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City Hall Corner


By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager

Citizens of Cedar Springs,

The last few months have been bizarre in the world, and we have felt the effects of it here locally too.   A horrible disease has sickened and killed many, civil rights protests have been marred by violence and both resulted in stay at home orders, closed businesses and curfews. Having to stay at home, not going to school or work, not being able to see friends or family and not being able to visit your favorite restaurants for a sit-down meal has been a very frustrating experience all around for everybody.

City Hall staff have continued to work throughout this whole ordeal as essential workers.  We have practiced social distancing, wear masks as required, lots of hand-washing and sanitizing to keep everybody at City Hall healthy and safe.  As we reopen City Hall this week, we will be implementing new safety guidelines such as asking non-essential business still be conducted by phone or e-mail, continued use of the payment drop boxes and please wear a mask if you enter City Hall. The Public Library will also be charting a course to safely reopening soon with their safety guidelines and we all look forward to serving the citizens of our community in-person again. 

Over the next several weeks we will be seeing a slow return to normal-ish with the business community as well.  Bars and restaurants will be able to start limited sit-down service in addition to their continued take-away options.  Most retail stores will be open with a limited capacity and other businesses will be reopened with new safety precautions as the COVID19 threat diminishes.  These new precautions that businesses will be implementing are for the safety of both the public and for the businesses own staff. Please help keep everybody safe by following the implemented safety precautions at our local businesses.  Please practice empathy and be slow to anger if things aren’t being done as quickly as they used to be or if small mistakes are made, this is all kind of new to all of us.  Also, please think twice before posting complaints to social media instead of addressing your concerns with the business itself, there was a time when that was the normal way of handling issues.  

Finally, this has been an odd time for planning beautification and entertainment activities in Cedar Springs.  Several events have been canceled and some delayed, including the City’s inaugural concert series at the new amphitheater and the painting of a mural in downtown.  The Sand Lake 4th of July celebration was canceled, the Red Flannel Festival is reviewing its options for October and the Public Library’s start of summer reading program celebration is likely to be toned down.  However, the American Flags are up on Main St., the DDA is planting flowers and volunteers are set to build an off-leash dog area at Riggle Park.

The problems that we have faced individually and as a community this year have been strong but we are much Cedar stronger; I believe that unity is our strength.  Please, support our local businesses as they reopen and please follow safety precautions for the health and safety of all persons.  I am eager to visit our hometown businesses and hope to see you there shopping, eating and drinking too.

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Cedar Springs City Hall closed to general public


The City of Cedar Springs takes very seriously the dangers posed by the novel COVID-19 virus and the severe acute respiratory health problems that it can cause. Many persons exposed to the virus will develop flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. More serious infections, especially in vulnerable patient groups, may suffer pneumonia, organ failure and death. Vulnerable patient groups include persons aged 60 and older and persons with underlying health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, COPD and cancer.

The current best practices to prevent infection or spreading the disease are to frequently wash your hands, avoid touching your face, use of facemasks by those already sick and self-quarantine/social distancing away from other people.

As many of you already know, the Governor has ordered all schools closed until at least April 6th and many bars, restaurants, theaters and other locations of public congregation are likely to close or limit public access in the near future. This unprecedented situation requires a strong and aggressive response in order to maintain the public health and the City encourages all persons and organizations to take all necessary precautions for the well-being of the public, employees and emergency personnel.

Right now, the problem seems small, avoidable and a world away, however, COVID-19 has infected at least 137,000 persons and killed over 5,000 worldwide. Those numbers will absolutely go up, please take this seriously. Everything that is being done right now might appear alarmist and overblown but after a pandemic takes hold, nothing done afterwards will seem adequate.

At this time, the Cedar Springs City Hall will be closed to the public on a week to week basis, starting Tuesday March 17, as we actively monitor the situation. City employees will continue to work at City Hall and throughout the community and will address citizen concerns by phone, e-mail and by appointment as may be necessary. Some public meetings may be canceled or postponed until it is safe to hold them. Any public meetings that are held will be done so according to all laws, including the Open Meetings Act. However, the City encourages any persons showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who might have been in contact with the disease to avoid all public gatherings, including City meetings.

For additional resources regarding COVID-19 and how to respond to it please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kent County Health Department for the most up to date information:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

https://www.accesskent.com/Health/coronavirus.htm

If you have any questions, thoughts or concerns about the City’s COVID-19 response please contact the City Manager by phone or e-mail.

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Money wasted on pocket park


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.

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


 

Many of you may be familiar with the area just to the north of city hall. That is the area that previously had broken cement with two handicapped parking spaces. It was with anticipation that I noticed work being done on that area. Problem is, it was not fixing the parking spaces, but putting in what is called a “pocket park.” The city council and the city manager decided that would be a better use for the space. It may look better than the broken concrete but it’s not very useful. There is no seating, no parking and no identifiable useful space. With winter coming, whatever use might have been imagined for the “park” is not going to happen at least until spring. Handicapped parking was at least a year around use.

The handicapped parking is now out on Ash Street, in another area with broken concrete and only one space instead of two. It is now a much longer and painful walk to get into city hall for anyone who must count each step with a mobility aid. If you are not very careful, you will be in danger of falling if your cane or walker falls into one of the cracks. It doesn’t appear that our handicapped residents are considered when these types of decisions are made.

People who make these decisions should not be allowed to decide how to spend the three million dollars that is being asked for to build a new fire barn. I suggest, if you agree, to vote NO on the fire barn. 

Allen King

City of Cedar Springs

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City of Cedar Springs water and sewer rates explained


 

Part 2 of an article on the city water/sewer system

By Mike Womack, City Manager of Cedar Springs

The City’s water and sewer rates are set to reflect not only the costs to operate the ongoing water and sewer process but they also have to take in sufficient amounts to expand the system for economic development, replace old pipes before they break and also respond to emergency situations where the pipe has to be fixed immediately with few options regarding time and place.  

Unfortunately, over the last decade, the City’s water and sewer rates were not being appropriately adjusted each year to keep up with the costs of funding the system.  Between the years of 2008 and 2017, the City’s sewer fund lost $1,114,927 in value averaging a loss of $123,880 per year. These losses were a result of the City not slowly increasing water and sewer rates each year to keep up with inflation or to reflect changing levels of demand, as users increased or decreased demand each year.  In that period the sewer fund only posted one positive income and that was in 2016-2017, the year that the current rates were set. In 2016-2017, the sewer fund captured $159,947 or slightly more than this single sewer line emergency repair and replacement will cost. (The sewer line repair on West Muskegon between Fifth and Seventh Streets.) The water fund, thankfully, did not see the same type of losses that the sewer fund did. The water fund gained $321,161 in value from 2008-2017 or $35,684 per year. While at least positive numbers, the water fund is undersized and should have been increasing at a higher rate.  

Due to the years of neglect in accurately setting water and sewer rates, the City decided to raise those rates as part of the 2016-2017 budget. This was necessary to stabilize the water and sewer fund balances and to ensure that the City continues to be able to provide safe drinking water without PFAS or the lead that other cities have suffered. To that end, I truly am sorry for the price of water and sewer in the City of Cedar Springs. If the City could offer free water and sewer service for all it would. City staff understands the anger and frustration that citizens have expressed about the water and sewer rates. We appreciate every citizen who has approached city staff with calm questions, and we hope that we have been able to answer those questions and concerns to the best of our abilities and to your satisfaction.  Even though Cedar Springs’ water is more expensive than it used to be it is still a great bargain, at 6000 gallons used, each gallon of water costs the consumer just 1.6 cents to produce and clean after use.

Moving forward the City is working to increase the number of system users by bringing in new neighborhoods and businesses.  Those new homes and businesses then help reduce everybody’s costs by spreading the overall costs among more users. We also continue to modernize our systems and equipment, which reduces overall costs.  Our recent switch to estimated bills for two months followed by an actual read in the third month has led to savings of 15 man-hours per month with the goal of permanently reducing those meter reading hours to approximately 2 hours per month with an actual read every month. Those 15 extra hours are now used to replace old water meters with the new water meters enabling those quicker reads.

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City Council to hold public hearing on DDA TIF plan tonight


A map of the proposed DDA TIF district.

The Cedar Springs City Council will hold a public hearing and also vote on the 2017 Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan at their December meeting tonight, Thursday, December 14, at 7 p.m.

Under the city’s plan, the improvements within the development area will consist of storm sewers, resurfacing existing streets, parking lots and alleyways, creating new off street parking, lighting improvements, landscaping, and property acquisition for further improvements as needed.

DDA revenue in the first year of the plan is estimated at $17,743, with an increase each year thereafter, based on growth percentages of 2-3 percent. In total, the DDA is projected to generate $1,394,405.57 in tax increment revenue over the 20-year term of the plan.

City Manager Mike Womack explained that a TIF plan does not raise your taxes—it simply captures a portion of them and reallocates them to the DDA for reinvestment back into the community. We asked him if he could explain to readers how it works.

“City Hall has been approached by citizens with questions regarding the 2017 Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) development plan which City Hall has been working to finalize by the end of 2017. Tax Increment Financing can be complicated to understand but it is an important tool in promoting economic development in the downtown core of the City. It is important for businesses and citizens to understand how a TIF works and how the DDA can use the TIF to improve the City for everybody.”

He went on to explain:

“The DDA is a board of citizens and business owners with a vested interest in improving the identified TIF district. A TIF district is an area within a city that, broadly speaking, would benefit from reinvestment of money to promote the economic growth of that area. The development plan guides the DDA board in how to invest the TIF money doing things like creating new parking areas, renovating derelict properties or marketing the City to visitors.

“So once a city identifies a part of the City that meets the criteria and would benefit from a TIF, how does it work? A TIF district essentially reallocates funds from property taxes to encourage investment within the district. An important thing for property owners within the TIF district to understand is that their property tax rates do not automatically go up with the creation of a TIF.   

“The way TIFs shift funds around to encourage development is by freezing the allocations to various taxing bodies (e.g. City, County etc.) at their levels as of the start of the TIF. For the life of the TIF (typically a maximum of 20 years), the amount received by these taxing bodies from property taxes collected within the TIF will remain constant. Any increased tax revenues collected as a result of an increase in property values then go into the TIF fund and can be used by the DDA board for a wide range of purposes identified in the TIF Plan.

“Here is an example of a hypothetical TIF to demonstrate how the process works: A city decides that an area is in need of redevelopment, usually a downtown area. The City Council reviews the proposal and determines that the area would benefit from TIF reinvestment. Property tax rates are not affected by the TIF. At the beginning of the TIF, the aggregate property value of all land in the TIF is $1,000,000, and annual property tax revenue is $40,000. This $40,000 is split between a handful of taxing bodies such as the City and the County. After the TIF is created, the taxing bodies know that they will continue to receive that $40,000 per year for the life of the TIF. Perhaps after a couple years, property values within the TIF increase to $1,100,000, which leads to annual tax revenues of $44,000. This extra $4,000, instead of being distributed to the taxing bodies, is deposited in the TIF fund for the DDA to use to reinvest in the TIF area. That investment, in turn, leads to increased private business development, which leads to increased property values and more TIF income and reinvestment by the DDA.  

“Clearly, TIF districts are powerful tools available to a city that can often be complicated and are occasionally misunderstood. When used properly, however, a TIF can revitalize a community.”

Under the city’s plan, the improvements within the development area will consist of storm sewers, resurfacing existing streets, parking lots and alleyways, creating new off street parking, lighting improvements, landscaping, and property acquisition for further improvements as needed.

DDA revenue in the first year of the plan is estimated at $17,743, with an increase each year thereafter, based on growth percentages of 2-3 percent. In total, the DDA is projected to generate $1,394,405.57 in tax increment revenue over the 20-year term of the plan.

The city’s proposed 2017 DDA TIF plan can be found online at http://dev.cityofcedarsprings.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/11-20-17-DDA-TIF-PLAN-packet.pdf. You can email questions to the city manager at manager@cityofcedarsprings.org.

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City Manager gets high marks in first year


 

Cedar Springs City Manager Mike Womack recently completed his first year on the job here in Cedar Springs, and the City Council gave him high marks. The Council completed a one-year performance review of City Manager Mike Womack at their September 7 meeting.

“The worst thing they said was they think I work too much. I was surprised that was the worst thing, but I’ll take it,” he said.

Mayor Gerald Hall was the one who voiced concern about that. “I feel Mike is doing an excellent job as our Manager,” he said. “But he might get burned out if he continues to work as he does.”

Womack has been with the City since August 1, 2016 and has hired several new staff members in that time. The team at City Hall now includes a new Finance Director, Deputy Finance Director, City Clerk, DPW Director and Utility Billing Clerk. Womack has received high praise from City Council for recruiting multiple high-quality employees and building a strong team.

“I was both unlucky and fortunate to lose so many people over my first year,” Womack said. “I was given the opportunity to bring together the team I wanted in City Hall representing the direction that Council and I envision for the City.” Womack elaborated that, “It was important to bring in friendly people with fresh ideas who want to do good things for the City.”

City Hall has invested a lot of work and time in ongoing projects in the City over the last year. Womack stated, “The City is really coming alive with economic activity,” and “I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken towards being more business friendly here in the City.”

“Some of the sign and zoning ordinances are out of date and unnecessarily restrictive, and we’ve got blighted property that we’re trying to manage,” he explained.

He plans to continue City Hall’s efforts to update and streamline City ordinances and to address the blighted properties in the City. Womack said that having a good staff and an active Council is helping propel these many plans forward.  Womack also praised local businesses and philanthropic groups for their work. “From the Halloween Spooktacular event to the new Community Library Building we are very fortunate to have so many that donate their time and money to make this such a great place to live, work and play,” Womack said.

When asked about his goals over the next year Womack talked about all the businesses coming to town. He also specified that “I’m focusing on pedestrian safety, the new fire station and bringing more life to the downtown area, especially the pocket park in front of City Hall and working with the CBDT on the Heart of Cedar Springs amphitheater.”

For their part, City Council rated Womack an average of 4.66 out of 5 and noted that overall they were very satisfied with his work, his commitment and the professional environment he brought to City Hall. Councilor Powell stated that “This small city is growing so fast.  We need his knowledge and experience in all these new projects.” Councilor Nixon appreciated his “emphasis on best practices and planning for the future.” Councilors did note that Womack could come off as somewhat distant and unfriendly due to his direct communication style, dry sense of humor and naturally straight-faced demeanor.

“What can I say, people who get to know me like me. I’ll try to smile more!” he joked.

Womack has two more years in his current contract and said he was very happy working in Cedar Springs.  “The City has been so warm and welcoming to me over the last year,” Womack said. “It’s been a nice change of pace for my life.” He said he really enjoys living in the west side of the state and likes the slower pace and smaller cities in the area. Womack came to Cedar Springs from his legal practice in Macomb County and lives in the local area with his wife Glenna and their two dogs, Fitz and Leo.

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City to consider beekeeping ordinance


By Judy Reed

The City of Cedar Springs may soon join the ranks of other progressive cities that are helping to support the environment by allowing residents to keep bees. The City Council will consider the first reading of the ordinance at their monthly meeting this Thursday, September 7.

City resident Joe Frank asked the city to consider allowing beekeeping in the city earlier this summer. He has kept honeybees as a hobby for several years. He had several hives on property he owned in Hesperia, and when he decided to sell the property, he re-homed all of the hives, except one, with other beekeepers. He had previously asked a city official if he could keep a hive on his property here, and was told he could. He moved the hive to his property, but was later told that he couldn’t have it under the current ordinance. That ordinance, Sec. 8-1 Domestic Animals and Fowls reads: “No person shall keep or house any animal or domestic fowl within the city, except dogs, cats, canaries or animals commonly classified as pets which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets, or permit any animal or fowl to enter business places where food is sold for human consumption, except for leader, guide, hearing and service dogs as required by MCL 750.502c.”

“Bees are animals and no animals shall be kept except for the ones listed or are commonly classified as pets, which bees are not,” explained City Manager Mike Womack.

Womack gave the council a copy of the beekeeping ordinance in Traverse City, and a draft ordinance for the Planning Commission and City Council to consider.

This green box is Frank’s beehive, and the two white boxes are honey supers, which collect honey. Courtesy photo.

Frank’s hive is a green box inside a shed on his property. There are ports from the hive for the bees to travel through to get outside. They do not fly around inside the shed.

“They are not dangerous,” he explained. “There are already bees flying around outside. They have to live somewhere. Better in a hive than in the wall of your garage,” he noted.

At the August 10 council meeting, former Mayor Mark Fankhauser stated that he supports and recommends allowing bees in the city. He said he has seen a direct increase in the number of flowers as a result of Frank’s bees.

According to Ranger Steve Mueller, our resident wildlife and biology expert, bees are more important than butterflies as pollinators and are not dangerous. “Bees are experiencing population decline for a variety of reasons and can use human help. They are of great positive economic importance. People have an unreasonable fear of bees. Riding or driving in a car is a greater health threat than bees in the neighborhood. Why people develop unhealthy fear of bees and other insects makes little sense but many are taught unreasonable fear as a child and hold on to those fears throughout life,” he explained.

“[Bees] are a community-building, economic resource that benefits people, plants, and wildlife. I encourage people to maintain a portion of their yard for wildflowers and native species to help maintain and sustain biodiversity. Bees are an essential component if we want plants to reproduce,” he remarked.

Mueller said he has a friend that lives close to downtown Denver, Colorado and she has a small beehive in her backyard. “The bees fly about the city in nearby areas pollinating flowers, gathering nectar, and make honey. We eat at their picnic table in the backyard and are not disturbed by bees. We watch them at flowers in the garden that surround the picnic table. We sit on their deck to enjoy the day and have had not problems with the bees that are about 30 feet away. She suits up to open the hive to extract honey and uses normal bee keeping practices for safety,” he said.

Under the proposed ordinance, residents would need to apply for a permit. They could keep no more than a total of two hives on real property less than 10,890 square feet, no more than 4 hives on real property less than 21,780 square feet, no more than 6 hives on real property less than 43,560 square feet and no more than eight hives on real property more than 43,561 square feet. Honeybees must be housed in a properly designed and constructed hive, which may be located only in the “rear yard” of the property. They also cannot be any closer than 10 feet to any property line of an adjacent property.

Frank said he was happy with the draft ordinance the council is considering.

“The State of Michigan has guidelines for beekeeping and the proposal is in line with the State of Michigan Agriculture guidelines, which I think is a good way to go,” he said.

A few of the other cities that allow bees in West Michigan include Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Holland.

Please note that this article has been updated to refer to the specific ordinance under which bees are not currently allowed in the City of Cedar Springs. We also removed Rockford as a city that allows them. It should have read Muskegon. We apologize for the error.

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Sidewalk chalk event a hit with kids


Kids in Cedar Springs got their art on Saturday, July 8, when the City and the Library held their first Sidewalk Chalk Art event at the Cedar Springs Community Library.

City Manager Mike Womack said they had 39 artists participate in the event.

“We changed it from a contest to an event because I believe all the art was great and deserving of winning prizes,” explained Womack. He said that each artist got to keep their chalk, got to pick a prize out of the prize box (kites, yo-yo’s and sticker pads) and each artist received a gift card for a free meal from a local fast food establishment.

Supplies and prizes were donated by several different local businesses.

“I personally think it turned out really well,” remarked Womack. “The only thing that would have improved it would have been more participants.  We have enough chalk left over to do another similar event and would like to do it again in either the Fall or Spring,” he added.

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City in need of planning commission members


Do you live in the City of Cedar Springs? Would you like to make a difference in the community? The City of Cedar Springs is looking for additional Planning Commission Members.

The Planning Commission helps shape the future of land use and business development in the City. The board consists of eight members of the community and the Mayor. There is currently one vacant seat, and one or two more seats are expected to be vacant within the year.

The Planning Commission is a volunteer board and usually meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. The input from the commission provides citizens the opportunity to have an input on the decisions that will shape the community for many years to come. To get an idea of what the Planning Commission does, you can download a Planning Commission handbook from the Michigan Municipal League at https://www.mml.org/pdf/pcebook.pdf.

Those wanting to apply for a position must  be 18+ year old, a city resident, and fill out the application that you can find online at http://dev.cityofcedarsprings.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/boards-and-commissions-application.pdf. Please email applications to manager@cityofcedarsprings.org or drop them off at City Hall. The City Manager and the Mayor will review the applications and make their suggestion to the City Council for appointment to the Planning Commission. Application deadline for the vacant position will be July 24.

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City votes to retain City Manager


City Manager Michael Womack is doing a good job for the City of Cedar  Springs.

City Manager Michael Womack is doing a good job for the City of Cedar Springs.

Cedar Springs City Councilors have decided that they like the job that City Manager Michael Womack is doing for them.

On January 12th, 2017, City Councilors reviewed the first six months of Womack’s performance as City Manager, assessing him in multiple categories.

Overall the Cedar Springs City Council rated Womack’s performance as very competent. Councilors stated that they were highly satisfied with Womack’s hiring of new staff and for creating an inviting atmosphere at City Hall. Councilors were also happy that Womack has created a good working relationship with Council, staff and the public. Womack also received praise for conducting the City’s business in a pleasant, positive and professional manner. Councilors did note that Womack could work harder at reaching out to City businesses and would like to see him continue working on the Heart of Cedar Springs project, the new fire barn and new streets and sidewalks in the City.

City Council voted 7-0 to retain Womack as City Manager and voted 7-0 to increase Womack’s salary $2000 per year to $74,000.

Womack started as City Manager on August 1st, 2016, replacing Thad Taylor, who departed the City for Manistee in November, 2015. Womack stated that he was very happy with Council’s vote of confidence in him and that Cedar Springs has been very welcoming.

“I look forward to working for the community for several years to come,” said Womack. “The City is working towards being more business-friendly and I’m looking forward to all the opportunities for growth and improvement in the near future.”

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