NEIGHBORING RIVALS… Coloma Comets beat the Watervliet Panthers on a home court advantage Friday night, 61-50. Senior forward #42 Amir Hall goes in hard to be met by the hand of Panther senior Cole Pline. (TCR photo by Amy Loshbough)
Coloma plans tribute to Vietnam vets; Freshwater Church finds a home in Coloma “Watervliet’s loss is our gain”
By Nancy Albright
The Coloma City Commission unveiled plans on Monday, Jan. 27 for a spring celebration honoring the service of Vietnam veterans.
Commissioners emphasized that the event is a homecoming of sorts to thank Vietnam vets the way they deserved to be thanked when they returned from duty in the wake of opposition to the war in the 1960s and 70s.
PFC James McCloughan of South Haven will speak at the rededication following a parade through downtown Coloma, tentatively planned for Saturday, May 9 at 3 p.m. McCloughan, an Army combat medic for the 21st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, received two bronze stars and two purple hearts for saving the lives of 10 members of his company during the battle of Nui Yon Hill, May 13–15, 1969, and was awarded the Medal of Honor 48 years later.
The city plans to relocate the Vietnam war memorial in Baker Park to the north end of the park for rededication. “After widening Paw Paw Street, the memorial now sits right at the curb and you can’t read it unless you stand in the street,” said Mayor Pro Tem Marsha Hammond. “It deserves to sit in a place of honor where people can see it, so we’re creating a military memorial park.”
The city will hang banners from the light posts along the parade route honoring several local veterans and Coloma FOP Lodge 147 will host a dinner.
Several area American Legion and VFW posts are already involved, including Bangor and Legion Post 49 in South Haven. “We’re calling all the veteran’s organizations in the area and inviting them to be part of the event,” said Hammond. “This is not just a local thing. Everyone we’ve talked to is really excited about it.”
The city asks that residents spread the word. To participate in the parade or help in some way contact Coloma City Hall, (269) 468-6606.
To make a donation please visit Edgewater Bank in Coloma, 167 N. Paw Paw St. The city will donate leftover funds to a local or national veteran’s organization.
Freshwater Church moving to Coloma
After being denied a special use variance after nine months of discussions with Watervliet, Freshwater Community Church will take up residence at 177 S. Paw Paw St. in Coloma this spring.
The multi-use facility will house services, and a family-focused community center that will offer after-school programming, parenting classes, youth group activities, Bible study, support groups, and space for city activities and festivals.
The church has been in Coloma since 2010 without a permanent address. “We have always focused on community, not facility,” said Freshwater Pastor Justin VanFerrari.
In the past, the church held services at Coloma Middle School, and now the congregation worships at Fairfield Inn and Suites in Watervliet. “We feel the building at 177 S. Paw Paw is the ideal location for us to continue to fulfill our mission and vision as a church to help families and bring hope to the next generation. And the space would allow us to triple our congregation.”
VanFerrari provided the council with Phase 1 drawings and reported that the church’s offer for the building has been accepted. “Now that we have the approval of the city we can close on the building and move forward with the renovations. We are hopeful and excited to partner with the community and believe God led us to Coloma.”
Marsha Hammond said that Freshwater has been a major contributor to area residents with innovative outreach programming and the church has put more than their share back into the community. Councilwoman Linda Freitag welcomed Freshwater to Coloma and said, “Watervliet’s loss is our gain.”
Countywide bus service pilot underway
After ten years of discussion, Berrien Bus launched its countywide transportation program in January. The pilot runs through December 31, 2021 and is available to anyone in Berrien County. The service offers rides to and from medical appointments, shopping trips, employment, and other transportation needs.
Evan Smith, Transportation and Planning Coordinator for Berrien County Community Development, explained that the pilot combines and expands the services currently provided by Niles Dial-a-Ride, Buchanan Dial-a-Ride, Benton Harbor Dial-a-Ride, and the Berrien Bus Rural Service Program. The loop encompasses Coloma, Watervliet, Benton Harbor, Niles, and New Buffalo.
There will be regular flex routes and buses will stop four times during each loop. Flex route fares range from $1.25–$2.50 and fares for demand response services range from $2.50–$5.00. Riders utilizing both services will pay for transfers. Regional Reduced Fare Cards are available for seniors and/or people with disabilities.
Hours of operation are Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and all buses are fully handicap accessible. Demand response passengers should schedule pickups 24 hours in advance and limited same day service may be available pending demand.
The pilot will generate the data needed to determine the feasibility of continuing the transportation program after 2021. Adjustments to service will be made throughout the pilot to ensure the availability and sustainability of service.
Call (269) 471-1100 for information or to schedule service. Bus policies and guidelines can be found at mywaythere.org.
The Berrien Bus Pilot Program is funded through state and federal grants, bus fares, and a contribution from the Berrien County Government.
Paw Paw River marking system in the works
Berrien County Emergency Management Coordinator Captain Rockey Adams is currently working with North Berrien Fire Rescue Chief Mike Mattix and Rick Rasmussen of Friends of the Paw Paw River to solidify the standardized river marking system designed to help dispatchers pinpoint the location of distressed mariners and craft.
Markers will be posted every quarter mile for the entire 68 miles of the river trail. Signs for Coloma City, Coloma Township, Hagar Township, and Watervliet come with a price tag of $3,000, which will be split four ways. The group is seeking approval from all four municipalities and the Coloma City Council approved the request for their portion of $750 on Monday night. The markers will be numbered to address color blindness and the fire department will install the signage.
Multiple addresses slowing first responders
Last month, Pride Care Ambulance Service answered 14 calls with an average response time of 6:52. But first responders suffered a 12-minute response time in early January to reach a stroke victim at Coloma American Legion Post 362 because the Legion is listed as having three different addresses.
After working with Pride Care and Berrien County Dispatch, Commissioner Fred Reeves reported that there are at least six businesses within the city limits and several in Coloma Township that have multiple addresses. The city will contact those businesses that need to address the issue.
The legion has decided to use the Sassafras Street address and is working with the phone company, their insurance company, and the liquor board to affect the change. “The legion has been very helpful,” said Reeves. “As a municipality, we need to get together and prod the rest of the business owners to get things right to avoid future tragedy.”
Local man jailed
James Mason, who has been reported 16 times for various offenses in the last six weeks, is now in jail. According to Coloma Chief of Police Wes Smigielski, Mason has been caught trespassing at almost every business in town and has four additional charges in Coloma Township. “Every time we pick him up we offer to help him locate to a homeless shelter and he refuses every time.”
Speeders in Coloma beware
After six months of warnings to motorists caught speeding, especially those traveling down the road into town, the department has started writing tickets. That warning period has ended.
In 2019 the department stopped 568 motorists and issued 137 traffic tickets. There are still 20 outstanding tickets and the offenders will be contacted to pay the fines.
Police performed 1,592 business checks and resolved 487 criminal complaints filed in Coloma City and Township during 2019. All three break-ins that occurred have been wrapped up and police recovered $9,000 worth of stolen property which has been returned to its owners. “We solved 95% of reported crimes last year by either ticket or arrest,” said Smigielski.
Coloma St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Celebrate the Irish on Saturday, March 14 with a day of fun followed by a lighted parade at 8:30 p.m. Registration for the 5K Run/Walk starts at 8:00 a.m. at Coloma Township Hall, 4919 Paw Paw Lake Rd., and the race begins at 9:00 a.m. The Coloma Public Library, 151 W. Center St. will hold a book sale from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., the North Berrien Historical Museum, 300 Coloma Ave., will have a children’s event from 1 – 3 p.m., and the Coloma Methodist Church, 144 S. Church St., will serve a traditional Irish Stew Dinner from 5 – 7 p.m. Awards, cocoa, and cookies will be served at the fire station immediately following the parade.
Parade applications are available at Coloma City Hall, or the North Berrien Community Development office, 209 N. Paw Paw St. Parade line-up at Fire Station #1, 170 Washington St., begins at 7:45 p.m. Contact Chana Kniebes at (269) 757-2457 for more information.
Spring cleaning on the horizon
This year’s Citywide Garage Sale is slated for May 27–29. There is no fee and residents must register at city hall to have their address listed in the flyer.
Spring Cleanup is June 1–4. North side pickup is on Monday and Tuesday and south side pickup is on Wednesday and Thursday. No refrigerators, tires, paint, aerosols, or brush please.
News from City Hall
The March Board of Review has been rescheduled from March 9 to March 11 and the winter tax deadline is extended to February 29, 2020.
The application deadline for a new City Ordinance Officer to perform rental inspections closed on January 28. The city will review applicants and make a decision shortly. The next Ordinance Meeting will be held on Monday, February 10 at 6:45 p.m.
The position of Berrien County Administrator will be vacated as of June 22, 2020 and applications for will be accepted through February 22, 2020.
City of Hartford opts in on recreational marijuana; Streamlines council meetings
By Jon Bisnett
Hartford City Commissioners moved to opt in with the State of Michigan to permit adult use recreational marijuana sales for those 21 and over, in the city at the January Business Meeting held on Monday, Jan. 27.
Additionally, the council also approved a major change in the monthly meeting protocol, combining Workshop and Business Meetings in a single session to be held the fourth Monday of the month beginning in February.
Public Infrastructure Hearing
Mayor Rick Hall briefly paused the meeting to hold a mandatory Public Hearing with respect to the Infrastructure and Resilience Grant Application from the Michigan Economic Development Department.
Hearing no objections, the council returned to the regular session.
Mayor Pro Tem
Mayor Hall called for nominations for the seat of Mayor Pro Tem for the coming year. John Miller was unanimously approved to the position.
Annual Joint Fire Board Meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the fire station.
The March Board of Review: Organizational Meeting is March 3 at 1 p.m.; taxpayer appointments may be scheduled with the board for March 9 from 2-5 p.m. and 6-9 p.m., and again on March 12 from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m.
The Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet will be held Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Hartford Sportsman’s Club 6 p.m. Tickets are available at City Hall.
The Hartford Sportsman’s Club has submitted their request to host the Annual Easter Egg Hunt in Ely Park on Saturday, April 4, with a rain date of the following week.
Van Buren County Commissioner Mike Chappell reported that following a positive evaluation by the Board of Commissioners, the Commission approved a three-year extension of John Faul’s employment contract. The contract provides for a 2% salary increase each year of the contract. The health care, retirement and other fringe benefits are identical to those offered to all county employees.
Commissioners also approved three-year contract extensions with numerous employee groups. These groups include: Sheriff’s Office Command Unit; Sheriff’s Office Corrections Unit; Sheriff’s Office Deputies Unit; Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Unit; All AFSCME Units; Judicial Officers Association; Assistant Prosecutors’ Association; Prosecutor’s Legal Secretaries Association; Non-Represented and Elected Officials. These agreements provide a 2% salary adjustment for each year of the contract. Health care, retirement benefits, time-off, and other fringe benefits, etc., are the same across the board.
The Board of Commissioners approved the appointment of Cindi Compton, Paul DeYoung, Matthew Newton, and Zach Morris to the Land Bank Authority Board. The County Treasurer completes the five-person Board.
Commissioners further appointed: Dave Foerster, Sandra Hanson, Judy Jansen, Matthew Newton to the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission through December 31, 2021.
Hartford Township property owner Lori Cross visited the council for the third time to pursue the possibility of the city annexing the family parcel located in the township just south of I-94. Cross has been approached by the Green Door provisioning center in Bangor in regard to developing a medical marijuana provisioning and grow facility on the property. After being rebuffed by the township, Cross is hoping the city may grant annexation, since the city has already approved the required ordinance to permit such an operation.
Mayor Hall expressed concerns regarding the former Speedway gas station parcel which sits between I-94 and the Cross property. Questions remain unresolved in the area of utility extensions and will require further review.
Chief Tressa Beltran presented a written report detailing activity of 744 duty hours with 15 foot-patrol hours which included 110 complaints for the month of December, resulting in seven arrests including three felonies.
Beltran expressed there was a great response to her department’s annual “Shop with a Cop” toy drive.
Ordinance Officer Report
A written report from Ordinance Officer Jim Coleman noted six property inspections for the month of December.
Blight postings for the month totaled 28 violations resulting in 28 follows-up.
Chief Rob Harting was on hand to report the department responded to 47 calls in the month of December, with 17 runs in the City of Hartford. Thirty-nine Rescue/Medical calls and two chimney fires comprised the majority of calls.
Total calls for the year 2019 numbered 673, eclipsing all prior totals. Chief Harting expects that number to now stabilize as 2019 was the first year of the HFD running on all medical calls as it works in concert with Pride Care Ambulance.
Harting reminded the council of the free smoke alarm distribution program now underway. A grant from the American Red Cross funded the program available to all Hartford residents. Residents will receive one alarm per floor. Call the HFD to arrange a free installation at (269) 621-4707.
The annual joint HFD meeting with city & township is scheduled for Feb. 12.
On Feb. 13 the HFD will participate in the Auto Safety for Kids program, offering free inspections of child car seats at the station on Red Arrow Highway.
Harting also made mention that throughout the entire state, firefighters will no longer be using any PFOS based foam fire suppression chemicals.
Pride Care Ambulance forwarded a written report of activity in the month of December showing nine Priority I calls at 6:4, six Priority II at 11:10 and two Priority III runs at 14:00, for an overall average response time of 9:09.
Superintendent Dan Staunton’s written report noting general maintenance tasks along with salt application and snow plowing interspersed with some cold-patching of streets during the warmer days. One water turn-off, one turn-on and two water meter repairs took place for the month. The city pumped 5.213 million gallons for December.
Wastewater Treatment Plant
Plant Operator Tom Strand filed a written report indicating that all State of Michigan reports for the month have been filed along with routine maintenance tasks. Average flow was reported at .224 million gallons per day.
Treasurer Pam Shultz presented a written report of bills for the month of December in the amount of $172,946.76.
City Manager’s Report
City Manager Yemi Akinwale outlined the project planned under the Infrastructure Grant to include replacement of water, sanitary and storm sewer along with road construction as follows: East Linden and Clark from Spaulding to Olds; Wendell Avenue from Oak to East Main; Clark Street from Spaulding to Olds; new 12-inch storm sewer, curb and gutter throughout project area in addition to ADA compliant sidewalk ramps throughout.
In anticipation of the council vote, commissioners have received a copy of the ordinance for the MRTMA, Michigan Regulation and Taxation Act.
Additional LED light fixtures will be installed along portions of Center Street and CR 687 per communication from Indiana and Michigan Electric saying they simply ran out of fixtures during the prior upgrade.
Minutes & Reports archived
Departmental reports and minutes from the December 16 combined Workshop/Business Meeting and January 20 Workshop were both approved and archived.
Mayor Hall entertained the motion which subsequently received unanimous approval to permanently combine the City Council Workshop and Business Meetings into one meeting to be held on the fourth Monday of the month. In the event of a holiday conflict, the date will revert to the third Monday. The new schedule will serve to streamline the meeting process on a regular basis, while reserving the ability to call a special meeting should a pressing issue warrant more immediate action. It also serves to remove the local overlap of the Hartford School Board which also meets on the first and second Mondays of the month.
Mayor Pro Tem John Miller made the motion, seconded by Commissioner Dennis Goss to Opt In to the State of Michigan Adult Use (21 and over) Recreational Marijuana Sales Licensing.
Med+Leaf owner Doug Von Koenig once again addressed the council as he presented several talking points in regard to his wishes to expand his license to include recreational sales. The State of Michigan began issuing Over-21 Recreational Sales licenses on Dec. 1 to established medical provisioning centers who apply within a municipality who has not opted out of recreational sales.
Von Koenig explained recreational purchases will see a 10% excise tax, 15% of that tax goes into a statewide pool that will be divided equally among participating municipalities.
To date, the nearest recreational sellers are in Battle Creek and Niles, with Medical Provisioning businesses in Bangor and Breedsville poised to add recreational sales in the near future.
Von Koenig summarized by explaining that this is a rapidly evolving business. He further rationalizes that companies that had previously expressed interest in coming to Hartford will in all likelihood look elsewhere where both medical and recreational facilities are welcomed. Running the math on the 10% excise tax, Von Koenig illustrated the significant economic potential for the city.
After being open just 75 days as a medical-only seller, Von Koenig says their customer base is over 500 individuals, with just 17% coming from the Hartford community. The remainder of over 80% is coming from distances as far as Chicagoland. True to his stated intentions from the onset, Von Koenig is able to demonstrate that his business is attracting people to Hartford with at least some level of local economic impact, be it fuel or a restaurant meal.
Hartford voters approved Proposal 1 (Over-21 Recreational Marijuana Sales) in November of 2018 by a 60% margin of 368 Yes to 245 No. The measure also was approved by Hartford Township voters by a narrower margin, 474-420. The statewide margin was 55% in favor, with Van Buren County supporting the proposal 15,898 to 13,195 (55%).
To the point as he has stated before, Von Koenig contends that as the business has now evolved to include recreational sales, no one will bring a new marijuana business to a municipality that does not permit recreational sales.
Hartford Speedway owner Tim Dibble also addressed to the issue explaining that he has experienced multiple contacts for cannabusiness development on his property. Unfortunately, none have actually come to fruition at this point. Dibble further reports that as of late the number one question that comes up from contacts he receives is “Is Hartford going recreational?”
Commissioner John Miller then spoke to the issue addressing the economic benefit. “No one else is knocking… It is here. It is properly regulated and our voters have clearly expressed their wishes by a 60% margin.” Miller further addressed hopes for ongoing rehab and development of the downtown, while also addressing the reality that it all takes money. “This is simply an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up.”
Miller further spoke to the matter of applicants Bloomhill LLC and Lake Grow Organics who are apparently on a self-imposed hold, which one can only presume is related to the recreation sales issue.
Commissioner Dennis Goss also addressed the council saying the voters have clearly voiced their approval. “We basically have water, sewer and taxes as our only income. Revenue sharing from the casino has helped the city and recreational marijuana revenue represents unencumbered income that can be directed as the council sees fit.” Goss further stated that he had sat with the city manager and looked at optimistic projections that could potentially reach a point that allowed the city to rehab a street every year.
With not one member of the council presenting a negative point of discussion, Mayor Hall called the question. The roll-call vote was in favor of the Opt -In by a split decision margin of 4-3. Commissioners Sullivan, Goss and Miller voted in the affirmative, while Burleson, Tibbs and Dockter said no. The deciding vote in favor was cast by Mayor Hall.
Med+Leaf will now be able move forward with the state paperwork to secure their recreational license.
Following the resignation of Coin Express Laundry owner Jeremiah Smith from the Hartford Downtown Development Authority, the board appointed the owner of Vibrant Healing, Judy Phillips, to fill the board vacancy.
Ordinances & Resolutions
Resolution 2020-001 Poverty Guidelines; Resolution 2020-002 Alternate Dates for March Board of Review; Resolution 2020-003 Acceptance of Letters of Protest from Residential Property Owners; Resolution 2020-004 City Council Meeting Dates; Resolution 2020-005 Authorizing CDBG Infrastructure and Resilience grant application
Having no further business, Mayor Hall adjourned the meeting at 8:02 p.m.