THREE OAKS – Water rates in the Village of Three Oaks will remain the same.
At least for now.
On June 12, the Village Council voted to keep the current rates at their current levels and revisit the question in six months.
“At some point we have to raise the rates but I hate to do it now after the sewer rate increase. Let’s see how the sewer project goes. Maybe we’ll get a break there,” said Village President Dave Grosse referring to the $1.25 million sewer plant upgrade project that will get underway as soon as the sewer lagoons can be dredged. This step has been delayed by weather which has kept nearby farm fields too wet to receive the waste.
During the meeting, John Holland of the Michigan Rural Water Association reviewed the Village’s rate structure and various options open to the council. The rate study was done as part of the village’s SAW (Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater) Grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
Holland said the village rates are “maybe on the high side but nowhere near the highest.” He said the current rates allow the village to cover its operating expenses and make its sewer bond payments but leave little to set aside for future infrastructure repair and investments. Holland noted the village, unlike some others its size, does not charge higher rates for high volume users even though their usage may require more infrastructure investments such as larger water towers and sewer mains.
Holland said that no matter what type of rate structure the village choses, it should include a yearly inflationary increase and a rate analysis should be done about every six years to prevent large increases in the future.
Sidewalks, another major part of the village’s infrastructure, also were discussed.
Park and Recreation Board member Larry Shawver said the committee he headed to study the village’s sidewalk ordinance concluded that the village should take on some responsibility for sidewalk repair and replacement.
“There’s no other way around it and it’s going to take some funding. The only other option is to put it all back on the homeowner,” Shawver said, mentioning the unpopular option of a separate millage. Other members of the committee were Trustee John Kramer and Planning Commissioner Jose Hernandez.
The council did agree to look at replacing some sidewalks and perhaps setting the goal at 10 percent replacement over 10 years. The areas that need it the most will be prioritized and replacements might be included with some street maintenance projects.
The council also approved Journeyman Distillery’s application for a microbrewer and small winemaker license.
From the audience, owner Bill Welter explained that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission requires him to have the license even though he does not plan to brew any wine or beer in Three Oaks. The products will be brewed and bottled at his Valparaiso facility and will cause no sewer issues in Three Oaks. Welter said he expects to begin selling the new items later this year.
Separately, Village Manager Mike Greene told the council that Journeyman is reviewing the agreement concerning the village’s access to its public utility easement.
The council voted to give Greene its approval to hire both a water superintendent and sewer superintendent. He said he identified two candidates for the positions, both local and holding the needed licenses
Trustee Becky Thomas reported that the village received a USDA Rural Business Development Grant for $79,000 for Chamberlain Path improvements. Since the original request was for $100,00, Thomas said plans are being revised to narrow the sidewalks, reduce the lighting and change some of the planned landscaping improvements.
Trustee Colleen Newquist said the Planning Commission’s Marijuana Committee is continuing to meet on the third Tuesday of the month and gather community input and information on the six types of marijuana licenses that will be given by the state. She said the committee wants to evaluate which categories make sense for Three Oaks and the economic impact.
In an update on the Downtown Development Authority, Chair Angela Reichert thanked DeRuiter Greenhouse for donating the flowers for the village planters. She reported that the DDA had collected many letters of support for the Chamberlain Path project, is continuing its marketing efforts and working on Wurstfest.
In other business, the council voted to:
• Renew its 35-year franchise agreement with American Electric Power, including a new clause stipulating advance notification to the village of any major repair projects;
• Maintain the same millage rates at 9.0015 for the operating fund and 3.6004 for the streets fund;
• Approve the DDA’s application for a special events license for Wurstfest to sell beer, wine and spirits on Saturday, Sept.21;
• Include 900 feet of concrete work for curbs, gutters and approaches as part of this year’s street repair program on Oak and Sherwood streets;
• Extend the contract for NutriGro through December for dredging the lagoons, with a 30-day written cancelation notice to be negotiated by Greene;
• Distribute the proposed Master Plan and Downtown Development Plan for public comment and posting on the village website.