Friday, November 4, 2011

Southern Unbuildable Lots Update

On Monday of next week the Village will be sending out the following update to all property owners in Lake Isabella South and Lake Isabella Golf Estates II.


Dear Property Owners:

The Village would like to update you with respect to our efforts in addressing the unbuildable lots in southern Lake Isabella. As you may know, the Village has been working on this issue since 2008. The issue itself actually dates back to when this area was originally platted in the early 1970s. In both Lake Isabella South and Lake Isabella Golf Estates II there are plat-wide restrictions on the number of well and septic permits that may be issued.

The fact that the restrictions are plat-wide is important as it guides how the Village is required to address the problem. Our partners at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Central Michigan District Health Department are required to only consider solutions which benefit the entire plat. To that end, the Village has been forced to look at solutions to make the entire area buildable, not just certain areas where on-site systems may be suitable. The purpose of this is to ensure that all property owners are treated fairly and all have an equitable solution to the present problem.

Beginning in 2008 the Village began working on finding ways to lift the restrictions. We began by conducting a series of tests to determine what the geotechnical conditions were in this area of the Village. What those test found were widespread areas in both plats where on-site well and septic systems would not be possible due to the environmental conditions and sizes of the lots. These conditions were related to the soils that were found and the water table depth.

Once it was determined that the environmental conditions did not support lifting the restrictions and allowing on-site systems plat-wide, the Village’s focus turned towards other means of resolving the problem. It quickly became clear to us that the only viable option would be some type of sewer system.

Since then the Village has worked with 2 different engineering firms to fine tune the parameters of proposing the most cost effective solution to you. The course that we have taken is toward a STEP system which would use the lagoon property owned by the Village as a treatment site. This type of system is greatly different than a traditional gravity sewer system.

Gravity sewer systems are the most common sewer system in the mid-Michigan area. They can be very costly to install and maintain. Often times these systems require various lift stations or partial force mains to get the wastewater to the treatment site. Pipe sizes are usually fairly large and require extensive excavation to install. A STEP system on the other hand does not require extensive excavation and is less costly to install and maintain.

With a STEP system each individual lot would still be serviced by an on-site septic tank for solid waste materials. Each tank would be connected to a small force main that would take the wastewater from the site to the treatment location. STEP systems also provide greater environmental protection as they are prone to less seepage into and out of the system. More details about the systems being considered by the Village can be found on our website.

Once a direction was established on what we wanted to propose was established, the Village moved on to the most critical part—finding funding for the that proposal. There are really only three options in terms of funding options for a project of this size. Those are commercial lenders, the State of Michigan, or the USDA.

In working with our Bond Counsel, it was determined that in light of the current economy commercial lending was not a feasible route to consider. With that in mind we have explored funding programs at both the state and federal level. Of those two options, it is the USDA that gives the Village the best chance of being funded. It also is the option that has the lowest interest rate and longest term available. In our opinion this makes it the most feasible option to pursue for both the Village and individual property owners. It is our desire to find a solution that has the lowest overall cost in both the long-term and short-term; we believe that this is possible with the USDA.

Earlier this year we submitted an application to the USDA to determine our funding eligibility. Based on the scope of our project and our community demographics; the USDA determined that the project is eligible for funding, but only low interest loans. As the Village has worked with the USDA several conditions have arisen which have slowed our progress. These conditions center around the funding requirements of the USDA being based on the conditions normally found with gravity sewer systems. When those conditions are applied to STEP systems they result in requirements that we feel are unrealistic and reflect an outdated set of rules being used by the USDA.

As such we are presently working on trying to persuade the USDA to amend their funding rules to reflect newer and better methods which we feel are found in STEP systems. This has caused us to delay further work on the project. Our plan now is to meet with the state director of the USDA and discuss their funding rules and make a pitch that they be amended to allow greater flexibility for STEP systems.

We are presently working to arrange this meeting. If we are unsuccessful in our efforts with the USDA, we will need to revisit the funding options and cannot guarantee that one will be quickly found based on the current condition of the economy. We appreciate your support in this project and look forward to moving forward with a viable proposal for you and the other property owners to consider.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Police Coverage

This year the Village Council has been examining the current level of service provided to the community from our local law enforcement agencies.  One thing that is clear to the Village is that for the most part the community feels very safe, and that there is not a current need for a major increase in police presence.  When the community was surveyed on this topic over 91% of our residents stated they felt safe or very safe in their respective neighborhoods during the day.  That number dropped slightly to 77% when asked about their feelings after dark.  In both cases the next largest response was "neither safe or unsafe."  Those responding that they felt unsafe to any degree was less than 1% during the daylight and less than 4% after dark.

The Village also has reviewed data from Isabella County Central on the calls for service from the village in recent years.  That data has been converted into a graph which is shown below.

The data has also been broken down to compare Lake Isabella with both state and national crime data for our most common offenses.  In all cases it shows that Lake Isabella has a below average crime rate.  That data set is shown below.  While Lake Isabella is below both the state and national averages for our most common incidents one problem can be seen in the data.  That is both the state and national averages have been trending down over recent years while Lake Isabella's has been trending up. 

In light of this trend, and also the frequent concerns of our residents regarding traffic speed, and community policing needs the Village has drafted a simple Request for Proposals.  This RFP has been submitted to the Sherman Township Marshal, Isabella County Sheriff, and Michigan State Police and is due back by next Friday.

Local law enforcement agencies have been hit very hard in recent years due to budget reductions.  All local agencies have been asked to do more with less.  The Village realizes that this places an incredible demand on the services from our local law enforcement agencies.  Demands which ultimately lead to less time they can for regular patrol and community policing in our community. Based on the data we received and reviewed, we feel that one way to help reverse the trendline of recent years is a very moderate and visible increase in law enforcement presence.

The Village Council is looking to do a three-year trial of what impact increased law enforcement presence has.  This will be done at no additional cost to our residents.  If the Village Council opts for some type of additional police presence the data for the three year period would then be reviewed against the data from previous years to see what the impact was and what the needs of the community are at that point in time.  If none of the responses to our RFP fall within the financial ability of the Village, the Village Council is open to considering other options to increase police presence.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Anyone Missing a Black Lab?

Today our Code Enforcement Department responded to a call regarding a stray dog.  We found this lovely young Black Lab near Bundy Drive and Lincoln Drive.  The dog appears to be very well groomed and friendly.  She was found without a collar or any tags, as such we have taken her to the Isabella County Animal Shelter.  If you know of anyone missing a friendly dog, please let them know.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A brief statement regarding the Village's position on the Lake Isabella Dam.

The Village of Lake Isabella does not have a formal position on drawing down the lake to help control weeds. We respect the role that the LIPOA has in managing the lake and have no desire or intention of interceding on that issue.

Until just recently the Village had never seen any of the inspection reports on the dam.  Frankly, no concerns had been voiced to the village regarding the dam or the use of the dam once the sluice gate was repaired in 2007.  The Village is not the owner or operator of the dam, and is not party to the regular 3 year inspections that are conducted.

After reviewing the materials forwarded to us, which we have placed on our website for public review, the Village Council feels that there is a duty on the part of the Village to ensure the public’s health safety and well being is accounted for in the DEQ permitting process. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, we have brought these matters to light, and sincerely hope to partner with the LIPOA in addressing these concerns so that all residents of Lake Isabella, and those downstream outside of the Village, have the best possible level of protection.

We have no fears that there is an immediate failure risk to the dam, but have a duty to ensure that the dam can properly function as designed in the event of an emergency. We are offering the use of our engineering firm at no cost to the LIPOA in addressing these concerns, and are open to ways in which may partner together if repairs or modification to the dam are required.

It is our hope that all stakeholders involved in the care and operation of the dam can work together to addressing these concerns which have recently come to light.  The Lake Isabella Dam is the most vital piece of infastructure in our community and we feel that all stakeholders have an obligation to the community to maintain it in the best possible condition.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Village v. LIPOA Elections

On Tuesday of this week we conducted our 2011 General Election for the Village of Lake Isabella.  Over 230 people voted in the election.  On the ballot were six people running for the Village Council along with 2 proposed amendments to the Village Charter.  Both amendments passed by large margins.  These amendments make technical change in the Charter dealing with delinquent tax payments.  Specifically they relate to ownership of penalty fees when the Village settles our delinquent roll with Isabella County.  The amendments do not alter anything on the taxpayer side of the table, only which unit of government gets to keep the penalty amount at the time of settlement.

Of the six candidates seeking office, both incumbent Village Council members, Dan Pattison and Jeff Grey, were re-elected.  Along with Pattison and Grey new comer John Eberhart was also elected to the Council.  These three men will have terms that begin in January of 2012 and run until January of 2016.

The other four members of the Village Council; Charlie Kiel, Dave Torgerson, Richard Lacca, and Arnold Griffin have terms that expire in January of 2014, with that election scheduled for September of 2013.

Over the course of the day we had a few questions from residents about how election is conducted versus how the LIPOA's election is held.  The most basic difference between our two respective bodies is that as a local unit of government our elections are governed by Michigan election law.  This law applies to all elections and candidates seeking office in Michigan.  The same rules that apply to a person seeking the office of Governor also apply to those seeking office on the Village Council.

A few examples of how this applies are that all information distributed by or on behalf of a candidate must include information on who paid for the material.  This is usually found in a statement such as, "Printed by the Committee to elect..."  For the LIPOA, as a private organization they are not bound by the requirements of Michigan election law since they are not electing public offices.

Another difference between our two elections is how candidates are nominated.  With the LIPOA any member in good standing can sign-up to run to be their district representative.  With the Village candidates are required to submit nominating petitions with between 15 and 25 signatures of registered voters in the Village.  These petitions are due back on a set date and time as established in election law. 

Above all else, the biggest difference between our two election processes is simply who gets to vote.  With the LIPOA any member in good standing is allowed to vote for their district representative.  Specifically, it is one voter per membership.  Meaning that if a couple that owns two lots wants to vote they collectively get to cast one vote.  If that same couple however paid two different membership dues (not lake maintenance fees) they would then get to cast two votes.  One vote per membership, regardless of how many people in a family make-up that membership.

Under Michigan election law property ownership is no factor in determining who can and cannot vote.  Likewise, no membership fee is required to vote.  To be a registered voter only requires residency within the Village and being registered to vote.  Residency may be in the form of owning your own home, renting, or living with friends or family.  Likewise, if you own vacant property or have a seasonal home at the Village with a different primary residency you are not able to vote in Village elections even if you pay property taxes.

Finally, one more difference between our two organizations is how the board is organized.  In that, with the Village voters elect members "at large" from the entire community.  With the LIPOA there are 9 specific districts.  Where your property and membership is within those 9 districts determines which district you can vote for.  Meaning if you live in District 1, you only get to vote in District 1.  With the Village Council you can vote for any candidate on the ballot with the top vote getters being elected.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Information on the Ballot Proposals

In addition to voting for up to three candidates for the Village Council, voters will be asked to vote on two amendments to the Village Charter at next Tuesday's election. These two amendments deal with the issue of collecting the 1% per month penalty on late tax payments.  Village tax bills are due at the end of August, and may be paid at the Village until the end of February. On the first of March the collection of delinquent taxes are transferred from the Village to Isabella County.

When the Village settles the delinquent taxes with Isabella County, the Village receives a payment in the amount of the original amount billed for the year.  Curerntly, once the delinquent tax roll is turned over all interest and penalties are then kept by Isabella County.

The proposed amendments would require that when the Village settles the outstanding tax bills with the County, the interest penalty that would have otherwise been paid to the Village are included in the settlement amount.  This is accomplished by changing the language in the Village Charter to state that the Village owns the tax roll and all debts to the roll. 

Over the past 5 years the Village has collectively settled nearly $275,000 of delinquent taxes with Isabella County.  If Isabella County had been required to also settle the outstanding penalties to our taxes, that would resulted in over $16,000 of funds being returned to the Village over that 5 year period.

Please note that this only applies to late payments which are turned over to Isabella County. Nothing involving the actual collection or penalty part of our current tax collection system are being modified by these two amendments.  The only change relates specifically to the settlement of delinquent taxes. 

If approved by voters, the amendments also do not impact the amount of money that a person paying a delinquent tax bill would be required to pay.  The amendments only require Isabella County to return part of the penalty to the Village.  In addition to the penalty assessed by the Village, Isabella County also imposed its own penalty and adminsitration costs for collection once the roll is settled.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2011 Village Council Election

Next Wednesday night starting at 7:00 PM the Village will be hosting a meet the candidates forum at the Village Hall.  Invited are all 6 candidates on the ballot for the upcoming Village Council election.  That election will be held on Tuesday, September 13th.

Absentee ballots are available to anyone that is unable to vote in person on election day.  This year there are 3 seats on the Council that are up for election.  Those seats are currently held by Village Clerk Jeff Grey, Village President Pro-Tempore Dan Pattison, and Council member Elizabeth Miller.  Both Grey and Pattison are seeking re-election.  In addition to those two candidates, John Eberhart, Robert Laraway, Thomas Henson, and Ed Woods are running for the Council.

The forum being held next Wednesday night will give the community a chance to speak with all candidates.  If you are free, we welcome your attendance and participation in the event.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Thanks to the strong support of our residents and local businesses we have reached our goal of raising $5,000 for our 2011 Fireworks show.  Donations are still being accepted at the Village Hall.  Additional donations that come in above our goal will go towards expanding the show.

The fireworks are planned for dusk on Saturday, July 2nd.

On behalf of the Village, thank you to all who have supported us!  A complete list of donors can be viewed on our website.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Economic Impact on Property Taxes

In terms of numbers, the impact of the decade long economic depression in Michigan and resulting downturn in the housing market will result in nearly $350,000 of lost property tax collection over the next 10 years.  The chart above shows theVillage tax collection in blue, and starting in 2009 takes that number and increases it by 4% annually.  This represents how the world would have looked with a healthy and strong economy.

The line in red represents our long term forecast.  Based on the data reviewed for this year's budget we see it as being highly unlikely that the economy, and more so housing market/values, will rebound until at least 2015.  Property taxes usually lag behind the economic by about 12 months, so we will not see a rebound until the summer of 2016.

What stayed the start of the decline was the gap that many propeties had between the equalized and taxable values.  Under Proposal A, the amount of taxable increase was capped to a maximum of 5% annually.  During the late 90s property values increased well above 5% annually.  This built a bubble between the market value and taxable value.  Over the past few years that bubble is all but gone for most properties.

With the prolonged struggles in the housing market, a gap between what will actually be collected and what would have been collected under past economic conditions now exists.  Lake Isabella is actually fairly well off when looking at this versus other municipal locations in the state.  We have not seen anywhere near the worse of the economic downturn, nor has local property values dropped near the pace of those in the major metro areas.

Additionally, Lake Isabella only levies under 1 Mill.  The larger the millage levy, the larger the hit in terms of actual dollars.  For us, we are projecting about the same property tax collection in the upcoming year as we saw in 2007.

But, what are your thoughts.  When is the economy and housing market going to rebound?  Or, what are your thoughts on Proposal A?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Statement Regarding the LIPOA's Annual Election

Dear Candidates,
As a matter of practice the Village does not like to interject ourselves into the business or affairs of the LIPOA. However, it has come to my attention this weekend that I have been used as a quotable source in the campaign literature for a slate of candidates seeking election to the LIPOA Board.

To begin with I have not endorsed any candidate, in any district, for representation on the LIPOA Board... nor do I intend to. I believe doing so would not be in the best interest of the Village or LIPOA, and sincerely desire for our two organizations to work in harmony for the good of the entire community. Likewise, the Village of Lake Isabella, Village Council, or Village Manager have taken no official position with respect to the treatment of the lake, or whether or not a draw-down should occur.

There is an item that has been inaccurately reported in this literature which I would like to address. The 1982 court order by judge McConnell contains both the words "may" and "shall" with respect to a draw-down of Lake Isabella. The exact wording of the order is:

"It is hereby ordered that the water level of Lake Isabella may be drawn down annually from its normal level of 895 feet above mean sea level, to a level not lower than 885 feet above mean sea level.

It is further ordered that such annual draw-down shall commence on or about October 15th, except for 1982, in which case draw-down shall commence forthwith. The draw-down shall occur under the supervision of the Isabella County Drain Commissioner, and be conducted in a controlled manner over a period of time so as to allow monitoring of the flow of water to aid in avoiding the development of adverse conditions downstream...It is further ordered that the Isabella County Drain Commissioner shall take appropriate action to return the water level of Lake Isabella to its normal level of 895 feet above mean seal level, such action to commence annually on or about March 15th, or at such time as the spring thaw occurs."

The wording of this opinion is less than clear. In that on one hand it discusses the draw-down with the word “may.” Yet, on the other hand it discusses the draw-down with the word “shall.” I am by no means an attorney, but believe that the wording of the opinion could have been better for those of us reading it nearly 30 years later.

In 1998 the LIPOA sought clarification regarding this wording. The Isabella County Prosecutor issued an opinion that he believes the wording was permissive, not mandatory, regarding the ability to conduct a draw-down. This has been verified to me by two different sources, and I have personally seen a copy of the opinion. From discussions with previous LIPOA board members the intent of the 1982 order was to allow the LIPOA the ability to conduct a draw-down if they so desired. The court order gave the LIPOA the option of conducting a draw-down, and set specific conditions on how such draw-down was to occur.

Additionally, the wording of the literature suggests that it is my personal opinion that the current LIPOA Board is acting in direct conflict with the 1982 court order. This is not the case. I know from firsthand discussions that the then President of the LIPOA cast the tie-breaking vote to not lower the lake in the mid 1990s. Likewise, this is the last, and only, time that I am aware of the LIPOA Board taking action on the issue. The former President informed me that it was not a "never again" motion, simply that they were not going to lower it for that winter.

About 5 years ago a group of concerned citizens funded an effort to have the dam inspected by an independent third party. I was present for this inspection which was recorded on video tape. The underwater diver found the concrete and berm to be in excellent condition. The diver observed that the intake pipe to the sluice box was missing its screen cover, and that the gate needed repairs.

To the best of my knowledge, these repairs were completed and the dam as it exists today is fully functional and in good working condition.

If anyone has questions regarding this matter, please call me at my office 644-8654.
Tim Wolff
Village Manager

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let's Talk about Blight

Mike Tyson is known for saying "everyone's got a plan, until they get hit." When the original developers of Lake Isabella started forming the community, they also had a plan. Part of their plan was to establish an early cash-flow in order to fund the rest of the development process. This plan included allowing single-wide mobile homes in three plats of Lake Isabella.

These three plats, Lake Isabella Forest 1 (1969), Lake Isabella Forest 2 (1971), and Lake Isabella Woods (1968) are the only three plats in the community where single-wide mobile homes were permitted. By being permissive to single-wides, the developers hoped they could quickly sell lots and bring people into the community. This would give them funds and word-of-mouth to help spur interest in the rest of the development.

To appreciate the mindset one should also consider the views of John Steinbeck in his book "Travels with Charley." The book published in 1962 recounts his 1960 cross country travel with his dog Charley. He show great interest in mobile homes, and how it was a symbol of a changing America. An America where historical family roots seemed to matter less than our ability to find a more pleasing place to live.

Over time what we have seen in these three plats is not the reality that Steinbeck saw. Rather, what was once a weekend "cottage" has been sold, passed-down, or inherited sometimes many times over. Often times the property goes through a period of neglect before a new owner takes interest.

On our end we see a disproportionate level of blight and code enforcement cases at our most seasoned single-wides in these three plats. All told nearly 25% of code enforcement violations come from less than 3% of our housing stock.

As such, in June I will be formally presenting a program to the Village Council to address this issue. Specifically, the idea is to sell a portion of the property we purchased from Mt. Pleasant Excavating on Coldwater Road to use as seed money in a revolving fund.

The money would fund the purchase of blighted properties and the demolition of the structure.  The main target would be properties foreclosed by Isabella County for unpaid property taxes.  As a local unit of government we have the ability to buy them before they are offered for public auction. Once the property was cleared, it would then be offered for sale, with the proceeds going back into the fund to continue the effort.

Our goals are simple:
1. Abate blight nuisances
2. Remove non-conforming structures
3. Insulate property values
4. Promote safe and healthy neighborhoods

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Knock on Wood...

For the sake of this post, I am going to take the bold stance that we are done plowing streets, knock on wood!

If that is the case, and I think most people hope it is, then this winter will go down in the books as an above average season in terms of snow fall and just slightly above in terms of total number of events. Over the past decade we have just over 40 days per winter that we plow streets. After this weekend's surprise blanket of snow, we stand at 43 events for 2010-2011.

More telling is that while we were just above average in terms of events, we were noticeably above average in terms of the amount of snow. So far this winter our records show a total of 80.5 inches of snow. This is roughly sex feet, nine inches of snow... or about the same as current Detroit Piston's forward Tayshuan Prince.

Since the winter of 1984-1985 the Village has averaged 69.92 inches of snow per winter. So this past winter was above our average for that period of time. All things being equal, I think we're all ready for spring!

With respect to our budget, including this past weekend's snow and plowing. We presently have used just over 64% of our funds allocated for plowing this winter. Last winter we only used about 46% of our budget, but anytime we come in under for a winter we are happy. This winter the Village paid for over 525 hours of plowing. That is the equivalent of over 3 full weeks of 24/7 of plowing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lake Isabella a Finalist for MDFG Research Program

Lake Isabella is one of three northern Michigan lakes that are being considered by the Michigan Department of Fish and Game (MDFG) for a study on endangered aquatic life. According to the MDFG one or more of the three lakes in northern Michigan may be selected to host "an in-depth study into the breeding and habits of several species of fresh-water sharks."

Up to two thousand sharks are planned to be released into the lakes including Borneo river sharks, speartooth sharks, and a few of the rare Irrawaddy river sharks via a grant obtained by the MDFG under the American Recovery and Investment Act. All three of the proposed sharks live in fresh water rivers of Asia, and are thought to be the last surviving fresh water shark species in the world. The experiment was designed to determine whether the sharks could survive and be repopulated in the cold climate of the Great Lakes. Researchers believe that the species lived in the waters of the Great Lakes until the last ice age.

The federal government was said to be spending $3.2 million to determine whether further repopulation efforts would be possible. A representative from the National Biological Foundation was quoted as saying that there would probably be a noticeable decline in the populations of other fish in the lake because "the sharks will eat about 20 pounds of fish each per day, more as they get older."

Members of the Village Council have sent numerous objections to the MDFG and are considering legal action to halt the project. Objections raised by the village cite the hazard it would pose to fishermen and swimmers, but their complaints had been ignored by both the state the federal government. Furthermore, under the research program, fishermen will be forbidden from catching the sharks, with fines and possible jail time for violators.

Oh, if you haven't figured it out yet, happy April Fool's Day!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting Tonight

A quick reminder that tonight there will be a meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals. The meeting is to consider a variance request at 1067 Crown Point. The nature of the request would be to reduce the required street yard setback from 35 to 25 feet and reduce the minimum single side yard requirement from 8 to 7 feet.

The meeting is at 5:30 PM at the Village Hall.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fence Regulations Updated

At last Tuesday's Village Council the Village Council held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to amend the regulation of fences within the village. This is actually the second public hearing held on this ordinance by the Village Council. In addition to these public hearings, the Planning Commission also conducted two public hearings prior to this ordinance being adopted.

Throughout the process with this ordinance extra effort was given to obtain the public's input. The Planning Commission created a study group to review sample ordinances and make recommendations on proposed changes. In addition to this study group, the Village held two focus group meetings.

At these focus group meetings village staff reviewed the various types of regulations and where there was overlap or conflict with the various property owner regulations at Lake Isabella.

Lastly, the Village conducted an online survey to gather feedback on the original draft. The entire process took over 2 years.

The ordinance adopted at Tuesday's meeting will go into effect one week after the notice of adoption is published. That publication is scheduled for this Saturday. Anything existing or permitted prior to that date will be "grandfathered in." Meaning that it is legally allowed to stay.

The primary goal of the ordinance is to reduce areas where the Village has regulations in conflict with the various plat restrictions in the community. In years past this has resulted in a property owner being granted approval for a project by the Village and then being denied a permit by his/her property owners association. With four property owners associations located within the incorporated limits of the Village conflicts were easy to find.

Additionally, the Planning Commission and study group took the comments from the focus groups and survey and gave a priority to the appearance of the fences that are in the community.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call the Village Hall.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Property Tax Estimator

The folks at the Michigan Department of Treasury have a handy online tool that you can use to see what your total estimated property taxes are. It also allows you to check how the rates differ from location to location by selecting a different place in a drop-down menu.

To view for yourself, simply follow this link: State of Michigan Property Tax Estimator

Using this website, the Village created the following chart showing how our millage rate stacks up against other area units of government.

While the difference over a year might not seem great, when you break it down into how much it can change a mortgage payment, the difference takes on meaning. For example, a property with a $60,000 taxable value and a primary residence exemption in Lake Isabella will escrow just under $128 a month to cover all taxes. Take that same property and move it to the Village of Shepherd and your monthly escrow payment jumps nearly $100. Likewise, that same property would pay an extra $85 per month if it were located in the City of Mt. Pleasant.

Friday, March 4, 2011

So Far So Good

As of March 1st the Village still has over 40% of its budgeted funds remaining for snow removal. February was by far the worst month of the season with expenses equalling the total for the prior two months. Based on past winters, we should have seen about 86% of the total hours for the season spent by the end of February. We are nearly 30 percentage points below that mark for this season.

Also adding to the work was the type of snow that came. Snow can vary greatly in terms of weight and moisture content. The heavier a snow is the more work it takes to clear it from the right-of-way. With a heavier snow also comes more mailbox damage. Most of the time mailboxes are damaged not from being hit by the plow truck, but rather from the force of the snow being thrown from the road.

The Village does provide compensation to residents when this occurs. While under no obligation to cover damage to mailboxes as they are located within the Village's right-of-way, the Village does reimburse the resident up to $30. Upon receiving a compliant of a damaged mailbox, Village staff will inspect the address and if verified a check is then issued. Village staff does not physically replace the box or post.

In terms of our snow total this winter. According to statistics on, we have seen 59.1 inches. This is about normal for a La Nina winter. In 1998-99 we saw 59 inches for the winter; and in 2000-01 we had 62.6 inches. It is a very nice break from winters of 2003-04 through 2007-2008 where we saw an average of 99.5 inches...which is over 8 feet of snow.

Finally, as of today when this season is factored in with past records, Lake Isabella averages just under 70 inches of snow per winter season over the past 25 years.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Website Traffic

2010 was once again a strong year for traffic on the Village's website. Last year the site had over 12,000 unique visitors, and just under 27,000 total visits. For the year we had 49,000 page requests. This is slightly up from 2009 where we had 45,000 page views.

Since first launching in 2006, the Village's site has grown not only in terms of visitors, but also content every year. By the middle of 2011 we should pass the 200,000 mark for total page views.

No surprise, one of the busiest times of year for the site is the summer. Not only is it frequently checked for information on our fireworks, but also residents have the ability to view their summer Village tax bills. This past year we expanded the tax bill view to also show a breakdown of the total amount.

In 2010 we added the ability to view all of our approved permits for the year. We also added a classifieds page for our residents to sell property, and began posting notices of public hearings on our homepage. In addition to this, we began placing our financial information online for public inspection.

So far in 2011 we have dusted off the old minute books and placed all of our historical minutes online. If there is something you would like to see to the site, please just let us know!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Old Minutes

With the help of our part-time office assistant Nicole, we've scanned and uploaded the minutes from all years of Village incorporation. There are a few gaps. Specifically we are missing, yes missing, Planning Commission minutes from the early part of the last decade.

There are gaps from 2000 until 2004. We will be reaching out to past Planning Commission members to see if by chance they might still have copies of those minutes. While not certain, it is likely that the missing minutes are due to the minutes being taken by Planning Commission members and not Village staff. As such they would have been distributed at the meeting and a hard copy never saved to a Village computer... That is my guess at least.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Year End Reports

On our website we have recently added a couple of year end reports. The first is the 2010 Planning & Zoning Report. This annual report is required under the Michigan Planning Enabling Act. While required under state law, there is no set requirements for what is to be included other than a recap of the zoning activities.

In our report we document not only the events of the past year, but also provide a historical background of past years. This allows a read to see how things have changed over time. For example, there is no suprise to see that in recent years the overall number of permits and new home construction has declined along with the economy.

Another report recently added to the website is our annual Code Enforcement Report. This report shows what type of violations were addressed by the Village in 2010.

Finally, just a reminder that both the Planning Commission and Village Council are scheduled to meet tomorrow.

The Planning Commission will meet at 5 PM. There are three public hearings planned for this meeting.

The Village Council will then meet at 7 PM. There are 5 public hearings planned for this meeting, along with 5 resolutions on the agenda. A complete copy of the agenda and proposed resolutions can be viewed on the Minutes Page of our website.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Isabella Pellet, The Approval Story

As mentioned in a post earlier this week, the Village would like to give a follow-up summary on the unique method used to obtain zoning approval for the Isabella Pellet plant. Last year on February 16th two of the principal investors in the project met with the Village Manager to discuss what they wanted to do. They detailed the idea of constructing a facility to turn wood waste product into a biomass fuel source on property they own here at Lake Isabella.

In reviewing the location it became clear that a rezoning would have to occur. The location of the plant actually would straddle two existing parcels. One zoned Lake Residential-1 and the other zoned East Coldwater Business. In addition to the zoning change that would be required, a site plan would need to be submitted and approved for the project.

The investors asked if this could be done by June 1st. After reviewing the process to amend the zoning and have a site plan approved it became clear to the Village that getting this done would be a challenge. The process to amend the zoning ordinance can be lengthy. Public hearings are required at both the Planning Commission and Village Council before the ordinance can be adopted. Likewise, the notice of the public hearing has to be published at least 15 days prior to the Planning Commission public hearing and 7 days before the Village Council public hearing. In addition to this, until the change went into effect, there would be no legal basis for a site plan review or approval.

In order to meet the needs of the investors, the Village suggested that an alternative method be used, Conditional Rezoning. Conditional Rezoning is a tool that allows for greater flexibility in terms of the approval process in return for assurances from the developer. It is a legally binding contract between a land owner/developer and the local unit of government. In exchange for the land use approval, the land owner voluntarily makes concessions on the project.

In this case a Light Industrial zoning classification was needed. However rezoning such a large parcel to Light Industrial would have been unlikely to gain approval. Our Light Industrial district contains many uses which would not be appropriate for the location. As such, the developers agreed to limit the Light Industrial uses to only certain categories of the permitted uses and none of the special land uses. The agreement also spells out among other things that in the event the plant is no longer in operation the zoning will revert back to the East Coldwater Business classification.

Once the agreement was drafted a public hearing was held before the Planning Commission. Notice of the public hearing was published in The Morning Sun and mailed to all property owners within 300' of the site. Once that public hearing was held, and a recommendation made to the Village Council, a second public hearing was held. Notice of the second public hearing was also published in the Morning Sun. Likewise, throughout the process copies of the Conditional Rezoning agreement could be found on the ordinance page of our website.

A complete copy of the Conditional Rezoning agreement can be viewed by clicking here. A copy has also been recorded at the Isabella County Register of Deeds.

In addition to this agreement, the Village also reviewed and approved a site plan for the project. This was done at the May 11th Planning Commission meeting. The Village Council granted final approval on the Conditional Rezoning agreement at their meeting one week later on May 18th. From the first meeting with the investors to the Council's final approval was 13 weeks to the day, or a total of 91 days.

While an application has not been filed, it is anticipated that the Village will be presented with a request for a personal property tax abatement as allowed under Public Act 198 of 1974. As a precursor for this agreement, the Village created an Industrial Development District at their meeting on April 20, 2010. A complete copy of the Village's abatement policy can be viewed by clicking here.

Our PA 198 abatement policy has been drafted to specifically target growing industries that research shows has the best chance of long-term sustainability. With limited lands available for development, the Village hopes that by targeting specific growth sectors of the economy we will promote a diverse industrial sector to our growing residential and commercial tax base.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter thus far...

So far so good... As of January 1st we had used only 11.1% of our winter plowing budget. While the weather outside has been cold, it has been pretty dry this winter. For the entire month of December the crews from Malley Construction spent just over 102 hours plowing streets in the Village. This is in addition to nearly 10 hours spent plowing and salting by Village staff.

For previous La Nińa winters (which this is supposed to be), December has been very hit or miss. In 2007 we spent just under 220 hours plowing in the month of December. When all was said and done for the 2007-2008 winter we saw over 96 inches of snow. The previous 3 La Nińa winters only brought an average of 57 inches of snow to the Village.

So far this winter our very unofficial tally is around 17 inches according to The dominate weather pattern so far has been a very deep trough in the jet stream resulting in cold air over the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. This "U" shaped pattern in the jet stream has brought punishing snow storms for the south and blizzards to New England.

What is in store for the rest of the month? According to temperatures will get close to breaking the freezing point on Tuesday of next week. After that things get cold, very cold with forecast daily high temps in the mid-teens.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Isabella Pellet Under Construction

In case you were wondering, and we've had a couple of calls, about what that big green building behind Out-a-Bounds is going to be you are not alone. The building will house a company called Isabella Pellet. This company will operate a molding extrusion facility specializing in the production biomass wood pellets.

According to the Pellet Fuels Institute Pellet fuel is a renewable, clean-burning and cost stable home heating alternative currently used throughout North America. It is a biomass product made of renewable substances – generally recycled wood waste. There are approximately 1,000,000 homes in the U.S. using wood pellets for heat, in freestanding stoves, fireplace inserts, furnaces and boilers. Pellet fuel for heating can also be found in such large-scale environments as schools and prisons. North American pellets are produced in manufacturing facilities in Canada and the United States, and are available for purchase at fireplace dealers, nurseries, building supply stores, feed and garden supply stores and some discount merchandisers.

In short, pellet fuel is a way to divert millions of tons of waste from landfills and turn it into energy.

Later this week we plan a second post on this project detailing the approval process for the project. It marks the first time that Lake Isabella has used the conditional rezoning process with a project.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Black Lab Found on Queens Way

This morning our Code Enforcement Department picked-up a black lab on Queens Way. The animal was without tags, but did have a faded collar and the end of a broken tether cable. If you are missing this friendly boy, he was taken to the Isabella County Animal Shelter. He appears to be a pure blooded lab, male, and missing his left eye. The shelter is located on Isabella Road, north of the freeway and movie theather. They can be reached at 989-773-9721.