Category Archives: Government

Local Units of Government Meet Together

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President of Schoolcraft, Keith Gunnett explains the village’s position on finances. Sue Hendriksma and Todd Carlin are seated in front of him.

By Sue Moore

In the spirit of cooperation between local governmental units, Schoolcraft school officials have been leading an effort to meet with elected officials on a quarterly basis to share issues and see if there is a way forward.

About two dozen representatives shared dinner and insights at the Village of Schoolcraft’s council chambers on Tuesday, Nov. 20 under the leadership of Superintendent Rusty Stitt. “We are here to work together on a common goal to improve our community. We want to learn and grow together.”

A possible walking trail on W Avenue between Schoolcraft and Vicksburg had Schoolcraft Township Supervisor Don Ulsh pleased to report, “The city of Portage has provided a helping hand in showing us how to work with AEP power company that is putting in an electrical transmission line on the south side of the road. It would be really neat to connect up all these trails in south county.”

Concerns were raised about maintenance and liability. Ulsh replied that these issues will be addressed if the trail seems like it could become a reality. Ulsh said he attends meetings with other county officials and they wonder aloud, “What do you folks have going on down there? It seems there are so many exciting things in the works.”

Land use plans for the village of Schoolcraft are coming together, Village President Keith Gunnett reported. “The big issue is money! How to get it and not end up competing against one another,” he said to others. “It’s a major issue to figure out. Right now we are concentrating on taking care of the water, and the sewer question is down the road a bit. It’s a great thing to work with the school. We are a lot closer than we have ever been – it has tied the community together. Still the question remains, who is going to get the money and for what?”

Village Manager Cheri Lutz said, “We are looking at a strategic approach on how we work with the school. The potential sewer will impact on roads too.” Gunnett said the village is waiting for Wightman & Associates to provide the latest numbers for sewer construction and if a grant from USDA will be approved. “Then we could move ahead with petitioning area businesses and residents on the sewer. We know there are pockets of residents who want service, so we need to include them in the plans.”

Township Treasurer Theresa Scott reminded the assembly that new sewer lines would also mean new roads. Village council member John Stodola asked everyone in the room to use the terms “sanitary sewer and waste water” when referring to these services.

Planning Commission member Jennifer Dorn pointed out that the district is proposing a bond issue to build new buildings. “They should use the moment to help educate the public on how sanitary sewers would benefit both entities.”

The question was raised if both these bond issues could go hand in hand. How would that affect finances? Mike Rochholz surmised that it would run into tax issues and there would need to be some outreach in Lansing to see if this was possible.

Stodola emphasized that we are not alone. “We should get guidance from other communities, in particular rural versus big municipalities.”

Cost Increases for South County Sewer Authority

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Indian Lake at flood stage during the summer of 2016.

By Sue Moore

Who would have speculated that 2016 and 2018 flooding conditions on the shores of Indian and Pickerel Lakes would cause sewer problems and rate increases for residents in 2019?

All the rain and subsequent flooding of the low areas around these two lakes have contributed to a large increase in the flow of clean storm water into the sewer system, said Rich Pierson, director of the South County Sewer and Water Authority (SCSWA).

South County Sewer and Water Authority oversees daily operations of the sewer connections on Indian and Pickerel Lakes that flow to the city of Kalamazoo’s waste treatment plant. The Authority has seen treatment costs increase by an average of approximately $3,000 per month, about 70 percent over normal charges due to the high ground water tables, he said.

The Authority believes a big contributing factor to these costs comes from residential basement sump pumps that are pumping excess groundwater directly into the sanitary sewer system. “If this excessive water cannot be eliminated, usage fees will continue to increase across the board to cover the additional costs,” Pierson pointed out. Such connections to the sanitary sewer are not permitted, as the water should be pumped out into the yard or back to the lake.

To attempt to eliminate the improper connections causing the increase in costs, the Authority plans to inspect every home. A successful inspection will avoid the $300 annual fee that is to be implemented in 2019. The Authority certificate of passing the inspection will need to be verified every five years or upon sale of the home, whichever occurs first.

Residents have until October 1, 2019 to call the Authority to schedule the inspector to meet with them and perform the inspection of the property, both inside and outside the home.

This is called the “Clean Water Infiltration Elimination Program” by the Authority and is focusing specifically on illegal sump pump connections. Per ordinance and State Plumbing Code 1101.3, “clean water” (rainwater/ground water) is forbidden to be discharged into the sewer system. Violations can be viewed as civil infractions with fines up to $75 per day.

“The Authority is committed to execute all cost control measures that will contribute to the long-term viability of its sanitary sewer system,” Pierson said. “Public understanding, suggestions or comments are appreciated as this inspection program is implemented.”

Additional details may be obtained by contacting Cindy Chapman, authority administrator, by phone at 269-321-8925 or email scswa@ctsmail.net.

Cody Dekker, Kalamazoo County Commission (Democrat)

dekkerWhat would you recommend the county do to solve the Homeless situation?

First and foremost, we must believe we can solve the problem and we have to prioritize its solution. We live in a world of abundance not scarcity. The reason these problems are not solved is not because of lack of resources it’s a lack of moral and value driven priorities. Specifically, I’m interested in exploring multiple solutions including but not limited to: Tiny houses, Fair Chance and Fair Housing, stopping “source of income” discrimination and working with service organizations, stakeholders, and property owners to continue to protect our most vulnerable residents.

PFAS – what is the Health Department’s responsibility?

We all want to have access to safe and clean drinking water. The recent response in Parchment was a good example of government officials coming together in a crisis for the good of the people. I believe the health department has an ongoing responsibility to continue monitoring and testing municipalities in Michigan and dealing with the subsequent results.

Is the Hazardous Waste program effective?

Out environment must be a top priority. If we don’t have a planet we don’t have anything. The hazardous waste program may be working but it’s still imperative that we innovate and improve all our programs to take care of our environment the best that we can the way it cares for us.

What would you do to support an increased recycling effort in the county?

Talk about it. I think government can help in ways with public advocacy because we have access to communicate with the public at large. I think the County can encourage recycling. We can provide information on how and where to recycle. We can make it easier to recycle by improving our currently existing programs.

Do you support the resurrection of the Arena project for downtown Kalamazoo?

I am inclined to think that we do not need a new arena downtown. I am not fully decided and look forward to a robust debate with all parties involved and interested as well as further personal research on my part.

Proposal 2 Battles the Gerrymander

hank rishelEditor’s Note: Rishel is a 1954 graduate of Vicksburg High School who spent many years teaching political science at Macomb Community College. He and his wife, Barb, own a bed and breakfast in Traverse City; he writes a blog about politics. This article refers to Proposal 2 on the statewide Nov. 6 ballot.

By Hank Rishel

In 1812, Elbridge Gerry, a former Constitutional Convention delegate, while governor of Massachusetts adjusted the state’s senate district boundaries so that one looked like a giant salamander. Adjusting district boundaries to gain a political advantage became known as “gerrymandering”.

After 206 years, gerrymandering is alive and well.

Like every other state, Michigan is assigned a number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives based on its total population including children and non-citizens. Our share is 14. After each national census the Congressional districts and state legislative districts must be redrawn so that their populations are absolutely equal. In Michigan as in most states, the majority party in the legislature really ends up determining district boundaries. The next redrawing will be done by November 2022, after the 2020 census.

What really happens here is that the majority – currently the Republicans – draws up a plan that works to its advantage, usually by cramming as many of the other party’s voters into as few districts as it can. The goal is to create as many districts as possible with safe Republican majorities. Democrat members also create a boundary plan designed to give them as many districts as possible. It isn’t that hard for either party to do. It is all done with computers now. There are programs available that tell legislators how many people are added if they move a district boundary ten feet over. Finally, the whole state legislature votes on the two plans but, with a party line vote, the majority party’s plan will always be chosen.

Once one party draws the boundaries to give it an advantage, the minority party may find it almost impossible to gain a state legislative majority even if it has more actual voters. As a result, several states have moved to alternative systems. In California, under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the right to redraw districts was turned over to a panel of retired judges. Michigan is famously gerrymandered; see the Detroit area. Proposal 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot is an attempt in Michigan to make redistricting more truly democratic. A yes vote would put boundary drawing in the hands of a 13-member Independent Redistricting Commission. Four members would identify with the Democratic Party, four with the Republican Party and five would be “independent”. A very complex process open to public scrutiny would winnow a very large number of applicants down to the thirteen ordinary citizens who would be officially selected by the Secretary of State.

Advocates would argue that forcing people from both parties to deal more publicly with one plan should result in districting that is more fair. Opponents will suggest that the plan is too vague, could be manipulated by a party aligned Secretary of State, and would result in expensive lawsuits. It is clear that the current system gives an unfair advantage to a legislative majority.

Whether this is an acceptable alternative, the voters must decide.

Village Council Approves Fixing Redundant Water Main

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Village Council approved a request from Department of Public Works Superintendent Rob Coffman to fund the Cass Street redundant water main project.

Village manager Cheri Lutz said it is called “redundant” because it will add a second line from the well house. If the older main breaks, the new main would guarantee the ability to supply water to the village.

The estimated cost is $178,000, but there is some good news regarding the cost. “We do not have to go out and borrow money for this project, which is a wonderful thing,” Coffman said.

Finance Director Tammi Youngs crunched the numbers and found the project can fit into the village’s budget for this fiscal year based on already budgeted spending and incoming funds. The construction estimate includes engineering costs and contingency funds for unforeseen problems. “Hopefully it’s not going to go over that,” she said.

Trustee Michael Rochholz commended Youngs for the plan, saying it was mapped out well. Trustee Kathy Mastenbrook asked if there were any grants that could be used for the project. Coffman said there are loans, but no grant monies available.

While the project will be paid for this fiscal year, it won’t actually happen until next April or May because frost must be out of the ground before construction can begin. “We want them to do it before summer because that is when high demand (for water) is,” Coffman said.

Coffman said they are uncertain how long the project may take. He added some residents may be without water for a day or two.

Road Improvement Millage for Wakeshma Township

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Wakeshma Township has more dirt roads than any other township in Kalamazoo County. This is the corner of X Avenue and 44th street.

By Sue Moore

Wakeshma Township will ask voters for a 10-year 3-mill road tax on the Nov. 6 ballot.
If approved, revenue from the tax would allow the Township to begin addressing some of the worst local roads in Kalamazoo County, according to Ben Fritz, a member of the township’s Road Committee.

“The road committee has looked at the quality of the local road network within the township for over a year and a half,” Fritz explained. “There were three public informational meetings held in August, September and October to discuss and hear questions and concerns from residents.”

“We cannot even afford to turn our local roads back to gravel based on the township’s current budget. There are so many poor-quality roads now,” added Randy Bartholomew, another road committee member.

The ballot question proposes a dedicated road millage of 3 mills, $3 per $1,000 taxable valuation, for the 10-year period beginning in 2019, ending in 2028.

It could be used only for local road repair, upgrades, construction, improvement and maintenance. Wakeshma Township has not proposed a local road funding initiative in the past and has the lowest rating of local roads among the county’s 15 townships, Fritz pointed out.

“This millage is a huge step towards a self‐sufficient local road fund. A yes vote would get the ball rolling on a long list of road projects which would take us through the 2028 construction season. Many residents feel the deteriorating local road network is one of the biggest issues in the township,” Fritz said. “With 30 to 40 years of doing nothing, it’s taking its toll and we need to get things back on track. If we keep going in the direction we have been heading most of our local roads will fail,” Fritz said.

Revenue from the millage would remain in Wakeshma Township and would be dedicated only to local roads. If voters don’t seize this opportunity, Fritz said, the Township and county Road Commission will be limited in their ability to improve the local road network, Fritz said.

Wakeshma Township has a page on its website dedicated to informing residents about the impact to the local road network. The Road Committee includes Bartholomew, Deb Brockway, Fritz, and Mike Finley.

Vicksburg Planning Commission Gives Unanimous Approval to Mill PUD

By Jef Rietsma

A vote labeled the most important within a 100-year period in Vicksburg will await its village council decision on Oct. 29.

Council members are expected to decide the fate of a proposed $60 million renovation of the former Simpson Paper Company, as the village’s planning commission unanimously endorsed the potential development at its Oct. 17 special meeting.

Village Manager Jim Mallery took any suspense out of the commission’s likely position, when he concluded a 15-minute statement at the onset of the meeting by declaring his and staff’s full support of the application for the planned-unit development (PUD)  agreement.

“What I termed on Oct. 3 is arguably, the most important decision this village has had in front of it 50 years in either direction. The potential positive impact to our village will be long-lasting and around for generations,” Mallery said. “It is our recommendation, based on the advice of our experts and our staff, that this commission support and recommend approval of the document that’s in front of you.”

Eighteen citizen comments and nearly two hours later, the seven-member commission paid heed to Mallery’s support and cleared the way for the matter to appear before the village council.

The tipping point that ultimately generated the commission’s and Mallery’s support could fairly be pegged to a series of critical concessions yielded by the project’s backer, Chris Moore, late the night before and only hours ahead of the planning commission’s meeting.

Tim Frisbie, a planning commission member and also a part of the seven-person village council, said the last-minute negotiating yielded a result that he could live with.

“There was language in (the original document), regarding sound that we had an issue with … that was a sticking point,” Frisbie said, following the meeting. “Negotiations late on Oct. 16 ended in disagreement, but we reconvened our conversations today. Chris called me personally and we discussed it, my issue with it impacting the (adjacent areas), and they ended up removing the language completely.”

Frisbie said everyone involved on both sides of the proposal clearly wanted to see some form of a plan garner approval. Still, he had comments written and ready to share at the meeting, where he was prepared to oppose the plan.

Frisbie said he discarded those notes at 2:15 p.m., not long after the various sticking points with Moore appeared to have been resolved.

Paper City’s proposal includes a conversion of the existing historical structure and grounds to a multi-use facility to include apartments, office space, event space, multiple food- and beverage-production facilities, a craft brewery and beer gardens.

It also plans to include outdoor venues for live performances where the majority of concerts will be one-night shows, not multiple days.  “We’ve asked for up to two weekends a year of multiple day festivals,” Koney said.

More than any other issue, the live-music component received the most attention – and criticism. Project Manager Jackie Koney said original plans called for amplified sound to cease at midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 p.m. any other days of the week.

Difficult as it was to accept, Koney said, Paper City agreed to a 10 p.m. conclusion Sundays through Thursdays and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. In the agreement, the Mill operation is allowed to go to midnight six days a year for the large (usually multiple-day) events/festivals.

“We definitely made concessions … in a big way, actually,” Koney said afterward. “We still feel this is a very good product and a business model that will work.”

With just a few exceptions, the 18 people who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting were adamantly in support of the redevelopment proposal. Many echoed the need for such a destination, while others noted the plan would help preserve a building and property that impacted thousands of local families over its 90-year life before closing in 2001.

Koney during the meeting told commission members she appreciated hearing the concerns as much as she did support from others.

“We have listened to, I think, about 500 of you over Q-and-A sessions and we’ll keep listening; that’s not going to change,” Koney said, also acknowledging the hundreds of hours Mallery and village staff have spent dedicated to the proposal. “We do agree with you, Jim, that we feel like we’ve come to a good compromise on a lot of things.”

Mallery has said if the project is approved, issues related to traffic volume, flow and parking would be addressed in greater detail in 2019.

“The developer needs an opportunity to continue to develop their strategy in determining what size events are best for that property,” Mallery said during an Oct. 3 planning commission work session. “Those discussions will take place similar to the discussions that have taken place on this development agreement. Staff will work with the developer to come to a fair and reasonable agreement that’s legally binding and that represent the core values of this village.”

Moore, meanwhile, is a Vicksburg native who now calls the Seattle area home. He stepped in after plans were presented to demolish the mill.

He told commission members earlier this month that he wanted to do something to honor the village by bringing back to life a community icon, albeit in a different capacity from its original purpose.

More than 70 people were in attendance at the Oct. 17 meeting. Village officials plan to conduct the Oct. 29 meeting at Vicksburg High School Performing Arts Center (PAC), which can accommodate what they expect will be another well-attended gathering.