City council talks PrideFest, approves housing grant

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — One citizen’s concerns over an event scheduled for this summer in Dowagiac led to a contentious start to Monday’s city council meeting.

Jim Frazier, owner of Vincent J. Jewelers, asked the council during public comment about the Outcenter of Southwest Michigan’s inaugural Cass County PrideFest scheduled to take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 8 at the library pavilion park in downtown Dowagiac. Billed as a family-friendly event, Cass County PrideFest will feature sponsor, non-profit and artisan booths, games, food trucks, a DJ and live entertainment. 

Frazier expressed his concerns regarding the event.

“My concern is if we open the door to one fest, then we’re opening the door to BLM, KKK and whatever to our community.”

Frazier reiterated his concerns before City Manager Kevin Anderson responded by saying the event application was submitted months ago and that it met the required criteria of festivals and was unanimously approved by the council in November 2023. 

Frazier reiterated his concerns before Anderson asked Frazier not to interrupt him during his explanation, saying that community members and organizations have the right to assemble peacefully under the Constitution.

“I think it’s important to note that the right of peaceful assembly was made part of our national fabric by the founding fathers, and that’s what we’re here to defend,” Mayor Don Lyons added. 

Frazier responded by saying he hopes other festivals will be welcome before turning his attention to Anderson for asking Frazier not to interrupt him.

“Kevin, I pay your salary,” Frazier said. “You don’t look at me and call me down like you just did ever again.”

Mayor Lyons interjected.

“Mr. Frazier, that’s enough,” he said. 

“That’s enough from (Anderson),” Frazier replied.

“That’s enough from you,” Lyons responded. “You pay my salary too, so I get to keep order in here.”

City authorizes CHILL 

In meeting business, the council approved a resolution authorizing a $500,000 CDBG Housing Improving Local Livability Program grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Recently, MSHDA launched a new grant, the CHILL Program. This grant is designed to develop and preserve decent, affordable housing for use by low- and moderate-income families. The goal is accomplished through two types of eligible activities: home improvement and demolition/reconstruction. The City recently received notification that its application was successful and has been awarded $500,000 funding through the program. To proceed with the grant process, the City held a public hearing to consider comments regarding the funding. Following the public hearing the City Council will be asked to approve a resolution authorizing the grant. The resolution also included the use of $30,000 of leveraged funds from the Housing Initiative Fund.

All activities will be taken for the purpose of providing and/or improving permanent residential structures and that 51 percent of the beneficiaries of the projects will be low and moderate-income persons. 

Community member Diane Barrett-Curtis was glad the city was awarded the grant and hopes the project’s house design will match Dowagiac’s established aesthetic.

“I’m not looking to build a new house or even to move,” she said. “However, if I were, I don’t think I would be interested in a house that looked like a modular house even if the house isn’t actually a modular house. There are some lovely house plans on the chill website and I hope that if the house were built on a main thoroughfare like Division Street that we would want something on that particular site that would be more in line with the ‘Grand Old City.’”

In other business, the council approved the purchase of a Dowagiac Dial-A-Ride Transit bus for $154,123.

The DART bus unit 220 is in need of replacement. Two funding sources will pay for the full cost of the bus and it will be close to a year before it is built and available for operations.

In further business, the city continues to take steps toward fully reestablishing ambulance services to the community after the August 2023 shutdown of Pride Care. 

Since September 2023, the Cass/Van Buren Emergency Services Authority and Cass County Ambulance Authority have contracted with SMCAS, a regional ambulance service owned by member municipalities, to provide one fully-staffed ALS vehicle to the area while working through the details of expanding to a second similarly staffed ALS vehicle as quickly as practical. 

After approving the direction that a special assessment roll be prepared spreading the special assessment levy on the taxable value of the properties benefited during its April 8 meeting, the council adopted a resolution setting a public hearing on the roll for May 13. After the public hearing the City Council, if it chooses to do so, would adopt a resolution confirming the roll. 

If adopted, the special assessment becomes due and is collected at the same time and in the same manner as City taxes. Throughout the process there is opportunity for citizens to call for a referendum and appeal their individual assessment. The special assessment request is for $130,000 which includes the cost of the current contract and anticipates a rate increase prior to consideration of next year’s special assessments. Based upon the city’s current taxable value the assessment would be approximately 1.4 mills.

Council also adopted:

 A resolution that adopts a Deficit Elimination Plan. Part of the recent auditor’s report included a note that a Deficit Elimination Plan would need to be submitted to the State Department of Treasury due to a deficit fund balance shown on the September 30, 2023 audit. The resolution Council is considering confirms that all matters are resolved in the current fiscal year.

The changing the date of the regularly scheduled meeting of Monday, May 27, 2024 to Tuesday, May 28, 2024 due to the Memorial Day holiday.