buy Property

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Tom Ham, owner of Renaissance Management Company that oversees Angels Crossing Golf Course, speaking to the Vicksburg Village Council.

By Sue Moore

Following a closed-door meeting, the Vicksburg Village Council approved a $13,300 expenditure to purchase an unidentified property and do soil borings on it. In the past, Village officials have discussed building a new village hall but have not definitely identified a site.

“It’s just one possibility as a place to build a new and enhanced village hall,” Jim Mallery, village manager, explained to the Council. The timing is such that we wanted to know if the land would support a building there. That’s why we need to get the testing done.”

The village has put away $800,000 over the last two years for a new building estimated to cost over $1.2 million and be similar in size to Schoolcraft’s village office.

In other business, the village Council heard an annual report from the Renaissance Management Company’s director, Tom Ham, about the village-owned Angels Crossing golf course. Ham said the golf course was profitable in 2019 but could be even more so in the coming year with some of the improvements he has proposed. He had received approval in February to rent a machine that would grind up much of the brush and small trees on the edges of the fairways. That work has been completed, he said.

“We are trying to expose this beautiful piece of property to the golfing public. There were lots of features on the course that no one could see as Mother Nature took over, growing plenty of scrub and brush. With the village’s DPW help and the forestry equipment we were able to grind up the small trees and brush to expose all these natural wetlands. It is now totally different. It’s not an overgrown piece of property. Golfers will see different vistas when teeing off,” he explained.

It will also improve the sunlight and air movement to critical points on the course for the greens and tees. That will improve the turf. It’s a two-pronged approach with another agronomic advantage, he pointed out.

He mentioned in a later interview, that EPA-approved products, safe for the environment, will help to keep the brush down in the future. “What golfers see and how they play the course will increase the esthetics and pay off in the long run. That word of mouth is better than any magazine could do for us. It’s a manual clean up now. It will take time to get it all cleared as its not meant to be a playable area but will be helpful for golfers to find [their errant] golf balls,” Ham said.

“We are watching the Governor’s executive order on food and beverage and special events that will keep us from reopening the restaurant facility. It was clarified recently that people could still play golf in consideration of the virus edicts. It might be the first of April before we open and we are closely monitoring the situation. We do not want to endanger our employees or guests,” Ham said.

“Kalamazoo is a really good golfing area. The better we get, the more business we will do,” Ham said.

Keeping Sunset Lake Water Clear

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Summer weed growth on Sunset Lake pond.

By Rob Peterson

Spraying in Sunset Lake to contain invasive plant species and algae will continue this summer if the existing special assessment district is renewed.

At its March meeting, the Schoolcraft Township board set a public hearing for 6 p.m. April 14 to renew the assessment district. If approved, each parcel that fronts the lake will pay $400 annually from 2020 through 2024 to pay for weed control.

Andy Tomaszewski of PLM Lake & Land Management explained that his company will likely apply six or seven treatments of spray throughout the summer. The primary target is starry stonewart, though they are also concerned about exotic weeds such as cabomba, milfoil and curly-leaf pondweed.

Starry stonewart creates a dense mat that disrupts the natural fish habitat, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Sunset Lake is a popular fishing spot with a boat launch at the south end of Sunset Lake Park.

The spray that they plan to apply “will not eliminate all plants,” according to Tomaszewski. “Typically, most of the native and naturally occurring species are unaffected by the spray.” It is also safe for people, he said; none of the treatments have more than a one-day swimming restriction.

Without the treatments, Sunset Lake would likely be overcome with these invasive plant species, as well as algae. “As a flowing system, the lake is prone to “bursts” of nutrients which fuel excessive (algae) blooms,” Tomaszewski said. “Sunset Lake tends to be a little more volatile compared to your typical inland lake.”

In Other Township News

The millage request to become a Charter Township, failed by a vote of 1,171 no to 842 yes.

Little League will be on hold until at least May 11, and Ryan LaPorte indicated that they have not ordered uniforms yet. In the event that the season is canceled due to COVID-19, they are prepared to refund fees to families who have already paid.

Also due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Township Clerk Virginia Mongreig is considering a mail-in election for the May ballot, which will include a new millage request from Vicksburg Public Schools and a millage renewal from KRESA.

New Timeline for Schoolcraft Sewer Decision

schoolcraft village council
Schoolcraft village council members from left to right seated: Russell Barnes, President Keith Gunnett, Mike Rochholz. Standing in back from left: Sy Spears, Kathy Mastenbrook, John Stodola, Todd Carlin.

By Rob Peterson

The Schoolcraft Village Council at a March 2 meeting outlined a new timeline for a decision regarding a possible wastewater treatment system project.

Trustees also noted three areas that could be added to the project: the south end of Sugarloaf Lake, Barton Lake and the Canal Zone south of Gourdneck Lake.

The village of Vicksburg, however, is not able to buy into the project because it has an outstanding loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for past sewer upgrades. Only one loan is allowed from the USDA at a time. To participate, Vicksburg could either buy services from a Schoolcraft system or pay off its existing loan. Neither of these options are under consideration at the moment, Schoolcraft was informed.

According to the timeline presented, the Schoolcraft will hold a May 18 public hearing, then decide if it will proceed with the project. If a decision is made to move ahead, the village will petition the County Drain Commission to establish the project. This is a critical juncture; after that point there are few contingencies that could stop the project and costs will start adding up.

At issue is that the USDA does not set bonding rates or grant amounts until after the decision to move ahead has been made by the village Council. “This is all backwards in my thinking,” complained Village President Keith Gunnett.

The Council has no information yet on past projects in other municipalities to compare what the potential USDA grants might be.

“This is not an emergency,” said Trustee John Stodola. “It’s important that we do this right. I won’t be voting for the project unless we have final numbers, including the grants and the interest rate.”

Because the current method of funding the project is through the county Drain Commission, there will be no petition or vote by village residents; the decision rests entirely on the Council.

“Only nine percent of residents wanted sewers last time,” claimed village resident Sam Andres, “So why are we doing this? Doesn’t majority rule?”

“We are still in fact-finding mode,” said Trustee Rochholz. “We don’t like the process we have, but we are the final decision-makers and we will do what is best for the Village.”

Charter Township Concerns Expressed at Meeting

By Sue Moore

Sunset Lake weed control and the Schoolcraft charter township referendum both came under fire at the board’s February township meeting.

The issue of Schoolcraft becoming a charter township, on the March 10, 2020 primary ballot, was hotly debated by a few members in the audience. Some felt the township was overreaching its authority by placing the question on a ballot in March when, theoretically, fewer citizens would come out to vote.

“This is a classic example of a solution in search of a problem,” said Steve Fryling, a former township planning commission member. “There is no indication of where this proposal came from or its perceived advantages. It sounds like an attempt to prevent annexation, but chartering a township opens up residents to very large tax increases and the imposition of services that residents may not feel they need or want to pay extra for. We need a citizens group that can study the issue and find the best way to proceed. If chartering has advantages and fits with an overall plan, then I will be all for it in the future but I encourage voters to reject this current proposal.”

Also speaking against the ballot question was former township attorney Craig Rolfe. He lives in Brady Township but owns property in a part of the village of Vicksburg that is also under the taxing authority of Schoolcraft Township. Rolfe said a change to a charter township would mean more compensation for the board as it would increase from five to seven members with the potential to hire a superintendent to serve under the township supervisor and the expanded board. Other cost increases would involve further publication of ordinances.

Rolfe was especially concerned that becoming a charter township would expand the taxing authority of the Township by nearly 600 percent (from about 0.8 mills presently to 5.0 mills) without any further vote of the people, ever. He also noted that merely becoming a charter township would not even address the Board’s supposed underlying concerns about annexation, because the Township doesn’t meet all of the statutory criteria for a charter township to enjoy some protection from annexation.

Jack Wiley, a township resident, felt the issue had been pushed through without information given out to the public. Denny Olson thought the threat of annexation had come from the Mill who would want to ask for such consideration. It’s just a little chunk [of their land] but could lead to bigger types of request for annexation, he said.

Don Ulsh, township supervisor, offered to adopt a resolution that the board would not raise taxes if the vote passes. “We live here too. Do you think we want to raise our own taxes?” Township Clerk Virginia Mongreig cited what is done for the residents on .8 mills. “We have a balanced budget and have money in reserves. Our budget is out there so all can see what [taxes] pay for.”

Ulsh read from his prepared text about why the township wants to be a charter township. “It all started when the village of Vicksburg annexed the 400 acres that the Allen Edwin development company built on 22nd street in 2002 when sewer and water was extended to the property. In 2005 we were approached by the village for another development called the Renda property on V Avenue and 22nd street.

“We put together a 425 agreement with the village that was a first for Kalamazoo County. It allowed for anyone in the area to have sewer and water as long as they paid for it and the village would not require the property to be annexed to the village. It stipulated that the village and township would enter into a growth management agreement for 10 years that was signed by both entities. In 2015, the village got angry and said they wanted out of the agreement. The township was left with three options. The last one was to become a charter township, so here we are, at this crossroads.”

A 425 agreement under Michigan law, ordinarily between a township and an adjacent city, provides for a temporary transfer of control of specified functions without annexation.

Trustee Ken Hovenkamp said the two entities need to work together. He thought the village didn’t like that the township Planning Commission wouldn’t rezone the 80 acres west of the Mill for an industrial park in 2015. The request was denied when commissioners chose to keep the property as it was, a blue heron rookery. “We are a little nervous about what the village has in mind. What’s going to happen when the paper mill gets going again? If we have a chance to become a charter township, it moves us up a notch and makes people play a little harder,” Hovenkamp said.

“I applaud what you have done with your money,” said Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery. “But a resolution is only as good as your word. You can pledge to not raise taxes and a majority of the people would trust you. However, a future township board could change a resolution just as easily as you could pass one here tonight, as a resolution is not binding on them. An ordinance would give me a lot more comfort than a resolution. You need to have a trust factor with citizens. I believe that your word is good. This nation was founded on the written word.”

Ulsh answered that it would take some time to develop an ordinance but he would be willing to delve into it with the township attorney. Mongreig said she would like to work together with the village.

Others in the audience are residents of the Sunset Lake Association, seeking to have the special assessment district for weed control renewed for 2020-2024. It would cost each homeowner $400, the same amount as before. The village of Vicksburg decided to discontinue the $6,000 it has put in each year. Instead, the village plans to treat the weeds in the ponds that have become unsightly in the summer. Mallery said it was rare that a governmental unit would make this kind of a donation to a waterway, saying it would pay the $1,200 assessment for its three parcels. “We are not going away from the problem.”

Township Treasurer Teresa Scott, who would have to make up the assessment rolls for the 48 residents around the lake, was dubious about doing this without more input from the residents. She said only 14 residents had sent her emails in support of the assessment package for 2020-24; she didn’t feel that was enough input. Perhaps the lake residents should start over with the petition process to indicate whether they wanted to be assessed as they have been since 2010. She said it would take up to four months to collect the signatures which the township needs to begin the treatment plan. “We need to collect the money for the treatment in advance and not afterwards as has been done previously,” she said.

Audience members felt that this approach would take too long; the lake wouldn’t be treated in the summer of 2020. This would set back the whole program of weed control as the permit to do the work needs to be applied for in March. Ultimately, the board voted to move ahead with a March public hearing, setting the assessment roll in April and collection of the fee by June 1.

Ulsh announced that J. Rettenmaier with manufacturing facilities in the township on U.S. 131, would be naming their offices there as its USA Headquarters. It will be investing $2 million to enlarge the headquarters and $7 million in a warehouse addition. “We are really happy about this,” Ulsh said.