Category Archives: Government

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.

W Avenue Road Resurfacing Experiment

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Graduate students from Michigan Tech are shown here recording the speed of their vehicle on the experimental paving constructed on W Avenue just before the county road enters Schoolcraft village limits. They are testing the noise level made by their car traveling at 60 miles per hour.

By Sue Moore

An experimental rubber-asphalt surface, applied in recent weeks to a portion of W Avenue about 4,000 feet long east of Schoolcraft, will be evaluated for durability and noise in coming months by the Michigan Technological University team which developed the mix.

It may not be noticed by motorists.

W Avenue is a main connecting link between the Villages of Schoolcraft and Vicksburg. It’s designated an all-season road, capable of standing up under heavy trucks when other roads are placed under late-winter weight restrictions.

In the same project, the rest of the road eastward toward Portage Road and Vicksburg was variously resurfaced with a conventional hot mix asphalt (HMA) overlay, conventional chip seal, and hot rubber chip seal. The conventional sections will serve as control test sections.

Tests for endurance and noise will be carried out for the next year by a team from Michigan Tech in Houghton. Headed by Dr. Zhanping You, the team developed a specialized rubberized material never used before in a paving mix.

If successful, it could lower costs for the use of scrap tires in road building and prolong the service life of roads, according to Dr. You. The Road Commission of Kalamazoo County was chosen by his team for implementation because a member of his staff is a friend of Managing Director Joanna I. Johnson and knew she would be amenable to the idea and good to work with.

Her staff was instrumental in the successful experiment, taking great pains to study the technology and making it work on the two-mile stretch of road. The chosen portion of the road is heavily traveled –approximately 3,600 vehicles per day It was scheduled for resurfacing in 2018 and has a parallel road in VW Avenue that could be useful for comparison.

The MTU team returned to W Avenue in September to measure the noise levels on the newly resurfaced road. They found noise over the hot-rubber thin overlay section to be two decibels lower than the rest of the road.

The operation required specialized processing involving lots of chemistry to provide just the right mix of scrap tires and other materials that typically go into making conventional hot mix asphalt. This mix was developed by a colleague of Dr. You’s in Portugal. The hope is to be able to manufacture the specialized mix in Michigan and the United States if successful.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded this Scrap Tire Development Grant in cooperation with MTU to the Road Commission. The grant amount was $221,964 with a total project cost of $443,928. The Road Commission share was estimated at $136,964. The original project application was estimated at 13,672 scrap tires to be recycled. Based on the estimated final quantities 7,500 scrap tires were recycled.  This was primarily based on the adjustment in the hot mix asphalt overlay; “We reduced the thickness and therefore we had less tires,” Johnson said. MTU’s match was $85,000.

“The grant does not cover the full costs of a project and we are still finalizing this project’s costs. Due to the unforeseen complications with the equipment with the chip seal trial, we anticipate being over budget,” Johnson said.

“Scrap tire innovation is nothing new to the state. However, the type of recycled tire material used for this project has not been used here before,” Johnson said.

Schoolcraft Village Council Weighs Sewer Possibilities

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The Schoolcraft village council and its offices are being brightened up by Village Manager Cheri Lutz’ service dog she has named Teddy. Council member Todd Carlin is seated beside Lutz.

By Sue Moore

There’s been a lot of talk but no action over the years about a sewer system in Schoolcraft. That may be changing.

Alan Smaka, engineer from Portage-based Wightman Associates, filled in Schoolcraft village council members about an increasing possibility for increased funding through a federal loan/grant application.An application for the grant, funding a sewer system around Pickerel, Indian, Sugarloaf and Barton Lakes as well as the village, will be filed by the South County Sewer and Water Authority as early as this month. The area covered by the application can be scaled back at a later point if needed.

The Authority filed a pre-application with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a grant back in 2015 when in-depth discussions were taking place for the lakes and the village. Since then, Smaka said, that USDA’s funding has been tripled at the Federal level, an allocation which passes through to the states. That means that Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development also receives more money for projects that are slated for communities of 10,000 or less which can’t afford large public works projects on their own.

Smaka was at the meeting to explain this change and inform the group that the Authority had decided to go ahead and file the application for funding. He indicated that the Authority would know within 30 to 60 days through a letter of eligibility for the project. The next step would be a letter from the state agriculture department providing a statement of condition and obligation of funds. This would lock in the bond rate.

The chances of assistance are better this time for several reasons, Smaka said. Because of the income levels of the population to be included in the project, this area is eligible for a loan/grant of up to 45 percent of the total cost of the project. The application is being pared back to include just the lakes areas that want the sewer system and the village of Schoolcraft. It doesn’t include the village of Vicksburg which has decided to go on its own.

Smaka said they will ask for funding for the US 131 corridor and the entire village of Schoolcraft which would be the bigger project. However, it could be cut back to a smaller project if the entire village isn’t included and if just the US 131 corridor decides to go ahead. Barton Lake residents will again get a chance to approve or disapprove.

The Schoolcraft village council was not asked to take any action at the meeting.

While the Authority prepares the application, Smaka will be planning a public participation plan. This would include new costs with various ranges depending upon who actually wants to be included as a participant as well as more knowledge of USDA’s funding terms and potential for grants. The decision will come back to the Council as to who should be included in the sewer project, Smaka said.

Four Candidates Running for Schoolcraft School Board

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Schoolcraft School Board candidates from left to right: Darby Fetzer, Mike Rochholz, Rachel Phelps, and Wade Rutkoskie.

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft voters will face a choice with four people vying for just two open positions on the school board. They were featured in a question and answer public session sponsored by the Schoolcraft PTO in September.

Current board President Darby Fetzer and trustee Michael Rochholz are running for re-election. Challengers are Wade Rutkoskie and Rachel Phelps.

Rutkoskie is a Schoolcraft alum and parent of a seventh grader currently in the district. He has been heavily involved in the facilities study as a member of the committee. He said he chooses to live here despite having other options. “That desire to be a part of a community and to help make decisions to move our community forward is very important to me,” Rutkoskie said.

Phelps used to work in Schoolcraft schools and her husband’s family has lived in the community for over a century. “I have a different perspective as somebody that has been involved in what each day actually looks like in a school filled with children and the unpredictable things that go on,” Phelps said.

Rochholz brings 18 years of experience on the board and is also a director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, having served as its president in 2017. “It really is all about our students and what we do here is paramount to the success of the outcomes of our students,” Rochholz said.

Fetzer has served on the board for 14 years. The last three years she has been board president, saying she has overseen many of the big changes in the district recently. “I’m passionate about student education and having the structures in place to support learning,” Fetzer said.

All the candidates agreed one of the largest issues facing the district right now is the state of their current facilities. “In order to support the great work that our teachers and students are doing, I would change our facilities,” Rutkoskie said. He would like to see them aligned with the way education is delivered in a group or team problem-solving effort.

The candidates were also asked about increasing enrollment in the district. Phelps said it is important to keep the district’s high-quality staff members. “We don’t want to be a stepping stone, we want to be a solid place for people to land and they want to stay,” Phelps said. She also proposed investing in athletics and fixing up the stadium and track to make them more appealing.

The candidates were asked about their vision for the district 10 years down the line. Fetzer said she hopes to see more space for more active learning and an environment where students can feel safe. “I’d to see an even more inclusive environment where people can talk about ‘Gee, I’m dealing with anxiety or depression,’” Fetzer said. “I would like to see those conversations normalized.”

A member of the audience directly addressed the board about safety specifically pertaining to the problem of school shootings. The candidates all agreed the problem has much deeper psychological roots and the problems can probably be avoided ahead of time through conflict resolution and counseling.

Darby Fetzer

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I am community-oriented, bring experience and dedication and will help ensure continuity and continued success of Schoolcraft Schools.

I model excellence in education and am passionate about all of our children being well prepared for life. I understand the value of education and earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, a master’s degree in organizational management and obtained advanced certifications in emotional intelligence.

All three of my daughters excelled at Schoolcraft Community Schools. I engaged extensively in helping to provide an excellent learning environment in the district. I served as president of the Co-op Preschool, vice president and then president of the PTO, taught Project Charlie and Junior Achievement. For the last 14 years, I’ve served on the Schoolcraft Community School’s Board of Education. I have served as trustee, secretary and for the last three years as president. I’ve taken numerous board-related coursework in order to assure our staff and administration have the resources and support needed for on-going excellence.

SCS’s success is no accident but rather the result of long-range planning, diligence and accountability to goals.

I am pleased that in my tenure, SCS’s Points of Pride include: #1 Middle School and High School in Kalamazoo County (source: Department of Education Index), Destination District for Educator Talent in Kalamazoo County, and #1 in Kalamazoo County for fiscal responsibility.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

Regarding long-range facility planning, it’s important that Board members serve a community-based process instead of championing any one solution.

The Board will follow good governance practices by holding subsequent community meetings to provide information, answer questions and obtain input.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

Regarding Standards Based Grading (SBG), I completely support this practice. SBG provides a better picture of what a student knows and can do and aligns with best educational practices. Colleges are finding that students from SBG schools are better prepared and endure longer in post-secondary education.

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

Regarding declining enrollment, a recent survey of SCS School of Choice families indicates that families would move to Schoolcraft if there were available housing.
The district meets quarterly with local municipalities to address shared community concerns (e.g. available housing, village wellhead redundancy).

I bring wisdom, experience and dedication to the board table, helping ensure stability and continued excellence for Schoolcraft Schools.

Rachel Phelps

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I am running as a candidate for the school board because I care deeply for this community, the students and their families, and for the teachers and staff that make our school a great place to learn. I have invested time and energy in this district as a parent, a volunteer and an employee. All of those opportunities have given me the benefit of knowing what Schoolcraft is all about.

How would you recommend communicating the facility planning options to the public?
The Facility Committee has selected two options for the community to discuss and the postcards and website information have been helpful for keeping people up to date. I would like to see improvements to the stadium/track area be included in the upgrades, but ultimately the community needs to provide feedback to that committee on what is important to the voters.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

Standards Based Grading does not benefit the majority of our older students. First, colleges don’t grade this way and translating those 1-4 scaled grades into a GPA that colleges need to see on a transcript isn’t completely accurate. If we are continuing to encourage students to take KVCC/college courses, then we should be consistent in our grading to match up with the next level of education. Second, some students work really hard on assignments and understand the material, but struggle with testing and SBG doesn’t account for that. It will show the analysis and points for the lower testing scores, but not account for the study habits developed and progress that is made from daily assignments. Considering if this type of grading is a short term option in education or something that all schools will adapt to is important as we continue to spend time and money on this. It creates a lengthy report of data, but what does it really do to help students? Will students think high achievement or a perfect score is unattainable?

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

School of choice is a widely used option for families in our county and surrounding areas. Schoolcraft has been a popular choice because of the smaller class sizes, amazing teachers and programs that excel.

If we invest in our staff and in our programs/athletics, and remember the foundation of our school, families will continue to be drawn to our district. Schoolcraft is a community where family, longevity, and loyalty are all important and our school should be a reflection of those qualities.

Mike Rochholz

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

I have been a leader with a proven track record of serving the school district, townships and village. The key to these successes is the ability to listen and bring individuals together to collaborate … establishing and seeing through a mission, vision and strategic plan. As a trustee of the school board, it is important to understand that our role is to set the vision and goals for the district, adopt policies that provide the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals, hire and evaluate our superintendent and adopt and oversee our annual budget.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

As for the long-term facilities plan, as a board member it would not be appropriate for me to offer an opinion. Until we have a meeting of the board and I hear what the feedback is from the community committee and the informational community sessions, I don’t have a particular option that I favor.

How would you recommend communicating these options to the public?

As for communicating the potential project options to the community, once decided, we will need to attempt to communicate this in a manner that will reach everyone, as individuals receive their information in so many ways today. We cannot rely on just one mode of communication.

Do you support the Standards Based Grading system that the administration is implementing?

I do support the Standards Based Grading system that our instructional staff has been implementing. This is one area where we can once again recognize each individual student’s growth potential. If we truly believe that every child can learn, but learn at different rates … we must honor that! Understanding that mastery of subject is more important than the time in a seat is a significant change in education. But if we expect our student’s outcomes to be for career and college ready … this prepares our children for success at that next level.  It also empowers our students to take ownership of their learning and to set individual goals for improvement while having them celebrate their successes.

What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

We began the formal process of addressing student enrollment about a year ago. We are actually looking for sustainability in enrollment more than uncontrolled growth. It is not our desire to become a large school district, but we do have to maintain a certain number of students to be able to offer the programming that we currently offer. It begins with academic successes. Many families have brought their children to our schools for the educational benefits that they have learned about. Additionally, we offer many successful extracurricular programs, and the “small school feel.”

Wade Rutkoskie

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

My name is Wade Rutkoskie, and I am 46 years old. I have lived in Schoolcraft since the age of 5, and I graduated from Schoolcraft High School in 1990. My wife of 20 years, Cari, works at Stryker, and my son, Thomas, is in 7th grade at Schoolcraft Middle School.

I received my bachelor’s degree in business administration from WMU in 1995 with a major in finance. I have worked in a variety of industries in the Kalamazoo area, including building management systems and medical technology. Currently I am the Senior Manager of Business Integration at Tekna, a product development company, where I manage client relationships, contract negotiations, financial agreements, regulatory affairs and other business development activities.

Explain the long-term facility planning recommendations as you understand them.

I have served on multiple school facility planning committees to determine the best future for the kids in our community. I’ve also played an active role in the school’s long-term strategic planning committee. When I worked in the construction industry, I played an active role in the construction of our current high school and various district renovations. I have coached Schoolcraft Little League for eight years, and I also coached Schoolcraft Rocket Football for four years. I currently serve as the president of the Schoolcraft Athletic Boosters, a role I’ve held for the past four years. I also have been an advisor for Junior Achievement for several years at Schoolcraft High School.
What would you recommend to the board to increase school enrollment?

I would like to be a member of the School Board because I want to help influence the direction of our school district for the future. We have many complex issues to address, and I feel my education, experience and passion for our kids and community will be an asset to the board, as well as provide an opportunity to play a greater role beyond my past committee involvement. I believe that leaders serve others, and my service on the school board would be a way to give back to the community that has given me so much.

Mid-term Election Features Local Races

By Sue Moore

Candidates for the November mid-term election are being featured in this issue. This should help to inform voters early enough to be able to mark their absentee ballot which will be available by mid- October.

There are two local area non-partisan races especially important to our communities. The Vicksburg Village Council race features two incumbents and three challengers for three seats on the council. The Schoolcraft School Board race features two incumbents and two challengers for two available seats.

Voters will need to be sure to go to the very end of the ballot to exercise a vote in these elections, ones which often see a low turnout but are very important to the future of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft.

Each candidate has been given 400 words or less to answer questions the newspaper’s elections board has posed to them. The questions are listed in each candidate’s answer, whether for Congress, the state legislature, village council or school board, along with contact information for each candidate.

Three candidates did not respond to the offer to have a statement in the South County News; Matt Longjohn (Democrat) who is running for Congress against Fred Upton, Alberta Griffin (Democrat) running against Brandt Iden for 61st state representative, and Cody Dekker (Democrat) running for county commissioner against John Gisler. The newspaper did not reach out to two third party candidates, Lorence Wenke running in the 20th state senate district and John Anthony La Pietra in the 61st state representative district.

Fred Upton for Congress (Republican)

What is your position on gun laws at the Federal level?

I have a strong record on the Second Amendment and oppose taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. I also believe there are common-sense steps we can take to prevent dangerous individuals from using firearms to harm themselves or others. I have long supported more comprehensive background checks and banning dangerous modifications. I will continue to pursue solutions that protect our families and the constitutional rights of all gun owners.

What is your position on tax credits for Historic buildings?

I support historic tax credits to stimulate economic development while preserving our heritage. I fought to retain the federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC) in the 2017 tax bill, and support expanding and simplifying the credit. In Michigan, the HTC has helped leverage over $2 billion in investments in the last decade. The $50 million paper mill redevelopment in Vicksburg is one example of the HTC at work.

How can area farmers get workers through immigration reform?

Our farmers have struggled to access a legal workforce for years. The current H-2A visa program is burdensome and inefficient. I have supported overhauling the program as part of comprehensive immigration reform. Congress must reform our broken immigration system, and a functioning agricultural guest worker program should be part of the solution.

What would you recommend for veterans to get their full benefits through the VA?
We must take care of our veterans. Period. I’m pleased to report Congress just appropriated the highest funding level ever for veterans. Specifically, it includes $98.1 billion to provide care for our veterans. If you or a veteran you know ever has a problem getting their full benefits through the VA, please contact my office and we will help get what is deserved.

Rick Holmes for Vicksburg Village Council

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

These questions were not answered.

Rick Holmes, 53, married 20 years to Jennie Holmes. Children: Olivia and Josh, recent VHS graduates. VHS and Ferris State grad (bachelor’s in marketing and associate’s in biology). Lived in Vicksburg School District for over 30 years, 25 years business development experience in the medical device industry, current employer Hill-Rom.

Volunteerism is a core value for my family. I served on the Rocket football board and as a volunteer in Rocket football, Little League softball and elementary basketball coach. My children are now in college which gives me more time to serve our community.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

I support the Mill redevelopment with what I know today and look forward to the release of their proposal. An economic impact study being reviewed by the state of Michigan projects the mill development will result in 220 construction jobs over 3 years and 1,800 jobs in the initial five years of operation. The total impact on the Kalamazoo County economy during the three years of construction and first five years of operation will be $214 million in new wages, $399 million in new property value added, and $60 million in new state and local taxes. It’s not just about the money; it’s also about cleaning up the mill and turning the eyesore into something Vicksburg can be proud of. The Mill’s goals include global artist residencies, unique learning opportunities for VCS students, giving to local food banks, walking paths, becoming a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, developing a blue heron rookery, a bike trail and cleaning up the adjacent stream.

I understand reservations concerning noise and traffic for the large concerts that were included in the proposal. The Mill’s plan is to start with small concerts and in 8-10 years POSSIBLY build to a larger audience of up to 40,000, while using the lessons learned for a positive experience for attendees and the village. My understanding is these large concerts will be two weekends a year – 6 days out of 365. We live in a community where we accommodate one another and a neighbor is simply asking we work with them for 6 days in return for numerous benefits to the village and surrounding areas.

I have no financial gain if the Mill is redeveloped and if elected I am donating my Council salary to local charities. Request to join “Rick Holmes for Village Council” on Facebook to learn more about me and my platform.

Carl Keller for Vicksburg Village Council

Carl Keller qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in public Administration from CMU. Currently serving as Chairperson on Vicksburg’s Planning Commission, Career in Electrical Industry, Current Member and former President of Vicksburg Lions Club.
Community Involvement: Little League – former Board Member, Rocket Football – developed and former President on the Board, Rotary Showboat – participant, Lions Club – participant with Community Clean Up and Salvation Army.

I appreciate the opportunity respond to your questionnaire. However, since I don’t have any final documentation pertaining to the mill, I can’t offer an informed and thoughtful response at this time.

Regarding the downtown area versus online buying, I believe that our village has some great venues to show off the downtown proper. We still can do more via social media to make sure our downtown is highlighted to perspective customers.

Finally, regarding the increases in the water/sewer rates, it is unfortunately the nature of the beast. When you are relying on another entity to provide your service, you are beholden to whatever rates they wish to impose. I would want to make sure we are getting our best value based on the rates that are being charged. I would also like to explore the feasibility of a possible joint venture with Schoolcraft on a Water Treatment Facility, that would serve the needs of both entities.

My wife Kerissa and I have lived in Vicksburg for 28 years. We chose Vicksburg, as it reminded us both of our childhood communities. We proudly raised our two children (Bobby and Brooke) in Vicksburg and now they are out in the world writing their own stories.

I became a member of the Vicksburg Lions Club over 15 years ago, as I wanted to give back to the community. The club worked with me for the betterment of the Rocket and Little League programs. While serving as President of the Lions Club, I made Generous Hands one of the main local organizations we support.

Over 4 years ago, I was appointed to the Planning Commission and began working with other members on the Village’s Master Plan. We reviewed our Zoning and Ordinances to make them more simplified and workable. Since 2016, with the support of the other members, I have served as the Chairperson.

I am running for Village Trustee to bring my experiences and background as a resident of this Village to the council. If honored, with your support and vote, I will always keep the Village and residents my number one priority.

Julie Merrill for Vicksburg Village Council

I have considered it an honor to serve the people of Vicksburg on the village council. I support the planning commission, village council, village manager and all advisors by adding the checks and balances needed to revise and draft a working planned urban development (PUD) for our village and for Paper City. Major efforts are being made by all parties involved to move forward for the current and future residents of Vicksburg.

Please be informed, a revised plan will be forthcoming to the public for their consideration. Look for updates c/o the village office and local media. Respectfully submitted, Julie Merrill- Trustee, Vicksburg Village Council.

Denny Olson for Vicksburg Village Council

My name is Denny Olson. I am a 1972 Vicksburg graduate and I and my wife Karen moved back to Vicksburg 10 years ago. I am self-employed as a rare book and antique dealer.

Over four years ago I got involved in local affairs when some $50,000 in Vicksburg property tax money went missing from our Village coffers. Because of our involvement, WWMT TV3 investigated, the missing money was tracked down and two village employees were fired.

I ran for village council president two years ago by using our “Sell the Golf Course” campaign and I forced the Village to reveal that the Angel’s Crossing Golf Course is some $2 Million in debt.

The course is now self-sustaining.

In turn I unveiled misuse of public funds and out-and-out lying by people within the village and I held those people publicly accountable. Because of our actions, Fire Chief Tracy McMillan is still the chief and we averted a disaster that kept our firefighters from walking out.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

As for the Paper Mill… I have attended eight of the info meetings to get information and listen to our residents concerns. YES, I do support the Project… But I too feel it can be done without huge 40,000-people concerts. I feel what has been put forward is more of a “Wish List” instead of an actual plan and that too many questions have still gone unanswered and until those concerns are fully addressed I would have to vote NO!

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

In order to bring in new business we could see about subsidized rent programs and grants like those in Benton Harbor and Grand Rapids to help young businesses get going. A new bakery, a clothing store or a credit union have been talked about, but yet we see no recruiting to bring in those types of business.

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

As for the water bills, it is a necessary evil that we must all pay. Many of our systems have not been touched since the 1970’s and we are now paying for that neglect.
I have not missed a regular Village Council Meeting in over 4 years, so I knew the increases were coming months ago. I am prepared to represent and protect the residents of the Village of Vicksburg and I will not be a rubber stamp for any person or company that intends to force their will upon this village.

Ron Smith for Vicksburg Village Council

I’m a third generation Vicksburg resident running for a third term on the Village Council. I graduated from VHS in 1961 and retired from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005.

Do you support the Mill revitalization project as presented?

The Mill revitalization project is an ambitious undertaking unlike any previous venture in the Village of Vicksburg. Details of the project are the subject of intense negotiations between the Village and the developers. As a member of the Village Council it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

What other efforts would you put forth to improve the economic vitality of the village?

Vicksburg has much to offer its residents: K-12 schools, sports, eight public parks including a golf course, a lake, Library, Farmers’ Market, Rotary Showboat, Performing Arts Center, Lions Summerfest, Harvest Festival, Hearty Hustle, Old Car Festival, downtown events, and more.  These are all expressions of the dedication of our citizens, businesses and Village to promoting community spirit and economic vitality and should continue.

People recognize the advantages of small town living, and our population is growing. Consequently, there are very few residential vacancies in the Village. The housing market is brisk. In response to the demand for housing, both Allen Edwin and American Village Builders are actively engaged in new construction.

How can the downtown adapt to the changing environment with so many shoppers using online capabilities for buying things?

An obstacle to downtown development is the failure of owners to renovate vacant buildings and create viable business models. Vicksburg businesses can’t compete with Kalamazoo-area “box stores,” which in turn are having difficulty competing with online retailers. However, there is always a need for businesses that provide essential services to the community. Examples are the local restaurants and take-outs (at least 14 serving Vicksburg), bars, grocery stores, gas stations, hardware, consignment and general stores, health services, churches, library, barbers and hair salons, legal and accounting services, event center, electricians, plumbers, surveyors and more. We have all of these in Vicksburg, and you can’t get them online!

How do you feel about the forthcoming increases in water and sewer rates?

I’m in agreement with the recent letter sent to all residents from Village Manager Jim Mallery explaining the rationale behind the new water and sewer rates and need for infrastructure improvement.

Jen Aniano State Representative 63rd District (Democrat)

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

I am firmly in support of testing for PFAS statewide as a potential public health crisis and environmental catastrophe through legislation such as House Bills Nos. 6320 and 6321. These bills would require a public advisory to be issued when PFAS are discovered in a public water supply or in a well’s aquifer. Property owners would then be notified about the contamination and be provided with resources.

Do you support selling water to the Nestle company at such an inexpensive rate?

I will support all legislation meant to protect our health and safety. Similarly, I do not support selling water to Nestle for pennies so they can profit as a private corporation. This is especially egregious when we are struggling to consistently provide clean water to our own citizens across the state. This issue goes beyond partisanship – it is a matter of the wealthy working together to remain wealthy. Michigan’s natural resources should not be exploited for the interest of a corporation.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

I support our farmers and I believe that marijuana could be an excellent crop for our state so I do support legalizing marijuana. This topic can be controversial, so I am excited to see the decision be brought to voters directly on the November ballot. I will look forward to casting my vote along with everyone else who is passionate about the subject.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

I am a teacher, a mixed martial arts fighter, and I occasionally go shooting. I do not support arming teachers with guns. As someone who is experienced in these areas I feel very strongly that placing guns in the hands of teachers as a response to school shootings is irresponsible and dangerous. I support the Second Amendment but there is a strong line between responsible gun ownership and reckless fanaticism. We owe it to our youth to not politicize their safety and to focus on safe and effective measures to ensure their access to a safe learning environment.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

When I am elected it will be my first time as a publicly elected official. I have held numerous union positions throughout my career and am currently the vice president of my union. During my first term as a representative I would like to decrease classroom sizes, limit the amount of standardized testing in our schools, strengthen our laws protecting workers and unions, and focus on fair and sustainable agricultural practices.

Matt Hall State Representative 63rd District (Republican)

The candidate chose not to answer any of the set questions.

I am running for State Representative to be a strong, principled, common-sense voice for the citizens of southwest Michigan. From knocking on thousands of doors, I know that citizens’ top priorities include continuing to strengthen our economy, lowering auto insurance rates and defending our values.

Let me introduce myself. I graduated from Western Michigan University and WMU Cooley Law School, and am currently a constitutional law attorney. I was the West Michigan liaison for the Michigan Attorney General’s office and worked in the private sector for a combat propulsion systems manufacturer. I am honored to be endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau AgriPac, Police Officers Association of Michigan, Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Small Business Association of Michigan. My experience and support prepare me to represent you well starting on day one.

My priorities as your State Representative will be:

1) Michigan has the highest auto insurance rates in the nation, which harms working families and seniors on a fixed income. I will work to lower auto insurance rates by cracking down on fraud, repealing costly government mandates and giving consumers more choices.

2) Supporting our priorities, including our schools, public safety and roads. I will work to direct more resources to fix our roads by requiring all gas tax money to go toward infrastructure improvements, along with fighting for strong warranties.

3) Strengthening our economy by promoting skilled trades training, lowering taxes, and eliminating overburdensome regulations.

4) Preserving our Great Lakes and improving our water infrastructure to ensure clean drinking water for our families.

5) Protecting seniors from financial abuse, neglect in care facilities and scams, and repealing the pension tax. While working in the Attorney General’s Office, I supported the Senior Brigades, which helped empower seniors and their families to protect themselves and their loved ones from criminals and scams.

With your support, we will work together to take our Southwest Michigan values to Lansing and make our community and state an even better place to raise a family, work and live fulfilling lives. Thank you for your involvement in our community and for your families. I look forward to working hard on your behalf to listen to you, represent you, and represent our principles and values in Lansing.

Brandt Iden State Representative 61st District (Republican)

I am your State Representative Brandt Iden and I have served you for the past four years. I have remained accessible, continue to listen, and work hard to ensure your voice is heard in Lansing. I have continuously voted to enhance community safety, to grow jobs and the economy and to ensure government responsibility.

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

I helped secure $8 million in PFAS testing and cleanup and will continue to advocate for state funding to ensure safe water for all Michigan residents.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

If a majority of citizens want to legalize marihuana, then I believe it is incumbent upon the Legislature to safely regulate both medical and recreational marihuana.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

In today’s environment, school safety is of utmost concern. The parents of our local school boards know what is best for the safety of our children. At the State level, I recently obtained $60 million for school safety infrastructure upgrades and have permanently established the program OK2SAY to help keep our students safe.

Do you support selling water to the Nestle company at such an inexpensive rate?

Widely impactful decisions such as the Nestle contract, should be subject to legislative oversight. Your state legislature should be able to take a proactive role in contractual issues such as this to ensure that your voice is heard.

For my district, I obtained $13 million for our local public schools and $4.6 million towards road projects here in Kalamazoo County. One item I am especially proud to support is the historic preservation tax credit, which supports projects such as our very own Vicksburg Mill. The Vicksburg Mill project will be an incredible contribution to our local economy and will grow jobs right here in our neighborhoods. I am thankful to help this project at the state level and am committed to ensuring that all resources are available to support this endeavor. Moreover, I’ve specifically expanded the urban development credit to include rural and small community real estate development projects. Our small communities are the backbone of our region and we need to ensure they have equal access to economic opportunities in our state.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

I have a proven track record of remaining accessible, listening to you, hosting bi-monthly coffee hours throughout the district, and taking the votes that reflect your voice. Thank you for the honor to serve and I hope to earn your continued support.

Sean McCann State Senate 20th District (Democrat)

I am a lifelong Michigan resident and graduate of Western Michigan University. I’ve devoted my life to serving and improving Kalamazoo County and all of Michigan. I believe that we have an opportunity to change the future of Michigan and move it in a new direction – a better direction – and that’s exactly what I will do in the Senate.

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

The PFAS crisis our state is facing – particularly in southwest Michigan – must be addressed with the utmost urgency because the health of entire communities is at risk. I support legislation to require immediate advisories to communities that have tested positive for PFAS as well as measures to hold corporate polluters accountable for what they dump in our water.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

I support the ballot proposal to decriminalize cannabis. As a senator, I will work with police, fire and health departments to ensure any changes to the law are made with public health and safety as a priority.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

I have talked with teachers in our community about this issue, and the bottom line is that they are already tasked with the important work of educating our children and managing a classroom; the last thing they need is for Lansing to add a gun to the equation. We need to let teachers teach. The best thing we can do to keep our schools safe is to provide police and school officers every available resource to protect students and staff.

Do you support selling water to Nestle at such an inexpensive rate?

No. It’s appalling that the current administration is letting Nestle drain Michigan’s fresh water for their own profit while many communities in our state don’t have safe water to drink. Over 99% of those who submitted public comment on the Nestle permit – 80,945 people – opposed the move. This is clearly the wrong decision for Michigan.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected for the first time?

As a city commissioner for 10 years, I worked to build a sustainable downtown Kalamazoo, strengthen public safety, improve neighborhoods and clean up the Kalamazoo River. I also served as a state representative for four years, where I fought to improve public schools and higher education, reform partisan gerrymandering, protect the environment and improve public transportation. My office operated a district service office to give constituents a local office to contact their representative. I’ll bring my record of small town values, common sense solutions and big city results to the Michigan Senate this November.

Margaret O’Brien State Senate 20th District (Republican)

What kind of legislation would you support to test for PFAS statewide?

Having been on the ground in Parchment nearly every day since the PFAS news came to light, I know how important it is to establish a long-term plan to protect our drinking water. I’ve recently introduced legislation to create a $2 billion fund for water infrastructure and contamination cleanup throughout the state. Rather than a quick fix, we need real solutions to real problems that focus on protecting our freshwater supply.

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

At the end of the day, I will support the will of the people. I do have some regulatory concerns with the proposal as written.

Do you support arming teachers with guns in the school systems?

Earlier this year, I voted to remove the open-carry in schools loophole by voting to allow properly-trained and certified school officials to carry concealed. At the same time I voted to give local school districts the authority to decide gun policy for their own districts. I believe in local control, and I believe that when we empower our local teachers and administrators to determine their own policies, our entire community benefits.

Do you support selling water to Nestle at such an inexpensive rate?

It is important that Michigan properly regulates its environmental resources. Decisions made over the past eight years have helped created 555,000 private sector jobs, and Michigan is back to work again. Michigan has an abundance of natural resources, and we must strike the proper balance between creating jobs and protecting our environment. While I do not know the specifics of the Nestle permit, it’s concerning to sell so much of our water especially given the various water issues across the state. I look forward to continuing our work on these issues with my colleagues.

What have you done for your constituent district if you are an incumbent or what would you do if elected?

The constituents of Kalamazoo County are my priority. Each week, I meet with people on issues important to them. Sometimes they need an advocate with a department while others need legislative changes. My legislative accomplishments have come from the district. My work on sexual assault legislation was driven by people from our community. This important work will have a positive impact on many young lives. Additionally, I have worked to lower auto insurance costs, increase investment in skilled trades, protect our schools. It is my mission to serve the people of Kalamazoo. My record is one of working with both Democrats and Republicans. You can always count on me to be your voice. I will be your voice in Lansing, and I will continue to be accessible and responsible to you as your State Senator.

John Gisler Kalamazoo County Commission (Republican)

What would you recommend the county do to solve the homeless situation?

We should engage the numerous private organizations committed to alleviating homelessness. A first step should be to inventory these private resources and NOT another millage! Government is generally a less efficient and less effective problem-solver.

PFAS – what is the Health Department’s responsibility?

The recent PFAS situation is an excellent example of solid intergovernmental cooperation. The EPA, DEQ, county, cities and townships all put forth a coordinated, collaborative effort.

Jim Rutherford, the county’s Health Director, will continue to monitor and test impacted water supplies. He’ll also lead the effort to determine the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure.

Is the Hazardous Waste program effective?

The current program is definitely effective. The Household Hazardous Waste facility on Lamont Street annually collects more than 750,000 pounds of chemicals, lead-based paint and electronics. It helps protect our environment.

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

Recycling is a good idea, but decisions should be made by individuals and not imposed by government.

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

Absolutely no! Bill Kern, an economics professor at WMU, has studied sports arenas and events centers extensively. He believes a downtown arena will pull food and beverage business from outlying parts of the county. Bill estimates the net economic effect of an arena would be comparable to a new pet store coming to town.

I strongly object to building the arena on the taxpayers’ dime. If it’s viable economically, fund it privately and pay taxes like other businesses.

Village Council Approves Sewer Infrastructure Analysis

2015-11-04 05.17.10By Sue Moore

Allen Edwin Homes is ready to open 21 more building lots in its Centennial development in northwest Vicksburg. The company asked the Village Council for approval of the first phase of the site plan that is projected to be 106 lots when fully developed.

The request was quickly approved with the recognition that the increased flow in the village sewer system to Portage and the Kalamazoo treatment plant should be analyzed.
The cost is $10,000; money is available in the sewer fund to pay for it. Engineers from Prein & Neuhof had encouraged this approach to better understand the growth impact on the system.

A policy change in brush cleanup within the village was debated as Village Manager Jim Mallery pointed out the cost to the Department of Public Works and the time it takes to collect brush whenever it is put out on the curb by residents. He recommended collecting on the last week of each month, so the chipper used for branches doesn’t need to be hooked and unhooked so often to equipment that was in use for other operations.
Council members thought through the proposal and its enforcement. They could envision some confusion by residents and the timing of pick up each month. Mallery said he would prepare a written policy for the September meeting.

Approval was sought to increase the village’s contribution to the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority by $4,446 to pay for the increase of the fire chief’s salary from $15,000 to $40,000 per year. “It’s important to the community that Chief Tracy McMillan gets paid appropriately for his work,” Trustee Colin Bailey emphasized as the increase was granted.

Syd Bastos, executive director of the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center reported that the agency is still up and running while their building is being remodeled. They have cut back on some expenditures until the structure is usable again, but she wanted to be clear that they are still in business and will be looking to control costs until grant applications in the pipeline are approved.

Village Council Hears Plan to Improve Angels Crossing

tom ham 1
Tom Ham, president of Renaissance Golf Management, spoke to the Vicksburg Village Council about his business plan for Angel Crossing Golf Club.

By Sue Moore

A business plan for the municipally owned Angels Crossing Golf Club was presented to the Vicksburg Village Council at its July meeting. Tom Ham, the president of Renaissance Golf Management Group was hired in April 2018 to turn the golf course around. This report is his road map to future development.

Village Manager Jim Mallory said he has sought to have a business plan submitted for some time and this is what is needed for the course to be successful, he told the council. League play and memberships are up this year but there has been some confusion from golfers about new rules instituted by Ham’s company.

No golf carts are allowed in the parking lot this year as a safety precaution. That is a big change; they have been chugging along this way since the course opened. But insurance doesn’t cover the risk, Ham told the council. “It can be an inconvenience, so we are looking at other ways to accommodate the loading and unloading of golf bags by the front door. When you put up some boundaries you can make people unhappy.”

Also, too much alcohol is being brought onto the property against all the rules, Ham said. “Management needs to follow up and to say this is what we expect of you as a customer.”

Monthly financials are being sent to the financial committee of the council. A new point of service system has been installed to make things run smoother. “This is not an easy job or the village would have done it ourselves,” Mallery said.

Highlights of the plan’s measurable objectives for 2018-19 are on the village’s web site and include:

• Streamline operational efficiency.

• Develop a unique marketing strategy.

• Angels Crossing Golf Club, by all accounts, is one of the best layouts in the state of Michigan. Initial observations of course conditioning and aesthetics are below average as they relate to expectations, pricing, and comparative in competitive settings. Renaissance Golf Management believes that Angels Crossing Golf Club can be a “special” facility, but that success is dependent on improved maintenance practices and effort.

• As with any facility, the Angels Crossing golf shop operation is the nerve center of the facility. The focus is to optimize member and guest experiences while protecting the club’s interest and safety standards. The club must be for all to enjoy equally and it is the golf shop operation’s responsibility to ensure this for all guests.

• Angels Crossing Golf Club Food and Beverage operation is full service and has limited potential for events, wedding venues, and dining experiences based on kitchen and seating. The key to success is minimizing costs and limiting product selection while trying to come up with new and creative menu items.

• The Angels Crossing Golf Club clubhouse is functional but is lacking as far as storage, seating, kitchen area, and large golf outing hosting.

• Personnel is the backbone of any company. Angels Crossing will continue to strive to hire the most professional and dedicated employees in the industry, provide a positive work environment, and minimize the cost of payroll while maximizing productivity. In addition, we realize that we must be proactive in attracting outstanding employees and understand that great people come along when we may not be looking to fill a need. We will be open to make every adjustment in our workforce to accommodate an outstanding person that would better the future for Angels Crossing.

James Earl thanked Ham for his business plan, saying it will be measurable and will transform Angels Crossing if implemented. This accountability is what the council had requested over a year ago in his public statement.