BERRIEN SPRINGS — Oronoko Township landlords will have to pay a late fee if they fail to register their rental properties by Aug. 30. Township officials adopted a new rental housing ordinance in June which included an application form and registration fee schedule.

Oronoko Township Board members on Tuesday debated how much to charge those who miss the registration deadline before settling on charging 50 percent of the original fee, or a minimum of $100. That is the same late fee charged for other things in the township, such as failing to get a building permit.

The new effort is called the Rental Safety Verification Program with the goals of renter and firefighter safety, cosmetic and curb appeal and maintaining property values. Rules are set out for short- and long-term rentals.

Owners of long-term rentals will be charged $100 per building for registration, plus $20 for each rental dwelling unit if they register on time. Short-term rentals will pay $300 every year for registration and inspections. The ordinance requires registration every two years for long-term rentals and every year for short-term rentals.

Supervisor Mike Hildebrand said the board failed to spell out what a late fee would be when they passed it in June. He noted that letters went out to landlords last week reminding them of the upcoming deadline and he estimated that 20 to 25 percent of landlords have already registered.

Board members debated what to do about a late fee and how much to charge. Clerk Suzanne Renton suggested being lenient in the first year of the program and have a late fee be a percentage of the regular fee. Other board members were less charitable, saying that while some might forget, other landlords won’t pay until they’re forced to.

Hildebrand initially proposed adding a $50 late fee every 30 days a landlord is late, while others wanted the late fee to be even higher. Treasurer Larry Schalk said he felt the fee should be punitive. Hildebrand himself said he thought the late fee needed to be high enough to be a deterrent. “If you have a carrot, there needs to be a stick,” he said.

Trustee Don Damron suggested the township start out being more reasonable with the late fee since no specific late fee amount was discussed initially. He favored levying the 50 percent late fee once and then look at it again in two years when the ordinance is re-evaluated.

Medic 1

In other business, if Medic 1 wants to get Oronoko Township to approve its new articles of incorporation, it will have to make at least one change. Board members voted down the latest version at Tuesday’s meeting.

The vote to accept the articles of incorporation – which all but Oronoko Township, Benton Harbor and Benton Township have approved – failed on a 3-4 vote. Township Supervisor Mike Hildebrand noted that all 17 owners must approve the new articles.

Those voting no were Clerk Suzanne Renton, Treasurer Larry Schalk and Trustees Rich Albers and Marc Kerlikowske. Voting yes were Hildebrand and Trustees Don Damron and Robert Palmer. Palmer is the township representative on the Medic 1 board.

The main sticking point for those opposed is that the document refers to Lakeland and not Spectrum Health Lakeland, although Renton and Schalk also wanted to see ex officio board members being allowed to vote. “Lakeland doesn’t exist,” Albers said.

Hildebrand said he hoped to get everything resolved and the document signed. “I don’t want to run Medic 1 from Oronoko Township,” he said. “I don’t want us to be the stumbling block.”

Board members also disagreed on how much to pay to WNIT public television to sponsor the upcoming Berrien Springs “Our Town” documentary. It is scheduled to air on WNIT on Aug. 26 at 8 p.m.

Renton initially suggested giving $500 to the project so that the township can be listed as a sponsor, but others wanted to give more. Kerlikowske called $500 too “stingy” and noted that the township spent $5,000 on radio advertising.

The vote was 5-2, with Palmer and Schalk voting no.

Drain project

In addition, board members heard about but did not act on a proposal to fix the Kephart Woods County Drain. Residents in that area of the township, representing an estimated 260 to 270 homes, have complained about drainage problems for several years. The township paid for cleaning out the drain three years ago and turned it over to the county in 2017.

Engineer Gregory Lamkin of LSG Engineers is working with the county drain commissioner to develop options for the project. He told board members that he and others have developed three alternatives, plus an extra option that would put in a sanitary force main.

The option he recommended would install roadside ditches in the area west of Kephart Lane, increase the size of the pipes draining stormwater, plus install a leaching basin. That option carries a $2.7 million price tag. The township, the county and residents would share costs, to be paid back over 20 years.

Hildebrand said he’d also like to explore doing the sanitary force main option which would cost an estimated $750,000 and not require roadways or yards to be torn up. He said he also wants to explore the possibility of getting a grant from USDA Rural Development to help offset the costs.

Lamkin and Hildebrand said the current timetable calls for the preferred option or options to be designed this winter and the project going out for bids next spring. Hildebrand asked board members to look over the information and come back in September for a possible vote.