REALTORS GIVE SUPPORT… A check from the Southwest Michigan Realtors Association for $5,000 was presented to North Berrien Community Development on Aug. 11, 2020 to go toward a Coloma DDA Project, a Boulder sign that will be LED lighted for information in Baker Park. The project is slated to be completed at the end of August. In the picture is (from the left): Mary Watkins, First American Title, Stevensville; NBCD Treasurer Linda Freitag; Coloma DDA Coordinator Marsha Hammond; Patty Lauten, Coldwell Banker R.E. Group, Edwardsburg (2020 Association/REIS President); Community Development Coordinator Chana Kniebes; Mikki Swisher, American Homes R.E. of Coloma; Kristen Walton, American Homes R.E. of Coloma; Carolee Dalrymple, Pier Realty, Galien (2020 Chairman of Public Relations Committee).
Old Catholic church demolition approved by Watervliet City Commission
By Joshua Coffin
The Watervliet City Commission held its regular meeting virtually via Zoom on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 due to the recent executive order Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed extending Michigan’s COVID-19 emergency and disaster declaration through Sept. 4. The meeting was led by City Manager Tyler Dotson.
204 Crescent Street demolition
Since 2012, the city has been dealing with the old Catholic church and the attached home located at 204 Crescent St. in the City of Watervliet. In April of 2017, an action and failure citation to the court was issued to which the judge ruled that the owner was guilty of maintaining a dangerous building and that the building was to be demolished within 30 days. The judge also granted the city the power to demolish the building at its own expense.
Since then, there have been more efforts to demolish the building. The building continued to be ignored and the situation saw no progress. The city will now perform an asbestos inspection. At this time, there are reasons to believe that there is not any based on the age of the building.
If the structure is down before Nov. 1, it will be able to be put on the winter tax rolls. Dotson suggested that the city act as quickly as possible to be able to be reimbursed the money spent on the demolition of the church in a much more timely manner than if it were to be pushed back any further. The demolition is estimated to cost $40,000.
The city commissioners came to a split decision on the issue in a four to three vote to push forth on the demolition of the church. Because of the divided vote, Dotson decided to just go forward with the asbestos inspection to be certain the formal process is going the right way. He noted that he will most likely come back to the commission with further details on the project.
South Watervliet Drain Project
More progress on the South Watervliet Drain Project was made during the meeting on Monday. As a part of this process, city manager Tyler Dotson recommended the city commission approves a tax resolution for the project. The resolution he suggested approves the undertaking for the South Watervliet Drainage District. Steven Burke from Municipal Financial Consultants, Inc. (MFCI) presented information regarding the necessary process. The purpose of the resolution is so that the bonds that will be sold on behalf of the drain district can comply with a federal rule with which the city must abide. The goal of the bonds that will be sold is to capture the lowest rate for the drain district. The city commission voted unanimously to support the resolution.
Fire Insurance Withholding Program
The commission discussed entering the Fire Insurance Withholding Program. The program is designed to provide municipalities with financial protection against the cost of cleaning up a damaged structure following a fire loss. Municipalities that are a part of the program may be eligible to receive a portion of a policy holder’s final settlement to be held in a specified escrow account until the structure is repaired, replaced, or demolished.
In June of 2020, the city decided to take the code enforcement in house, saving an estimated $4,000. “This gives us a little bit more tools in our arsenal that’ll ensure that we’re keeping our neighborhoods safe and keeping them as clean as possible especially as it relates to unsafe structures,” said city manager Dotson. Watervliet is one of the few municipalities in West Michigan that is not already a part of the program. The city commission voted in full support of entering the program.
Municipal Employee Retirement System
Watervliet was lacking a retirement platform for its employees. Chief Tim Sutherland attended the meeting to voice his concerns regarding the retirement plan. According to him, “Retaining police officers has never been harder in my career than it is today.” Based on a survey Sutherland sent out, the lack of retirement plan was the number one reason officers left the department.
The Municipal Employee Retirement System is one of the biggest and most prominent in the state, thus being appealing to the municipality. The employee annual contribution to the plan will be six percent of their wages and the city’s annual contribution will be an estimated $15,000.
That being said, when starting the retirement system it would immediately save the city $25,000 per year. Dotson noted that this decision should be made when thinking about future employment. “We’re trying to put ourselves in a competitive environment to not only get the best officers, but to get the best talent that we possibly can. So folks coming in won’t even realize the difference because they’re coming in with the program already established.”
In the end, Dotson offered his recommendation in favor of the decision in the best interest of the city and its employees as a whole. As just a conversational piece of the meeting, the board has yet to make a decision on the subject.
City Manager’s Report
At a May special commission meeting, the city applied for Michigan Department of Transportation funding totaling $117,000. Watervliet was one of 28 communities in Michigan that Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced to receive the funding. Because of the grant, The Elm Street Project has the potential to be finished in summer of 2021.
The Watervliet Water Tower received a well earned cleaning on Tuesday and is looking much better than before. In addition to a squeaky clean water tower, the city of Watervliet will also be getting an online makeover. A new website is in the works with an improved user friendly layout. Dotson said, “It’s going to be a really prominent tool for the city to utilize in our communications moving forward.”