Vicksburg wins $10.6 million in federal grant, loans

Vicksburg aerial photo by Taylor Kallio.

By Jef Rietsma

Federal officials last month announced Vicksburg will receive $3.7 million in American Rescue Funds.

The windfall comes through the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.

Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery said the municipality was able to parlay the funds with a 40-year low-interest $6.9 million loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to yield a total of $10.6 million.

The money will be used in various ways, though Mallery said he is especially pleased that a portion will go toward improvements related to the village’s water and sewer systems.

He said $3.7 million is the largest grant in the village’s history. Mallery noted the roots of the grant date to 2019. The village remained aggressive in pursuing the money and the dedication obviously paid off, Mallery said.

“Out of $500 million available country-wide, I think we were very lucky and we’re extremely grateful to receive such a substantial amount,” Mallery said.

The village will benefit in many ways. The grant money will support development of two commercial lots in Vicksburg’s Industrial Business Park and a 100-acre industrial-zoned site.

Meanwhile, a portion of the grant money, coupled with the low-interest loan, will be dedicated to the village’s wastewater infrastructure. Mallery said a critical project includes the installation of a force main parallel to Sprinkle Road intended to carry sewage to Portage’s system and thence to Kalamazoo for treatment.

“As a result, citizens should see continued development in the village because of that infrastructure capacity … what we’re putting in the ground gives us the ability to develop out the village,” he said. “For perspective, if the aging (infrastructure) concerns we have underground were potholes, people would be appalled. When we ran a camera through the system, it was clear we had to do this.”

Mallery acknowledged assistance from Portage and Kalamazoo city officials and the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. Each sent letters in support of the project, he said.

Support from federal, state and local officials accompanied a press release announcing the grant.

“The Economic Development Administration is pleased to support locally-driven strategies to boost business recovery efforts in Michigan,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “The upgrades to Vicksburg’s wastewater treatment system that will be supported by this EDA grant will create new and exciting opportunities for the village and the region.”

“This grant from the Economic Development Administration will help Vicksburg upgrade its water infrastructure, creating and retaining 350 jobs and generating $100 million in private investment,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “Today’s investment will build on our efforts to grow our economy, create good-paying jobs, and invest in every region of Michigan.”

“This funding will not only allow Vicksburg to make critical upgrades to its wastewater treatment system, but also expand their capacity for business and commercial development and generate further investment in the community,” said U.S. Senator Gary Peters. “I was proud to help secure this funding through the American Rescue Plan and will continue working to support new and innovative opportunities for growth in communities throughout our state.”

“We are extremely grateful for the help and support provided by Senators Stabenow and Peters, Congressman Upton, Michigan Senator Sean McCann and former State Representative Brant Iden, without whom these dollars could have gone elsewhere,” Mallery added.

“I’m very proud of our staff and their relentless pursuit of opportunities to keep Vicksburg vibrant and progressive. They are doing a very good job of keeping our wonderful community in the news and growing,” said Vicksburg Village President Tim Frisbie.

Schoolcraft seeks to fill key volunteer positions

By Rob Peterson

Due to a shortage of volunteers, the village Council discussed combining the Planning Commission and the Downtown Development Authority.

The Planning Commission is charged with recommending zoning ordinance changes to the Council regarding what property owners may do with their property. They determine what uses are allowed in which part of town and review site plans for proposed buildings.

The Planning Commission also plays a key role in developing the community’s master plan.

The Downtown Development Authority is responsible for increasing investment in the downtown area. A DDA typically has its own budget that increases as property values increase, and it may spend the money on events, promotions and business development.

Members of both groups are appointed by the village president. Most but not all of the volunteers are required to be village residents.

Currently, the village is required to have five members of the Planning Commission, but has just four. The DDA is required to have eight members, but it also has just four members.

State law allows a community of fewer than 5,000 residents to combine the Planning Commission and the DDA, as Vicksburg has. Doing so would reduce the total number of required volunteers from 13 to nine, reducing the shortfall of volunteers.

The council asked village Manager Cheri Lutz to review combining the two groups as a potential solution to the lack of volunteers.

While combining the two groups would allow the village to operate with fewer volunteers, it was not seen as a viable option by staff or the council.

“The Planning Commission and the DDA are two different groups with different perspectives,” said President Keith Gunnett. “The DDA is a group of businesspeople talking about how to grow our downtown, and the Planning Commission is people making rules.”

There was also a concern about having “a small group of people leading the town,” added Gunnett. “We really need more people involved.”

The council decided to keep the Planning Commission and the DDA separate, with a 5-member Planning Commission and an 8-member DDA. It is actively recruiting new members for both groups.

Correction: The May issue of the South County News misidentified the new Schoolcraft police chief. His correct name is Scott Smith.

Oswalt Park ribbon cutting to be held June 2

A closeup look at Oswalt Park.

The community is invited to the ribbon cutting at Oswalt Park on Thursday, June 2 at 4:30 p.m. This event will celebrate the completion of the redesigned community park, made possible with the help of the Michigan Economic Development Company, Patronicity, donors, and community support.

This family event is a celebration including food trucks, a community paint-by-number event and musical entertainment. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.