09-14-2017 Some County Commissioners want more Road Commission information prior to considering a ta

PATRIOT DAY SALUTE… Watervliet VFW Commander Corky Openneer leads the salute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorism attack on the World Trade Center. The date, 9-11, is set aside as Patriot Day; the day to recall the sacrifice of nearly 3,000 dead in the attack and the continued sacrifice and service of all first responders. The Watervliet VFW has per-formed the annual salute each 9-11 anniversary at the Veterans Park on Main Street. The four wreaths were placed to salute police, fire, ambulance, and military first responders. Speaker school superintendent Kevin Schooley addressed the 5th grade class in attendance… “The attack on September 11, 2001 was the worst terror attack on the United States. It was also a direct attack on our daily lives, it was an attack on our freedom and it was designed to instill fear and confusion on our core beliefs as Americans. What did we see? Yes, devastation. But what else? Courage, he-roism, sacrifice, togetherness as Americans.” Schooley said Patriot Day is also a reminder of the sacrifices of present day first responders. He noted their presence and readiness to dedicate their life’s work to the protection of others. “They deserve our respect and gratitude,” he said. The honor guard was performed by members of the Watervliet VFW and the Coloma American Legion. The rifle salute was performed by the North Berrien Military Rites Team. The Star Spangled Banner was per-formed by Mykala Clay and the prayer was said by Pastor David Haase. (TCR photo by Karl Bayer)

Some County Commissioners want more Road Commission information prior to considering a takeover

By Annette Christie

Following the third and final public hearing on the subject of the Road Commission and a lengthy discussion of a draft resolution that would cement the takeover of the Berrien County Road Commission by the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, some County Commissioners were still unwilling to proceed.

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners asked the County Administrator in the spring of this year to update a Feasibility Study for the County Operation of the Berrien County Road Commission. The original study was done in 2013. The results of that updated study were presented at the July 20, 2017 meeting.  On July 27, 2017 the Operational Detail of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners’ Options was given.

On August 10, 2017 the Berrien County Road Commission was invited to come and give a presentation to the Board of Commissioners at their regular meeting.  They invited an attorney for the Michigan County Road Commission Self Insurance Pool and a representative of the County Road Association to share their presentation.  Road Commission Chairman August Zielke provided the presentation; however, before the meeting was over, each one of the Road Commissioners (Joe Margol, Bill Smith, and Jess Minks) addressed the Board of Commissioners.

On that day the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution which established two public hearing dates, as required by statute.  The public hearings were set to be held on August 17 and August 24 to allow the public to discuss the possible transfer of powers, duties, and functions that are otherwise provided by the Road Commission to the Board of Commissioners.

At the August 17 public hearing, five individuals spoke. At the end of that meeting though, the Board of Commissioners opted to set an additional public hearing date that would be held at their September 7 night meeting.

At the August 24 public hearing, five individuals spoke again, two of which were repeats from the first public hearing.  Hagar Township Supervisor Izzy DiMaggio was one of the five individuals and he spoke in favor of the Board of Commissioners taking over the Road Commission (DiMaggio had actually served as a Road Commissioner prior, before stepping down when he became a township supervisor).  DiMaggio’s comments reiterated those made in written form along with Watervliet Charter Township Supervisor Dan Hutchins and Coloma Charter Township Supervisor Ken Parrigin.

The letter authored by the three supervisors stated, “It has become apparent that the Berrien County Road Commission is experiencing operational problems and has for some time, leading to numerous rumors that, perhaps, the Road Commission will be replaced in authority and function by another entity. In light of this, the undersigned believe that dissolving the Berrien County Road Commission, and putting the operation and maintenance of all county roads under the responsibility of the County Board of Commissioners, would, in our minds, lead to a more effective and efficient operation that would be more responsive and attentive to all districts within the county. We highly urge the Board of Commissioners to undertake this step.”

It was by a vote of the Board of Commissioners at their August 24 meeting, that the County Administrator was instructed to create a draft resolution that would departmentalize the Road Commission as part of Berrien County government.

While the Board of Commissioners’ meeting room was packed without an open seat at the September 7 night meeting, 11 people spoke during the public hearing.  Following the general business of the meeting, Chairman Jon Hinkelman had Administrator Bill Wolf provide a presentation on the draft resolution to departmentalize the Road Commission.  It had been provided to the Board of Commissioners prior.

The resolution outlined the steps that would be taken if the Berrien County Board of Commissioners were to take over the Road Commission. Those steps included policies, personnel, and general matters.  All of the dates on the resolution were left blank. The resolution was a full board resolution.

The minutes of the meeting describe that the issues of concern by some commissioners were: environmental studies of the Road Commission properties; personnel; the policies; wanting more information before making a decision; and never having a sit down meeting with the Road Commission.

Commissioner Dave Vollrath, who represents Coloma Charter Township, Hagar Township, and a portion of Watervliet Charter Township, expressed how he felt about the board not making a decision. “I am very disappointed, we shouldn’t delay this any longer,” Vollrath said.  He was ready to vote that night on the resolution that was presented, “Especially with all the information that we have been getting and gathering,” Vollrath said.

By consensus, the board did make a decision to obtain the policies of the Road Commission and to set up a joint meeting with the Road Commission.  While it was not a roll call vote, Hinkelman and Vollrath did not vote in favor of that.

The Board of Commissioners has set a date of Tuesday, September 19 at 1:00 p.m. at the Berrien County Administration Center for a workshop with the Road Commission.

Hinkelman said that the next 10 days will be very telling on which direction the Board of Commissioners will go.  He believes there is a certain sense of urgency. “The Road Commission and those that work for the Road Commission; their occupations and their lives hang in the balance and we (the Board of Commissioners) need to make a decision, whatever it is, so they can move forward,” Hinkelman said.

The County Board of Commissioners’ Act allows for a county board of commissioners to pass a resolution to transfer the powers, duties, and functions that are otherwise provided by law for the appointed board of county road commissioners, to the county board of commissioners.

Following this same procedure in 2013, the Board of Commissioners opted to hold off taking over the Road Commission due to the hiring of a Managing Director, Louie Csokasy. In March 2014, they voted again to hold off on the takeover. Finally in December 2014, they passed a final resolution that stated they were not taking over.

Csokasy had remained in that position as Managing Director until the spring of this year when he stepped down. Under Csokasy’s leadership, the Road Commission worked with the Berrien County Board of Commissioners to contract on vehicle maintenance and telephone service. Aside from partnering with the Road Commission, County Administration and the Berrien County Board of Commissioners have not had to be involved in the Road Commission and had not considered taking it over.

The Road Commission put an Interim Managing Director in place on June 20, 2017 but has not hired a permanent Managing Director yet.

Sinking Fund Basics presented to Coloma School Board

By Annette Christie

Coloma School Superintendent Pete Bush presented on the subject of “Sinking Fund Basics” at the school board’s September 11 meeting. While legislation is not new that allows a school district to ask voters for a millage support sinking fund, legislators did make changes in March of this year.

Bush said the changes made to Public Act 319 in March 2017 expands the uses for the funding, however it decreases the number of mills that can be asked for and the time frame that it can be levied.

Funds levied can be used for the purchase of land, construction and/ or improvements to facilities, improvements to school security systems and upgrading technology. Bush said the levied funds shall not exceed 3 mills (down from 5) and can be levied for 10 years (down from 20). The funds cannot be used for maintenance of facilities, only new construction or improvements. Any kind of improvements to school security including purchases that act as a deterrent such as doors/ locks, metal detectors, lighting or cameras and enhancements in entryways are allowable expenses for the sinking funds. The fourth and final allowable use of sinking funds is upgrades to technology.

Bush said that the board should consider establishing a sinking fund because it is considered a fiscally responsible way to do what is needed for the district. With a sinking fund there are no interest charges or legal costs. Bush said that there are 523 districts in the state and 157 have a current sinking fund; that includes 8 of 13 public districts in Berrien County.

School Board member Doug LeClear said he would like to see the board attach estimates to the top priority items that they are in need of such as a new roof on the high school. This project carries an estimated price tag of about $1.2 million.

Bush said that there will be three election dates in 2018 for the board to consider if they decide they wanted to put it up for a vote, May 8, August 7, and November 6.

Bush said that as they look at capital improvements he wanted to share some legislation and go over the nuts and bolts of it. He noted that the district does have two QZAB loans that they are paying on in the amount of $6.5 million. They will be paying on them until 2024 and 2029. While they are a 0% interest, they will still be paying for them out of their general fund. LeClear said that the bond issue in 2012 took care of a lot of their needs in the district but this would give them a way to look at all those other things that they couldn’t address with the bond issue. Bush said, “What you need to ask is how can we be most fiscally responsible to our community but take care of the things that we need to do.”

Other business

The leadership of the Student Council presented their plans for the upcoming year. President Grace Hester (a senior), and Vice President Paige Burgess (a junior) spoke of their desire to get the group more involved in their community. The leadership of the Student Council and all class officers spent a day recently in leadership training and team building exercises. They are actively working on planning for their homecoming festivities, festivities that will include all classes from K-12.

Each individual class in the high school has planned a community service area to focus on. The seniors and the sophomores will be providing care packages for service men and women, the juniors will be holding a food drive, and the freshman will do a Color Run.

School Board president Heidi Ishmael asked them to come back and update the board on their activities.

Bush presented the preliminary enrollment numbers based on the first week attendance prefacing that the numbers will change. This year as of end of first week the numbers were at 1,425, down a little from last year at 1,454 (at the end of the first week). He did note that this year’s kindergarten class was at 93 which is a smaller class size. The 2nd grade class, however, is higher with 30 kids in each class. Bush said that the paperwork is being processed to add another 2nd grade teacher so that the teacher to student ratio can be more in line with where it should be.

North Berrien photo contest winners announced

 The annual North Berrien Photography Contest invites photographers to capture scenes in the Bainbridge, Coloma, Hagar, and Watervliet areas of Berrien County in Southwest Michigan. Multiple area photographers submitted a total of 23 beautiful photos of North Berrien. Three winners and multiple honorable mentions have been selected among these submissions. These photographs will be displayed in an exhibit at the North Berrien Historical Museum throughout the month of September 2017.

“Foggy Morning” by Frank Va-troba, senior winner

The winning photographs of the 2017 Photo Contest are: “Foggy Morning” by Frank Vatroba of Coloma in the senior division, “Apples” by Barry Nelson of Hartford in the adult division, and “Blue Bucket” by Cheyenne Burdick of Coloma in the youth division. Each of these photographs celebrates a different aspect of the area’s character.

“Apples” by Barry Nelson, adult winner

Vatroba’s winning entry captures a stunning site only seen by early risers: “This (photograph) attempts to capture the ambience of the quiet early mornings available on our local area lakes. Getting these photographs depends on being in the right place at the right time because the window of opportunity quickly disappears. Foggy mornings on lakes have their own special character to be enjoyed before the sun burns the fog away,” Vatroba explained.

Nelson’s winning photograph caught his eye as he was driving by a Bainbridge Township orchard: “I like the contrast of colors and freshness of the fruit appearance. Fruit in general represents a great importance of Berrien County employment, with quality fruit and vegetables providing wealth to the producers and employees, and wholesome fruit to the world,” Nelson stated.

Burdick’s winning entry highlights a different draw to our area. “This photo shows the fun and quirky side of the antique shop/flea market trade in this area. Antique/flea markets are a very valuable part of the tourist trade in North Berrien County,” Burdick noted.

“Blue Bucket” by Cheyenne Burdick, youth winner

Honorable mentions were awarded to: Charlene Durfee, William Hubert, Dawn DePriest, Katherine Darling, Cheyenne Burdick, and Barry Nelson.

The winning photographers were awarded a local restaurant gift certificate and movie passes to the Loma Theatre courtesy of the Coloma Watervliet Area Chamber of Commerce, $25 courtesy of the Twin City Camera Club, and a free year membership to the Museum.


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