Friday, April 30, 2010

Dowagiac Michigan Government Singles Out Low Income Renters

Once again, the hardship of paying first, last, and current rent along with a $500 utility deposit is an overwhelming amount of money for any potential resident to bear. The “reward” of a partial return on deposits after 12 months, and again after 24 months SHOULD exist, rather than punish every new customer with the assumption that they will become delinquent in payments BEFORE that has ever been established as fact.

It would seem reasonable that deposit funds are to be held in trust for return to the customer at the termination of their utility service, or to be used for payment due at the termination of utility service. It would also seem reasonable and financially responsible that these funds would be held in an interest bearing account. As the ordinance is currently written, each new utility customer will contribute $500 to this account for a minimum of 12 months, $400 for a minimum of 24 months, and $300 indefinitely until the termination of their utility service, which could potentially last for several years. Depositing customers without 12 consecutive months of on-time payments will receive no return on their deposit while their initial $500 deposit remains in the account beyond the 12 month time period. The same circumstance will exist for depositing customers without 24 consecutive months of on-time payments leaving $400 in the account for an extended period of time before any return on their deposit is received.

For the City to gain this type of long term benefit from an interest bearing account established with funds being held in trust for utility customers, funds that actually do not belong to the City, does not seem to be fair-minded. The City has the ability to act in good faith by returning interest benefits to utility customers earned on THEIR money rather than use these deposit funds as a resource to generate income for the City’s financial gain. Serious consideration should be given to returning this interest income to those who have truly earned it through their good faith deposits. Distribution of interest monies generated by deposits could be paid annually during the winter months when utility service customers could benefit the most from a reduction in their utility bills.

Justification of the deposit increase by representing that unpaid utilities are easily collectible through the tax obligation of Home Owners and Landlords who do not file waivers with the City, and more difficult and costly to collect from potentially un-locatable utility customers with waivers on file is misleading. Regardless of the collection method used when necessary, there is time, paperwork, and manpower involved. Although initially collection on an existing tax obligation with the recovery of interest, penalties, and collection costs may appear to be guaranteed, that is not always true. In the case of the utility customer with a waiver, their non-payment is also collectable with interest, penalties, and collection costs. In addition, collection options have changed in recent years for creditors allowing them to easily file the paperwork necessary to collect from State Income Tax returns. It is reasonable to assume that individuals expecting a refund WILL file a return that is accessible for garnishment eliminating the necessity of any investment of time in locating these individuals. Many will also be collected from and easily located if only steps are taken in a timely manner rather than delayed for months before proceeding. In EACH case recovery of costs beyond the initial non-payment is possible. To give the impression that one is more costly than the other is simply untrue when costs involved are recoverable.

Without continuing the argument of WHY the potential risk for nonpayment has suddenly increased to necessitate a deposit amount that more than doubles the current deposit, it cannot be denied that the increase IS a substantial financial burden to anyone seeking utility service in this City. Again, with a $500 utility deposit on top of moving and potential rent obligations the financial burden becomes out of reach for many potential residents as well as current residents facing a move. When faced with this knowledge prospective residents will find it very easy to justify moving outside the City limits to avoid the financial burden that will be created here. Current and future residents will be driven out of town to seek housing in a more affordable area. Along with them will go potential income for the City’s businesses, enrollment for our schools, and general support for this Community that it desperately needs. Why not consider a plan to achieve the $500 deposit goal while making its collection less of a burden. For example, the current deposit amount could be increased to $250 with an additional $50 paid each month for the following 5 months. An initial deposit increase is collected to offset the ever growing cost of security to reduce the City’s financial risk. The 6-month payment plan allows the City to collect the full deposit amount proposed in a relatively short period of time, yet allows a situation that prevents at least some utility customers and potential residents from being turned away. In these difficult financial times it is simply impossible for many people including potential students for our local Community College to afford such a large out of pocket expense for a utility deposit.

It may be beneficial to take another look at the proposed Utility Ordinance Amendments before pushing through a plan that doesn’t appear to have taken all aspects of the situation into consideration. This is a significant increase warranting a considerable amount of thought before subjecting residents and this City to the long term consequences a hasty decision will cause. Do everyone involved a favor, take your time and contemplate all of the options BEFORE moving forward rather than AFTER IT IS TOO LATE.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dowagiac Mayor Pro-Tem Loses Control

Tonight's Council meeting was one of the most open meetings I have seen in Dowagiac for many years. The city should be proud for allowing residents to have dialogue at the meeting.

Residents should be proud of Mr. Burling, Ms. Hunt and Mr. Oliver for requesting changes to the electric deposit policy prior to the next meeting.

During the meeting, Mr. Laylin said that it may be possible that if this deposit doesn't pass, the utility rates may have to be doubled to cover costs. This is one of the most inaccurate comments I have ever heard. According to the City, this would only affect about 20 residents, which is a very low estimate. For Mr. Laylin to attempt to scare residents to accept this unfair policy, as it stand now, by saying rates would be doubled, is nothing more than a scare tactic and totally incorrect. Residents deserve to have somebody run the meeting who has correct and accurate information, not someone who makes up figures in the middle of the meeting that are not correct.

The explanation given for this increase was so confusing that a person in attendance had to interrupt Council a couple of times to try to figure out what was being presented.

Here is an odd fact about the new deposit: If you only have electric, your deposit will be $225.00. If you only have water, the deposit is $80.00, but if you have both, the deposit will be $500.00. The numbers just don't add up, of course. It would be better to go in and have the electric put in your name, then go back and have the water put in your name later for a deposit of $80.00. If you could do it this way you could save almost $200.00.

At the end of the meeting, during councilmans' comments, Mr. Dodd asked when the deposits would be returned. He was told they'd be returned when the customer moves and their bill is paid in full. What I can't understand is why the question was even asked. Each councilman is given a Friday packet with all the information needed to vote on each week's agenda items. Why would a councilman ask that question if they read the information in their packet? The answer was clearly stated in their paperwork.

The most disturbing event happened after the meeting when Mr, Laylin asked me if I thought I was being represented well by my councilman. I asked him why did he think that was an issue. Mr. Laylin stated that one of my councilpersons (Lori Hunt) seems to miss a lot of meetings. I told Mr. Laylin that I was well represented tonight by Ms. Hunt. Why would the Acting Mayor ask a resident if they are happy with their councilperson, and say that they seem to miss a lot of meetings?

All of the residents of the first ward should be proud of Ms. Hunt tonight for asking for changes to be made in the utility deposit prior to voting for it.
I feel that it was very unprofessional for a councilman to ask a resident if they feel they are being represented well and bring up the subject of Ms. Hunt missing meetings. Ms. Hunt is taking classes full time and raising a family, and I am sure there are times that she cannot attend.

If Mr. Laylin seems to think that Ms. Hunt is missing too many meetings, that is something that should be discussed between the Council and Ms. Hunt, instead the subject was brought up to a resident and in front of residents that attended the meeting.

Once again thank you to the the councilmembers who took a stand and requested changes in this deposit issue instead of just voting it in at the next meeting. Be sure to thank Ms. Hunt, Mr. Burling and Mr. Oliver.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dowagiac Michigan to have one of the highest utility deposits in the nation

One of our readers had a good idea, if you go to the citys webage for the electric board you will see that the board has the following responsibalities. The Electric Facilities Board is a five-member advisory board to the City Council. The
Board advises Council on matters relating to the operation and maintenance of the electric
utility. If this information is correct this increase should have first went through this board. If you look at the members you will see once again we have a city board that isn't completly filled. Here is another clear example of the city not following the rules by not going through the electric board. I told Councilman Oliver the other day, the city needs to disband all of the city boards. If it was up to the city they would not even have councilpersons.
Make sure to go to our home page and call your councilperson and tell them to VOTE NO on this increase.

Dowagiac City Council to raise utility deposits to $500.00

Did you know we have an Electric Facilities Board? We Have. Also their is still open Vacancy's on the board. How often is this board used? They are appointed to give recommendations to the city. When is the last time you heard anything from them. You haven't. Maybe you need to go to Dowagiac's web site and look the three up and ask them if they recommended this electric rate issue. Or maybe the mayor and city manager and councilman forgot about them..

Dowagiac wants $500.00 for utility deposit

I own 5 rentals in town and I will help get signatures on a petition to bring this before the voters. First the rental ordinance, the city thought they could sneak this through and they city fond out that residents wasn't going to allow it. Now this, the city counts on residents not getting involved. 99.9% of the time they don't but when it is something bad they do come out of the woodwork.
Just post it on the webpage when petitions can be picked up and we will show the cit once again, we are not as stupid as they think we are. I also agree when we overturn this deposit, we continue on to a reacall.
We could have recalled the mayor over the rental issue but we backed out. This time no backing out. If you are a renter of own rental property you need to be at the meeting Monday night.
Clean Them All Out

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dowagiac City Council To Increase Utility Deposits to $500.00

Just when you thought you have heard everything, along comes the Dowagiac City Council with with another decision that is going to make it impossible for people to move to Dowagiac.
At the council meeting Monday night the council will be doing a first reading changing the deposit for electric, water and sewer from a little over $200.00 to $500.00.
How many people can afford to pay first and last months rent, security deposit and now $500.00 security deposit for utilities?
The city is going to say that they need this money to recover money lost by people that don't pay their bills. AEP doesn't ask for a deposit this high and I am sure most other utility companies don't either.
Losing money for non payment is part of running a utility company and the city knew the risks when they decided to take over utilities for Dowagiac. It is all part of doing businesses, all businesses run into customers that do not pay their bill. If the city has a customer that refuses to pay take them to court, don't pass on their loss to new utility customers.
Another disturbing issue with this new deposit is the city wants a cop of the renters lease. many leases contain private phone numbers, social security numbers, these are things that the city doe not need to have available to any city employee. I can understand they may need the SS number for the account holder, but many leases have the SS numbers of everyone on the lease.
We already know that paperwork flows around city hall like water under a bridge, remember the school records that pedophile city manager had in his desk? The city never could explain how he got them.
Also at the next meeting they are gong to be voting to apply for more state funds to build more apartments, if they raise the deposit to $500.00 how many people will be able to afford to move into these new apartments.
This is a bad decision for the renter as well as the landlords. If this increase passes how many landlords will have vacant buildings because renters cannot afford the $500.00 deposit.
It is time for residents to take a stand and call their councilman or show up at the meeting Monday night and say enough is enough and put a stop to this increase that is almost TRIPLE of the current deposit rates.
Just remember if you keep quiet and move to another apartment or house the new deposit will be passed on to you. It doesn't; matter if you are a current customer.
It also states that the city will keep the renters deposit until the account is CLOSED, this means that the city will have your $500.00 forever and will earn interest off of your money. Remember a public utility has to pay you interest on your money but the city doesn't have to.
Could this be where the money to fix the streets is coming from?
What about any students that want to move into Dowagiac and not stay in a dorm at SMC? SMC is growing every year and students will start looking for housing in town. College students cannot afford a $500.00 Deposit.
Everyone needs to mark you calendars for the meeting Monday night and tell the Dowagiac City Council that you will not sit back and allow them to almost triple the utility deposits.
Click Here to read the new deposit information.
Howard Hall

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cass County Medical Marijuana user to lose home and car?

I am going to watch this Vanderbutts case really close. Now that Mr. Vanderbutts has been found guilty everyone needs to watch his sentencing. Mr. Vanderbutts was convicted of maintaining a drug house. Mr. Vanderbutts has said the County wants to take his house for his crime.
It wasn't long ago that Funeral Director Dave Groner was convicted of Possession of Meth and maintaining a drug house for meth. The county did not seize any of his property. I am sure we can all agree that Meth is a much more dangerous drug than marihuana. I don't think that the state allows the medical use of meth for any reason.
If the county seizes Mr. Vanderbutts house for marihuana and didn't take Mr. Groner house for three Meth convictions, this proves that something in the justice system in Cass County is just not right.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cass County Medical Marijuana Card Holder Speaks Out

My name is Sylvester Vanderbutts.  I am a resident of Howard Township, Cass County, Michigan.  I began chemotherapy in 2005 for Stage 4 lymphoma cancer.  I began a second chemotherapy treatment for chronic hepatitis C.  I have Type 1 diabetes due to surgeries to remove tumors, and I take insulin shots daily.  I have been diagnosed as having bipolar depression.  I am very ill and also have an ulcer in my stomach.  I have suffered a great deal of stress from the ordeal with the authorities in Cass County.  I will have to go through more chemotherapy in the future.
When I found out that Proposal 1 to legalize medical marijuana passed in the state of Michigan, I began growing my own plants and at the same time notified my physician about what I would like to do in order to counteract the effects of chemotherapy.  The doctor agreed with the treatment and said that he would be glad to sign documentation, but he couldn’t prescribe as there were no prescriptions for it.  Once the Proposal passed, I began using the marijuana treatment.  It alleviated my pain without pain medication.  It also relieved my nausea without further medication.  The medications bothered me.  I don’t take medication well.  It was causing stomach upset and that is why I think I have this ulcer. 
Everything was ok; my plants were growing.  Plants take about four months to grow.  On August 8, 2009 I went to the Medical Marijuana Expo in Detroit, and when I returned home, a neighbor said he saw two strangers in the middle of the night trying to jump my fence. I believe they were looking for marijuana.  It may have been the Michigan SWET team.

They put out a warrant for my electric bill, and at a later date, they had another warrant for a helicopter to hover over my house using infrared. 
I never sold any marijuana to anybody.  I never gave it to anybody.  I was growing it for my use and to be a caregiver for five other patients.   I had 42 plants total, two mothers, 15 clones.  I wasn’t able to provide anyone else with the marijuana because the plants weren’t ready.  I had just enough for my own continuous use.  At that time, that is when the police raided my home.  My card was issued on August 29, 2009 and the police raided my home on September 14, 2009.  I was arrested and placed in the Cass County Jail.  I had to pay a bonds lady $2,500 to get out of jail.  I went back home.  I had to get a ride from the bonds lady because the police confiscated my 1997 S-10 step side pick up.  They also took $2,750 cash from under my bed in my safe, which was my social security money.  They also took all my tax records and my computer, and my cell phone, my checkbooks and all other documentation.  I have not been able to file my taxes because of it.  They are attempting to get my home.  This house has been in my family for over 40 years. 
I feel that they are attempting to try me as a drug dealer, when, in fact, I am a patient using medical marijuana for my illness to alleviate all the pain and nausea.  
After I hired an attorney, this went to District Court to Judge Stacey Rentfrow and she ended up sending this case to Circuit Court in front of Judge Dodge.  I refused to plead guilty as I am not guilty of anything illegal.  They have charged me with 4 felony counts, which would give me 8 years each.  After that, they decided they would just charge me with having too many plants. 
Judge Dodge said that he will not allow the information regarding my medical condition to be used in court, neither will he allow the fact that I have this documentation to be able to use medical marijuana. 
I do not understand why the jury will not be allowed to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
 Next Tuesday I will win, or they will lock me up and throw away the key.  63% of the Michigan voters voted so that people like me could use this Medical Marijuana Act without prosecution, seizure or arrest.   
I did not do anything wrong.  I am a victim of the Cass County Court system.

Why do they have to throw a sick man in jail?  I am only 52, and I do not believe I will live long.  I know I will have to go through 12 more weeks of chemotherapy and suffer tremendously just to live a little longer.  Where did we lose our compassion?  What is wrong with this county?  Why do they have to do this to me?  Why do they have to do this to anyone?  Whatever time I have left, I just want to be left in peace to fight my fight to live each day.  Isn’t that what everyone wants?  No matter how much pain and suffering is involved, we try to survive one more day.
I truly believe the truth will set me free.  This is the truth. 
If anyone wants to help, just come down to the Cass County Courthouse on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 8 a.m. and hold a sign in support of  people like me who are sick, who are not criminals, who use medical marijuana to relieve terrible pain and suffering.
Sylvester Vanderbutts
(Please send in your comments about medical marijuana to our forum.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dowagiac City Council refuses To Follow Rules Once Again

Dowagiac passed a resolution a few years back stating that question put in writing in advance will be answered at the council meeting if the person is present that asked the question.
Well once again the Dowagiac City Council REFUSED to answer questions out in writing in advance. After the meeting we asked Mayor Pro Tem Leon Laylin why the questions were not answered. His response was we answered them in writing, we explained to him the resolution that he voted on and asked again why the questions we not answered. His response was nothing more than raising his hand in the air.
This proves that residents need to come forward and run for office next year. When you have an elected official running a meeting that don't follow the rules and don't care if residents know, it's time to remove some people from office.
When we asked acting City Manager Rozanne Scherr her response was, " Maybe residents didn't; care what the questions and answers were".
The idea of question in writing in advance is so the city has 4 days to find the answers to the questions submitted. It is not the job of the city manager to determine what residents want or need to know.
I cannot understand why the Dowagiac City Council can expect residents to follow the rules and feel that they are above the very rules that they voted on.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dowagiac Mayor Refuses to Ask Council Members For No Votes

IMPEDE: to interfere with or slow the progress of......
This is exactly what happened at the last council meeting.
If you remember a month ago we wrote a story of how the mayor runs the meeting by passing everything that it on the agenda without ever asking if they are any no votes.
Dowagiac was lucky by having our State Rep Sharon Tyler attend the last meeting. Prior to the start of the meeting I talked to Ms. Tyler and told her to watch how the meeting is ran. I promised her that she would never hear the mayor ask if there is any no votes.
Well she got more than a lesson on Dowagiac politics, she had the chance to see a councilman be forced to stop the mayor from passing another increase to city residents.
This made the council and residents of Dowagiac look terrible in front of our State Rep. I am sure when she returned to Lansing she had some stories to tell her friends about the way Don Lyons runs his council meetings.
We hope that Mr. Lyons now understands that just because something is on the agenda that it is possible for people to vote NO and not just assume that everyone will vote YES!
We hope at the next meeting Mr. Lyons will ask council if there are any no votes before trying to pass an agenda item and not embarrass the entire town again in front of our State Rep.
Here is a clear example of Mr. Lyons trying to impede the meeting by not asking for any no votes.
We would like to thank the councilpersons that voted no on yet another needless increase to Dowagiac residents.

Who is really in Charge of the Dowagiac DDA and Chamber?

Funny thing--every time somebody complains about the Chamber, the City's answer is: "the Chamber is not part of the City of Dowagiac". This statement is not exactly true.

A few years ago, we questioned how the Chamber Director was paid, and the City explained it this way: The City of Dowagiac cuts the entire paycheck for the DDA and Chamber, and the Chamber pays the city back for the Chamber portion of the Director's salary.
When we requested a copy of the paperwork, we found out that the Chamber was well behind in their payments to the City. This means that, at that time, the City was paying for both salaries, along with health care for this part time city employee.

The line between these two jobs is so small, it may not even exist. If the Chamber does something good, the City praises the Director for a job well done. If the Director does something that residents don't like, the City says that was done as the Chamber Director and that they have no control over that.

The City needs to get another DDA Director, or the Chamber needs a different Director. The way it is, this not fair to residents at all. There is no way to hold the Chamber Director or the DDA Director accountable when the city can't decide if it was a Chamber or DDA issue.

A good example of this, is the issue with the former queen. The city said they had no control of the Chamber, yet all letters sent to the queen were on City of Dowagiac stationery.

Why should Vicki Phillipson be the only PART-TIME city employee to get health care from the City? This summer I am sure that the City will hire some part-time employees, who have families, and they will not have ANY health care. If the City has decided to pay the health care for the part-time DDA Director, they should also give health care to every part-time City employee.

I will end this with these questions: If the Chamber and DDA are two separate jobs, why do they share the same letterhead? If they are two different positions, why would the City of Dowagiac allow a private business share the City of Dowagiac letterhead. Who is paying the cost of printing that letterhead?