More Parting Shots–Looking back on 2018

	 A fire that destroyed Boven Tire on Red Arrow Highway between Paw Paw and Mattawan in late October was by far the most talked about event of the season. The gigantic dense black plume of smoke was reported to be seen from as far away as St. Joseph, but was most impressive up close, where the intense flames glowed within it.  The building has been demolished and cleared away in preparation for reconstruction. 	Courier-Leader file photo/Paul Garrod    	Mattawan High School students staged a silent protest in March, following shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and several threats of violence in school districts across the county.  The students carried signs that said “Stand Together” and “Mattawan Cares” in support of students across the country who have been victims of school violence.	Courier-Leader file photo	“Leaders in Paw Paw have an unwavering commitment to making their community stronger and brighter,” Gov. Rick Snyder, center, told a select gathering of village officials and guests as he presented a Project Rising Tide graduation gift to Village President Roman Plaszczak, right, representing the village.  The governor visited Paw Paw in March for the short ceremony at the Carnegie Community Center. First graders Reese Jominy and Noah Kerr helped Mattawan Early Elementary School Principal Becky Moore with a ceremonial ribbon cutting welcoming school district families to an open house at the new school in late August. The building completed Mattawan Consolidated School’s elementary campus. A new Later Elementary building was opened in the fall of 2017. On a different educational “campus”this summer, kids and cows, calves and cats, eggs and sausage, milk, and buckets of corn were all part of Michigan State University Extension’s Breakfast on the Farm, hosted by Tim and Debbie Hood of Paw Paw. Thousands visited the Hood Farms Family Dairy for a free breakfast and up-close look at the daily operations of the farm.  All creatures big and small examined each other with a curious eye.	The Summer Migrant Education Program closed with its annual “Fiesta” at the Van Buren Intermediate School District on a hot day in August. The carnival hosts the families whose children have worked hard on their academics through the summer.  “Fiesta” traditionally offers games and contests with prizes for the children, cultural entertainment, food and other treats. Members of the African dance troupe, Rootead, from Kalamazoo, performed and encouraged the youngsters to join in their celebration.

BIGGEST BUZZES

    Certain subjects appeared in the pages of The Courier-Leader over and over during 2018. For this year, these were what sparked the most conversations, created the biggest buzz.

SCHOOL THREATS
    Area law enforcement officials faced several threats of violence at schools across the county in 2018. In most cases, the reports turned out to be  false, but all were  regarded as serious until proven otherwise.
    The most significant of the events was a  planned attack on Paw Paw High School in March. A 15-year-old student had stolen firearms from relatives and loaded them into his backpack to take to school on Monday, March 19. Instead, he confessed his plan to his mother the  day before, and together, they went to the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office.
    “It was a credible threat,” said Sheriff Dan Abbott, after interviewing the teen.  Abbott said officials notified Paw Paw Public Schools’ administrators of the threat and a safety search of the school was conducted of the high school. The building was determined to be safe, with no ongoing threat, but classes were cancelled for Monday.
    Sheriff’s deputies and Paw Paw Village Police investigated the juvenile and charged him with multiple offenses in relation to his plan. Police seized guns and other evidence during a search of the Oak Street  home.  The boy was taken to the Allegan County Juvenile Center, later arraigned and formally charged with two counts of larceny of a firearm, a count of possession of a short-barreled rifle, a count of possession of a shortbarreled shotgun, a felony explosives charge and a misdemeanor attempt to assemble and/or manufacture an explosive.
    The teen also had the neces- sary components to assemble improvised Molotov cocktails; however, had not fully assembled them, according to the  Sheriff’s Office.
    Though there was not a direct threat made to anyone at the school, throughout the rest of the week, there was an increased presence of law enforcement at district buildings.
    In February, the Lawrence Public Schools had received reports of two student threats over the course of a week; both proved to be false.
    Gobles Public Schools also received a threat of violence around the same time. The schools were among seven Van Buren County districts where authorities were investigating threats of violence in the wake of the Parkland, FL, shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14.
    In April, Sheriff Abbott attended a  Van Buren County Superintendents of Schools meeting, where threats of violence was a topic for discussion. Besides the Paw Paw, Lawrence, and Gobles incidents, Decatur, Bloomingdale, Bangor and South Haven schools had each been a victim of at least one threat.
    Abbott addressed the planned shooting at Paw Paw High School.  “It would have happened,” he said.  He noted the parents’ involvement in that case was key to thwarting the attack on the school, and encouraged the community to help in the prevention of these tragedies.
    He said individuals may use a tip line - OK2SAY, to submit a confidential tip. OK2SAY, available through a link on the Sheriff’s Office website,  vbcsheriff.com, allows anyone to confidentially report tips on criminal activities or potential harm directed at Michigan students, school employees, or schools.
    “Even if you think it’s nothing, let them know, so we can investigate it.
    “They (the students) don’t realize what they’re doing,” said Abbott.  “The incident, real or false, is a terrorist threat and is a 20-year felony.”

ELECTION 2018
COUNTY ROAD MILLAGE

    In March, Van Buren County Commissioners approved a county-wide request to be placed on the August 7 ballot by the Van Buren County Road Commission asking to levy three mils ($3 per $1,000 of taxable value) on taxable value of real property located in Van Buren County for 12 years, 2018 through 2029. The funds generated would be used for maintenance, repair and reconstruction of public streets, public highways,  avenues, and roads across the county.  The revenue generated by this proposal is estimated to be $10,432,956 in the first year of the levy.
    According to Van Buren County Road Commission Engineer-Manager Lawrence Hummel, the proposed millage would fund $7.2 million worth of primary  road improvements each year.
    The plan for the first four years of the millage would improve 135 miles of primary roads  around the county. It would include County Road 388, Red Arrow Highway and Blue Star Highway from end to end, as well as multiple sections of other high volume primary roads.
    The Van Buren County Road Commission maintains 1,330 miles of road. Primary roads, those with “County Road” designation, Blue Star and Red Arrow highways, consist of approximately 350 miles in Van Buren County.
    The plan was met with much opposition.
    At its April 10 meeting, the Antwerp Township Board went on record opposing the three-mil increase and sent out letters to other county township boards asking if they would be willing to begin a preliminary discussion from steps that outline changes that can occur prior to a new tax levy.
    Antwerp Township officials hoped to encourage local state  legislators to change Act 51 Transportation Act to better benefit townships; to change the current structure of the  Road Commission for better representation of local municipalities; to allocate funding commensurate with a municipality’s or township’s contribution; adopt 10-year primary road plan for each township with updates every five years; and review current facility and future facility needs for the entire county for road maintenance and repairs.
    A week later at the Almena Township Board meeting, Township Trustee Geoff Moffat spoke out against the millage, saying, “I will fight tooth and nail in preventing the millage from being passed.”
    The concern of Almena Township Trustees was that none of money generated by the three-mil increase would go to the township’s 41 miles of local roads.
    Voters turned down the road millage proposal, 7,592 to 6,316, in the August 7 primary election, but within a week’s time,  Van Buren County Commissioners approved a request from the Van Buren County Road Commission to place the measure on the November ballot.
    Antwerp and Almena townships were again vocal in their opposition to the new tax levy request, and were joined by others encouraging county residents to “vote no,” and the millage was defeated a second time, 18,197 “no” to 10,470 “yes,” in the general election.           

MATTAWAN SCHOOL BOND PROPOSALS
    While construction continued on the second of two new elementary buildings, the Mattawan Consolidated School District in May decided to put two separate bond issues on the August primary election ballot.
    The first proposal requested bond funds totaling $19,120,000, representing a homeowners’ tax  increase of approximately .45 mills. The funds generated would allow the school district to enhance school safety district-wide; improve technology at all levels; renovate a portion of the vacated former Later Elementary building for an Early Childhood Education Center, administrative office, and community spaces; demolish the former Early Elementary and Center Building for green space, future growth, and/or parking; replace the roofs of the middle and high school buildings; and construct a building for team locker rooms and public restrooms near the softball, baseball, and football fields.
    The second proposal was the renewal of the non-homestead millage for operating funds for the district, and added no additional cost to  homeowners.
    District voters approved both bonds proposals in August.
 

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes
32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-5080

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