Engineering costs for lift stations approved by trustees

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — As part of Benton Township’s sewer replacement project, trustees approved $24,900 in engineering costs to replace the Crystal Avenue and Broadway lift stations.

The cost includes the preparation of construction plans, the topographical survey, permitting with the Michigan Department of Environmental Equality and the bidding of the project.

Public Works Supervisor Andrew Jordan told trustees Tuesday the existing stations will be replaced by new submersible lift stations.

“The new submersible lift station pumps are in the water,” Jordan said. “The old stations required workers to climb down a ladder to work in them. With the new ones, we do everything from above ground. It’s a lot safer because you won’t be in a confined space.”

Jordan said in addition to the lift stations, the township will seek bids for standby generators to be put in each station in case the power goes out.

The reason the township is replacing the Crystal Avenue and Broadway lift stations are because of their ages. Installed in the late 1950s, Jordan said the bottom of the pumps are getting worn out.

“These lift stations don’t usually last this long,” Jordan said. “The township has taken good care of them and have gotten a lot of life out of them.”

Jordan said the lift stations are extremely important because if they were to not function properly, the sewer would back up into basements.

The project is being handled by Midwest Civil Engineers, a South Haven company that specializes in municipal water, sanitary sewer systems and storm drain systems.

Superintendent Elden Piontek said money for these sewer replacements would come from the township’s sewer fund.

“We sold some bonds, and the other project came in under budget,” Piontek said. “These (lift stations) were not planned, but we came in under budget. That’s unusual most of the time.”

The other project Piontek was referencing to was the sewer replacement project on Empire Avenue, Ogden Avenue and Ridgeway Street.

Jordan said the Ridgeway portion is complete, Empire Avenue is almost paved and on Ogden Avenue workers are still laying pipe.

The project will be designed and bid out this winter, with construction taking place in the spring.

In other business, the 2016 proposed budget hearing was set by trustees for Dec. 15. The budget will be available online for public inspection 10 days before the hearing.

Trustees granted Darrow Properties Inc. a liquor license to operate a microbrewery at 670 N. Shore Drive, which the building will be renovated and open in mid-2016.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 6, 2015)

Millburg night spot faces wrecking crew after trustees’ decision

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — The old hangout known as Billie’s Bar in Millburg will cease to exist.

Benton Township trustees approved demolition and asbestos bids for the vacant property at 4758 Territorial Road owned by Tom Jennings.

The board will pay Withrow Excavating $9,500 to demolish the building and Martin and Associates $2,000 to remove the asbestos contained in a small area of linoleum.

Clerk Carolyn Phillips said the building will be demolished within the next 30 days.

Treasurer Debbie Boothby said the township had received complaints over the last few years about the property’s condition.

She said the building department tried to work with Jennings to either repair or demolish the building to no avail.

“We asked the residents for their patience and now it’s time to follow through with what we said we would do,” Boothby said Tuesday. “We will put the cost of the asbestos abatement and demolition on Mr. Jennings taxes and expect him to pay his debt.”

Jennings is not a township resident, but owns property in the township, Boothby.

Superintendent Elden Piontek said money for the demolition will come out of the general fund through the demolition line item.

“We budgeted $30,000 this year, but we hadn’t used it,” Piontek said. “We worked with the county to get a grant for the demolition of those 27 vacant houses earlier this year. We didn’t even use any of the demo funding on our budget. After this, we’ll still have money left over.”

On July 1, 2014, the board authorized the building department to seek demolition bids.

In a letter written to trustees in July 2014, Jennings wrote he was fully aware of the bar’s condition.

“At this point in time we are deciding what can be done with the building,” he said in his letter. “I have had an architect and a roofer look at a plan to improve or demo the building.”

The Construction Board of Appeals met June 29, 2015, to hear the Jennings’ appeal to keep the structure, which was denied.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 6, 2015)

It’s not baseball, it’s politics: Econ Club speaker throws curveball at government spending

Political columnist George Will answers audience questions Wednesday during a meeting of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan at Lake Michigan College. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Political columnist George Will answers audience questions Wednesday during a meeting of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan at Lake Michigan College. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — George Will says Americans have a lot more to worry about than just who will be the next U.S. president.

The 74-year-old columnist, who specializes in political commentary, spoke before hundreds Wednesday night at the Mendel Center on what problems the United States faces in the next few years.

With every political problem Will tackled, he intertwined each subject with interesting baseball quips and quotes. For instance, Will admitted to audience members that he has the Major League Baseball logo inscribed on his wedding ring.

“It’s my way of telling Mrs. Will that in my heart, she ranks up there close to baseball,” said Will, a Chicago Cubs fan.

He addressed myriad topics, which included health care, Social Security and a Republican candidate with a $3 million name.

“I’m not attacking the elderly. I am elderly. But the elderly are a problem,” he said to the older crowd. “Like a lot of American problems, the problem of our welfare state is success. Medicine has gotten better and we are living longer.”

Will said federal spending has become uncontrollable when referencing to when the government first began to raise the debt ceiling at the start of World War I.

In 1916, when federal spending exploded, Will said the richest man in America – by the name of John D. Rockefeller – could have written a personal check for his net worth and retired the national debt. Today, Bill Gates could write a personal check for his net worth and not pay two months interest of the national debt.

“There’s a character in Hemingway’s novel, ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ who was asked, ‘How did you go bankrupt?’ He said, ‘Two ways: Gradually and then suddenly,'” Will said. “We used to borrow money for the future. Now we are borrowing money from the future to finance our non-current conception of goods and services. It’s not acceptable.”

Despite the U.S. careening onto an unsustainable path toward “the most predictable crisis,” Will kept the mood light with some of his baseball mythology.

In 1951, Warren Spahn was on the way to becoming the winningest left-handed baseball pitcher. Will painted the scenario of a game when he was pitching for the Boston Braves against the New York Giants.

The Giants sent up to the plate a rookie who had yet to record his first big league hit. The rookie was Willie Mays.

“Spahn stood from the mound, 60 feet and six inches from home plate, and fired a bullet in. Mays crushed it,” Will said. “After the game, sports writers asked Spahn what happened. He said, ‘gentlemen, for the first 60 feet, that was a hell of a pitch.’ If it’s not good enough in baseball, it’s not good enough in government either.”

While he did not endorse the next president, Will gave his two cents on the two most qualified people to be president.

One was the president of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels, who a former Indiana governor. The other was the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

Baseball continued to feed back into the conversation as Will was asked during the Q&A portion of the segment, if Cubs fans were the best in the country, if not the world.

“They may be the best, but they’re not the brightest,” said the Illinois native. “Not since 1908, has any team had a bad century. The Cubs are in their 107th year of rebuilding. However, next year they’ll win it all.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 5, 2015)

Snow budget, plowing bids introduced to school board

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — On a day when it was more than 60 degrees outside in November, the St. Joseph school board discussed this year’s snow removal budget.

Kathy Hamilton, the district’s chief financial officer, told board members during Monday night’s study session that last year they budgeted for $20,500 and ended up spending more than $45,000 for snow removal.

In light of the amount of snow they received last year, Hamilton said the district has budgeted $35,000 for the 2015-16 school year.

“It’s so hard to predict because the price is per plow,” Hamilton said. “If we have no snow this winter, obviously we spend a lot less. If there is a lot of snow, we will perform a budget adjustment in the spring.”

Hamilton said the district received bids from the same two companies used last year.

Benton Harbor-based C&H Concrete plowed St. Joseph High School and Upton Middle School last year. The bid that came in this year for plowing the high school was $2 less per plow, Hamilton said. The middle school price stayed the same.

For the elementary schools, Hamilton said Kaiser Landscaping of Stevensville submitted bids that were $5 more per plow, but were still close to previous years.

No action will be taken on the bids until Monday’s regular meeting.

One thing the administration was concerned with was the added cost for additional snow. In case the accumulated snow gets really deep, the companies sometimes bring in different equipment.

“I guess we had to do that a lot last year, which raised our expenses,” Hamilton said. “I contacted both companies and asked them if part of our agreement would be for them to notify us before adding the cost so we are aware of that. When I spoke with both companies, part of the philosophy behind it is if they bring out a bigger piece of equipment it only takes them two hours and should equate to the same price of what their bid is per plow.

“We’ll keep track of it this year to see if that’s the case.”

Both companies offered two-year bids, but Hamilton said she is recommending a one-year contract to see what’s best for the district at the end of the year.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 5, 2015)

Bring Your Own Device program gets staff, student approval

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Everything related to technology in the district is running smoothly, according to the St. Joseph school district’s technology director.

Bryan Parsons gave board members his annual technology plan Monday night at E.P. Clarke Elementary during a SJPS study session.

His presentation included an update on the implementation of the Bring Your Own Device program, which began the first day of school this year. The BYOD program is the next step from the One-to-One computer initiative at Upton Middle School, which is supported by the St. Joseph Public Schools Foundation. The One-to-One initiative gives sixth-graders laptops to use through middle school, with a chance to buy them for high school.

Parsons said the BYOD program was created to be the continuation of the skills middle school students learned on integrating technology with their education, by allowing them to use their laptop or other device in class in high school.

The district started discussing the program in 2013.

Parsons said it was always the intention for the One-to-One initiative to teach students enough about technology to feed into the BYOD program when they entered high school.

“I’m very happy, the results have been better than I have imagined,” Parsons said in relations to the surveys they sent out on the new program. “It’s been accepted by the teachers and students. The staff has been great about it. We’re blessed to have an incredible infrastructure to support it.”

Parsons said there is a daily average of 1,600 users on the wireless network at the high school. That number is large due to multiple devices being used for the school’s network.

Odds and ends

Parsons told board members the launch of the new website was completed in June this year and has been well received by users. The site’s integration and launch was done by a Benton Harbor web hosting company called Working Zombie Studios.

Parsons said he and his team will develop a training packet that can be used by new staff members. The technology department also plans on forming a new committee to identify the needs at the district’s elementary schools.

“We spend a lot of time at the high school and Upton,” Parsons said. “I’m excited about this. It’s starting now.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 3, 2015)

Former cop says he’s being ‘railroaded’ by Benton Township

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — The former Benton Township police officer being charged in connection with the death of a pedestrian says he has been wronged.

Eugene Anderson, who has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge, took the podium during public comment at the Benton Township Trustees meeting where he claimed he had been railroaded by the township and its police chief.

“There’s more information that you on the board don’t know about. You didn’t want to know, so you let them railroad me,” Anderson said. “You three (referring to Clerk Carolyn Phillips, Supervisor Kevin White and Treasurer Debbie Boothby) let them railroad me out of here. The community is going to find out.”

Anderson continued to say Police Chief Vince Fetke railroaded him and that because of it, he would be attending court Wednesday to “fight for his freedom.”

Previous reports of the incident say Anderson was responding to a domestic violence call, driving 30 mph over the speed limit when he hit and killed a pedestrian in September.

Fetke has said in previous Herald-Palladium articles Anderson was fired “as a result of violations of departmental policies and/or rules and regulations.”

Anderson said he has a civil suit coming against the township. Anderson was wearing a T-shirt representing the Coalition for Change and Justice – a citizens group made up of Benton Harbor and township residents.

“There are police officers that are scared to talk because there is someone over there misusing their power,” Anderson said. “If you think that I’m gonna just go away easy, that’s not going to happen.”

Anderson was shouting at times, while trustees listened or looked away.

A few township residents also took the podium, urging trustees to do something about crime in the area and to look into the township’s police department. Residents said they were tired of seeing “black-on-black crime” and referred to the township as a “small Ferguson, Missouri.”

While trustees remained quiet and allowed residents to speak their minds, it was White who made a statement at the end of the meeting in response to an alleged incident involving a Benton Township police officer on the Sunday morning shooting in Benton Harbor.

“I grew up here just like all of you. The same day that that happened, my phone was ringing,” White said. “People were calling me and telling me what’s going on. I called Chief Fetke directly when I heard this. I have talked to Chief Fetke and we are trying to get to the bottom of the situation. What I’m trying to tell you is it’s not falling on deaf ears.”

The next Township Board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 17 at township hall.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 4, 2015)

Ibrahim Parlak gets good news from Detroit visit

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

HARBERT — It’s been a nerve-racking week for Ibrahim Parlak.

Parlak, who owns Cafe Gulistan in Harbert, traveled to Detroit with friends to ensure he was not in jeopardy of being deported Tuesday.

In his second visit to the Depart­ment of Homeland Security’s office in Detroit in less than a month, a DHS official took Parlak’s reporting papers and told him he no longer had to report in person on an annual basis.

Parlak said another mandate involving monthly calls, which required Parlak to wait by the phone for hours so he could call DHS back within three minutes, was also taken off the table. Instead, Parlak was told the DHS would contact him and his attorney if any future contact is needed.

“They took my reporting papers and said ‘you don’t need this anymore. If we need to contact you, we will send a letter to your lawyer,'” Parlak said over the phone on his way back from Detroit.

At his annual visit in September, Parlak was accused of violating his probation by not attempting to pursue travel documents from other countries. It was at that meeting he was told to return to the Detroit office for a follow up.

Last week, Parlak got a call from a different DHS officer, who told him he would not have to come in. Parlak asked for that instruction to be made in writing, but it never was. On Monday, Parlak’s attorney received the same call, but Parlak drove to Detroit regardless because it was still not in writing.

Parlak was careful not to get a mark on his record because his brother, who was in the U.S. several years ago attending school on a student visa, was deported without notice after visiting DHS in Detroit.

“It went well this time,” he said. “It was positive. It was totally different from the experience I had in September.”

The first person he called when he left the government building was his 18-year-old daughter, Livia.

“She wanted to be with me today and I convinced her there was no need for her to take time off from school,” he said.

While Parlak said things are moving in a more positive direction, he’s still looking for a permanent solution for his citizenship. Until then, Parlak said he looks forward to seeing his friends again.

“It was about time for us to get some good news and it’s been a big relief,” Parlak said. “Now we can move from here to make this thing permanent.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 4, 2015)