City Commissioner proposes city of Hartford smoking ban

By Nancy Albright

 At the June 27 Hartford City Council meeting, City Commissioner Terry Tibbs proposed establishing an ordinance to ban smoking within 25 feet of public buildings in the City of Hartford to help protect those citizens utilizing public streets and sidewalks from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Michigan state law dictates that smokers must smoke a minimum distance of 25 feet away from a structure. According to City Manager Yemi Akinwale, the health department monitors and enforces state law, rather than the city or state, so the city would be responsible for enforcing the ordinance, if passed.  Mayor Ted Johnson stated that, “This is just going to cost the city money. Enforcement is certainly not worth the $400 to $500 it would cost the city when someone violates a local ordinance.”  Commissioner Tibbs responded with “I feel we should enforce it,” and went on to voice his wish to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke that could be detrimental to their health.  After further discussion, Mr. Akinwale told the council that “We have to be careful before passing this ordinance. We have to make sure we can enforce it.” He also pointed out that this may have a negative effect on business owners.  Mr. Akinwale plans to call the health department to find out how to best enforce a smoking ordinance and will add the issue to the next City Council meeting agenda for further discussion.

City continues to enforce grass ordinance

 There were 38 grass ordinance violations in the month of May, and the city followed up on all 38 violations. The grass ordinance states that it is the responsibility of property owners – or property occupants – within the City of Hartford to ensure all grass is mowed, and noxious weeds and poisonous or harmful vegetation is destroyed.  The council would like to remind residents that violators will be issued a citation of $50 for a first offence, $150 for a second offense, and $200 for a third offense. Offenders must pay tickets within 10 days, whether or not the grass is mowed within that timeframe. Go to the City of Hartford website at www.cityofhartfordmi.org view a copy of the grass ordinance.

City moves forward with plans to expand Ely Park

 A resolution was put forth at the May 16 City Council regular meeting by City Manager Yemi Akinwale to acquire the vacant property at 118 Michigan Avenue, which the city tentatively plans to use to expand Ely Park.  The current owners have made no attempt to repair the building, which burned several years ago. The property, which is currently in tax delinquency, is considered by many as a blight on the community.  The County Treasurer previously offered the City of Hartford the opportunity to purchase the property at a cost of $3,415.00.  Mr. Akinwale reported to the council that the application to acquire the property from Van Buren County is complete and has been returned to the County Treasurer.  During their last regular meeting, the Hartford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) voted to share the cost to purchase the property with the city. The property is now in closing status and the city has sent payment in the amount of $3,415 to the County Treasurer.  When the transfer of title is complete, the city plans to begin demolition and clear the property of debris in order to prepare the site for park usage.  The city also voted to contribute $1,000 to the Concerts in the Park Program, which Commissioner Linda Gray said are “just great.” Ms. Gray also commented that this year’s organizers have done a great job with the concert schedule.  There are 13 concerts scheduled for the months of June, July and August. Alex Mays will play on July 7 at the Hartford Community Picnic. Other musicians include Down Maggie, featuring Hartford local Tom Riley on July 21, local Jimmy Phillips and his band the Mortals 2 on August 4th, and Star Charlie of South Haven on August 11.  Concerts are held every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. Concert schedules are available at City Hall and are posted in the park.

Wellhead Protection Grant  application submitted to the MDEQ

 City Manager Yemi Akinwale also reported to the council that the application to update the City’s Wellhead Protection Plan is complete and has been sent to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for approval.  If approved, the grant would enable the City of Hartford to continue the program, which allows the city to protect sources of drinking water through public awareness and other educational methods.  The city originally proposed to update the Wellhead Protection Plan over a two-year period, but the MDEQ requires updates within one year.  The total cost of the project is $20,000 – half of which is the cost to the city – so the amended application requests $10,000 rather than $5,000 to meet this requirement, making the city’s share of project costs an additional $2,500.  Protecting the water underlying the city, which is the sole source of drinking water for the city will help increase the health of residents and enhance quality of life, maintain a strong economic base, protect a crucial natural resource.  The city partners with Hartford Public Schools to educate students on the importance of protecting ground water, and students distribute items such as pens, pencils, water bottles, t-shirts coffee mugs and hats to promote program awareness.

Van Buren County Conservation  District requests one-tenth millage to fund area water clean-up efforts

 Executive Director AJ Brucks of the Van Buren County Conservation District addressed city commissioners to request that a one-tenth millage be placed on the August 2 ballot in order to procure operating funds that would allow the organization to continue to write grants to secure funding to clean up county water sources. Ms. Brucks stated that the millage will cost residents approximately $5.00 per year.  The Conservation District conducts garbage clean-up and has recovered 5,000 tires and 75,000 pounds of garbage from area water sources.  The organization also inventories city culverts to ensure healthy fish passage; works with farmers to help them increase water quality on their land; helps residents remedy leaky septic tanks that could potentially contaminate water; and tracks invasive insect species, such as the Asian longhorn beetle, which attacks maple trees and could potentially be detrimental to local economies.  When asked by Mayor Ted Johnson about the e-coli issue in the Pine and Mill Creek, Ms. Brucks told Mr. Johnson that she will check on the status of the bovine and human bacteria invading the creek and report back to the city.  Go to the Van Buren Conservation District website at vanburencd.org for more information.

Watervliet City Commission approves 2016-2017 budget

By Annette Christie

 The Watervliet City Commission voted to approve their 2016-2017 budget which will take effect July 2, 2016.  This followed a discussion about the changes.  City Manager Emilie Sarratore pointed out a few of the big ticket items. She noted that the police department included $20,000 for a school resource officer and $20,000 for a new vehicle.  The Parks and Recreation budget included $50,000 towards the Skate Park.  The budget included $35,000 for road paving in major streets.  Sarratore reviewed the SAW Grant, which the city has a $75,000 match in.  She explained that they don’t expect that all of the expenses will be put through in the same year and therefore, they budgeted about ½ of that based on when the work would get done and paid out.  In addition, they put $40,000 in the budget for next year in case the city decided they wanted to do the water portion.   Sarratore said the SAW Grant is a preventative program for the water system and if done with the sewer it is much less costly. With the funds being built into the budget, if the City Commission chooses to go forward they don’t have to amend the budget.  It was noted that the per diem rate for the Commissioners will be going from $4,000 to $20,000 based the increase of meetings to two a month, two Finance Committee meetings a month, and one Personnel Committee meeting a month.  Commissioner Marvin questioned whether the departments were involved in the preparation of the budget to which Sarratore confirmed they had department input.  The overall budget approved was at $2,922,060 in revenues and $2,798,184 in expenses.  The budget is based on the overall millages of 19.9389 which is the same as last year.

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