04-20-2017 O’Halloran turns down North Berrien Fire Chief job; Exhibit celebrating 50 years of Glad-

O’Halloran turns down North Berrien Fire Chief job

By Annette Christie

Berwyn, Illinois Fire Chief Dennis O’Halloran has turned down the opportunity to become a fire chief here for the North Berrien Fire Rescue department.  O’Halloran was selected on March 17 following a lengthy detailed search to fill the position.

North Berrien Fire Board Chairman Rob Harper said that through contact negotiations with O’Halloran it was determined that he was not interested in furthering his education in Michigan to meet state standards.  He ultimately told Harper that he would be staying in his current position.  “At this time, we do not know how we will proceed,” Harper said.

The fire board and a special appointed interview team with local participation worked diligently in a very thorough process in an attempt to fill the position that has been vacant since the end of 2015.

During the interview, O’Halloran said that he prefers to be a working chief and that one of the hardest parts of his job currently is standing outside in command and not being hands on in the fire.  He said he does go to every fire.  In his belief that his Illinois training was sufficient and choosing not to further his education in Michigan, he would not have been able to be “a working chief.”

Coloma Township Supervisor Ken Parrigin, who also serves on the fire board, said, “I am very disappointed. This took a lot of hard work and time from a lot of people.”

The other two finalists for the chief position were Bob Adams and Michael Mattix.  Adams has spent the last 28 years serving the residents in the North Berrien Fire district.  He has received instrumental training through the department and is currently a lieutenant with the department.  Mattix has been with the City of Dowagiac Fire Department for 32 years.  He is currently a captain with the department and its Operations Officer.

The fire board’s next meeting will be held on May 2, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. at Station #1.  It is expected that the board will discuss where to go next with the open position.

Exhibit celebrating 50 years of Glad-Peach Festival now open at North Berrien Historical Museum

 In 1967, Paul Gard Jr. and the Coloma Jaycees revived the Coloma Gladiolus Festival and a new non-profit, the Gladiolus Festival Committee, was chartered. By 1975 the gladiolus shows were losing community support and the festival continued without flower displays. With interest in gladiolus declining, local farmer Paul Friday suggested the addition of peaches to the festival theme. In 1981, the name was changed to the Coloma Glad-Peach Festival.

Come visit the museum’s newest exhibit and learn more fun facts about the festival you know and love. Several objects will be on display, including the 1984-1987 Miss Blossomtime of Benton Harbor coronation crown, and the 2016 Community Service Award presented to the Coloma Glad-Peach Festival for 50 years of service.

The exhibit will be on display through January 2018. Beginning in May, the North Berrien Historical Museum’s summer hours will be 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and admission to view the exhibit is free. For questions, contact the museum at (269) 468-3330 or by email at info@northberrienhistory.org.

Budding business opportunities present themselves to City of Hartford

Huffman building eyed as pot dispensary; Thomas Mansion as a bed & breakfast; Red Arrow School as a community Center

By Nancy Albright

At the April 17 City Council Workshop Cass County residents Janel Napier and Alex Vonkoenig requested that city commissioners consider revising the existing City of Hartford Medical Marijuana Ordinance to allow non-physicians to operate a marijuana dispensary within Hartford city limits.

In December 2017 the State of Michigan passed a new law stating that dispensaries are no longer required to be operated by a medical professional. Hartford’s existing ordinance, as written, mirrors this stipulation, hence Napier and Vonkoenig’s request for a new provision to the ordinance stating that Hartford city and township agree to a dispensary within their jurisdiction operated by a non-medical professional.

Vonkoenig explained that the business would be a provisioning center only, meaning that the dispensary would act as a retailer to supply medical marijuana directly to legally eligible patients. The couple, who have grown marijuana in strict accordance with Michigan law in Cass County for the last five years, explained that in addition to helping patients in need, new laws regulating the sales of medical marijuana signed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in the fall of 2016 impose taxes on dispensaries, which would benefit the city financially. Vonkoenig stated that, “We also hope to remove the criminal element from marijuana sales in the area by aiding in the elimination of black market operations.”

The pair is considering the Huffman building at 1 West Main Street as a possible site for their business. Acquisition of the property and operating the dispensary, if granted the special provision by the city, is contingent upon State of Michigan funding under the MSHDA Rental Rehabilitation Program. The MSHDA is a community housing grant which stipulates that recipients use funds to build at least four residential units for rental to low-income tenants. The couple would renovate the upper floors of the building for residency using grant funds, and use personal financial resources to operate the storefront dispensary.

Commissioners requested that the couple present the city with a business plan and agreed to explore the possibility of a dispensary within city limits. Hartford City Manager Yemi Akinwale stated that, “I believe this would be a win-win for the city. It is an opportunity to create jobs and revenue for the City of Hartford.”

Thomas Mansion could help revitalize City of Hartford

 Hartford resident K.C. Mammen attended Monday’s meeting to confirm his request that city commissioners conduct a public hearing and evaluation to consider a special use permit for his property at 191 60th Avenue in Hartford. The property has been on the market for a number of years and there may be an opportunity to use the current residence as a museum or a possible bed & breakfast facility. If the property changes hands the permit would allow for its use as a commercial enterprise.

Thomas Mansion was built in 1937 by Dr. Thomas of Chicago, Illinois at a cost of $40,000. After the physician’s death in 1944, the house changed hands many times until Mr. Mammen purchased the property in 1996. Over the past 21 years Mammen has completed extensive renovation and plans to list it for $300,000. “I pay approximately $45,000 each year in property tax, insurance and utilities, and even though the building is paid for, I am generating no profit.”

The seven-bedroom building is currently equipped with electricity and city water, both of which have passed city building inspection, but lacks a sewage hookup, which would have to be remedied prior to use.

Commissioners Burleson, Tibbs and Docktor agreed that the idea is a good one, and City Manager Yemi Akinwale stated that, “This property should be put to a very good use now when there is an opportunity to do so.”

The public hearing will be held by the Hartford Planning Commission at 7:30 p.m. on May 8, 2017 at Hartford City Hall, 550 Main Street.

Council discusses future of Red Arrow Elementary School building

 Preliminary discussions are being held regarding utilizing the Red Arrow Elementary School building for community use after it is vacated at the end of the 2018 school year. The proposed community/activity center would be created in honor of Bonna Vanderlyn, and would service community organizations such as Hartford Senior Services.

The 48,000 square foot building could be used for meetings, dances and sporting events, such as pickleball. Discussions are also underway to allot 10,000 square feet of space to Hartford’s growing library collection. Mayor Pro-tem Rick Hall commented that, “The Hartford library is heavily used and a new library facility would be an added benefit to the community.”

The city would be responsible for operating and maintaining the property. Hall also stated that, “If properly managed this would be a great deal for the city and the community.”

City Council and Hartford residents fight against blight

 Hartford Board of Review member Gwen McCarthy and Hartford property owner and landlord Robert Kling expressed concern to the council about continued blight in the community.

McCarthy cited several instances of blight in her area of town and stated that nearby neighbors have had a blue tarp held down by cinder blocks on their roof for more than a year, which she considers not only dangerous, but a hindrance to selling her home if she so chooses, which she has owned since 1994.

Property owner Robert Kling regularly attends council meetings to work with commissioners to come up with a solution to fight blight, specifically with respect to his uncooperative tenants. He worries that their lack of concern for the community, and failure to follow the city’s rules with respect to blight, affects not only his property, but neighboring properties as well.

Commissioner Frank Docktor stated that, “There is no city pride in this community and it’s up to us to get it back. We are the ones who have to get it done. This is a poor community and no one is going to buy property in Hartford if we don’t clean it up.”

Despite the city’s diligence in picking up refuse each spring and fall at no cost to residents, many simply do not clean up their property. The city currently cites residents for blight, charging offenders with a misdemeanor. If the citation is not paid, a warrant is issued and the matter is turned over to the city attorney’s office. The city pays the fees to process the matter, regardless of the outcome, and still ends of taking care of the problem, losing money in the process.

After lengthy discussion the group agreed that a possible solution would be to reestablish the city’s practice of charging residents not in compliance with a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor. The way a civil infraction is structured, if the offender doesn’t honor the citation, the funds paid by the city to uphold the law would revert back to the city’s tax fund.

Commissioners agreed to continue to investigate the matter and reopen the discussion at a later date.

Van Buren County millage on May ballot

 The Improved Public Safety and Public Services Millage to fund the renovation and expansion of the Van Buren County Courthouse and jail facility in Paw Paw will be on the May 2, 2017 Special Election ballot.

If voters pass the millage, funds raised from the 0.70 millage will be used to remedy the current limitations and security issues of the county courts, jail, and administration facilities of the 116-year-old building. The tax increase will be minimal to residents. For example, Van Buren County residents owning a home worth $100,000 with a taxable value of $50,000 will pay $35 per year for a timeframe of 20 years.

Hartford Lions seeking nominations for Citizen of the Year

The Lions are seeking nominations for a member of the Hartford community deserving of recognition for volunteer work performed during 2016. The recipient of the award will be honored by the Lions at the Community Honors Celebration planned for 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, 2017 in the Hartford High School Cafeteria. The Lions will also celebrate the Top Ten Graduating Seniors and the Grant Hitchcock Lifetime Achievement Honoree at the event.

Please send nominations to Hartford Lions Club, 112 Bennett Avenue, Hartford, MI 49057, or send your pick to spoulanancy@gmail.com.

Council to sponsor Summer Concerts in the Park program

 At the request of Hartford Lions Committee Chair Pete Sinclair, the council agreed to sponsor this summer’s Concerts in the Park program in the amount of $1,000.

Planning is in full swing for a diverse selection of musical entertainment from jazz and big band, to rock and country. And don’t be surprised if you see Elvis take the stage or hear a polka band in the distance. The Southwest Michigan College Brass Band will open the series and Mr. Sinclair is working to book Jared Knox for the Hartford Community Picnic on July 6.

Reminders to residents

 The City Council would like to remind residents that the Public Accuracy Test for the May 2 election will be held at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 25 at City Hall, and that the last day to request an absentee ballot is April 29 at 2:00 p.m.

Also, Free Rummage Weekend is scheduled for April 27 – 29. Permits are free. For more information contact City Hall at (269) 621-2477.

Watervliet Township Board finalizes support of Skate Park

By Annette Christie

At their Monday, April 17 meeting, the Watervliet Township Board finalized their support of the Skate Park located at Hays Park in the City of Watervliet.  The township first voiced their support at their December 2016 meeting when the board voted to approve up to $23,500 for the rehab of the Skate Park equipment.  This was based on an estimate of $76,000, with consideration for a DDA donation of $2,500 and the city’s contribution of $50,000.    The township contribution was contingent on the city providing proof that there would be some kind on ongoing maintenance plan for the new equipment.

With the presentation of that maintenance plan, the township will now release the funds and will actually match half of the city’s donation, up to $25,000.

The skate park was originally built with grant funds through the City of Watervliet but it has since dilapidated.  Without providing a skate park, the city would be on the hook for the grant funds.  Hutchins said they did donate to the original project in the amount of $5,000.

At the time of the original vote both Berrien County Sheriff Deputy Guy Puffer who patrols in Watervliet Charter Township and Watervliet Police Chief Tim Sutherland vouched that the skate park was highly used in the summer months when it was usable.  Hutchins added, “We don’t provide a lot of activities for our youth to keep them off the streets and this is a step in the right direction.”

While the board did not vote on it at this time, Hutchins said he expects that the township will include in their next budget cycle, a portion of the maintenance plan to keep the equipment in good order.

In other business, it was announced that landfill passes will be available for Watervliet Township residents for the entire month of May. They will allow one per resident and are available now at Township Hall.   If on the last week, there are a lot of passes left over, they will offer additional ones per resident.  The pass allows for three cubic yards of trash (or about a pickup truck full).

Their next regular meeting will be Monday, May 15 at 7:00 p.m.

Coloma Township considers request for allowing late night softball games at Washington Park

By Annette Christie

The Coloma Township Board was asked to consider allowing late night games at the Washington School turned Coloma Township Park ball fields. The township received a letter from the Coloma/Hagar Softball Association, who would like to have some night games at Washington Park. The group was asking for permission to hold more than one game with a starting time of 11:00 p.m., to be played under the lights.  This would include a multi-day tournament held in July that usually includes over 20 teams.  The board had more questions than answers for the request and tabled it until they could get the answers they need.  Supervisor Ken Parrigin suggested it could possibly be done maybe but they should talk to the neighbors surrounding the park.  Parrigin asked clerk Sandy Kraemer to invite them to the next meeting.

The township board did approve a request for a Color Me Cured Walk to raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation, Timmy Dibble Foundation, and the Coloma Softball Team.  Organizer Maurissa LaGrow said the run will be held on the Coloma High School football field on May 27 at 8:00 a.m.

In other business, the Finance Committee reviewed the bills at their meeting and approved bills in the amount of $400,780.74.  The bills included the February 2017 sewer billing of $23,821.63, the SAW Grant payment in the amount of $14,846, and a $135,545 bond payment from the Berrien County Public Works sewer project.  The township also completed the purchase of a new Ford Interceptor for the police department in the amount of $33,193.

Berrien County Commissioner Dave Vollrath informed the board that Louie Csokasy, managing director, will retire from the Berrien County Road Commission.  It will be the road commission board that will hire his replacement.  He said that the bids for the jail intake remodeling job will be opened on April 24 and that construction could actually begin at the end of May or first part of June. Vollrath said that the strategic planning visits are done and now the Board of Commissioners will move into the planning phase.  He found the process to be real educational especially for the newer commissioners.

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