Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery has proposed adding a full-time staff member to communicate with residents, attract new business and serve as liaison with village boards and committees.
The village will seek a grant from the Vicksburg Foundation to fund $37,500 per year, half the cost, for three years. This person would also be responsible for the village website and social media.
A new policy for appointed boards and commissions was enacted by the Vicksburg Village Council at its May 6 meeting that was praised by council members for being open and transparent for anyone seeking one of these positions.
Road work on major streets in the village was announced for W. Prairie, Richardson Street and north and South streets in the Leja business park at a cost of $185,485. Local streets to be repaved include E. Raymond, Hamilton, Adams, and South Davis at a cost of $144,200. Mallery explained that the money comes from state Act 51 road funds only. No local tax money is included in the work plan.
Work on two railroad crossings is expected to start in June and be completed by Canadian National Railroad by July. This includes the W. Prairie and N. Main crossings but not the one on Boulevard.
Another grant request was approved to seek $2,000 from the Vicksburg Foundation to help with the cost of the June 6 state of the village luncheon at the R&R Event Center. The public is invited.
Thirty-five years is a long time for anyone to sit through countless planning commission meetings for a local unit of government. Leonard “Lenny” Jaworski has this milestone to be proud of, said Virginia Mongreig, Schoolcraft Township clerk.
“The time and energy he has spent working through all of the issues and circumstances over the past 35 years is a true testament of Lenny’s dedication to this community. Not all of these issues have been easy or uncontested,” said his business partner, Matt Holysz.
His experience will be greatly missed, said Barry Visel, who has been on the board for 15 years. “He was very helpful when the master plan was updated because he knows the agriculture business so well. He knew the history which tied it altogether in how we wanted to keep protecting our farmland. His forte is soils and water, which is vital in keeping the agricultural land preserved for a township that believes in this,” Visel said.
“I was always amazed how he could pull up the history and ownership of the different properties we were discussing, I guess that comes from being 30 years on the Commission,” Trustee David Aubry said.
“Lenny contributed his extensive knowledge of farming operations in the township to Planning Commission deliberations. Over the years, he represented the township’s farming community interests very well,” according to long-time Trustee Charlie Bibert.
Lenny’s “boots on the ground” knowledge of the township has been invaluable to the planning commission during the planning process. He will be missed, said Dave Reno, another long-time member of that body.
The Vicksburg Village Council dealt with expansion in the Leja Industrial Park at its April meeting.
Miniature Custom Manufacturing in Leja Park was granted a tax abatement for 12 years on its expansion plans in accordance with state law. The company has purchased the remaining two acres of property on the north side of the park and will start construction of a new building for its manufacturing plant. It expects to add 37 new jobs along with a pledge to help fix up the entrances of the Industrial Park to better showcase the development there. Co-owners Steve Shoemaker and Kevin Murphy were lauded by Joe Agostinelli of Southwest Michigan First for deciding to stay in Vicksburg rather than move to Indiana where a similar offer was made.
Village Manager Jim Mallery presented the council with a long research paper on the composition of the seven sub-units of government within the village. These commissions and boards play an important role in village government. They are populated by volunteers and make recommendations to the village manager who in turn takes them under advisement for action items for the Village Council.
This is in line with best practices as the village becomes a Redevelopment Ready Community program, he said. Vetting the members of the various sub-committees will now become the practice of the village manager by ensuring that each person appointed has knowledge of the duties and is a qualified candidate.
Trustee Carl Keller noted the recommendation to have a welcome packet for newly appointed members of each board or commission so they know what is expected of them.
In other business, Police Chief Scott Sanderson summarized the activities of his department with a report on its activities. He headlined the work his officers have accomplished, especially in “serving the community to reduce any fear of crime incidents and promote safety.”
He expanded on working with the youth of the Vicksburg community through the school resource officer, the summer youth programs, the National Night Out in August, the nightly business door checks, the neighborhood canvasses and the customer service checks.
The department responded to 1,527 calls for service in 2018, an increase of 51 over 2017. Criminal complaints totaled 305, a decrease of 30 from 2017. A total of 46 felony cases were logged, an increase of six from 2017, and 223 misdemeanor cases, down from 295 in 2017. The department logged 95 traffic related complaints, 889 non-criminal complaints, 213 citations issued and assisted other jurisdictions 223 times.
The first official steps were taken by the Vicksburg Village Council toward a $13.6-million bond issue to replace aging sanitary sewers, storm sewers and water lines. The money is being requested as a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program.
The bonds would be repaid from sewer and water bills in the village over a 40-year period. Major construction is expected to take place from July through September, 2020.
The council also voted to apply for a $250,000 grant funded through a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Economic Development Category B Program. Mike Swartz of Prein & Newhof, the village’s engineering firm, explained that this was a new program to help with resurfacing local roads. The money is being asked for reconstruction of Mill, Washington, Pearl and Spruce streets in conjunction with the proposed sewer and water line projects.
Many meetings have taken place with utility companies who might have an interest in the project to determine if they might want to coordinate with the big dig in the village. Merchants in downtown stores also have been consulted since Main and Prairie streets will be impassable during these three critical months.
In addition to this major construction project, the village is also accepting $250,000 from the Kalamazoo Area Transportation System (KATS) to begin construction on an extension of the village trail. The village would be required to match the amount with about $50,000 . The extension would go from TU Avenue north to the Schoolcraft township line. Eventually the trail would connect with Portage and Kalamazoo County trails that stretch from South Haven to Galesburg and Battle Creek. The 1.3-mile village trail extends from North Street in the village to TU Avenue.
Matching funds for the trail will come from the Downtown Development (DDA) Vision Campaign conducted in 2015-2016.
Village Manager Jim Mallery explained to the council members that sewer and water rates had not been raised since 2003-04, and thus haven’t kept up with the costs of maintaining the system. The council also approved $19,000 for an alarm system for the lift station pumps that would help sound alerts if there is a critical failure in one of the seven locations.
A contract from ITRight for an information technology upgrade was also approved at $5,500. Last year the village spent $14,800 for IT services, Mallery told the council. The three-year contract represents a nice savings, he said. One goal of these improvements is to provide on-line live streaming of village council meetings.
With all of these decisions that directly affect the work of the Department of Public Works employees, Mallery took time to praise the four members of the staff who attended the meeting. “The way they keep the streets and sidewalks up is really special. They made critical repairs to the village plow trucks when the big winter storms blew in last January. Their teamwork and willingness to get the job done is exemplary,” Mallery said.
Dirk VanKrimpen, a resident on the east side of Sunset Lake, voiced concern about the high lake level. He believes the lake is being contaminated by the homes on the west side of the channel going upstream to Gourdneck Lake that do not have village sewers. He believes boards controlling the lake level need to be lowered so more water will flow through Portage Creek.
A thorough review of operations at Angels Crossing Golf Course was presented to the Vicksburg Village Council by Tom Ham, owner of the management company that now runs the day-to-day functions of the golf course.
He listed the challenges he has experienced during the year he has been in charge: Accounting practices were not detailed enough to gain specific information from past years. His projections are based on his one year of experience. Budgeting for 2019 revenue forecast for golf is dependent upon weather and other factors beyond his control, he said. He explained the restaurant costs and the pro shop potential revenue and the costs of maintaining the course and making structural improvements.
Some early complaints were real and largely based on conditioning of the course. They died down after changes were made, he said. Ability to take credit card payments for the beverage cart out on the course was helpful. The clubhouse has a power issue for the golf carts that has only been partially solved. A new phone system has lowered costs and made for better efficiency, he said.
The restaurant ran out of ice every day because the small refrigerator kept breaking down. “We brought in another one that was twice the size and so it’s a non-issue now. The buffet didn’t have chafing dishes so we bought some new ones because when the food looks nice it even tastes better too. Lighting in the dining room was harsh. We’ve installed decorative lights to soften the whole atmosphere.”
Capital improvements are needed, Ham said. The maintenance people have a small sprayer adequate for the greens but is used for the entire course, costing a lot more in labor to apply fertilizer. The bunkers need repair and the quality of the turf needs to be consistent, he explained.
He shared his vision for the future. “The view from the practice green is breathtaking but we are not taking advantage of it. I see having that space used for weddings on the green. Remove some of the trees and brush to achieve a view of the clubhouse from the road (W Avenue) so people know we are here. Utilize the assets we have. The nine-hole area that was never fully developed could be turned into a nice short-hole game area for practice or for golfers who don’t have time to play a full 18 holes.”
“We want to position Angels Crossing as a premier destination facility,” Village Manager Jim Mallery said. “It’s the primary asset the village has. We have the structural part in place now with employee policies defined. My pride is in making the golf course fiscally positive. The course is now profitable.
“We’ve paid the bills and can now look at options under our ownership,” Mallery added. “Our focus as a staff is 95 percent on the governmental activities of the village. We are going to rely upon Tom to make the golf course work over the next few years. It can’t be sold until 2023-24 due to the bond issue that can’t be paid off early. I’m excited about the course and cautiously optimistic about the golf business to let the numbers shake out. We do not use any tax money for operation of the golf course.”
In Other Business
Appointments were announced to seats on the Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Historic Village Committee by President Bill Adams.
Kyle Mucha was named to replace Carl Keller on the Planning Commission in a key appointment: The next round of review for the Mill development is expected to take place in 2019. Jennie Holmes and Veronica Levin will round out the parks board. Julie Merrill accepted a seat on the Historic Village Committee.
Mucha, a Western Michigan University graduate, works for the City of Portage in Community Development. In his interview he hoped the village leadership had a plan to give as time and attention to smaller development projects. Other projects that might come before the Planning Commission while working on the bigger Mill project also need careful consideration.
Council members were also going to be busy serving on sub-committees for the 2019-2020 fiscal year with assignments to the Fire Authority, the Downtown Development Authority, the Library board, Sewer and Water Authority and the Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study board.
Discussion centered around the new interview process that has been set in place for these appointments. Trustee Tim Frisbie asked staff to put together a chart with all the appointments and determine if the committee members were required to live in the village or could they be drawn from outside the boundaries.
The Brownfield committee which consists of the entire village council met and approved modifications to the brownfield plan to cover work at the former Bronson/Vicksburg Hospital on N. Boulevard for asbestos removal costing up to $174,875.
Budget amendments were offered as part of mid-year corrections by Mallery. This included an increase in estimated participation costs with the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority amounting to $122,000 out of a total budget of $682,000 for all participating entities.
Representatives from Clark Logic and the Wind + James event center were on hand at the Schoolcraft village council meeting to ask for an update on the proposed sewer project.
Greg Dilone Jr and Windy Clark said they wanted to get an idea of where things stand on the village’s economic development plan and proposed village sewer projects as they try to figure out how they will re-purpose the former elementary school building that Clark Logic purchased. Whatever the project, they would like to take advantage of the sewer if it is going to be built.
“I have ideas just rolling through my head, but we had to kind of take a step back,” Clark said. “We would probably not do much until we had some sort of idea there was going to be a city sewer.”
“To be quite honest, we still don’t know at this point,” Village President Keith Gunnett said. “I think the council and most of the people in the village feel we need sanitary sewers, at least in part if not for the whole village.”
Gunnett said he expects a new petition to go around in the next three to four months asking to build the sewer. Dilone asked how many signatures they’d need on such a petition to get the ball rolling. Gunnett said the village would need would need signatures from 50 percent plus one of the village’s property owners. Trustee Michael Rochholz said many people want sewers, but the costs are a big part of what scares people. Education is a key to getting people on board.
The council believes it will look at two alternatives if a project goes forward: outfitting the entire village with sewers or concentrating on the U.S. 131 corridor and other select areas. In any case, Gunnett told Dilone and Clark, they were probably looking at a timeline of two to three years.
Trustee John Stodola also recommended they keep an eye on chances to work together with other issues such as a school facilities project currently being discussed. “There are a couple of really big projects going on parallel [to this one],” Stodola said. “As we go through this we should really pay close attention to each other.”
The council also recommended Clark Logic make its wishes known to the South County Sewer and Water Authority.
Village council members also briefly discussed a letter they sent to the South County Fire Authority board asking for more clarity from the Fire Authority on their operations due to concerns on a late payment that was due to the village in August but didn’t arrive until January.
Village Manager Cheri Lutz said there was a chance they simply forgot to send a statement, but the payment has since been resolved. The council members were careful to credit the emergency responders for the work they do, but felt they needed to send the letter just as a part of doing due diligence on making sure things run smoothly.
“We need to have a good relationship working back and forth,” Rochholz said. “We have to pay attention to what’s happening and they have to be responsible for it.”
Rochholz further encouraged the other council members to attend the fire authority’s board meeting where a discussion of its budget is planned to get a better picture of things. He also felt they need to request the fire authority board to present its budget to the council in the near future.
At a later meeting with the village and Fire Authority board members, the differences were discussed and resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, according to Tracy Locey, a member of the authority board and supervisor of Brady Township. “It was a misunderstanding. We are comfortable with their concerns. Hearing their perspective will help us move forward together now,” she said.
Over 1,500 business and residential water bills have been reviewed by staff at the village hall with 15 percent identified as needing further review. “We have a two-decade old problem that the village has put off fixing,” Jim Mallery told the village council.
A full report for billings that need correcting will be provided to the council in April, Mallery promised. “In the past if someone objected to their charges, the staff would change the bill to appease the people with the issue but never attempted to correct the problem. It was the big elephant in the room that they didn’t want to take on. There was a problem with some of the meters too. If a resident had a pool, there were two meters and the amount simply inputted wrong each quarter, so the problems kept going on. There was also the size of the flow that wasn’t recorded. Some families had one-inch flow listed when it was really only a three-quarter inch pipe.”
Valves would break and need replacing. Each one costs about $4,000. Randy Schippers, head of the Department of Public Works (DPW), is identifying the entire system’s layout and preparing a 10-year plan to replace the valves and put in a proper maintenance program. It will cost about a quarter of a million dollars over the next 10 years.
There is a great need for a third water well in the village, Mallery told the council. “We are at 77 percent capacity. When we get to 80 percent the state will require us to build a new well, so we need to get ahead of the game.” The village has a proposal by the engineering firm of Prin & Nuehof to explore a site at the cost of $8,000, Mallery said. “We can apply for a grant in the future but will use water funds for now. With 107 new homes coming on line in Centennial development in the next few years, we will be over the 80 percent threshold.”