Schoolcraft village sets 2023 budget

By Rob Peterson

Schoolcraft is using approximately $58,000 from the village fund balance to balance its 2023-2024 fiscal year budget.

The village has planned to dip into the fund balance for the last several years, but each year it ended up with a balanced budget.

“We always anticipate using the fund balance, but we carefully manage our expenses throughout the year so that we can balance the budget,” said village Manager Cheri Lutz. “We overbudget for some items because we don’t know what things will cost.”

The 2023 budget estimates total revenue of $966,874 in the general fund, approximately $16,000 higher than this past fiscal year. The increase is primarily due to the expected increased property tax revenues.

The primary expense of the general fund is the police department, which costs $391,000 to operate.

Besides the general fund, the council oversees budgets for water service, street maintenance, equipment purchases, and the downtown development authority. All told, the village spends just over $1.5 million each fiscal year.

There is a new person who will be assisting Lutz with balancing the budget this year. Carin Louis is the new finance director for the village, taking over for Tammi Youngs, who retired at the end of February.

Todd Carlin, the village representative for the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority, reported that the authority needs to purchase a tanker truck. However, both Schoolcraft and Vicksburg Villages have indicated that they will not approve the purchase due to the lack of details provided to date.

The plan, as reported by Carlin, is to borrow money to pay for the tanker, which will cost $861,000 and take nearly two years to arrive.

The Schoolcraft Council pushed back.

“The failure of the fire authority to plan for the future should not be put back on the member municipalities,” said councilmember Kathy Mastenbrook. “What happens if a member leaves the authority? Do the remaining members take up the slack?”

In other discussion, the council considered whether to fine residents who don’t comply with the parking ordinance. “We are taking time away from our other work,” said Lutz. The village has stepped up enforcement of an ordinance prohibiting parking in the right of way.

“If people are trying to comply, that’s one thing,” responded councilmember Michael Rochholz. “The fines come in when residents are not even trying to comply.”

Lutz again reported that she has not heard from the county about the funds through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) requested by the village.

The county received more than $51 million in ARPA, intended to assist in recovery efforts from impacts of the pandemic. About half was allocated to Kalamazoo local government and organizations. Schoolcraft asked for $14 million, including $10.5 million to install sewer lines and $3.5 million to replace lead-based water lines, which is an unfunded mandate from the state of Michigan. It received no money.

Representative Wendy Maizer and county board chair John Taylor were both invited to the second meeting in February. Neither responded to the request.

Amy Clark, owner of Schnauzers, has until February 16 to respond to building violations. A formal hearing has taken place and the owner has 90 days to comply. The village’s recourse would be to eventually condemn the building, though Lutz has indicated that this is a last resort.

Early-Wednesday-evening music set for downtown

By Jef Rietsma

Downtown Vicksburg is poised to become a midweek destination this summer. Live music will be presented weekly starting in June.

Village Manager Jim Mallery told council members Feb. 20 that plans are being completed to feature two musical acts every Wednesday, beginning June 14.

The weekly performances are projected to continue through Aug. 16, with the exception of July 5, Mallery said. In all, the plan is to stage live a total of nine Wednesdays.

“How do we create in 2023 making our village relevant, and for people to come and experience, if only motivated by curiosity of what’s going on?” Mallery said, noting he and village staff brainstormed in search of an answer.

The result? Live music featuring separate acts performing simultaneously on Main Street and Prairie Street. He said contracts for musical talent are being finalized, as two performers per week would equal 18 different acts over the course of the nine Wednesday evenings.

The weekly attraction is expected to draw hundreds of people to town per event. With that, Mallery said there is an opportunity for not-for-profit organizations to benefit.

“We’re looking at identifying nine non-profits that we know have a very positive impact on the citizens of the village of Vicksburg, and we’ll offer them an opportunity – one per event night – to have fundraising opportunities,” he said. “We want people to experience what Vicksburg has to offer: a family-oriented atmosphere, very walkable, placemaking and of course Oswalt Park being a center focus.”

Village president Tim Frisbie said he is eager to see the village continue adding to its reputation as a destination community. Recent examples of successful downtown events include five different summertime activities last summer, the village’s 150-year celebration in October, Christmas in the village back in December and last month’s IceBurg Festival.

Mallery, meanwhile, said such events have consistently had a positive impact on downtown businesses as well as the village’s reputation.

Cost to stage the weekly shows – slated to run 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. – are expected to be covered through grant and sponsorship dollars. Mallery said it will take about $20,000 to help offset expenses related to the live music and other attractions, such as an inflatable obstacle course for kids. In addition, Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center would be involved in the weekly programs and offer hands-on art activities for kids, he said.

Mallery indicated he expects to further elaborate on the live-music plan during the village’s March 20 meeting.
In other village council action last month, Mallery provided details related to an infrastructure project affecting the northeast quadrant of the village.

He said expenses related to the replacement of watermains, lead lines and connections to about 140 residences north of Vicksburg Middle School will include the use of $366,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds. In all, $1.5 million in grant money is being used to cover the project’s $4.1 million cost.

Mallery said the project is in the design phase. Bids will be let in the fall. Work would start in 2024 and conclude in 2025.

Also, Mallery announced a restructuring of jobs for a few village staff members.

Police chief Scott Sanderson will take on the additional role of assistant village manager. Mallery assured that Sanderson’s primary role with the village will remain as chief, but will have organizational authority to participate in leadership opportunities and check-signing authority. In a case of good timing, Sanderson was expected to step in and oversee the March 6 village council meeting, as Mallery had planned to be out of the office.

“I envision at one point the village is going to have an assistant village manager/planning and zoning officer,” Mallery said, suggesting the position eventually would justify a full-time employee but Sanderson will be a good fit for the position for the time being.

Next, treasurer Michelle Morgan will add director of finance to her job description. She will now be in charge of accounts payable as a result.

Christian Wines will continue to serve as village clerk. However, Mallery said Wines will eventually be adding payroll administrator to his day-to-day duties.

Frisbie provided levity during discussion on the added responsibilities, directing a question to Morgan.

“Michelle, I want to hear from you. Your job duty is now three pages long, are you good with that?” he said, eliciting a laugh from fellow council members.

Village council designates funds for future needs

Money has been set aside for the purchase of a crane truck.

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Village Council members in January designated more than $500,000 of available funds to support specific future needs.

With passage of the resolution, council members trimmed the village’s fund balance by more than 50 percent, still well above a state recommended minimum of 17 percent.

Village Manager Jim Mallery said assigning portions of the fund balance aligns with practices acknowledged by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, an independent organization which establishes accounting and financial reporting standards for state and local governments.

The board’s designation of the funds means future councils will be able to use the money only for the purposes indicated through the resolution. This will keep village projects on track, make administrative and council changes more seamless, and provide transparency and clarify expectations to residents, Mallery said.

“More importantly, we don’t require loans and/or bonds to buy needed items, saving our taxpayer additional interest payments,” he said.

The amounts and restricted fund-balance designations are:

  • $150,000 to the village’s tax-stabilization fund.
  • $65,000 dedicated to Vicksburg’s benefit-pension reserve fund.
  • $85,500 allocated to the DPW’s vehicle fund.
  • $65,000 for DPW future purchases of heavy equipment.
  • $10,000 to DPW eventual purchase of a crane truck.
  • $15,000 earmarked for DPW’s ultimate purchase of a Bobcat.
  • $25,000 toward DPW’s future purchase of a pickup.
  • $47,500 toward the police department’s future purchase of a patrol car.
  • $10,000 toward police department’s allocation for weapons, to be purchased as circumstances warrant.
  • $10,500 earmarked for police communications and radios.
  • $55,967 for equipment the village will need at its new municipal office.
  • $82,000 to Parks and Recreation for unspecified purposes.
  • $64,000 set aside for eventual improvements of the municipal parking lot behind businesses on the west side of Main Street.

The Council also allocated $2 million in carryover funds toward its municipal building. The village is expected to use funds from this account to cover construction expenses related to the new office. Construction is expected to start before the end of June.

Mallery provided an example to better illustrate the steps village council members took in approving the resolution.

“The amounts that were listed, committed and assigned (are) simply putting that money in what would be described in our personal lives as a savings account for when it needs to be spent,” he said. “These items will not be expensed in this fiscal year.”

Using the DPW’s $10,000 allocation for purchase of a crane truck, Mallery provided additional clarity on what the council approved.

“We know that a new crane truck in today’s dollars is $110,000 and we also know that has a 20-year life span, so in 2038, we can predict that the village will need a new crane truck,” he said. “So, by 2038 (the village council at that time) will have the cash (to make that purchase).”

Mallery said the village has made great strides financially. Being able to make annual budget allocations to benefit future councils would have been a luxury he wishes the current seven-member panel had.

“When I started with the village, we looked at purchasing a $1,500 computer and weren’t sure if we should actually purchase that laptop or not,” he said. “Now, we’re talking about purchasing a village hall for cash money and being truly one of the only municipalities in the area to pay cash on that type of a purchase.”

Regarding the $2 million amount for the impending, new village office, Mallery explained the village has set aside a total of $1.75 million over the past five fiscal years. An additional $250,000 added when the village’s 2021-22 fiscal year concluded June 30 brought that figure up to its current $2 million amount.

Council member Carl Keller said Mallery and village staff deserve credit for the forethought put toward Vicksburg’s future needs and how those needs will be addressed financially.

“The citizens need to understand that we’re going to pay cash for a new village hall, hopefully within the next year or so (and) that’s huge,” Keller said. “Other entities, other boards that we’re on aren’t doing this. We’re setting money aside for future needs.”

Trustee Rick Holmes said the work of Mallery, staff and the village board is exceptional.

“It’s not bragging if it’s true (so) I think it’s fair to congratulate everybody to continue to see the success we’re having with our financials,” he said.