Schoolcraft prepares to replace lead water lines

By Rob Peterson

The Village of Schoolcraft, facing a state requirement that is replace lead water lines, has been awarded a state grant to pay 80% of water testing costs, verifying water pipes and updating service maps.

But it cannot be used for replacing the water lines.

Those developments were contained in reports from village engineering consultants Prein & Newhoff and the municipal finance firm of Baker Tilly on the availability of grant funds for sewer and water projects.

Mike Presta of Prein & Newhoff indicated that he is working on another potential funding source through U.S. Senator Gary Peters.

Andy Campbell of Baker Tilly reported that the best option for funding the replacement of the water lines is the Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund, administered by the State of Michigan. It is a low-interest loan for lead pipe replacement. The village is not eligible for grant funds because the median household income is too high.

There are no grant funds for a sewer system, another frequent topic in the village. The best option for a new sewer system would be a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Campbell asked the council for direction on the matter.

Council President Keith Gunnett responded. “We are leaning more towards just doing the water lines now, given the cost of sewer.”

John Stears, a resident of Brady Township, came to the next meeting to challenge the council on this decision. “I’ve been working in waste water treatment plants my entire career, and I’m disappointed in the lack of progress” on installing a sewer system. “When was the last time you saw a manufacturing facility expand without sewer?”

Vicksburg to start new village building in May

By Jef Rietsma

The Vicksburg Village Council at a March meeting cleared the way to start construction of a new municipal building. A unanimous vote authorized the start of the $2.5-million project the week of May 1.

The March 20 vote capped a multi-year effort to ensure the project would be funded without taking out a loan to cover the cost.

“Here we go, fasten your seatbelts … this is an exciting night,” Village Manager Jim Mallery said, as he described details leading to the vote. “This is a journey that started back in the fall of ’16 … (but) formally, our first action on village hall occurred in January 2018, where the council took formal action and assigned $125,000 to the future cost of a village hall.”

Construction is expected to conclude in February 2024.

Mike Frederick, owner of Vicksburg-based Frederick Construction, recapped how the village in January 2022 was presented with three options: purchase new property and build, look for another building to renovate, or consider building new on village-owned property.

Village officials chose the last option and agreed to build on the west side of Richardson Street on a site north of the municipal water tower.

Mallery said the village was strategic about saving for the cost of a new village office. As a result, other services and needs throughout the community will not be neglected. He said the village will continue to maintain a 25 percent unrestricted, unassigned general-fund balance.

Ryan Collins, lead project estimator for Frederick, said a total of 27 bid packages covering various components of the impending construction were created. Collins said 84 bid proposals were received and the village will benefit from quality subcontractors.

“We were extremely happy with that,” he said. “Good bid coverage is very important to support our budget but also shows a really good interest in the village of Vicksburg.”

Collins said he was pleased that more than $350,000 of subcontracted labor will come from three businesses within the 49097 ZIP code.

Furnishings for the new building have not yet been let for bid. Mallery said the expense will be no more than $100,000. In addition, bids have not yet been let for an LED sign that will appear in front of the new village office. Mallery said $75,000 has been budgeted toward the sign.

During the 17 minutes it took Mallery to read the motion, he talked about the village’s current municipal office.

“Demolition of the existing village hall will not occur until after the new village hall building is constructed and is open for business,” he said, adding that DPW staff members will perform as much of the demolition as possible. “However, an additional $75,000 will be budgeted for outsource contractors to assist in the demolition, if needed.”

Mallery said village taxpayers will save between $1.5 million and $2 million over the course of a typical 30-year bond because the project is being paid with cash.

“It took six years. We’ve saved more than enough money, we recognized where our skill set lies and where it does not lie, when we became close to knowing that we needed to get the numbers narrowed in we brought the experience and expertise of Mike Frederick and his staff,” Mallery said.

Village council members celebrated the reality of eventually holding their meetings in their own building. Council member Ryan Wagner shared more of his thoughts.

“I got to see this process start from the conceptual stage to today and it has been really cool to watch,” he said. “The stewardship, the practicality, the diligence that everybody’s put into this process, putting the money aside … this is a lifetime achievement for a lot of folks involved in this project.”

Added Village President Tim Frisbie: “We’ve been planning and planning, and the day is here. Truly, this is an exciting time for this village and I’m apprehensive, I’m nervous, but the last five years we’ve put aside money to build a new village hall.”

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.