12-19-2019 Delinquent Hagar Twp. audit nearing resolution; Watervliet Planning Comm. will not recomm

EARLY CHRISTMAS FOR HAGAR TOWNSHIP… Monte Packaging patriarch Sam Monte (left) surprised the Hagar Township Board at their December regular meeting with a professionally framed and matted collection of his own photos of the new Riverside Kayak Park. Monte went on to explain that 79th District State Representative Pauline Wendzel was conducting a contest for submissions of locally significant items to decorate her office wall in Lansing. Monte decided to enter with photos of the kayak project; a joint venture of the township, DDA and DNR grant. “It turned out so nice, my wife and I thought the township should have a copy for the hall,” said Monte. There’s no word yet on who the winners are in Representative Wendzel’s contest, but Monte has high hopes. Hagar Supervisor Izzy DiMaggio gratefully accepted the donation, noting the Monte family’s decades of philanthropy in Hagar, specifically their role in the development of the township’s Public Safety Building and Children’s Park; recognizing Monte Packaging as remaining loyal to the Hagar community in terms of maintaining their company headquarters at the Riverside location, especially in light of expansion and holdings in other parts of the country. (TCR photo by Jon Bisnett)

Delinquent Hagar Twp. audit nearing resolution

By Jon Bisnett Addressing the matter of the delinquent township audit, Supervisor Izzy DiMaggio reported at the Hagar Township meeting on December 9, 2019 that a draft copy of the audit was received from the township’s accounting firm Gabridge & Company during the first week of December. An additional communication from Gabridge recommended the implementation of several internal document control processes going forward along with a recommendation to consider an upgrade from QuickBooks to financial software more acclimated to the nuances of a governmental office to help alleviate the issue that delayed the process. Treasurer Marlene Davis reported no interruption of revenue sharing funds had occurred at this time. DiMaggio added the township is now obligated to respond to the audit findings as to first agreeing with the recommendations and when and how such would be specifically implemented before the audit can be completed. G.I.S. Mapping of cemeteries discussion continues The Hagar Township Board has no answers to Supervisor Izzy DiMaggio’s inquiry, under old business, as to what appears to be an absence of a proper approval for G.I.S. Mapping work on the township cemeteries in process by Wightman and Associates. While there is no contention as to the benefit to the township or the quality of work by Wightman, DiMaggio’s concern comes from several attempts to verify who approved Wightman to proceed following a presentation to the entire board in March of 2019. The work in excess of $25,000 is well under way. Regardless of his conviction, Ulleg failed to answer the direct question as to who authorized the work. Treasurer Marlene Davis was not in attendance at that meeting, thus unable to shed any light on the issue. Davis earlier in 2018 championed an ad-hoc cemetery committee for resident input. Davis is also a full-time employee for the Wightman firm and in the past typically recuses herself from matters involving her employer. DiMaggio stated he and Clerk Sarah Rodriguez scheduled a meeting with officials at Wightman and Associates in hopes of resolving the question at hand. Guests County Commissioner Dave Vollrath reports Berrien County has passed a resolution in regard to Erosion Disaster and will move to seek assistance once the full realm of damage is evaluated. Berrien Co. Sheriff’s Department Deputy Everly from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office visited, presenting a report of the prior month activity in the township totaling 59 complaints, with one citation issued and just a single arrest. Supervisors Report Updating the new Kayak Park, Supervisor DiMaggio announced the pavilion is now complete, leaving only fencing and landscaping to finish the project. DiMaggio thanked all involved in the holiday lights decorating the downtown area. The supervisor reports the 2020-2021 Budget is in process and asks all department heads to submit their wish lists for the coming year within the next 30 days. DiMaggio recapped the annual meeting with the Berrien County Road Department with a $64,000 match from BCRD for local roads. Proposed work totaling $182,000 would include Pier Road, Fikes Road, Coloma Road, Central Avenue and Maple Lane, leaving a contribution of $117,000 from the township general fund. Primary roads on the list for 2020, funded 100% by the county, included Hagar Shore Road, Blue Star Highway, Coloma and Riverside roads. Clerk’s Report Clerk Sarah Rodriguez reported Pride Care Ambulance activity for the prior month. There were six priority one calls in November with the average response time of 11:38 minutes. There were eleven priority two calls with the average response time of 13:47 minutes. A total of seventeen calls were run in November with an average response of 13:01. The clerk also reminded residents of the new availability of online voter registration in preparation for the election slated for March of 2020. Treasurer’s Report Treasurer Marlene Davis presented expenses for October in the amount of $48,238.55 and November for $46,093.66, both subsequently approved. Davis read into the record a formal apology to the Clerk for overstepping her authority in the areas of the cemeteries and the township website, quoting from the State of Michigan statutes pertaining to scope of duties for elected officials. Fire Report Township Representative and Fire Board Treasurer Bill Ott reported the North Berrien Fire Rescue Department responded to just 16 calls during the month of November with seven runs in Hagar Township, four in Coloma Charter Township, and three in the City of Coloma. A hardcopy of the annual audit is now out to the three municipalities along with the new annual budget. Chief Mike Mattix was also on hand to report on the process of replacing the 1993 model fire engine with a 2021 Rescue Engine for Station 2. With an estimated cost in the neighborhood of $670,000, the department will seek bids in January 2020 with a 30-day window. The new fire engine will have a projected service life of 20 years. A forecast of equipment needs for the next 10 years is also in process, along with planned replacement of 35-year-old extraction tools for approximately $55,000. Many of the old tools have become all but obsolete due to new manufacturing techniques of modern vehicles. A changeover to 800Mhz radio and pagers is also in process to better align with countywide emergency service agencies. Building Inspector Butch Kelley noted nine building permits issued in October for a total of $215,000 and just two permits in November for $9,000. Parks Parks Director Beth Raiser reports any potential erosion measures for Roadside and Hagar parks will be delayed until spring to determine the best course of action after what additional issues winter weather may cause.

Planning Commission Trustee Andy Ulleg reported work underway to create a bid sheet for the 5-year Master Plan. Williams and Works is currently in process of fact-finding to recommend a Marijuana Business Ordinance as well as an ordinance for short and long-term rental properties. Old business Citing conflict of interest, Treasurer Marlene Davis left the room, recusing herself from the discussion of the Cemetery GIS matter. DiMaggio reported on the meeting he and Clerk Rodriguez had with Ryan Miller of Wightman and Associates. Miller stated that no formal contract was ever written. He had acted upon what he described as “a consensus of the cemetery committee” to begin the preliminary work. DiMaggio also reported comments by the township attorney, as to any township committee not having the authority to authorize such work. Trustee Andy Ulleg responded with a detailed report based on some seven hours of research which did indicate some attempts to seek additional estimates from both Abonmarche and Williams & Works for Cemetery mapping. The matter of the invoice from Wightman in the amount of $4,460 for work done to date remained in question. Clerk Rodriguez made a motion to pay the invoice, followed by a unanimous vote of approval. DiMaggio then posed the question as to continue with Wightman, rebid, or table the whole matter. It was abundantly clear that residents in attendance were fully in favor of the GIS mapping, as several addressed the board. DiMaggio called the question acting on a motion from Trustee Ulleg to continue the project with Wightman and Associates. With all voting in the affirmative, the final vote came down to DiMaggio who ended the controversy in saying, “I was going to vote no, in light of the process issue, but in seeing the desire of our residents to see this project through, I vote yes.” Ulleg capped the discussion by agreeing that “…going forward, we must simply follow the process.” Having no further business, Supervisor DiMaggio wished all a blessed holiday adjourning the final business meeting of 2019 at 8:47 p.m.

Watervliet Planning Comm. will not recommend proposed plan for church on Main St.

By Annette Christie At the regular meeting of the Watervliet Planning Commission on Monday, December 16, 2019, they voted to not recommend a special land use permit for a Church/ Community Center on Main Street. The recommendation to not approve the permit will now go to the Watervliet City Commission as they are the body that has the final say. It is expected to be on their agenda at their January meeting. The permit was first discussed by the Planning Commission at their August 26 meeting. Pastor Justin VanFerrari with the Freshwater Community Church told the Commission that Freshwater Community Church started in Coloma in 2010. Over the past nine years they have been meeting in the Coloma Middle School building. They were seeking to move into the property at 115 N. Main St. and to convert it into a community center and church where their congregation meets on Sundays. They currently have about 75 adults and 25 kids in their congregation and the building would allow for anticipated growth. The church expected to make approximately $170,000 in renovations and improvements that would be done in phases. In addition to the Planning Commission’s review of the plans and the permit request, the Zoning Board of Appeals had reviewed the parking challenges for the property. This was at the request of the Planning Commission. The City Commission, who also serves as the ZBA, took a look at that earlier this month and found that there was sufficient parking throughout the city to accommodate the building’s use.

Grant application for Watervliet Twp. park denied

By Annette Christie The Watervliet Township Board learned at their meeting on December 16 that a grant application for the creation of Airport Park was denied for this go around. Clerk Patt Bambrick had said previously that the grant application to the Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund was submitted for the park next to township hall and that it had scored in the average range. They had been waiting to hear whether the grant would be awarded. Without it, the township board will have to talk about whether to move forward with some or all of the plans they had for the park. They had previously plugged in the matching funds into the budget. This comes following a revision by the board of their five-year parks and recreation plan. The board hired Cindy LaGrow with LaGrow Consulting to assist the township through the process. Airport Park is the 4-5 acres located right next to township hall. The plan for that included a multi-use building, concessions, restrooms, multi-use field(s) for soccer or rocket football, and pickleball courts. Trustee Joe Stepich said that there has been some discussion with the school district on the need for additional soccer fields for the district’s boys and girls soccer teams. They will continue to discuss a possible partnership between the two parties to accomplish filling that need. The board will more than likely discuss this in full as the budget cycle proceeds. In other business, the board received accolades from two township residents for the township’s leaf clean-up services. Supervisor Dan Hutchins said that with the retirement of Dave Pudell as Public Works Operator, that there is a need to replace him. Hutchins said he hired Al Bodfish to fill that upcoming vacancy. Trustee Bob Wallace acknowledged that Bodfish would be a great addition to the township staff; however, he felt that the open positions should be posted. Township Hall will be closed on December 24, December 25, December 31, and January 1 for the holidays. Township Hall will be open until 5:00 p.m. on December 26 to collect taxes. The next meeting of the Watervliet Township Board is Monday, January 20, 2020.

Coloma Twp. finalizes Parks Plan

By Annette Christie The second of two public hearings for the Coloma Township Parks & Recreation 5-year plan was held at their December 11, 2019 meeting. Consultant Cindy LaGrow presented the plan and answered any questions of the Township Board and those in attendance. The plan presented was as a result of over 160 responses to the parks and recreation survey. The plan includes Coloma Charter Township overall, Helen Street Beach, Washington Park, and the Coloma Township River Park (AEP Paw Paw River launch). The following were requests used to create the plan: Helen St. Park – more picnic tables and shade, eliminating the boat launch to keep it more a neighborhood park, and installing aesthetic improvements with current porta-potty; Washington Park – improvements to lighting dugouts, and the additions of bathrooms, sidewalks and trails, areas for bicyclists to ride safely, pickleball, benches and grills and requests for parks that are appropriate for older people to use as well; Coloma Township River Park (AEP Canoe/ Kayak Launch) – improve parking areas and install a kayak/ canoe launch, aesthetic improvements for porta-potty placement, fishing, and signage. The township board approved a resolution which passes the plan. Once it is formulated with the State of Michigan, the township will be able to apply for things that are included in the plan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund is just one funding source that the township can look to for grant funds. Other business In the other business, Clerk Sandy Kraemer said that the Personnel Committee is close to formalizing the final changes to the employee handbook. It has been under review for some time. Trustee Bryan Duffield said that they will pass it on to the attorney to look it over now that all the changes are in place. It has not been updated since 1984. The board also approved changes to the fees (such as building permits), incorporated in the zoning ordinance. The fees will match what is set by the State of Michigan. The board also approved a cost of $4,500 for a website design and update. The website, which is 10 years old, needs to be updated. Township employee Tracy Tavolacci told the board that the company that built the website and was the township’s contact for problems and maintenance is no longer responsive. Tavolacci said she researched it and found someone local that they can work with. Once the work is done, Tavolacci will have all the access needed to maintain and update it with current information on the township.