A year in the rear-view mirror
By Charles Chandler
On the evening of December 4th Mayor Jamie Denslow, City Manager Lora Kalkofen, Council Members Jeffrey Murchison, Ashley Zatalokin, Charles Chandler, and Kay Scott, and Department of Public Works (DPW) Supervisor Don Barnhart assembled in the new White Cloud DPW barn for a long-awaited ribbon-cutting ceremony. Others attending this event were River Country Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Colleen Lynema and trustees, Dan Abid, Scott Swinehart, Ross Nelson, Rachel Bridges, and Pam Schwallier. White Cloud DDA member Bob Scarlavai and Planning Commissioners Jerry LeBlanc and Keith Payne, and Officer Scott Ingraham also attended.
Supervisor Barnhart had the honor of cutting the ribbon because it was almost a year to the day when he and Manager Kalkofen stood by on that cold night and watched the old DPW Barn and all its contents reduced to a pile of smoking rubble. The next morning after that devastating fire Manager Kalkofen and staff came to grips with the scope and scale of their loss, and of course, it began snowing again. The plow and sand trucks, pickups, back hoes, mowers, all water department tools, equipment, materials pieces, and parts were gone. Not a phone, pencil or pad of paper was to be had, all went up in smoke. The cause of the devastating fire was inconclusive.
After the smoke had cleared Manager Kalkofen developed an effective recovery plan and the City was on its way to an early 2018 Christmas present. Kalkofen quickly schedules a meeting with carrier B & H Insurance agents for a thorough coverage review. The next calls were to the County Road Commission and other Newaygo Municipalities for assistance. Arrangements were made with the Road Commission to plow City streets. After the Insurance review, the City Staff did a happy dance because the City had more than adequate coverage in all areas. Kalkofen developed and sent out RFPs and Bids and went shopping. Generous offers were made and deals struck with neighbors in Newaygo and Fremont and soon the DPW crew had two new red pickup trucks and other vital equipment. Jeffery Parkers Architects and G.P Construction LLC were selected and plans approved for the new DPW Barn. Mr. Neal Johnson was named the Construction Project Manager and he quickly moved his construction trailer on site and began work.
The City staff, Council and Planning Commission also started 2018 with challenges but ended the year with some impressive accomplishments. Early on there were some major changes in the personnel department. In January Mayor Jamie Denslow took the gavel and Ashley Zatalokin was seated on the Council. Continuing that trend the important Planning Commission had a significant turnover and seated new members Mayor Denslow, Mike Kymes, Lori Shears, Keith Payne, and a new Zoning Administrator Peter Morgan. Also, in 2018 this new Planning Commission completed the daunting and contentious project of revising the City Zoning Ordinances and Master Plan allowing more flexibility for commercial development. Other City new hires included April Storms, Deputy Clerk, and Treasurer and Police Officer Jason Fritsma. Office Fritsma will be the White Cloud Public Schools Police Liaison.
In 2018 the City in collaboration with several Newaygo County and State of Michigan agencies were able to execute some major infrastructure projects. These include a runway surface treatment project at the AirPort. Kalkofen working with MDOT and Pere Marquette Rail Line campaigned and received grants of about $250,000 for Railroad Crossing and Safety projects. Late this year the wretched Pine Hill Street Crossing was completely rehabilitated and a start date on the Safety Project is anticipated in early 2019.
In February the White Cloud Dam sustained damage from flood water spillover and again Kalkofen with help from Director Abby Watkins of the Newaygo County Emergency Services and OM&M Engineering obtained a $100,000 grant from FEMA for the necessary repairs. Regarding water, the City had all three water wells tested by an independent lab and no PFA contaminations were detected.
After about 10 years of saving a dollar here and there the City was able to complete much needed major and minor street repairs. Working with the Newaygo County Road Commission, the City was able to get attractive pricing on labor and materials and were able to spend about $125,000 in selected street repairs. Additionally, the City spruced up the Hall this year with new paint in and outside, new carpet and some furnishings including computing systems upgrades.
Now White Cloud's computer processing is in the basement and the storage is in the Cloud.
2018 was also a very good year for the City Industrial Park businesses. Ceres Solutions was the first customer to purchase property and build in the Industrial Park and their state-of-the-art feed mill was completed and became operational in early spring. At the end of the year, the City has received about $430,000 from property sales and all Industrial Park lots are sold or under contract. Currently, there are three companies planning various Medical Marijuana operations in the Park. After discussion with these operators, it is anticipated that between 50 and 70 new jobs will be created here in White Cloud.
In 2018 three new businesses opened in White Cloud, ZZ Wild located at 1099 Wilcox, M 37 Auto Repair at 253 South Charles and White River Wellness at 194 North Charles. The White River Wellness was on track to open in October but are now on standby. They are awaiting the politicians in Lansing to get their act together and formalize a workable policy for both Medical and Legal Marijuana operations.
A new Special Needs Group Home is under construction at 355 North Street and the large Quality Surplus Sales building at 1109 Wilcox sold and the owner is offering rental space for new businesses.
And on a more local and personal note, White Cloud property values are moving in the right direction. There has been some turnover here on the front lines of the N3 White Cloud contributor’s desk. Longtime residents Coach Dave Roberts and Jenny at 100 South Webster Street and Businessman Eric Rudert at 75 Webster Street moved away this fall. The Gleason Family purchased the Roberts’s property and former resident and a White Cloud favorite Charley Twing and his family have purchased the Rudert property. Good neighbors moving out and good neighbors moving in.
Considering the start, 2018 has been a very good year for the City of White Cloud. Are there issues, and problems to be faced in 2019 certainly like most every other business and municipality. For continued economic development White Cloud must attract skilled professionals and experienced business owners and operators to the area. One of the limitations to that end is the lack of quality housing in the City and surrounding County. (Maybe we could build some nice lofts in the beautiful new DPW barn.)
The City has a good leadership team in place with Dan Evans our dedicated Chief of Police, efficient and effective City Manager Lora Kalkofen and her staff, and Mayor Jamie Denslow. They strongly believe in collaboration with the County and other area municipalities, using professional expertise when needed and making good long-term decisions for the City. They are bringing new and innovative ideas and methods to solve some of White Cloud embedded and anticipated problems.
It is expected that 2019 will be another good year for White Cloud.