HARBERT — The status of a proposed agreement between Chikaming Township and three local libraries remained undecided at the conclusion of the April 14 Township Board meeting.
Near the start of the April regular meeting, Township Supervisor David Bunte announced that the New Buffalo Township and Three Oaks Township libraries had accepted an offer approved 4-1 during a March 30 special meeting.
Under that one-year proposal the township would split $30,000 plus penal fines equally between the three libraries, with the New Buffalo and Three Oaks libraries also charging Chikaming residents $25 per household annually beginning July 1st, 2022.
“As of yesterday (April 13) both the New Buffalo Township Library and the Three Oaks Township Library have responded and agreed to our proposed agreement,” Bunte said.
The Township Board’s April 14 discussion on the matter touched on the process that had led the Township Board to initially decide (in December 2021) to negotiate a library of choice agreement with the Bridgman Library only, and various issues related to the proposed arrangement going forward. Ultimately the board voted unanimously to table any action on the proposed agreement until its May meeting when details such as keeping track of how many pay the fee and requiring the deal to end after a year with no automatic renewal.
Another unresolved issue involves whether there would be some sort of reciprocity in the agreement, and if yes what form it would take – if those paying the $25 to either New Buffalo or Three Oaks would then get to patronize all three libraries; and/or if Chikaming residents getting a library card in Bridgman would have any type of access to the other two facilities.
Trustee Rich Sullivan, who voted against the proposal on March 30, said on April 14 “the people who choose to get their card from Bridgman have to be allowed to go to New Buffalo or Three Oaks if they want without paying a $25 fee because Bridgman has chosen not to rip us off.”
Bunte said the reciprocal issue would have to to discussed with representatives of the libraries, noting that getting a card from Bridgman and then using the other two libraries could be seen as a way of circumventing the $25 fee.
Trustee Bill Marske said allowing people to go to Bridgman first and not pay a fee to the other libraries would bring the issue “right back to square one.”
Sullivan asked why the March 30 special meeting was necessary since seeking an agreement with the Bridgman Library already had been OK’d and nowhere on the agenda did it was they “were going to revisit an agreement we had already decided in December.” He also pointed out several times on April 14 that Bridgman was the only library to send representatives to that and other board meetings.
“Our word means nothing if we make an agreement with Bridgman and we rescind it,” he said.
Township Clerk Paul Dudiak said she had received many phone calls on the library issue “and started listening to what our public wanted.”
Dudiak said “after the fact” she felt having one library for township residents could pose a hardship and she felt “if we paid $30,000 everyone would be able to use every library.”
Bunte said he dealt with phone calls from citizens and contacts by local organizations and an educational leader on a regular basis.
Prior to the decision to table action on the proposal, Marske said he was open to trying the proposed agreement for one year to see how many people pay the $25.
Bunte said the $25 fee (half the amount proposed by the New Buffalo and Three Oaks libraries) is intended to “alleviate the pain to our residents” while giving township officials a year to evaluate how many are paying the fee before deciding whether or not they will continue funding at the proposed level.
Sullivan also criticized what he called “the passive-aggressive letter that was written by the New Buffalo Library and signed by the Three Oaks Library.”
He said the letter was sent to Chikaming Township residents who had cards with either library “including three of my little grandkids who all got their own individual letters.”
Sullivan said one of the main reasons the March 30 meeting was held was so township officials could defend themselves in the wake of the letter.
Commenting that Chikaming Township doesn’t need three libraries, Sullivan said officials “need something from the public saying ‘This is what we want.’”
Bunte said the option of putting some sort of a library millage referendum on the November ballot could be discussed in the near future.
Also on April 14, Reserve Police Officer David Waskevich was sworn in by Dudiak.
“The reserve unit for the Police Department is the backbone of the Police Department,” said Police Chief Todd Taylor. “These men and women volunteer their time.”
Taylor said Waskevich has a military background (he was a major in the Army National Guard and served in Iraq), with one member of the Chikaming force saying Waskevich has been a role model since he was young.
And the Township Board agreed to petition the county to put a ballot proposal before voters on Aug. 2 to restore the operating millage rate from the current .367 mills (reduced over the years due to Headlee Rollback rules) to 1 mill.
Bunte said revenues would increase by an estimated $452,435.73 in the first year. He noted that 2020 Census numbers show Chikaming Township losing about 300 full-time residents (from over 3,000 to just above 2,700) meaning revenue-sharing funds will decline going forward. He noted that property valuations in the township have risen.
“As costs continue to increase and our revenues stay flat, it’s extremely challenging for us to continue to function and operate,” he said.
Later in the meeting Bunte went over a series of upcoming Drain Commission projects that he said will have a major impact as bond issues are paid off for a number of years. He said infrastructure and streetscape projects in Harbert and Sawyer also will require matching funds from the township for grants.
Bunte said multiple drain projects from Union Pier to Sawyer were the subject of a recent meeting with representatives of the Drain Commission Office where the potential for seven projects to begin at the end of this year and continue on into possibly 2024 was discussed.
Drain projects mentioned by Bunte (going from the Union Pier area to Sawyer) include the Union Pier Drain, Streed Drain, Tiffany Drain, Lakeside Drain, Harbert Drain, Sawyer Village Drain, Wolcott Avenue Drain (and possibly establishing a new Emery Drain).
Bunte said current estimates for the projects are approximately $20 million, with the township’s share in the neighborhood of 10 to 20 percent.
In other April 14 matters, the Chikaming Township Board:
Approved purchasing a 2022 Dodge Durango for the Police Department at $38,000. Taylor noted that the vehicle is available now.
Amended the township sewer ordinance to raise treatment rates to $35 per month per unit due to costs that are exceeding revenues. The board also amended the Water Ordinance to increase the minimum monthly charge by 4 percent for one year and 4 percent annually for the following three years.
OK’d a 2022 Road Projects agreement with the County Road Department. Bunte said projects in Union Pier (Berrien Street, Center Avenue, Goodwin Avenue and Nolan Avenue) are likely to be delayed until 2023 to coincide with drain work, and an Old M-11 project may be moved from 2023 to this year. Other roadways on the 2022 list include: East Road from Red Arrow Highway to Three Oaks Road; Flynn Road from Harbert Road to Warren Woods Road; Harbert Road from Red Arrow Highway to the lake; Holloway Drive from Red Arrow Highway to the west end; Indian Trail Road from Three Oaks Road to Flynn; Kaiser Road from Flynn Road to Carpenter Road; Townline Avenue from Williams Court to the west end; Wee-Chik Road from Minnich to the township line; and Youngren Road from Prairie Road to Three Oaks Road.
Agreed to petition the County Road Commission to conduct a Harbert Road speed study.
Approved a quit claim deed for the former Sayer fire station property (donated to the Township by the Kohn family) that includes a four-foot section added to provide parking on the western side of the land.
OK’d a recommendation from the Planning Commission to rezone a 300-foot portion of a parcel along Sawyer Road across from Arlington Drive where an office structure is planned from residential to commercial (330 feet along Sawyer Road already is zoned commercial).