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Beware of scam artists offering home or yard services

 

BUS-BBB-logo-blueFrom the Better Business Bureau

BBB is beginning to receive calls regarding individuals going door-to-door offering a variety of home or yard improvement services at a supposed discounted rate. The Better Business Bureau serving Western Michigan wants to remind homeowners to beware of scam artists and untrustworthy contractors.

Your BBB heard from a West Michigan consumer today who informed our office that he received unsolicited visitors this morning. Two men pulled up to his home in a small, old model unmarked white pick-up. One man knocked on the door and provided his name, but no company name. He said he was working on a neighbor’s house and noticed that bricks had fallen off the chimney. He said he would be able to fix it, plus add a cap to the chimney. The resident stated he would first want to check out his business with the BBB. The man stated he would be able to do it right then. The consumer asked for a business card; however, the man did not provide one and left.

This is a typical scenario; itinerant workers often show up unannounced and offer to re-surface parking lots or driveways, perform roof repair, painting services, brick work, tree trimming or cutting, or other home improvement jobs. Typically, these fly by night companies offer to do the job with leftover materials from a previous job, use high pressure tactics and trick you into thinking they offer a discount price. They have no physical location in the area and use poor quality materials. They do not pay local taxes and take discretionary income that could be better spent on local businesses.

Often these companies claim their prices are lower than any local bid, but a little checking around may prove otherwise. If they do offer you the lowest price, don’t assume it to be the best deal. Keep in mind that there is a lot more to a purchase than the price. No matter how good the price, should you do business with a company that will not be here tomorrow to hear your concerns or honor a warranty?

The BBB’s best advice is to check out all solicitations at the Better Business Bureau before you do business with anyone. Never pay upfront and never sign a contract without reading and understanding it.

Before you deal with a company you don’t know, or are unsure of:

1. Call the BBB for a report on the company, BEFORE opening your wallet. Phones are open 24 hours at 616-774-8236 or 1-800-684-3222 and reports are available online at www.westernmichigan.bbb.org. Get some answers before you do something as personal as opening your wallet to a stranger!

2. Verify that any contractor you are considering doing business with is properly licensed, bonded and insured and registered at the BBB.

3. Obtain bids from several companies. Compare apples to apples. Review the bids and remember the lowest bid is not always the best price.

4. Call the BBB and comparison shop with local, well known, reputable companies. The BBB can provide a list of industry specific businesses that are accredited by the BBB.

5. Don’t fall prey to high pressure tactics such as “this is the only chance you’ll have” or “by tomorrow the extra materials will be gone,” or “I’m only in this area today.” A legitimate company will be here when you’re ready to buy and they will be more than willing to allow you time to check them out. If they don’t, let that be a warning sign.

Before you do business with a company you don’t know, or are unsure of, pay for anything, or sign a contract, call the Better Business Bureau; that’s what we’re here for.

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Ask SCORE

 

Keep accurate records to avoid tax stress

One thing many people give up when they become small business owners is the “luxury” of paying taxes only on April 15. Depending on your location and type of business, you may have to pay one or more commercial and revenue taxes several times a year. If you keep good records, you can eliminate the worry and complications of these filings. The key is to create a recordkeeping system that is consistent, organized and comprehensive.

Today, accounting software makes sense for even the smallest businesses to record and reconcile transactions. Whether you use a manual or computerized system, though, your goal is to be able to document your business activity for tax purposes as well as develop a picture of how your business is doing at any given time: what is owed to you and how much you owe.

All funds passing through the business should be documented in your checkbook and logged into the general ledger, which serves as the master record of your business’s financial transactions.

Even if you are a solo entrepreneur, you should maintain a dedicated bank account for all business transactions, keeping them separate from your personal or household expenses. This account is a master record of the financial history of your business. Deposit and enter all cash and check receipts into this business account and post all expenditures through it. This ensures that all incoming and outgoing funds associated with the business are properly documented. If you do not have a business name, open the bank account in your name as a business account.

A petty cash box can take care of advances for small day-to-day expenses such as parking or postage. However, you want to limit the number of employees who can disperse these funds and require signed receipts for any use of petty cash.

Make sure you maintain a calendar of all deadlines for filing returns and making payments on state, local and federal taxes. The IRS can provide additional pointers to help make your tax preparations less complicated. Forms, publications and other information are available at www.irs.gov.

If you would like to discuss business taxes and recordkeeping, contact SCORE Grand Rapids. SCORE counselors provide free, confidential counseling to help you develop, prepare and improve your business. For information on SCORE Grand Rapids, and the workshop schedule go to our web-site www.scoregr.org.

Get free and confidential counseling with SCORE, 111 Pearl Street NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Call (616) 771-0305 or email score@grandrapids.org.

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Can they ask me that? 

 

Six improper and illegal interview questions and how to answer them 

Picture this: A great job interview is drawing to a close. Hoping to find out more about the candidate on a personal level, the interviewer asks, “So, are you married?” The candidate blurts out, “I’m so excited! My fiancé and I are getting married this June.” The employer starts to think, Okay…but what if she wants to start a family soon after? Maternity leave could mean that we’d have to hire a temp. It might be better to look at other candidates.

Is this scenario politically correct? No. In fact, it is illegal for employers to ask about a candidate’s family plans (marriage, engagement, and child planning), among a host of other issues. But according to Peter K. Studner, many interviewers and candidates don’t know that.

“Most interviewers haven’t had formal training on what questions border on improper or are illegal, and as a result, interviewees often volunteer wrong answers and too much information,” says Studner, author of Super Job Search IV: The Complete Manual for Job Seekers & Career Changers (Jamenair Ltd., 2015, ISBN: 978-0-938667-06-3, $26.95, www.SuperJobSearch.com). “That’s why it’s important for all job seekers to know which questions are illegal and how to politely deflect them without harming their candidacy.

“Oh, and if you’re curious, a good answer to ‘Are you married?’ would be, ‘I have a good social life and am focused 100 percent on moving my career forward,’” he adds.

In Super Job Search IV, Studner, whose outplacement firm has helped over 27,000 people receive offers, guides readers through the complicated process of conducting a targeted and ultimately successful job search campaign. Best of all, Super Job Search IV isn’t “just” a book—it’s a systematic approach to finding a job that includes online resources and an app.

Here, Studner shares six questions employers shouldn’t ask (but often do), along with possible replies:

How old are you? It’s illegal for employers to ask a candidate’s age unless they’re trying to determine whether or not a candidate is a minor. That said, your odds of hearing this question go up if you’re a more mature candidate.

“While an employer may not know your exact age, they’ll still be aware of the general ballpark—so refusing to state that you’re 57 might be of limited usefulness,” Studner comments. “In a situation like this, I recommend getting the interviewer to focus on your experience, not your age. A good response might be, ‘I’m in my 50s. Does age make a difference for this job?’ Then remind the interviewer that you bring 20 to 25 years’ experience to the table and describe several of your most applicable accomplishments.”

When did you graduate college or high school? This is a more sneaky way for employers to fish for your age—and it’s still illegal. Studner says your first tactic should be to sidestep the question: “I did not put that down on my résumé as I was told that it is not pertinent for any job application.” This response should do nicely to get you off the hook.

“If the interviewer presses for a reply, you might give him the date and then ask how that applies to your candidacy,” he advises. “And in the final analysis, would you really want to work for a company where the management discriminates against age? It might be better to move on.”

How’s your health? Employers have the right to determine if you are physically able to perform the functions of the job for which you’re applying. But beyond that, you are not obligated to—nor should you—reveal any health issues you may have. Rather than volunteer that you are a cancer survivor in your third year, for example, a better reply might be, “I had a physical after I left my last job and passed it with flying colors!” And if it is true, add, “…in my last year, I used only four days of sick leave.”

“People have a tendency to volunteer too much information about themselves,” Studner comments. “While you can be proud and certainly grateful that you’re a cancer survivor, it does not belong in your interview discussion. It’s really none of the employer’s business.”

What’s your religion? Do you observe any religious holidays? Any question that asks you to reveal your religion is illegal. If this topic comes up—and assuming that the person who is interviewing you will not be your boss—you might tell him or her politely that is an improper question. Know that this is a risky strategy, though. You may have won the conversation but lost the interview.

“Alternatively, you might simply say, ‘I prefer not to discuss my religion, but I can assure you that it will not interfere with my doing this job,’” Studner says. “You might also try to deliver the same message with some humor: ‘What religion do you have in mind? I would consider practicing it as I really would like to work here!’ There is no sense in getting upset when an interviewer does not pay attention to the rules. And humor can sometimes bring the conversation back within proper bounds.”

Do you have a criminal record? It’s legal for employers to ask if you’ve been convicted of a crime on job applications and in interviews. Many employers ask this as a matter of course and certainly will if a particular type of conviction might relate to the job’s duties. That said, employers can’t ask about your arrest record—but that doesn’t mean they can’t do independent research, either.

“I once had a candidate who had a DUI arrest,” Studner recounts. “She wasn’t obligated to disclose this, but in her state, certain websites could legally post her picture and arrest information. These websites essentially blackmailed individuals with a ‘fee’ to have their arrest posting either removed or placed at the end of the line. With the help of an attorney, it cost her a few thousand dollars to get her notices off the Internet.

“In a manner of speaking, this client was fortunate because she could afford to have the evidence removed, but not all candidates are in the same position,” he continues. “In these kinds of cases where a future employer might uncover prior arrests, it is important to discuss the incident up front and point out that it was a thing of the past, never to be repeated. The more serious the offense, the more convincing you have to be.”

Before you sat down, I noticed that you have a limp. How did that happen? This question represents any query about disability. Here’s what you need to know: An employer cannot legally ask about a person’s disability, but can indicate certain characteristics about a job that might require a more direct reply about the candidate’s abilities. For example, “This job requires lifting packages up to 30 pounds, or standing on your feet for six hours a day, or talking on the phone at least 80 percent of the time. Is this something you can do on a continuous basis?”

“Here you need to be frank,” Studner says. “If you have a disability, there are agencies nationally and locally that can help you find a company with jobs suitable for your limitations. However, if you have a disability that does not interfere with the job’s requirements, you are not obligated to disclose or discuss it.”

“While this is not an exhaustive list of every improper or illegal question, it should prepare you to reply to them and, when possible, sidestep innocent but damaging answers,” Studner concludes. “My advice to all candidates is to never lie in an interview, but also to never volunteer negative information.”

For more on answering tricky interview questions, consult Super Job Search IV.

Peter K. Studner is the author of Super Job Search IV. He is a master career counselor and former chief executive and board member of companies in the United States, France, and Great Britain. He has helped thousands of people with their career transitions and trains other career professionals to deliver this easy-to-follow program.

To learn more, please visit www.SuperJobSearch.com.

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Business owners: fix your potholes

 

I would like to suggest to local business owners and managers that they get together and do something about the potholes in their parking lots before they lose a lot of business. Menards happens to have pothole patch on sale this week! Only $9.99 for a 50 lb bag. I’m sure you can find something similar locally if driving to Grand Rapids is an inconvenience. I know some of my friends are avoiding some businesses completely for fear of damaging their cars. If you are waiting for the property owner to take care of it, you might be in for a long wait unfortunately.

Helen Hoornstra, City of Cedar Springs

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The difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day

 

By Maj. Nicholas J. Sabula, Defense Media Activity

Fort George G. Meade, Md. (AFNS)—There are lots of reminders out there that Memorial Day is about more than a day off or barbecue. It’s also about more than thanking everyone who served or waving flags. The truth is, many people confuse this day with Veterans Day.

This day is about one thing—our fallen warriors.

Congress officially set Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. How ironic that we mark the start of our summer season of fun with the day devoted to the memory of those who perished in the fight for the principles of freedom.

Why is Memorial Day so important? Here are some thoughts:

One thing I think people tend to gloss over with this day—these people died for freedom. While the semantics of how they died, why they died or where they died can become blurred by those seeking to minimize their sacrifice, the reality is that they died in serving the very country that allows for freedoms to belittle these heroes.

They gave of themselves, paying the ultimate sacrifice. This is the day for a grateful nation to remember their service and what it represented.

I think of the power in the memories we hold to the actions taken that were long forgotten by others.

I think of Marine Corps Maj. Megan McClung, who died while serving in Iraq. She embodied her personal catch-phrase of “Be bold, be brief, be gone.”

I think of our Medal of Honor recipients, who all remind us that the recognition is not for them, but for their comrades who are no longer with us.

The greatest honor we can bestow is remembering their gift. For me, experiences have shaped how meaningful the day is.

Long, long ago, I served as a member of the honor guard, covering a three-state region of Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Our team was incredible in the manner in which we would drive for hours to the location, then suddenly put our game face on in preparation for a funeral. Except it wasn’t a game to us.

The crisp folds in our nation’s flag, the sharp salute and presentation to the family on behalf of a grateful nation, and the 21-gun salute that shattered the silence was only shared with sobs and strong hearts during that instance.

We honored their passing; but also gave reverence to their important honorable service to this nation.

Though the M-1 Garand rifle was heavy and the snow would be knee-deep at certain locations, we never lost cadence, never lost focus. Whether a bitter -40 degrees or a sweltering 100 degrees, they would become part of this day we now hold as a federal holiday.

Since then, I have been shaped by additional experiences of loss. Whether saluting a hero’s flag-draped coffin as it’s carried onto a C-17 Globemaster III for their journey home, or experiencing the grief of learning of the loss of colleagues, it’s never easy when it hits you.

It really struck home about four and a half years ago, while in Afghanistan.

I’m not going to go into the details, but I will say that personally witnessing the death of a comrade when there’s nothing you could do stays with you forever. I don’t talk about it much, but it’s why the day is so important to me.

This day is for them and for those who served among them. For me, this day is also a time to reflect on all the sacrifice our military family as a whole has made.

Sgt. 1st Class Shannon’s family back home will never be the same; they are now a Gold Star family. His Army unit felt his loss. While our military and our country continue on, Memorial Day is a reminder that he and all the heroes we have lost mattered.

Service and sacrifice. This is my day to reflect on those I’ve encountered and those I never will. This is a day to simply remember.

This article was originally published on May 23, 2014, at www.af.mil.

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CTA Calendar

May 21 Literacy Night – 3-5 pm

May 21-22 Senior Trip to Cedar Point

May 22 No School for Students and Staff

May 25 No School for Students and Staff – Memorial Recess

May 29 Graduation @ Cedar Springs High School – 7 pm

June 2 Field Day (K-5)

June 4 Last day of school

June 8 Whitecaps game for CTA families

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2015 Wall of Honor

CTA Wall of Honor Members (L-R): Dr. DeWayne Coxon, Lexie K. Coxon, Alecia J. Terpstra, Amy Burton-Massey, Gary Bailey, Kyle Bohl, Gerry Verwey

CTA Wall of Honor Members (L-R): Dr. DeWayne Coxon, Lexie K. Coxon, Alecia J. Terpstra, Amy Burton-Massey, Gary Bailey, Kyle Bohl, Gerry Verwey

CTA inducted five people into the Wall of Honor for 2015, joining the two inaugural inductees from 2014, Dr. DeWayne Coxon and Lexie K. Coxon. The 2015 inductees are:

Gary Bailey – Director of Student Services, Board Member (President)

Mr. Bailey started the position of Director of Student Services and served the school for eleven years in that position. He most recently served CTA as President of the Board of Directors.

Kyle Bohl – Teacher, Director of Student Services, Board Member (Vice President), Mentor

Mr. Bohl is the only person to serve CTA as a teacher, administrator, and board member. Always willing to share his time and knowledge, he remains one of the most popular staff members among students, parents, and colleagues.

Amy Burton-Massey – Teacher, Building Leader, Mentor

Mrs. Massey was an elementary teacher for 11 years at CTA. Her infectious smile and outgoing personality was the face of our K-5 grades during her time her. She provided a safe, warm, and welcoming environment for our students and leadership for young teachers in our elementary.

Alecia J. Terpstra – Teacher, Class Advisor

Mrs. Terpstra is completing her 14th year of teaching secondary mathematics at CTA. She created the driver education program and taught driver education for several years. She has worked tirelessly over the years as a class advisor, sponsoring dances, fundraising, and planning, organizing, and implementing senior trips.

Gerry Verwey – Teacher, Coach, Mentor, NHS Advisor

Mr. Verwey taught secondary science for 7 years at CTA and he continued to coach cross country and basketball after leaving to teach at another school. He was a mentor to several young teachers and he will always be our “Coach” no matter where he is teaching and coaching.

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Cedar Springs Cleanup

CTA-CleanUp

CTA-CleanUp2The CTA High School gathered this week to clean up Pine Street, from White Creek Avenue to Main Street. Students made sure no trash was left on the side of the road, nor the ditches. We had a great time working together to make Cedar Springs look great!

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K-5 News

Mother Son Game Night was a hit!

Mother Son Game Night was a hit!

Daddy Daughter Dance is always a favorite.

Daddy Daughter Dance is always a favorite.

April and May were very busy months for the students at CTA’s elementary. We had two wonderful events occur during these months: the Daddy Daughter Luau and the Mother Son Game Night.

The Daddy Daughter Dance is one of our favorite events at CTA! At the beginning of every year, many, many questions are asked about the theme of the current year’s Daddy Daughter Dance. This year’s theme was that of a Luau, complete with lots of flowery leis and even a tiki hut!

Like every year, the girls enjoyed the time spent dancing, munching on yummy desserts provided by our families, and sipping on this year’s delicious smoothies made by two amazing CTA high school students: Hunter George and Kaleigh Keech. The greatest part of the evening occurred when all the dads joined their daughters out on the dance floor. The girls’ faces lit up with excitement to be dancing alongside their favorite guys.

Mother Son Game Night was a HIT! Moms and sons joined CTA staff members in playing every game known to man. You could hear the laughter coming from the Scattergories table, guesses being shouted out at the Pictionary station, and you could even feel the floor move in the Twister and Just Dance rooms. Seeing all of the smiling faces makes events like this a fantastic time for everyone!

The 2014-2015 school year is coming to a close and what a great year it has been for CTA’s elementary! Thank you to students, families, teachers, and administrators for making 2014-2015 one for the books!

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Water wisely for a beautiful garden and landscape

Collecting rain in rain barrels when it is plentiful and storing it until needed is an effective way to manage water for the landscape.

Collecting rain in rain barrels when it is plentiful and storing it until needed is an effective way to manage water for the landscape.

By Melinda Myers

Too much or not enough water and never when you need it. That seems to be the long time plight of gardeners. Add to this extended droughts, flooding and watering bans. What is a gardener to do? Become a water wise gardener.

Water wise is not just about growing drought tolerant plants or eliminating plantings. It is a holistic approach to managing water to avoid flooding that overwhelms sewer systems; improper watering that wastes water; and poor landscape designs that generate too much work and require too many resources.

Make this the season that you incorporate a few water wise habits into your gardening. You will find it is good for your garden, the environment and your pocketbook. Start with one or more of these strategies this year.

Select the right plant for the growing conditions. Plants that thrive in normal growing conditions for your area will be healthier, require less care and need less water. Look for drought tolerant plants that require less water once established.

Keep water out of the storm sewers and in the garden instead. Prevent flooding while improving your garden. Adding several inches of compost to the top 8 to 12 inches of soil increases the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water. This means less runoff into the storm sewers and less frequent watering.

Use plants to prevent runoff and conserve water. Plant trees, shrubs, and groundcovers to slow the flow of rainwater, increase the amount of water that stays in your landscape for your plants, and to filter water before it enters the groundwater. Install one or more rain gardens to intercept surface water runoff for use by rain garden plants and to help recharge the groundwater.
Provide plants with a healthy diet. Use a slow release non-leaching organic nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite (milorganite.com). You’ll encourage slow steady growth, so your plants will require less water and be less prone to insect and disease problems. Plus, the slow release nitrogen encourages healthy growth and does not prevent flowering and fruiting.
Water wisely. Water plants thoroughly and only when needed. Water the soil, not the plant, using a watering wand, drip irrigation or a soaker hose so less water is lost to evaporation. Water early in the morning, whenever possible, to reduce water loss during the heat of the day and diseases caused by wet foliage at night.
Manage your lawns to reduce water use. Select drought tolerant grass varieties to reduce watering needs. Prepare the soil before seeding or sodding, or aerate and spread a thin layer of compost over existing lawns to increase water absorption and reduce runoff. Mow high to encourage deep roots that are more drought-tolerant and pest resistant. Allow lawns to go dormant during hot dry weather. If irrigating, water thoroughly when needed—that’s when your footprints remain in the lawn.
Conserve water and reduce time and money spent on plant care. Mulch the soil around trees, shrubs and other plants with several inches of woodchips, shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic material. Mulching reduces watering frequency, prevents soil compaction from heavy rainfall thus increasing water absorption. It also adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes.
Repair leaking faucets, fittings and garden hoses. A slow leak of one drip per second can waste up to nine gallons of water per day.

Look for and use wasted water. Collect the “warming water” typically wasted when preparing baths and showers. Use a five-gallon bucket to collect this fresh water and use it for your containers and gardens. Collect water from your dehumidifier and window air conditioners for use on flowering plants. Do not use this water if environmentally harmful solvents have been used to clean this equipment.
Check with your local municipality if you are considering using gray water. Once you wash clothes, dishes or yourself, water is classed as gray water and most municipalities have guidelines or regulations related to its use.
Harvest rainwater if your municipality allows. The ancient technique of capturing rainwater in jugs, barrels and cisterns has made a comeback. Collecting rain when it is plentiful and storing it until it is needed is one way to manage water for the landscape. But first check local regulations before installing a rain harvesting system. Several states have banned rain harvesting, while others offer rebates or rain barrels at a discount to gardeners.

Melinda has over 30 years of experience as a gardening columnist and TV/radio host. She has a master’s degree in horticulture and has written more than 20 gardening books. Visit www.melindamyers.com for gardening videos and tips.

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