05-03-2018 With spring comes Blossomtime; weeklong celebration opens with Blessing of the Blossoms o

With spring comes Blossomtime; weeklong celebration opens with Blessing of the Blossoms on Sunday

and features Grand Parade Saturday

By Annette Christie The 2018 Blossomtime Festival officially kicked off Sunday, April 29 with the Blessing of the Blossoms event at the MSU Extension Office in Benton Harbor. Local royalty brandished blossoms from their respective communities and exchanged with their fellow sisters and brothers of Blossomtime. A history of the event was given providing an overview of how the event began. The Blossomtime Festival is the largest multi-community festival in the state.

TRI-CITIES QUEENS… Community queens and kings exchanged blossoms at the annual Blessing of the Blossoms event held at the MSU Extension Center on Sunday afternoon. This is the beginning of a busy week for local royalty leading up to the Blossomtime Parade on Saturday. Shown here (from the left) are: Miss Hartford Angela Saldana, Miss Coloma and Second Runner-up to Miss Blossomtime Micah Saxe, and Miss Watervliet Ellie Troyer. (Photo by Kristi Weston of K. West Photography)


As early as 1891, local area business interests took a proactive role in attracting visitors to Southwest Michigan with their promotion to the Chicago market. Hundreds of visitors made their way across Lake Michigan with the local steamship company. In 1906, Rev. W.J. Cady of the First Congregational Church in Benton Harbor was the first to urge his parishioners to drive through the local orchards to take in all the beauty of the fruit blossoms. Cady termed them “symbols of life renewed” and his sermon is credited with the birth of Blossomtime Festival. Community royalty begin a week full of activities. They will be traveling all over Southwest Michigan for the Goodwill tour, where kings and queens will tour the communities. These tours will include stops at elementary and middle schools and assisted living facilities.

Dinner with the Queens will be held at the Lake Michigan College Grand Upton Hall. This event includes all mayors, village presidents, city managers and officials of the respective communities. The gathering gives all the dignitaries the opportunity to present the keys to their cities to their respective royalty. In addition, the presentation of the queens’ charm bracelets is held. The history of the charm bracelet exchange began over 40 years ago. The bracelet includes charms with each queen’s photo in it. The community chairpersons make this presentation. The Youth Parade will be held on Thursday in Dickinson Stadium at St. Joseph High School. Youngsters from preschool through middle school participate in this event that starts at 5:00 p.m. It annually includes floats, bands, Scout Troops, 4-H groups, and the younger Blossomtime royalty.

Saturday morning brings the Run/Walk for the Buds event. In its 38th year, it has a 10K run and a 5K run/walk. It begins at 10:30 a.m. near the corner of Main and Ship streets in downtown St. Joseph and takes place along the Blossomtime Festival Parade route before the parade begins. The highlight of the week will be Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. with the Blossomtime Grand Floral Parade. The 112th parade will feature over 100 units.

Tri-City communities have been very successful in the past few years bringing home countless honors for their parade floats. On Saturday morning prior to the parade, those winners will be announced.

The premier event which is the crown jewel of the festival attracts approximately 250,000 spectators and travels 2.5 miles through the community of St. Joseph and into the community of Benton Harbor.

Planning Commission packs Watervliet City Hall in medical marijuana discussion

By Annette Christie

The planned discussion on medical marijuana before the Watervliet City Planning Commission packed City Hall with over 30 people in attendance at their Monday, April 30 meeting.  After an hour and a half of discussion Planning Commission member Luke Strunk stated that they would continue to discuss this at every monthly meeting until a decision is made.

The discussion appeared to stem from some interest in locating some type of medical marijuana business on Main Street within the city limits.  Up until now, city officials have not taken a stand on the subject.  While it was suggested that the proposed building of interest may be the old bank building, that was not confirmed by the Planning Commission.  Chairman Joe Engel said that no decision has been made and no location has been selected and that the purpose of the meeting was to listen and to get feedback.  Although the Planning Commission could make a recommendation one way or the other, it will be the City Commission that ultimately decides. City Commissioners Duane Cobb, Bill Whitney Jr., and Mayor Dave Brinker were present.

Mark Smith, owner of The Green Door in Bangor said that his company worked with Bangor for about 3-4 months before opening a dispensary in December of 2017. He said his company was thoroughly vetted by the state and declared that the state is very strict before it approves that a license may be issued.  The Green Door is a provision center, or in a sense, a retail location.  He and his business partners are planning on establishing a grow facility in Bangor as well.

Smith described that with the passage of state-wide legislation, there are five types of licenses within the realm of medical marijuana that can be issued: transportation, lab, provision center, grow facility, and processing where they make products like edibles.  Municipalities across the state have the choice of opting in to allow these types of businesses in their communities or opting out.

The Bureau of Medical Marihuana (less common spelling) Regulation, a division of the Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs (LARA) has produced an unofficial list of the communities that have opted in within Berrien County: Buchanan, Galien Township, Niles, and the Village of Eau Claire are listed and in Van Buren County: Bangor, Hartford, Porter Township, and the Village of Breedsville are listed. Included in the decision-making authority of the local municipality, also lies the choice of restricting or limiting the types of those businesses and the number.

Smith told those in attendance that opting in and allowing medical marijuana businesses in the community provides benefits in the form of funding earned by the license, funding earned from the tax collected at the retail level, and a well-regulated, controlled business that provides jobs. “We will create jobs, we have created jobs,” Smith said.

Following Smith’s presentation, the public comments portion of the meeting began.  Rick Rasmussen asked if the recreational marijuana legislation passes in November, legalizing recreational use, how that affects the medical marijuana business. Smith responded that if that passes, they would sell both.

Dan Hummel asked if allowing a medical marijuana business in the community would affect receiving federal grants.  Thomas Wright Jr., who is working with Smith, said that in his experience it has not.  Wright Jr. said in Eau Claire they are getting a parks grant and having a medical marijuana business there has not affected that.  Hummel went on to ask if they have places here and there, why do they need to also be on Main Street in Watervliet. Smith responded that since they have opened in December 2017, they have 1,500 registries and 232 are from Watervliet.  Those individuals were going to Lansing and Kalamazoo to obtain their medical marijuana.  “There is a need for it, you get to make the decision for what is right for your community,” Smith said.  Wright Jr. reminded those in the audience that some of the customers are handicapped and cannot ride a bike or drive a car that far.

Bill Whitney Sr. commented that he heard that the old bank building was the one being considered as a dispensary. “We are spending thousands of dollars to improve the city and then we are going to sell marijuana on Main Street.  I don’t want to see this on Main Street,” Whitney Sr. said.

Planning Commission member Luke Strunk spoke his opinion on the matter, “I do not want a dispensary on Main Street.  I don’t want a place on Main Street that a kid can’t walk into and buy something.”

A discussion about the security of the facilities followed.  Wright Jr. said that a kid wouldn’t be able to just walk into the dispensary.  Smith explained that The Green Door has three doors with a waiting room.  An individual’s medical marijuana card is checked three times over the course of their visit including before they can even get in the facility.  “If the State caught you letting someone in without their card, the State would shut you down,” Smith said.

Smith explained the background as to why he got into this business. Their daughter was born with epilepsy and had multiple seizures a day.  They spent many years trying different medications until finding that medical marijuana finally stopped it.  As far as the opinions of the business not being on Main Street Smith said, “I disagree about it being on Main Street because when you hide it, it makes it a bad thing.”

Angeline Conkin, owner of the Watervliet Coin Laundry in town and also a Middle School Counselor in the Watervliet School District said, “I am against it going in downtown Watervliet.”

Hummel, speaking again, stated this subject was first approached three years ago but, “the problem went away” in his words.  He referenced a topless facility and a tattoo parlor in a negative way and things like that which hinder making Watervliet a desirable place for people to settle. “We are compromising what were ‘our’ principles,” Hummel said.

Kristy Noack stated that she owns a business, has three commercial properties, and rentals and stated that this was a big concern for her.

When Robin Shipkosky of Coloma finally had an opportunity to speak, she asked that those in attendance turn around and look at her.  “I am the face of a medical marijuana user,” Shipkosky said.  She went on to explain that she is a patient of Smith’s. She has battled breast cancer and turned to medical marijuana during her treatments.  “I would be the person in your town who would come for medical marijuana but I am also someone who shops in your town,” Shipkosky said adding that she shops at the flower shop and brings her dogs to the K-9 place and eats at LaChula.  “I am highly educated. I am not a young kid smoking marijuana.  I just want to put a face to the kind of person who uses medical marijuana,” Shipkosky explained.

Toni Engel asked the question, “Why is everyone afraid of a dispensary on Main Street? We have seniors living just down the street that may need it.  There is nothing in this town. They are not going to create chaos.”

Alex Strunk stated that he was mixed on the subject but noted that the City has the option to opt in or opt out, they have the choice to choose any or all of the five licensing categories, and they have zoning authority if they choose to opt in.  He urged the Planning Commission and those in attendance to stay focused on those things and to not get side tracked by all these other things being thrown in the mix.

Mark Vanderbough made the statement, “I have no interest in using marijuana and I hope that I never have to for the reasons these individuals do but I can’t deny someone else, we are in a state where it is legal.”  Vanderbough noted that he is a lifelong resident and has seen the changes in our town and he has listened to those who said you shouldn’t allow a dispensary on Main Street and he wonders why. “I would have no issue walking past a dispensary with my children,” Vanderbough said. He reminded those in attendance that they will follow all the rules and regulations but nothing prevents someone from using or distributing it inappropriately no different than someone walking out of Arclight and giving someone under age a drink.

Bob Becker urged the Planning Commission to go and check out these other facilities.  “You can’t make an informed decision unless you have an idea of how they conduct their business.  You can’t make it from listening to all of us talk.  I believe unless you go and see, you are doing yourselves and the city a disservice,” Becker said.

Smith encouraged that and said they would be welcome.

Noack added that when they do that they should also talk to the area businesses as well.  “Check with the other business owners that also has a vested interest,” Noack said.

Someone questioned what the school district’s take on the subject was as well as other business owners. Engel pointed out that this is a public meeting which was publicized and there are three business owners (of which two are co-owners of the same business) and no one from the school district. “Where are they if they are concerned?” Engel asked.

The next Planning Commission meeting will be held on Monday, May 21 at 7:00 p.m.

Public Act 281 of 2016, the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act establishes the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana growers, processors, provisioning centers, secure transporters, and safety compliance facilities. It provides power and duties to state and local officers, one of those powers being that local elected officials can choose to opt in or opt out. The City Commission would make the ultimate decision if those licensed in this field are allowed in the City of Watervliet.

Votes Tuesday

Coloma & Watervliet School Districts millage tax proposals on May 8 ballot

By Annette Christie

Voters in several school districts will be asked to vote on proposal issues at the May 8, 2018 election.

Coloma School District asking for sinking fund

A sinking fund millage request for 1.25 mills for up to 10 years will be on the ballot for voters in the Coloma School District.

The district is facing some problems with the roofs on some of the buildings and costs to replace those can be over $1 million dollars.  The roofs are not the only issue.  “There is at least $5 million in repairs needed in the district today,” Superintendent Pete Bush said.

The district currently has a bond issue that voters put in place in 2012, to run through 2031.  This funded several improvements district wide.  They also have two Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB) that are 0% interest funds for various improvements and updates.  While the lack of interest payments is attractive, the funds still have to be paid back out of the general fund and the district pays back over $400,000 a year.  Despite all of these things that have been done to improve the facilities, their financial needs continue.

If approved by voters, the district will have a set number of years that they know will bring in a steady funding source used for facility updates. With a sinking fund the district will not have to pay any interest and will spend the funding only as it comes in.

A student foundation allowance that has barely increased, not even coming close to the actual cost of educating students has contributed to lack of general funds to be able to address the aged facilities. In 10 years that amount has only increased $315 per student, not even coming close to the increase in operational expenses over that same time period.

Nine out of 13 public K-12 school districts in Berrien County have a sinking fund. With a sinking fund, every dollar put in goes right into the district as an investment with no interest costs.  As described in the proposal verbiage, the sinking fund can only be used for specific things.  The ballot language reads:

COLOMA COMMUNITY SCHOOLS SINKING FUND MILLAGE PROPOSAL

“Shall the limitation on the amount of taxes which may be assessed against all property in Coloma Community Schools, Berrien and Van Buren Counties, Michigan, be increased by and the board of education be authorized to levy not to exceed 1.25 mills ($1.25 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation) for a period of 10 years, 2018 to 2027, inclusive,  to create a sinking fund for the purchase of real estate for sites for, and the construction or repair of, school buildings, for school security improvements, for the acquisition or upgrading of technology and all other purposes authorized by law; the estimate of the revenue the school district will collect if the millage is approved  and  levied  in  2018  is  approximately $482,196?”

Voters in the Watervliet School District asked to levy statutory rate of 18 mills

In February of this year, the Watervliet School Board approved a resolution which puts a ballot issue up for question to the district voters in May.  If it is approved, the proposal will allow the school district to levy the statutory rate of not to exceed 18 mills for non-homestead property.

Last approved in 2013, the ballot initiative would increase the non-homestead property tax rate for a period of six years at the maximum permitted assessment of 18 mills, which enables the district to receive the entire per pupil allowance.

The ballot will read:

“Shall the limitation on the amount of taxes which may be assessed against all property, except principal residence and other property exempted by law, in Watervliet Public Schools, Berrien and Van Buren Counties, Michigan, be increased by 1 mill ($1.00 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation)  for  a period  of  6  years, 2018  to 2023,  inclusive, to  provide funds  for  operating purposes; the estimate of the revenue the school district will collect if the millage is approved and a portion is levied in 2018 is approximately $5,200 (this millage is to restore millage lost as a result of the reduction required by the Michigan Constitution of 1963 and will be levied only to the extent necessary to restore  that  reduction)?”

Dowagiac Union School District voters asked to approve Operating Millage Proposal

Dowagiac School District voters will also be asked to approve a proposal that will allow the school district to continue to levy the statutory rate of not to exceed 18 mills on all non-homestead property. This proposal will allow the school district to continue to levy the statutory rate of not to exceed 18 mills on all property, except principal residence and other property exempted by law, required for the school district to receive its revenue per pupil foundation allowance and restores millage lost as a result of the reduction required by the Michigan Constitution of 1963.

The ballot language will read as follows:

“Shall the currently authorized millage rate limitation on the amount of taxes which may be assessed against all property, except principal residence and other property exempted by law, in Dowagiac Union School District, Cass, Van Buren and Berrien Counties, Michigan, be renewed by 17.8992 mills ($17.8992 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation) for a period of 5 years, 2019 to 2023, inclusive, and also be increased by .1008 mill ($0.1008 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation) for a period of 5 years, 2019 to 2023, inclusive, to provide funds for operating purposes; the estimate of the revenue the school district will collect if the millage is approved and levied in 2019 is approximately $5,048,573 (this is a renewal of millage that will expire with the 2018 levy and a restoration of millage lost as a result of the reduction required by the Michigan Constitution of 1963)?”

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