County donates paper mill property to City of Watervliet; waives payback of $92,000
By Annette Christie
The Berrien County Brownfield Authority has voted to turn over the old paper mill site to the City of Watervliet and further agreed to waive the payback of $92,000 that the city owed the Brownfield Authority.
At their regular meeting on Thursday, April 20, 2017, Community Development Director Dan Fette explained to the Authority that despite their efforts to find a viable buyer and plan for the property, they have been unable to secure one. Fette told the Authority that the City of Watervliet, in a partnership with Western Michigan University, have received proposals for plans that they would like to move forward with if they were able to gain possession of the property. Fette said the city has the motivation and staff to try and make something happen with the property.
Watervliet City Mayor Dave Brinker, who was present at the meeting, told the Authority that the city would like to start immediately on one of four of the proposals or a combination thereof. When asked which proposal they favored the most, he responded that the reception/event center for weddings, corporate meetings, etc. is the one with the most interest. Brinker said they are hoping for a facility that will be booked year round.
Watervliet DDA Chairman Bob Becker, also present, said they would like to include walking trails and a dog park for the public to use. Brinker added that office space as another need in the city as well. “Our main goal is to put things in place to enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Watervliet,” Brinker said.
Kaylee Chapin throws out the ceremonial first pitch to open the Watervliet Recreation Council baseball season at Hays Park. The annual preseason tournament began last weekend. Kaylee also represents her hometown as Miss Watervliet 2017. As Miss Blossomtime, she will preside over the Blossomtime Festival next week.
The Berrien County Brownfield Authority obtained the property through an agreement to demolish the structure that used to house the paper mill and clean up the property. The $92,000 used toward the project came out of the Brownfield Authority budget; it was expensed in 2006 or 2007.
The Brownfield Authority’s action will allow for the transfer of the property on the west side of M-140 and relieves the City of Watervliet from re-paying any funds from the paper mill clean up.
The Authority authorized Fette to begin discussions with Watervliet Charter Township, where other parts of the project took place. They will also be transferring the property on the east side of M-140 to Berrien County for the purpose of developing the Paw Paw River County Park. The park will include land that the City of Watervliet had owned but recently transferred over to Berrien County for the same purpose.
Now that the Brownfield Authority has authorized future action, it will go to the Berrien County Board of Commissioners for final action.
Van Buren County Courthouse Millage Proposal on May 2 Ballot; Public Forum scheduled for Thursday, April 27 in Paw Paw
The May 2, 2017 Van Buren County Special Election is quickly approaching and the Improved Public Safety and Public Services Millage proposal on the ballot is Priority #1 for the Van Buren County Court System.
If levied, the funds generated from the 0.70 millage will be used to restore and expand the Van Buren County Courthouse complex which is sorely in need of attention. Intended improvements will remedy the current limitations of the county courts, jail, and administration facilities, which services a four-court system currently functioning in a structure built for two courts. The overhaul will bring the courthouse and jail into compliance with the American Disabilities Act, and create 91 new parking spaces.
The tax increase will be minimal to county residents: $0.70 per $1,000 of taxable value. 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 the proposed timeframe of 20 years.
According to Van Buren County Trial Court Administrator Frank Hardester, the millage will generate funds in the amount of $2,030,000 in the first calendar year, and $32 million dollars over the 20-year time span. $25 million is currently earmarked to renovate the 116-year-old courthouse facility; $5 million for jail restoration and expansion; and $2 million to renovate the Administration and Land Services Building.
Polling locations open from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Hartford city residents can vote at City Hall, 19 West Main Street, and Hartford Township, Keeler Township, Lawrence Township and Decatur Township residents can vote at their respective township halls. Polling locations are open on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 from 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Public Forum at Freshwater Community Church in Paw Paw on April 27
For Van Buren County residents wishing to ask questions about the proposed millage, Van Buren County court representatives will host a Public Forum at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at Freshwater Community Church in Paw Paw, 600 E. Michigan Avenue.
Jail facilities renovation underway
The Van Buren County Jail was built in 1901 and expanded in 1962, and the renovation and expansion project is currently underway. The court system borrowed the $5 million required to complete the project from rainy day funds, as security issues are prevalent and require remediation as soon as possible.
Prisoners from the Van Buren County Jail, which sits behind the courthouse, must be transported from the jailhouse to the courts through the main rotunda, and restrooms are on the third floor so inmates must be escorted upstairs through public spaces to use the facilities. Both scenarios pose serious security issues to employees and visitors, particularly from juvenile offenders, who can be extremely volatile. The building does not have enough intake holding cells and there is no space to separate male and female inmates. There is insufficient space for medical treatment and there is no mental health facility. Also, technology is outdated so security monitoring is minimal, posing heightened risk to employees and the prisoners themselves.
Hardester said that, “Due to liability concerns at the jail county officials are proceeding with the jail expansion. This decision was made against the recommendation of the county’s financial consultant, but the county hopes to replenish funds from the jail expansion using funds from the millage proposal if approved by voters.”
Historic building will be preserved
The historic courthouse, which was built in 1901 and does not meet current national standards, will not be razed; rather it will undergo necessary improvements as well as restoration to retain the original design. The new court facility will extend out from the back of the Court Annex, which was constructed in 1976, allowing prisoners to be transported directly from the jail to the courts.
Thirty Family Court employees work across the street from the present courthouse in the basement of a building plagued by frequent floods and sewage backups, and in the main courthouse 15 Juvenile Court staff members are doubling up in work spaces intended for one, while others are working in closets. There is one conference room that is shared by four courtrooms which leaves little privacy for those forced to meet in public spaces to discuss confidential issues. The new court building will house four new courtrooms, a hearing room, conference rooms, work spaces, restrooms and other necessary amenities.
Courthouse offering tours prior to millage vote
Public tours will be conducted Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 10:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Tours begin at the main courthouse entrance. Call 269-657-8200 for more information.
HOPE Resources seeks support of Coloma City Commission for use of the old Lion’s Park building
By Christina Gelder
Several representatives from the newly formed non-profit, HOPE Resources, were at the Monday, April 24 meeting of the Coloma City Commission to ask for the City’s support. Carole Sternaman introduced herself as the volunteer for the North Berrien Food Pantry that operates out of the Coloma United Methodist Church.
Sternaman said that in her eight years of providing food to those in need she has seen that there are needs not being met. The North Berrien Food Pantry has joined together with several others in the Coloma, Watervliet and Covert areas to try and fill some of the gaps. HOPE Resources is a 5O1c3 and is planning to offer classes and support to those in the communities who desperately need it. Classes would include life skills, career coaching and more.
The organization was requesting that the city support them and allow them to use the former Lion’s Park building off of E. St. Joseph Street. They are hoping to lease it for two years with the intent of buying it at the end of that time. Sternaman said that the building is not doing anyone any good sitting empty and this would be a win for all.
Commissioner Marsha Hammond regretfully informed the group that at the current time the City’s lawyer recommends that they do not support this. Unfortunately, that building is in the middle of mitigation and the city is unsure of what they will ultimately be able to do with it.
A few years back it had been decided since the park was not being utilized like it once was to see the property put back on the tax rolls. The commission felt this was a good decision because it would save the city from needing to maintain the property and get it back to an income generating state. Shortly thereafter the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showed up and informed them that they were unable to sell it due to it being included in the DNR Parks and Recreation Land Bank. This was a result of the city accepting grant money to work on the park about 27 years ago and agreeing that it would always be a park. The current commission was not aware of this when the decision to sell it was made.
After several meetings, the city has applied with the state of Michigan to mitigate them from being under the grant’s stipulations. That application is in process and the legal counsel from the city is concerned that allowing anyone to occupy the building may cause more trouble and hold up that process.
Commissioner Hammond made it a point to tell the group that they do want to support their efforts. “We believe in the program” she said, going on to say how wonderful they think it is. The commission is just concerned about the future outcome and said they do not want to mislead them.
Mayor Jim Polashak informed the group that he has already set up meetings with State Senator John Proos and State Representative Kim LaSata to discuss this issue in May. He said they will take the letter from HOPE Resources and get back to them with any developments.
Sternaman thanked the commission for their time.
Fire board back to the drawing board
Commissioner Linda Freitag reported that after all of their efforts the North Berrien Fire Rescue Board still has been unable to secure a full-time chief. This came after their desired candidate turned down the position. The board will be meeting again soon to discuss different options.
There were some members of the commission who were upset that so much money has been spent only to be back to, seemingly, square one. The next meeting of the fire board will be on Tuesday, May 2 at 7:00 p.m. at the Coloma station. The public is welcome to attend.
Spring clean-up is almost here
Commissioner Hammond reminded everyone that spring clean-up will be May 8-11. This is the dedicated time to clean out things that would normally be too large for a regular trash pick-up. This is not for brush and yard waste, which will begin after school is out for the summer.
In other news, it was approved to hire summer help for the Department of Public Works. Steffen Kolenko will be returning this summer at a rate of $8.90. Two new hires, Ryan Parrigin and Jacob Hammond will be starting out at $8.50/hour.
It was also approved to pay an MDOT invoice for $40,993.93 for the E. St. Joseph Street project. They also approved one for Merritt Midwest (formerly Midwest Civil Engineers) for $7,581.44. Mayor Polashak said that it was a good thing the engineer has been onsite as there have been several issues. The road should be paved soon.
It was approved to spend $404.70 on a device that will test for residual chlorine levels in the water. This will make the city compliant with State of Michigan regulations.
The commission is also looking long term at needing to overhaul the pump on Well 2. This comes after the pumps were tested and that one was found to be reduced in its efficiency. That expense will likely be in excess of $15,000 but is necessary. They are hoping to look at getting it done in about six months.