01-24-2019 Frigid start of the week chills Tri-Cities to the bone; Police Reports; Payment in lieu o

Watervliet moves ahead with management plan to fund city improvements; water and sewer budget revenues over-estimated

At a special meeting held Tuesday, January 22, 2019, the Watervliet City Commission took the final step to move forward with a city-wide asset management plan.

With Wightman associate Frank Lapeer and Engineer Alan Smaka on hand to answer any final questions, the City Commission had one more look at a proposed time line to move forward with an asset management plan. In developing an asset management plan, the city can decide how to manage and fund future improvements to their aged infrastructure.

Through the Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater (SAW) Grant the City has already been able to assess inventory, make conditional assessments, establish the level of service, evaluate the criticality of the systems, and to develop a capital improvement plan for its storm water and sewer systems.

Other pieces of the puzzle include technology tools that will provide permanent records that tell the story of the city’s infrastructure no matter who is sitting at the Commissioner table or serving as city staff. All of the data, maintenance, and history are available at the click of the button.

With an asset management plan in place, the city can go from being a fix it when it breaks scenario into a more proactive system.

With giving Wightman the go ahead with the city-wide asset management plan, the city will then be able to see from a financial standpoint the kind of increases in rates it would take to do capital improvements. The figures for the operating expenditures included what the city is currently paying for treatment costs. With approximately a 6% increase per year, the city could possibly undertake a $3 million bond issue which could allow the city to actually go in and complete the infrastructure improvements once and for all.

A $3 million USDA loan would be for 40 years at a rate of about 3.25%. With an annual 6% rate increase from 2019 until 2029, the city then could reduce the annual increases to about 1.5% going forward from 2029. Once improvements are made, costs should actually go down, and ultimately that savings would be passed down to the residents. Smaka pointed out that with the improvements being made, they will also be able to reduce the amount of flow being treated which will ultimately reduce the cost to the city as well. They hope to have the USDA loan submitted for potential payment coming in the spring of 2020.

The city will be looking at creating a 20-year plan for getting their systems where they need to be and maintaining them.

As part of the plan, the city will also do an inflow and infiltration study which could provide a potential savings for them and will provide a plan for how to offset that going forward.

City Manager Tyler Dotson said, “The part I am most excited about is the ability to plan for future generations so that they can be managed by anyone who might come in to the manager, commissioner, or staff position.”

Smaka added, “If it is not embraced culturally, you are wasting your money. We wouldn’t propose it if we didn’t think it would be fruitful,” With that the City Commissioners said to proceed with the plan as it was presented. The plan could cost the City approximately $180,000 from Wightman; however, the collection of that could wait until the USDA loan comes in.

Mayor Dave Brinker said, “This is probably the most pro-active thing we have done.”

Budget amendments

Dotson has been reviewing the budget and found a handful of areas where the budget numbers of this budget year didn’t take into effect the actual revenues and expenses. The sewer and water funds, major areas, were budgeted with numbers that were higher than they should have been.

Dotson pointed out that the proposed budget numbers used as revenue for the sewer fund was $302,500 however, last year they only took in $250,000 in revenues. Dotson said another area was the budget for what they paid the sewer plant. It is about $205,000 and yet the budget for that is only $185,000. “No matter what shortcuts we do, we can’t make up that kind of money,” Dotson said adding, “We have two choices, cut budgets and expenses or take money from fund balance to offset the difference.” Dotson thought that finding enough cuts to make up that kind of difference was unlikely.

Dotson said in the water fund, the revenues from water were budgeted at $507,000 however, based on revenues so far, his estimation is $440,000. “The numbers that were used were not good numbers,” Dotson said adding, “In no way is this a crisis or in panic mode, we will need to fix it but if we did budget amendments now that would only be a temporary fix.” Dotson said he was optimistic that they will be able to figure it out. He plans that at the February meeting they will be able to do those amendments. “We will make sure the numbers going forward will be where they need to be,” Dotson said.

Meeting time change in effect from February going forward

A discussion was held about changing the long-standing meeting schedule for the City Commission meetings to accommodate one city commissioner. Bill Whitney, who is also a firefighter with the Watervliet Fire Department, has a clear conflict with leaving the first meeting of the month on the second Tuesday. The fire department does its monthly training on that date.

Commissioner Muth made the motion to change the meetings from the second and fourth (if needed) Tuesdays to the first and third (if needed) Tuesdays. The second meeting is a workshop and is not a permanent meeting but would be adjusted to accommodate the first meeting date if needed. Brinker was the lone “no” vote.

Redevelopment Ready Communities

Dotson said that the report that must be submitted as the city moves forward with becoming a Redevelopment Ready Community has been submitted. With the help of Mallory Brown, the city submitted the first quarterly progress report. Dotson said all the feedback was positive. Coming soon to accommodate their work will be draft ordinance changes, adopting a capital improvement plan, social media presence, website updates, branding the city and evaluating the master plan. Some zoning changes will need to be made as well and Dotson said they are working with Bob Lohr on that. “We are working on that as we want mainstream zoning language versus some of the antiquated language we have,” Dotson said.

Economic Development strategies will be coming also as part of the plan, including site development like the old paper mill site, taking into account the natural assets the city already has. Future steps include collaboration meetings with the DDA, Planning Commission and the community.

Frigid start of the week chills Tri-Cities to the bone

By Jon Bisnett Near record cold blanketed most of Michigan as folks awoke Monday, Jan. 21 to shocking low temperatures throughout the Tri-City area. While Coloma Schools had already booked an optional day off in observance of Martin Luther King Day, Hartford and Watervliet schools called off school in the face of dangerous ambient temperatures as windchill was subzero at the time most schoolchildren would have been boarding the morning bus ride.

CEY CONDITIONS… The frigid temperatures of Monday gave way to a brief warm up into the low 30s on Tuesday, rapidly turning to freezing rain which blanketed the area causing numerous of slide-offs and crashes across all of Southwest Michigan. Interstate-94 had multiple closures due to pileups. Most area events for Tuesday evening were cancelled as law enforcement warned the public to stay off the roads lest they end up like this unfortunate motorist who found the ditch on CR 687 just south of 65th Avenue near Hartford. (TCR photo by Jon Bisnett)

A reader from Hartford reported -17 degrees at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning despite bright sunshine throughout the morning. Hartford Superintendent Andy Hubbard followed suite with most all other Van Buren County schools when he made the call to cancel. “Our roads were fine for the busses, but in communicating with other superintendents throughout the late hours of Sunday night, we came to conclusion that the extreme temps and warnings of frostbite in mere minutes was just too much of risk to expose our students to,” said Hubbard. Fortunately, the Tri-Cities remained free of frozen water mains, although there were instances of affected water lines. Public Works thawed a frozen line in front of Watervliet Hardware early Tuesday. The region experienced a swing of the weather pendulum Tuesday night and Wednesday as a warm front brought rain and freezing rain which turned roads and sidewalks into ice rinks. Most schools in the area and many events were cancelled. All this comes on the heels of the first major snow dump of the season that dropped anywhere from 6 to 10 inches over Friday night through to Saturday noon, also causing many area cancellations stretching into Sunday morning services at some area churches. The slight mid-week warming trend will give way to additional snow with yet another polar blast of low temperatures predicted for this coming weekend. And such is life in our winter wonderland we call home, following a ridiculously mild November and December that had many of us lulled into thinking winter just might not come this season. News flash… It’s here!

Police Reports

By Annette Christie Ambulance tumbles with patient on board, winter weather to blame On January 19, 2019, at approximately 4:48 p.m., Berrien County Dispatch received a 911 call reporting a single vehicle accident involving a Pride Care Ambulance at I-94 westbound in Watervliet Charter Township. On scene, it was determined that paramedics from Pride Care Ambulance were in the midst of a non-priority transport of a patient to Spectrum Lakeland in St. Joseph when the driver of the ambulance lost control of the ambulance in slush/snow on the shoulder of the interstate. The driver lost control of the ambulance, causing the vehicle to roll over. The ambulance driver, Medic Kyle Robertson, 21, of Bangor reported being shook up but did not sustain any apparent injuries. The other medic, Andrew Sack, 22, of Battle Creek sustained lacerations to his head during the roll over. The patient in the ambulance, a 69-year-old female from Watervliet was taken on to Spectrum Lakeland in St. Joseph by a second Pride Care Ambulance that was dispatched to the scene. The other medics were also taken to the hospital to be checked out. Interstate-94 was shut down to westbound traffic for about an hour. The accident is being investigated by deputies from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department – Watervliet Township Deputies, Coloma Township Police Department, Watervliet Township Fire Department, and Pokagon Tribal Police. Florida man dies while visiting Michigan, another man in critical condition The Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel E. Abbott reports that deputies responded to the 8000 Block of County Road 215 in Grand Junction for a report of two men sleeping in a car. Deputies found a 22-year-old male in the driver’s seat, deceased. The passenger, also 22, was found to be unresponsive but breathing. The passenger was transported by Bronson Air Care to Bronson Hospital where he was listed in critical condition. Deputies believe that the two male subjects from Florida were in the area visiting friends and drove into a field where the vehicle they were driving became stuck. The two appeared to try and get the vehicle unstuck from the field but were unsuccessful. While deputies are still waiting for the medical examiners’ report, it is believed that the extreme cold played a factor in the death. Deputies are not sure why help was not sought or why the two did not walk for help but it is believed to play a role in this factor. Once a complete investigation is done, the Sheriff’s Office will release more information and the names of the subjects involved.

Payment in lieu of taxes proposed to City of Hartford by Dorrane Greene housing project to avoid tax disputes

By Jon Bisnett At the Monday, Jan. 21 workshop the Hartford City Commission eased into 2019 with the appointment of Commissioner John Miller as Mayor Pro-Tem, a visit from Miss Hartford and her court and a visit by WODA representative Craig Patterson. Miss Hartford Brynn Duffy and 2nd Runner-up Piper Reinhardt presented an opportunity to city officials to participate in the financial support of the perennial award-winning Hartford Community Float. Duffy revealed this year’s float theme to be the Wizard of Oz and promised some really big ideas in the conceptual stage. Craig Patterson spoke to the city on behalf of WODA, the developers and owners of the Dorrane Greene development complex. After several years of contested property assessments, many of which have gone WODA’s way at the Tax Tribunal, Patterson approached with an offer of PILOT, Payment in Lieu of Taxes. The offer would in effect guarantee the city a per-negotiated standardized payment for utility services and alleviate the cumbersome mechanism of challenging the assessments. The lengthy and precise presentation yielded a handful of talking points which now leads the city to further discussion on the matter, pending a few questions that required some additional data from WODA and most likely, a consultation with the City Attorney. Communications March Board of Review will take place Wednesday, March 20 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. on the 21st. State Representative Beth Griffin will host a Coffee Hour at City Hall on Friday, Jan. 25 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Show Cause Hearings Mayor Rick Hall briefly called for a suspension of regular business to hold show cause hearings for dilapidated properties at 32 and 34 W. Main St. as to why they should not be demolished. Both owners, having been legally notified, failed to show allowing the city to move forward with the demolition process. Police Report Chief Tressa Beltran presented a written report detailing activity of 740 duty hours with 12 foot patrol hours which included 68 complaints for the month of December, resulting in five arrests including three felonies. Ordinance Officer Report A written report from Ordinance Officer Jim Coleman noted just four property inspections for the month of December. Blight postings for the month totaled 29 violations resulting in 29 follow-ups.

Fire Report The Hartford Joint Fire Department responded to 48 calls in the month of December, including 38 rescue/ medical calls and no structure fires, with Assistant Chief Kevin McGrew reporting. Chief Robbie Harting recently suffered an off-duty back injury and is awaiting a doctor’s determination. Replacement Air Packs are on order.

Ambulance Report Bill Mears of Pride Care Ambulance was in attendance reporting six Priority I calls at 8:13 and a single Priority II at 10:24 and a single Priority III run at 8:11 for an overall average response time of 8:11. Mears addressed questions of the recent weather-related rollover crash of a Pride Care Ambulance on I-94 near Watervliet. Staff and transport patient received only minor injuries. The unit in question is a total loss with an estimate $53,000 to repair. A replacement unit has been put into service and Mears has contacted the manufacturer that happened to have two demo units immediately available, and is now committed to Pride Care purchase.

Public Works Superintendent Dan Staunton was present to answer questions on his written report noting December as a time for servicing equipment with light snow removal and salting of City streets. Three water turn-off and two turn-on actions took place for the month. The City pumped 5.27 million gallons for the month.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Plant Operator Tom Strand was on hand and indicated that all State of Michigan reports for the month have been filed along with routine maintenance tasks. Treasurer’s Report Treasurer Pam Shultz presented a written report for the month December in the amount of $229,032.64.

City Manager’s Report City Manager Yemi Akinwale reported on a proposed across the board increase to the capital reserve charge for sewer services by $4 per monthly billing period. “Everyone basically pays the same without regard for volume,” Akinwale said in his monthly report. “This allows the city to start addressing the vulnerable sections discovered during the project as quickly as possible by utilizing the city’s manpower by rebuilding our cash reserve to make repairs without incurring any debt with a significant cost saving to the city.” The new rates would go into effect March 1, if approved at the next week’s business meeting. While the results of the SAW Grant system evaluation were not as bad as feared, it is still prudent to address priorities identified in the exhaustive survey before they fail and become major problems. New business A brief discussion of the 2019 Fire Department Budget took place, with approval assumed to be granted at next week’s business meeting. Akinwale introduced the first reading of a proposed ordinance to opt out of Recreational Marijuana sales in the City. The City Manager explained that if no action is taken and LARA fails to get licensing in place by the timetable in Proposal 1, the licensing and administration falls upon the municipalities. There was no mention of any upside of income, but the discussion clearly demonstrated the Commission has no interest in administrating such. Akinwale explains that the city can always opt back in should all proceed on time at the state level. Having no further business, Mayor Hall adjourned the meeting at 8:55 p.m. The council next meets for the monthly business session on Monday, Jan. 28.

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