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Archive | Voices and Views

Allowing multiple marijuana businesses ignores master plan

Our quaint little town of Cedar Springs is facing a major threat to the character and values of its citizens and businesses alike.  By potentially opening up our downtown and the city as a whole to multiple marijuana businesses, the City Council has completely ignored our Master Plan’s vision for our fair city. 

The Master Plan Vision states, “Cedar Springs will build upon its small-town character by upgrading and reinforcing the downtown as a quaint center for community gatherings, recreation, specialty shopping and governmental services.” Its economic goals, in part, are to “Attract specialty businesses downtown that will enhance the unique character of the area.” Housing plans are to promote the single-family character of Cedar Springs and also provide a broad mix of housing types downtown. The plan calls for making it comfortable and easy for people to walk and bicycle throughout the city.

The City Council totally ignored the Planning Commission’s recommendation against allowing marijuana businesses in the downtown area. Our leadership is convinced that flooding the downtown with those businesses, for the purpose of renovating old buildings, is worth the risk to our community’s health, safety and general welfare. They are willing to try this “experiment” with little regard as to the possible damage it could do to our recently improved reputation in the area, our property values, and to current businesses.

Marijuana does not fit in our downtown. It does nothing to “enhance the unique character of the area” as described in the economic plan’s goals outlined in the Master Plan.  The word “quaint” means charming, sweet, attractive, and old-world.  That is what Cedar Springs is, a quaint little town where kids ride bikes, families walk downtown, and seniors feel safe.  There is nothing quaint about armed guards standing outside a building on Main Street. There is nothing quaint about people lining up to be registered to go inside a marijuana shop. 

A three-year study in Denver showed an increase in property crimes in the areas surrounding a marijuana shop, 83 a year over normal, or 1.6 a week and it is in our neighborhoods that the threat would exist. Because it is a cash only business, there is a further threat of criminal activity. Those businesses would be detrimental to the unique character and safely of the entire area.

The Planning Commission can stop this from happening downtown. If they follow the guidelines for a special land, use there is no way they could approve a marijuana business downtown. Those standards are listed in the City’s Ordinances.

Kathryn Bremmer

City of Cedar Springs

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A community with no local newspaper? That’s bad news

Dean Ridings

Dean Ridings, CEO, America’s Newspapers

What would my town be without a newspaper? If you haven’t asked yourself that question, perhaps it is time to consider just what the newspaper means to this community.

Because the doleful fact is, too many small towns and mid-sized cities are losing their newspapers right now. An extensive study (https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/reports/expanding-news-desert/loss-of-local-news/) from the University of North Carolina released in January found that by last year, 2,100 newspapers had disappeared, or almost 25% of the 9,000 newspapers published in 2004. That translates to 1,800 communities that 15 years ago had their own newspapers that now have no original local reporting, either in print or digital. 

Note that this report was released just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic swept up newspapers in the same financial catastrophe that’s devastated businesses of all types and sizes and thrown millions out of their jobs and households into terrifying economic uncertainty. 

What does a community lose when it loses its newspapers? 

The most obvious is the community’s access to news about itself: The workings of its town hall; information about taxes and property values; the operation of schools for its children; the achievements, or the criminal activities, of local residents; the scores of local ball teams; schedules and reviews of movies, concerts, restaurants and books; and the offerings of local small businesses. 

During this pandemic and in spite of their deep financial troubles, newspapers continue to provide the unique local news and information about COVID-19—from testing spots to restrictions and openings to dining options—unavailable from any other source.

But the less obvious losses when a newspaper disappears may be the most devastating to a community. 

Researchers in 2018 found that when a local newspaper closes, municipal borrowing costs — and therefore residents’ taxes—go up. Why? Losing a paper, the study said, creates a “local information vacuum.” It turns out that lenders depend on local reporting to judge the value of government projects—and the officials in charge of them. Without that information, lenders tend to charge higher rates. 

Communities without newspapers are also more likely to be victims of corruption petty and grand, local incidents the national media will never uncover. The most glaring example comes from the small California city of Bell, where—without the eyes of a local newspaper on them—the city council engineered passage of a virtually unnoticed referendum to get around a new state law capping council member salaries. Within five years, council members were taking home a cool $100,000, the police chief was being paid $450,000—and the city manager of this municipality of just 37,000 souls was making nearly $800,000. 

Losing a local newspaper, another study found, can also lead to more political polarization—something no community, nor our nation, needs now.     

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid becoming another “news desert.” For one thing—subscribe. 

But there is also pending bipartisan legislation that deserves your support. The Local Journalism Sustainability Act (H.R. 7640) provides for tax credits that support the three pillars of trusted, fair and accurate journalism: people who subscribe to newspapers or other local media; businesses that advertise in local newspapers; and newspapers that staff their newsrooms with journalists who cover the community. The tax credits aren’t permanent and sunset after five years. 

In a nutshell, this bill would provide every taxpayer tax credits up to $250 a year to spend on subscriptions to qualified local newspapers. It would give businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees tax credits of up to $5,000 the first year and up to $2,500 for the next four years for advertising in local newspapers or local media. And it would give local newspapers a tax credit of 80% of its compensation to journalists in the first year and 50% for the next four years. 

These are tax credits—not a handout, not a bailout. And the tax credits go away after five years. But this legislation provides a lifeline for everyone affected by the pandemic: local readers, local businesses, local news providers. 

Asking your legislators in Washington to support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act is a simple step you can take to help your community from becoming yet another news desert. There’s a simple way to take that step, too: Just go to https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials for contact information for your legislators. Your right to fair and trusted local news and information is worth the effort. 

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See your lifetime earnings with My Social Security

By Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist 

Did you know you can see your work history online all the way back to your first job?  Your earnings history is a record of your progress toward your Social Security benefits.  We keep track of your earnings so we can pay you the benefits you’ve earned over your lifetime.  This is why reviewing your Social Security earnings record is so important. 

If an employer didn’t properly report just one year of your earnings to us, your future benefit payments could be less than they should be.  Over the course of a lifetime, that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in retirement or other benefits to which you are entitled.  It’s important to identify reporting problems as soon as possible.  As time passes, you may no longer have easy access to past tax documents, and some employers may no longer exist or be able to provide past payroll information.

While it’s your employer’s responsibility to provide accurate earnings information to us, you should still review and inform us of any errors or omissions so you get credit for the contributions you’ve made through payroll taxes.  You’re the only person who can look at your lifetime earnings record and verify that it’s complete and correct. 

The easiest way to verify your earnings record is to visit www.ssa.gov/myaccount and set up or sign in to your personal my Social Security account.  You should review each year of listed earnings carefully and confirm them using your own records, such as W-2s and tax returns.  Keep in mind that earnings from this year and last year may not be listed yet. 

You can find detailed instructions on how to correct your Social Security earnings record at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10081.pdf.

Let your friends and family know they can access important information like this any time at www.ssa.gov and do much of their business with us online.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.  

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POST Scripts Notice

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

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Vote for Curtis DeJong

Dear Citizens of Nelson Township,

You have an opportunity to vote for an outstanding member of our community for trustee.  Curtis DeJong is an enthusiastic young man with the skills, energy and desire to contribute and make a positive difference in our township.  I have known Curtis since he was in my first grade class, and he has always been willing to work hard to set and achieve his goals.  His background and experience in business and education makes him uniquely qualified to be an excellent leader and communicator for the people of Nelson Township.  Please vote for Curtis on Tuesday, August 4.  

Respectfully,

Karen L. Gebhardt, Nelson Township

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Assertions on school bond proposal not accurate

(response to letter last week from Daniel Davis)

Mr. Davis,

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying a well-informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy. Many of the assertions shared in your letter published in the Post on July 23 were not accurate. Cedar Springs Public Schools is not asking our community to “just trust us” concerning this upcoming bond election or any other facet of our operation. Countless public meetings have taken place since November 2018 discussing the District’s facility needs. We are asking our community to “join us” as together, we can partner to make Cedar Springs an even more attractive place to live, learn, work, and play. 

Please allow me to clarify the ballot’s wording regarding the general obligation unlimited tax bonds. While the word “unlimited” does appear on the ballot, it does not relate to the amount of money Cedar Springs Public Schools can obtain from its community through taxes. The bond application approved by the Board of Education in a public meeting on April 13, 2020, and on file with the State Department of Treasury, clearly spells out the details of the projects included in the bond proposal. The maximum amount of bonds that can be legally issued cannot exceed the $68,000,000 stated in the ballot language. The word “unlimited” pertains to the full faith and commitment of Cedar Springs Public Schools to repay the bond debt through the collection of taxes.  

Even an extremely conservative estimate indicates CSPS will not need to increase the tax rate to repay these general obligation bonds. The district will have thirty (30) years to repay the obligation. However, it is estimated that passage of the $68,000,000 bond would still only keep the debt millage rate at 7.00 mills through 2036 before slowly declining as a result of bond repayment and taxable value growth. For the record, property values in Cedar Springs are increasing. The present five-year average historical taxable value growth for properties located in the Cedar Springs Public Schools District is 4.74%. The twenty-year average historical taxable value growth rate is 4.09%. The taxable value growth for 2020 and 2019 have been 5.36% and 6.37% respectively.

Chris LaHaie, Chief Financial Officer

Cedar Springs Public Schools

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Vote NO on school proposal

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

* We only print positive letters about candidates one week prior to the election. 

__________________________________________________________________________

Vote NO on school proposal

On Aug 4 we will be voting on another school bond proposal. It is very important to carefully read the proposal as written on the ballot. We are told no “expected” tax rate increase, yet the ballot language clearly states “unlimited tax bonds.” Furthermore, the proposal on the ballot is so nonspecific about how the money will be spent that they can do whatever they want. They want us to just trust them, which would be a big mistake.

With over $32 million of bond debt and $1.6 million qualified loans on the books already, adding the $68 million debt this proposal calls for would triple our total debt. This is absolutely reckless, irresponsible and totally insane!

The property tax bills that came recently are nearly 40 percent higher than they would be without existing school debt! If we don’t add more debt, the sky high 7 mills for debt service will start to decrease in a few years and the debt will be eliminated by about 2032. If we foolishly pass this proposal, property taxes will remain in the stratosphere for three more decades (until 2052). Shamefully, a large part of the burden of paying off that debt would be left for today’s students to pay after they graduate.

This proposal is very expensive and provides relatively little benefit for its massive cost. Tearing down most of Beach Elementary would be extremely costly and wasteful. Clearly, their priorities are more about wants than needs.

With the pandemic we face and uncertainty about the economy, there couldn’t be a worse time to pile on massive new debt. Please vote NO and then demand that school officials stop looking at taxpayers as cash cows to be milked.  

One final note: If you have submitted an absentee ballot with a yes vote for this proposal, you can still ask your local clerk to issue a new ballot so that you can make a better choice.

Daniel Davis, Courtland Township


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Social Security benefits for children with disabilities

By Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist 

SSA’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program helps children with qualifying disabilities and their families.  For this program, a child must meet all of the following requirements to be considered disabled and medically eligible: 

The child must have a medical condition, or a combination of conditions, that result in “marked and severe functional limitations.”  

This means that the condition(s) must very seriously limit the child’s activities. 

The child’s condition(s) must have been disabling, or be expected to be disabling, for at least 12 months; or the condition(s) must be expected to result in death.  

Compassionate Allowances are a way we quickly identify diseases and other medical conditions that, by definition, meet Social Security’s standards for disability benefits. Thousands of children receive benefits because they have one of the conditions on the list at www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/conditions.htm.

A child must also meet other eligibility requirements. Since we only pay SSI to disabled people with low income and limited resources, a child, who is not blind, must not be working or earning more than $1,260 a month in 2020. A child who is blind must not be working or earning more than $2,110. The earnings amount usually changes every year. In addition, if the parents of the child or children have more resources than are allowed, then the child or children will not qualify for SSI. You can read more about children’s benefits at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10026.pdf.

Visit www.ssa.gov/people/parents/ to learn more about all we do to care for children.  Please share these resources if you know a family or friend who needs our help.

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.  

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New feature in My Social Security puts you in control

By Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist 

The future can be uncertain.  However, Social Security’s new Advance Designation program can help put you in control of your benefits if a time comes when you need a representative payee to help manage your money.  Advance Designation enables you to identify up to three people, in priority order, whom you would like to serve as your potential representative payee. 

The following people may choose an Advance Designation:

  • Adults applying for benefits who do not have a representative payee.
  • Adult beneficiaries or recipients who do not have a representative payee.
  • Emancipated minors applying for benefits who do not have a representative payee.
  • Emancipated minor beneficiaries or recipients who do not have a representative payee.
  • If you fall into one of the above categories, you may provide and update Advance Designation information when you:
  • File a claim for benefits online.
  • Use the application available in your personal my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.
  • Call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

You may also change your Advance Designation(s), including the priority order, at any time while you are still capable of making your own decisions.  In the event that you can no longer make your own decisions, you and your family will have peace of mind knowing you already chose someone you trust to manage your benefits.

Vonda Van Til is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.  

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Social Security and protecting elders from scams

By Vonda Van Til, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist 

June is World Elder Abuse Awareness Month.  Throughout the month, government agencies, businesses, and organizations sponsor events to unite communities, seniors, caregivers, governments, and the private sector to prevent the mistreatment of and violence against older people.    

Scammers often target older people.  They use fear to pressure people into providing personal information or money.  In times like the current pandemic when people are particularly vulnerable, scammers will pretend to be government employees, often from Social Security, to gain people’s trust to steal their money and personal information.  The most effective way to defeat scammers is by knowing how to identify scams then hanging up or ignoring the calls.

What you can do

If you get a Social Security scam phone call, hang up, report it to our law enforcement office at oig.ssa.gov, and tell your family and friends about it!  We’re telling as many people as we can that government agencies will never:

  • Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
  • Tell you about crimes committed in your name, or offer to resolve identity theft or a benefit problem in exchange for payment.
  • Request a specific means of debt repayment, like a retail gift card, prepaid debit card, wire transfer, internet currency, or cash.
  • Insist on secrecy about a legal problem, or tell you to make up stories to tell family, friends, or store employees.

Scammers continue to develop new ways to mislead you.  They might use the names of Social Security officials and tell you to look them up on our public websites (where they learned the names themselves).  Or, they might email you official-looking documents with a letterhead that looks like it’s from Social Security or Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).  Don’t believe them!  Social Security will NEVER email you attachments that have your personal information in them.

If you ever owe money to Social Security, the agency will mail you a letter, explaining your payment options and your appeal rights.  If you get a call about a Social Security problem, be very cautious.  If you do not have ongoing business with the agency, or if the caller mentions suspending your Social Security number or makes other threats, the call is likely a scam.  Ignore it, hang up, and report it to us at oig.ssa.gov.  We are working to stop the scams and educate people to avoid becoming victims.

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.  

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