Category Archives: Government

Village Council Expects to Reduce Millage in June

village hall 2By Sue Moore

“We want to take a deep dive into reducing the millage at .5 of a mill in our next fiscal year and again in 24 months,” Village Manager Jim Mallery told the Council. “Village President Bill Adams tells me every week to figure out how to lower the millage rate.”

If approved by the council in June, it would be the first time in Vicksburg’s history that the millage rate has been reduced without being required to do so by state statute, Mallery said in written comments.

The tax rate levied by the village on 2018 summer tax bills was $15.63 per $1,000 taxable valuation. The total taxable valuation was about $83 million. The village has budgeted $1.17 million from property taxes for the current fiscal year.

“As a municipal manager, I understand it is not my job, nor your expectation, that I am liked by everyone. Instead, I am charged with the expectation that I will make decisions that put our village first and that I will provide this council with information and data so that the majority can set the policy that we, as staff, are charged with executing. I am overjoyed that the audit for the first time was clean for fiscal year 2017-18 as presented by our auditors, SK&T, tonight.

“The capital improvement plan for the village has been sub-standard at best and non-existent at worst. That change begins starting tonight. Staff is recommending the establishment of a tax stabilization fund of $150,000 that will enable us to lower the millage rate [along with planning] for future capital asset needs. Our goal is to develop strategies that will avoid debt.

“I am proud that we will not be presenting any additional general fund debt obligation to this council. It is vital that we continue to invest the village’s revenue wisely, to ensure that each dollar that is entrusted to us withstands scrutiny, is ultra-transparent and has been provided an opportunity to reflect the wishes and desires of the majority,” he said in his statement.

The previous council assigned $125,000 to a municipal building in January 2018. “I am recommending that $425,000 of the unrestricted general fund balance be committed to a municipal building. This would bring the committed total to $550,000 to build a municipal building with a total estimated need of $1.4 million.

Capital improvement spending includes a proposal to allocate $85,000 for a dump/plow truck in the 2019-2020 budget. Nine other capital expenditure items totalling approximately $228,000 were projected over the next 10 years.

“In the past, the general fund has been used much like a checking account in our own personal finances,” Mallery said. “They were spending what was available. Past leaders were operating without any plans, contingencies or proper emergency funds in place. Now if we do not properly plan financially for basic needs – police and DPW vehicles, equipment and technology to name a few – the fiscal years in which the need becomes an emergency will have a dramatic negative impact on that fiscal year’s budget.”

“We are looking at how we spend money that’s transparent and organized,” said Trustee Rick Holmes. “What challenges me in talking about millage relief as our number one priority, I ask is having a new village hall the greatest priority? The previous council has voted to set aside money and I understand that, but when I talk to my constituency about tax relief, they say it’s too expensive to live in Vicksburg. Parchment City is the only municipality with a higher tax rate than Vicksburg’s. It’s priorities that are my challenge, so in this case I owe the people who voted for me to keep my word and vote no.”

“Millage rates are tricky if you are looking them up on the county’s web site,” Mallery shot back. “Look at the special assessments others have that are not included in the millage rate. We offer many services that don’t require extra assessments, like plowing sidewalks in the neighborhoods.”

Adams answered, “I respect Rick’s thinking, but we are on the right path now. This may not be enough of a millage reduction, but our capital plan is a statement of where we want to go in the future.”

“Others in municipal work must be jealous of the opportunities that are on the horizon of our journey in the village,” Mallery said.

Village Council Delays Authorizing Retail Marijuana Sales

oath vix vc
Carl Keller, Julie Merrill and Rick Holmes are sworn in at the December Vicksburg Village Council meeting.

By Sue Moore

Marijuana Resolution Decision

The Vicksburg Village Council voted what amounts to a wait-and-see approach on whether it should license companies to grow and sell marijuana. Retail sales of pot were approved by the voters in November in the state of Michigan.

The ordinance the council passed lets the village government make a more informed decision. It would do this by listening and surveying residents, conducting public meetings and keeping people informed via their website. A decision could be made in January 2020 on an ordinance, Village Manager Jim Mallery told the trustees.

“There are too many unknowns right now,” Mallery said. “The safest way right now is to opt out. We can always come back in. The state doesn’t have its guardrails – rules and regulations – out yet.”

Air Scrubber to Reduce Odor

Complaints have been received about the odor emanating from the Van Elderen manufacturing plant in the Leja Industrial Park. Mallery said he had met with the owners who have committed to implementing an air scrubber that they purchased from a plant in South Carolina. It arrived in Vicksburg with some parts damage which has slowed the installation. A crane will be brought on site to install the scrubber in the facility. It promises to reduce the odor. The owners from Martin, Mich. want to be good citizens, Mallery said. Trustee Reisterer said the odor was so strong near her property on Michigan Avenue that it sometimes makes her sick.

Hears Brownfield Information

Three presenters laid out plans for a Transformational Brownfield plan for the Mill property on W Avenue. Rachel Grover, resource coordinator for Kalamazoo County’s planning and development department, explained the next steps necessary for the village to take with the brownfield application.

She walked the council through the need for approval as part of the local units of government involvement in accepting and submitting the plan to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Lisa Philips, the environmental consultant who has worked on the project since its inception, described the amount of pollution on the site.

Significant amounts of fly ash have been found as the residue from burning coal to generate electricity. There are heavy metals in the components and volatile compounds in the soil, she said. There are vapor intrusion concerns along with a caustic pit that includes dioxins. Some of this was discharged into the creek on the east side of the building. Tax increment financing (TIF) money can be used to help clean this up. The soil can be taken off the site and moved to an all-care location.

“If nothing is done to the property than there will never be any taxes from the property,” Mallery said as he explained to the council what the money in the Transformational Brownfield plan would pay for.

Water Tower Fixes

It will cost $148,000 to do interior coating treatment to the village’s water tower in 2019, Malley told the Council. It has been six years since the interior has been worked on. There is a plan in place to serve the public so there will be no disruption of water service during the work, he said.

Redevelopment Ready Community

By authorizing a village application to become a Redevelopment Ready Community, the council set in motion a process that will take up to three years to complete. The cost connected to applying is negligible, said Village Manager Jim Mallery. He did cite some expenses that would need to be made such as an upgrade to the village’s web site, while noting his promise that the village would operate with complete transparency. It is designed to promote effective redevelopment strategies through a set of best practices. Other participating communities include Boyne City, Grayling, Grand Haven and Ferndale. These are examples of communities with a clear vision for their future and the fundamental practices in place to get there, according to the Pure Michigan website.

There are six main best practices set out by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation which oversees the application process. They include community planning, public outreach, zoning regulations, a review process, recruitment and education. Some of the village’s sub-governmental boards will be included in this best practice model; the members will need to make an application to serve on the DDA, Historic Village Committee, Parks and Recreation and the Municipal Building Authority.

There are many benefits to the community as the village goes through the process, said Trustee Tim Frisbie. “I hope we can even have the meetings live on Facebook, so the public can see that their money is being used in the best way possible.”

Recreational Marijuana on the Village Council Agenda

By Sue Moore

Although Michigan voters in November approved a ballot initiative legalizing sale of marijuana for personal use, local government approval is still required. Vicksburg’s Village Council will consider whether to permit or prohibit sales in coming months.

Although it has no binding impact on the council’s decision, Village Manager Jim Mallery pointed out to the Council at its November meeting that 57 percent of 2,600 village residents who went to the polls approved the statewide issue.

Mallery presented information about a potential ordinance that would allow the Village Council to put rules in place over a 12-month period. Then it could choose whether or not to permit sale of recreational marijuana within the village limits. The staff will complete its recommendations and schedule a decision on the ordinance at its December meeting.

In other business, the Council approved a state-mandated storm water management ordinance that Mallery assured the council is mostly boiler plate. Questions were raised as to whether the village had adequate systems in place should there be an overflow due to heavy rains. That brought up the question of where the storm water was being funneled. Mallery said he is confident that the system is handling everything just fine.

Dirk VanKrimpen, a Sunset Lake resident, was concerned about septic tanks around the lake. He said that sewage from properties not connected to the village sanitary sewer system might be leaching into the lake. He feels the lake level is set too high by the county drain commissioner thus causing pollution problems.

Trail Update

The village is still negotiating with two property owners that abut the trail extension going north to Portage. The council was asked to approve a sales contract not to exceed $30,000 for the properties. The engineering work is being done over the winter with construction on the last leg of the trail going north from TU Avenue, in the spring.

Purchase of two new water meter readers were authorized that would improve electronic reading of meters. There was enough money in the water fund to support the $18,300 purchase, Mallery said. “We are going through every single water bill to get the reads correct. We have found that input for irrigation meters were done wrong. It was just not done as well as it should have been,” Mallery said.

Local Units of Government Meet Together

IMG_0106
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

flood 11
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.