03-29-2018 Questions raised on proposed Coloma Township dog park; Easter Bunny’s Hartford appearance

QUITE A HAUL… You’d never know it was a chilly 40 degrees at Saturday’s Annual Hartford Easter Egg Hunt as 2-year-old Luke Birmele of Hartford poses with his loaded basket along with Hartford’s own Blossomtime Miss Congeniality Olivia Ziemer. Kids searched for their share of over 5,500 eggs carefully filled with candy treats and coins by perennial sponsors, the Van Buren County Sportsman’s Club.

Questions raised on proposed Coloma Township dog park

By Annette Christie The public comments portion of the March 14 Coloma Township Board meeting went against the dogs. A proposed dog park for the Washington School Park which was approved by the board at their February meeting seemed to ruffle the feathers of some of the baseball people that also use the park. Cody Kelly with Youth Baseball summarized all the things they do to support the park such as maintaining the fields, paying for the porta potties, water, and insurance which does not allow dogs. He said while they support the idea of a dog park, they don’t support the proposed location and have too many questions. Supervisor Ken Parrigin said they will do nothing to the park that will affect the ball diamonds. Another person suggested the dog park was going to be a problem. She brought up Randall Park and said it is not taken care of and she expects the same thing with the dog park. She was concerned with the safety of children with dogs that can be dangerous. Township employee Rory Bell said since they have bought the Washington School property and designated it as a township park, there is a long list of things that he has to do to keep it in compliance and anticipates much more with a dog park added. Someone suggested that the gravel section of the park where the buildings used to be, would keep the dogs away from the ball fields. Parrigin suggested he meet with the baseball people. To that though, Trustee Matt Moser suggested Parrigin was cutting the legs off of the Parks Committee that was established. Moser said he was in the process of working with the individuals at the parks. Another resident asked about the long term plan for the Washington School Park. The board’s answer was that there was a plan but then the grant was not awarded to the Township and the plan was associated with the grant request. Further discussion on the subject will occur in coming meetings. Historical Society Millage The board approved placing the millage renewal on the August ballot for the North Berrien Historical Society Museum. The renewal is for .25 mills for another four years. The board received their strategic plan through 2023 and their five-year plan. Special meeting A portion of the regular meeting was a continuation of a special meeting of the board with the employees a week ago. The discussion was about the retirement plan that the Township has and the underfunded plan to the tune of about $800,000. The Township put a committee in place to look at the options. Their legal counsel provided a memo to the Township board which included options such as changing the plan or changing the contribution. Parrigin told those employees that came to hear the next moves with the plan, “We are doing the best we can. We are going to do what is right for both the board and the employees.” He said the board wasn’t ready to make a decision with the information they were provided. Treasurer Jim Fulton presented at the special meeting along with Police Chief Jason Roe. Fulton noted that the Township employees do an excellent job making the Township function properly and that it was important that the Township continue to provide good benefits and competitive wages. He stated, “Township boards of the past have implemented policy related to employee benefits that have created a burden on the finances of the Township currently and in the foreseeable future.” Fulton presented statistics on population and the projected decline of such. He eluded that the board should not make decisions today without a full knowledge of how those decisions will impact the Township in the future. That is what Fulton said is what happened to put the Township board in this position. “It has made a financial commitment to the Township employees by way of a pension plan without fully understanding the financial impact of the plan.” Chief Roe’s presentation included reasons for the unfunded liability and notes that the fund had an initial shortfall when it was created of $331,700. The figures used to establish what the fund should be do not take into account that two full-time positions were eliminated and the plan assumes wages will be increased when in fact there were some years when the salaries were frozen. He notes that no matter what the board does with the retirement for employees, the unfunded liability must be paid. He lists the options of keeping the established plan, freezing the current plan and changing to a defined benefit plan, and to freeze the current plan and change it to a defined contribution plan. Roe described the options with details. He laid out the effect on the Township’s finances and the net effect on the general fund. The bottom line as Roe demonstrated was that it is more economically and fiscally responsible to keep the defined benefit plan rather than changing to a defined contribution plan. The general fund cannot support the payment needed to take on the debt created by a plan freeze. It will cost the Township more money over a longer period of time to change the current plan. The unfunded liability has to be paid no matter what.

Coloma Lions Club announces $500 Challenge Grant for Amicus Dog Park project At the March 22 Coloma Lions Club meeting, Miss Caleigh Dahn presented a program explaining her Girl Scout Gold Award Project to develop the Amicus Dog Park in the Coloma Watervliet area. The project is tentatively directed to be constructed in a designated area at the former Washington Elementary School site. Miss Dahn made a presentation to the Coloma Lions Club which outlined a projected plan for contacting local business for sponsorship and funding. The estimated cost of the Amicus Dog Park is projected to be $7,500. After review, the Coloma Lions Club under their motto “We Serve,” approved a Challenge Grant to promote private individuals and dog lovers to participate in the funding of this community project. The Coloma Lions Club will provide funding up to a total of $500 to be used to match individu