10-19-2017 Coloma Township Board gets legal opinion on Court ruling;

GREAT CATCH… Panther Bryant Kieft snags a pass that adds to his impressive stats and helped to break a 14-14 tie with Schoolcraft last Friday. Coach Jeremy Andrews said the catch in the picture did go for a first down near the end of the second quarter. It led to the next play which was a long TD pass to Trent Boone to give us the halftime lead. Andrews added, to this point Bryant has 42 catches for 1,211 yards (28 yds./catch, 151 yds. receiving/game) and 13 TD receptions. He has also rushed for 156 yards on 24 carries (6.5 yards/rush) and six TDs. He has also converted 11 two-point conver-sions (7 receiving, 4 rushing) on the season. In addition he also leads the team in tackles (67), tackles for loss (9) and sacks (6). He is only the third receiver in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for a single season (Travis Bolin – 2011, Tyler Brant – 2016). He currently sits 161 yards off Travis Bolin’s record of 1,372 yards receiving for a season (done in 12 games during the 2011 season). (Sarah Brant photo) See more sports in the Press Box on Page 12-14.

Coloma Township Board gets legal opinion on Court ruling

By Annette Christie

Coloma Township Board Attorney Scott Dienes updated the Coloma Township Board at their October 11 meeting on the ongoing court battle with Berrien County over the use of a training facility and practice ranges located on Angling Rd. in the township. Dienes reaffirmed that the Supreme Court ruled that they would consider hearing from the sides involved in the subject.  Recently the court decided that they would grant the county a leave which means they will consider the case.

Dienes told the board that on November 21 the Berrien County brief is due and their response would be due on December 26. Dienes told the board that oral arguments would take place eventually on the case of a Sheriff’s Training Facility/Shooting Range vs. the township and some residents which has been in litigation since 2008.  As Dienes laid out the timeline, Coloma Township Trustee Bryan Duffield asked when they finish next summer, does that end this? Dienes responded that he would have suggested that it would have been done in 2008, but they have been made to suffer through the Rod and Gun Club litigation, and then they (the county) built effectively a lean to and made them go to court again, “Now we have been in litigation for 9 years in,” Dienes said.

Dienes told the board that the composition of the Supreme Court today includes only one of the judges that heard the case originally, and that is Chief Justice Stephen Markman.  He suggested that some in the Supreme Court would take the stand that if the county wants the ability to forego the local zoning, they should do that with the legislators. He pointed out that the decision in 2008 was a unanimous decision in their favor.

Sarah Jollay, who pointed out that she is one of the original parties to the original lawsuit stated, “It is not nor has it ever been my intention to back down.” She told the board that several entities would be providing briefs to the Supreme Court on their behalf.  She commented, “I am a huge supporter of law enforcement but this has always been about how we choose to run townships and how you run your business.”

Ultimately, the board gave concurrence to continue the legal battle against Berrien County.

Bergman Drain

Berrien County Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin was on hand to discuss the Bergman Drain. Quattrin said the drain was established in 1939 and the last time it was cleaned out was 1989. He said the problem lies in the eastern branch of the drain that has caused the road to flood and farmers to lose portions of their crop.

Quattrin said that when the drain was originally looked at the contractor thought that it was an easy fix. However, further investigation determined that the tile has completely failed and washed out and there is a large amount of erosion in the drain. Quattrin said, “A tree grew up right in the middle of the culvert.”

New efforts to repair drains have officials looking at how they can use the environment to help solve the problems and keep the cost down. The Drain Commissioner’s Office can only spend $5,000 per mile per year for maintenance on a drain.  This particular drain is two miles meaning they can do up to $10,000 in maintenance.  Quattrin explained the process of getting a drain fixed over the standard allowable maintenance expense.  He said that their office has to go to the township (who has a 20% stake) and they have to approve going above the $5,000 per mile. The next step would be an emergency order followed by a petition project where the municipalities or land owners can petition for work to be done.

Estimates of the project repairs are at $55,000 with a $10,000 contingency.  Quattrin said the drain roll was done a long time ago, and about 29 people on the drain roll.  This concerned Quattrin because he wants to make sure the costs that are spread out to all of those on the drain roll are palatable.  The township gave the go ahead to move forward with the drain project.

Public Safety Millage Proposal

After being previewed at last month’s meeting, Police Chief Jason Roe presented a public safety millage proposal for the Coloma Township Board. They took no action on it.

The Coloma Township Police Department was founded in 1969 and was initially a part-time department until the mid-70s when it became a full service 24/7 department.  The cost of providing the police services was funded through the general fund until 1979 when due to public outcry, a special police millage was approved. The first police millage passed by a nearly two-to-one margin.

In 1992, a millage increase was necessary.  Initially, it was not approved by voters.  Due to public response, it was placed on a second ballot and then passed.

The separate police and fire millages have joined into a public safety millage. The two departments have operated through the millage funds coupled with general fund money.

The public has supported the public safety millage at the polls every four years since 1992.   The current Public Safety Millage is set at a rate of 4.75 mills and expires in 2020. It is divided at a ratio of 83% to police and 17% to fire.

Other factors have affected the incoming funds of both the general fund and the millage funds; the general funds due to the decreased revenue sharing and the millage funds because of decreased taxable values which the millage rate is based on.

While the township and the police department has made concessions such as consolidating positions and pay freezes for the police department they will not be able to sustain.  Based on budget projections, the projected revenues will not meet the projected expenses by the 2018/2019 budget year under the current funding model in place.

After an in depth study, Roe is recommending a proposed millage increase that would make both the police and the fire departments sustainable and would provide a long-term solution. Roe states, “The data shows that due to several factors, most of which are out of township and police department control, it will be necessary to seek additional millage funding to sustain current Coloma Township Police Department professional service levels. I believe that an additional 1.5 mills will be necessary to meet these requirements. This additional millage funding will allow the police and fire departments to continue to at least the next 30 years. With proper budget control, responsible spending, and prudent planning it should make both departments sustainable for much longer.”

Roe presented that a 1.5 mill tax levy increase would cost the average home owner an additional approximate cost of $100.50 annually or $8.38 a month. “This would ensure full-time, professional police service and sustained fire services for the next 30-plus years,” Roe said.

In other business, the township set trick or treating hours for Tuesday, October 31 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m., and donated $300 to the annual Halloween in the Park event which will be held on Saturday, October 28.

DIGGING PINK… pictured here (from the left) Hartford High School Athletic Director Nick Blackmer, Varsity Coach Patty Matheny, Indian Senior Captains Elly Valdes & Jessica Cortes square off versus Panther Senior Captains Jaelyn Pitre, Zoe Smith, Kara Lyles and Ju-nior Emma Yazel, Coach Edie Daugherty and AD Ken Dietz for the first-ever “Dig Pink” Volleyball Match in support of October Breast Cancer Aware-ness, hosted by Watervliet at the “Jungle.” The unique event was held at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 12 right in the middle of a normal school day and provided Hartford the opportunity to bus in the entire high school student body to cheer against their Watervliet counterparts throughout the contest. With a packed gym the Indians fell in three straight games while raising funds for a great cause. Credit the opposing ADs Blackmer and Dietz for their cooperative effort in the creation of the event. (TCR photo by Jon Bisnett)

Watervliet Township gifts property in Industrial Park to local business

By Annette Christie

The Watervliet Township Board took action at their Monday, October 16 meeting to secure a longstanding business in the area.  Trident Dock & Dredge has made its home in the old lumberyard in the City of Watervliet for 27 years.  They employ 21 full-time people including eight from Watervliet, two from Coloma, and the rest from the immediate area. Their main customer base is in the three neighboring counties. Owner Ed Schmitt told the board that they have outgrown their local establishment and that it is infringing on their growth factor.  “We need to move,” Schmitt said.

Their company requires zoning that allows for light industrial and a roadway that is designated as Class A.  Schmitt said that they are looking at other possible new locations in Hartford, Coloma and Eau Claire.

Supervisor Dan Hutchins said that the board discussed the transfer of property last month in a closed session.  Hutchins said that part of the Industrial Park property would be perfect for Trident’s business.   Hutchins proposed to the board that they donate 20 acres in the Industrial Park. This leaves approximately 45 acres that are still vacant. Prior to the meeting Schmitt had the property being discussed surveyed.  Hutchins said that the property has been off the tax rolls for about 50 years now, first due to the abandoned paper mill and then because it became a Brownfield property.

The way that the property is zoned would allow Schmitt to do what he needs to do. “This will ensure that we have a proven business stay in the area, in my opinion this is worth it,” Hutchins said.  While the board did discuss waiting to make a decision until they had full attendance (Tom Scheid and Joe Matthews were absent), the rest of the board determined they had enough information to move forward.  There was some discussion about the only expense that the township has incurred on getting the Berrien County Brownfield property returned to them which was an environmental study cost of $14,000. “We are setting a precedent but if $14,000 brings in 50 jobs, it’s damn well worth it,” Hutchins said.

With that, Trustee Joe Stepich made a motion to move the proposal forward as presented by gifting the property to Trident Dock & Dredge.  The motion passed unanimously.

Police Services Contract

Hutchins asked Berrien County Commissioner Dave Vollrath if they could discuss the presented budget for police services for 2018.  The proposed budget for police services that the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office provides to the township is reflecting a substantial increase for next year.  The increase is due to the addition of a charge for Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB). OPEB is for retiree health care.

This expense was previously paid for from another area in the county budget, however, for 2018 and going forward, it will be distributed among all county departments because that funding can no longer fund what is needed for OPEB.  Due to the county adding this on as an expense for each department, that expense was then passed on to the police contracts. Currently there are three townships that contract with Berrien County for additional police services. Hutchins spoke out against the added charge to the contract and asked Vollrath if they have considered asking for a millage to cover it county wide, Vollrath said they are continuing to look at all avenues.   “Other counties are having this same dilemma,” Vollrath said.

Hutchins suggested that Berrien County would be at risk of losing these contracts completely if they try to pass this cost onto the municipalities.  Hutchins said, “From my perspective, if Mr. Wolf (County Administrator) does this I will not support having the County service our area for police coverage.” Stepich added, “If this underfunding situation is just coming to the surface now, you (the County) haven’t been watching it.” Hutchins clarified that they weren’t blaming Vollrath as this is his first year in this elected position. “We are pointing a finger at the 10-15 years of commissioners that didn’t do anything about it before it reached this level,” Hutchins said.

Hartford ambulance service

Hutchins wanted to give an update to the Township Board on the Hartford ambulance service situation.  The City of Hartford and Hartford Township, who currently receive ambulance service from Medic 1, have been in talks about that service.  Hutchins said he believed that the City of Hartford had voted to begin looking for a new ambulance service.  It was uncertain where Hartford Township was on the subject.  Either way, Hutchins wanted the board to be aware that the decision made by the community of Hartford could impact the service options for Watervliet Charter Township including but not limited to Medic 1 asking for additional funding to make up for their lost customers.   Currently, Medic 1 is the ambulance service provider for Watervliet Township.  Hutchins said he would be attending the upcoming Medic 1 board meeting and would keep the township board informed.

Sales proposal

The Watervliet Township Board was presented a sales proposal for a piece of property off Elm Dr. which is known as a township park.  James and Deb Denney offered $15,000 to purchase the unbuildable piece of property as they are in negotiations to purchase the adjacent property. Denney, who was present, said they have been owners in the area for 33 years and have had farmland in the township for 15 years. With the purchase of this property they hope to build their forever home.

Hutchins explained to Denney that the township had to make sure that the title search came back clear because sometimes people gift them property and there are clauses in it if the township was ever going to get rid of it. With that the board decided on a special meeting to be held on October 25, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. to have further discussions. Hutchins said a decision could be made at the next regular meeting November 20, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.

In other business, leaf pick up for township residents will be held during the month of November.  Hutchins said, “If there is enough on the ground before that, we may start sooner.”  The township will be following the same rules as before; those in the rural parts of the township should call if they need pick up.

A brief discussion was held on the Wastewater Treatment Rates. Stepich, who sits on the Wastewater Treatment Board for the township said that 4-5 years ago they got a SAW Grant, which created an asset management plan and completed a rate study. Stepich said that the asset management plan projected all the projects that will probably need to be done over the next 30 years. Specifically he said they are looking at the next 10 years with hopes of funding as much out of cash as possible.

With that proposed future projects list and with the desire to maintain a healthy reserve and obtaining as little borrowing as possible, the plant will need to adjust the rates charged to the municipalities.  The asset plan has identified $968,000 in projects in the next four years. Stepich said they have already done three major upgrades to the tune of approximately $1 million.

The rates right now are $2,475 per million gallons treated at the plant, with the last increase being done in 2014 at 8%. When their rates are compared to other comparable plants, they are the lowest on the list. Stepich said the plan will be to raise the rates 6% a year for the next 4 years and then revisit it.  “There is a good chance we will have to raise it,” Stepich said.   The rate changes will go into effect April 2018.


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