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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Forum on Platte Elementary Building October 25

In Community Alert, Education, Elsewhere in BenCo... on October 16, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Elberta Business Owners Speak! On State Proposal 14-1

In Education, Gov't Watch, On and off the Apron, Politics, Public Safety, Uncategorized, Village Money Situation on August 4, 2014 at 10:18 am
Like a rock: A large Petoskey stone at the Conundrum Café, probably not subject to the personal property tax.

Like a rock: This large Petoskey stone at the Conundrum Café is probably not subject to the personal property tax.

By Emily Votruba

Tomorrow, August 5, voters will decide whether to adopt a proposal to eliminate the personal property tax. The strangely worded measure doesn’t actually mention “personal property tax,” but instead says the following:

Approval or disapproval of amendatory act to reduce state use tax and replace with a local community stabilization share to modernize the tax system to help small businesses grow and create jobs. (Read the full ballot language and more about the proposal here and here.)

If you own a business in Michigan, you pay personal property tax (PPT) every year on equipment you use (machinery, vehicles, furniture, computers, refrigerators, cash registers, kitchen appliances). You’re supposed to pay the same rate (set by your local government) every year, based on the price you paid for the item, for the life of your business or until you get rid of the equipment, even as the item decreases in value. In communities with big business and manufacturing bases, the PPT forms a large share of local revenue, used for schools, fire, police, EMT, park maintenance, and other services.

In 2010, Elberta derived 3.32% of its property tax revenue from personal property tax.* That means out of the Village’s $129,933.48 in total property tax revenue, $4,313.79 came from business owners paying tax on their various movable assets, most of which they had already paid sales tax on at the time of purchase. Businesses are in effect taxed twice—more than twice—on material regular consumers are taxed for once.

According to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan DC based think tank, seven states have eliminated PPT altogether, four states assess a very small PPT, and other states have enacted exemptions for businesses of certain types or sizes. Michigan itself has already enacted a personal property tax exemption for businesses with less than $80,000 worth of equipment. More on that below.

Some voters may be wary of taking Lansing’s word for it when it promises any local revenue lost from eliminating PPT will be replaced through the use tax, which the proposal also promises not to increase. The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that state general fund revenues would be cut by $126 million in 2016, the first-year the proposal would begin taking effect, and by $483 million in 2023 when fully phased-in.

What is use tax? Most of us never pay it because we don’t buy goods wholesale. But if you have a state business ID, you can buy goods without paying sales tax, as long as you pay that 6% eventually—whether you pass the expense on to consumers when you sell products, or by declaring that amount to the state and paying it at the end of the year.

This use tax might be an unpredictable source of revenue. Let’s say you purchase 50 pounds of coffee wholesale with a business ID. If you don’t make cappuccinos with it, you’re supposed to pay the state 6% out of pocket on whatever you have left that isn’t spoiled. That’s to keep you from just buying all your personal groceries wholesale. You can see how abuse of the use tax might be hard to detect and enforce.

In Michigan, use tax is also assessed to lodging establishments for their rooms and amenities and in sales or transfers of recreational vehicles to nonfamily members. Wired communication services, Internet sales, and all imports of goods from outside Michigan are also subject to use tax. You can read about it in more detail here.

Use tax revenue, like that from PPT, fluctuates according to consumer activity and whether or not businesses are investing in inventory. The Local Community Stabilization Authority that Prop 14-1 creates would distribute the use tax revenue directly to municipalities and would theoretically ensure that communities receive the same revenue they’re accustomed to, and perhaps more (some argue). Proponents say eliminating the PPT will also save both businesses and local governments the paperwork headache involved in filing and adminstering the tax.

Since tax law is really confusing, and businesses are the ones who’ll (supposedly) be most immediately affected by this proposal if it passes, I asked some Elberta business owners what they think of the measure and how they’re going to vote.

Steve Hubbard, owner of Bayshore Tire & Auto, says he’s been so busy he hasn’t had time to investigate the proposal. “I’ll say any measure that’s going to cut my taxes, I’m probably for. Michigan taxes the crap out of small businesses. We lose so much money just processing that stuff.”

According to the US Small Business Administration, over 98% percent of Michigan businesses are “small”—with fewer than 500 employees. Indeed, the vast majority of Michigan businesses (670,000+) have no employees at all.

Katie Condon, along with her sister Janet Condon Whiting, has owned the Mayfair Tavern since January 2012. They pay personal property tax on kitchen equipment, TVs, their computer system, and any other tangible business assets they acquire. Condon says she’s definitely voting yes on Proposal 14-1. “[Personal property tax] is a dumb tax. It kills small business, and up here in Northern Michigan we’re all small.”

Diane Jenks, owner of A Shear Class Experience Salon & Day Spa, and also a member of the Village council, said in an email on Friday that she was still researching the issue. “I want to know where the replacement dollars are coming from and how and when it will be disbursed back to municipalities. I wonder if there will be any hidden criteria or restrictions on funding replacement of personal property tax dollars.”

Jim Barnes is a new business owner in the Village, with both Elberto’s Taqueria and Eco-Building Products opening here in 2013. He suspects that if the personal property tax is eliminated, that revenue won’t be replaced. He said he hadn’t yet been assessed personal property tax by the Village, but has paid it in Elmwood Township and Traverse City for Northern Delights and Eco-Building Products.

“In the past, our personal property taxes have been a nominal annual fee. The hassle of filling out the forms is more painful than paying the tax,” Barnes wrote in an email. He noted that the Village has “an extraordinarily high real property tax rate”—it’s the highest Village rate in the county at 16.1565%but says he will probably vote no on eliminating the tax, because he believes “federal, state, and municipal taxes are necessary to maintain infrastructure and provide valuable services to our citizenry.” Barnes says he’s more than willing to keep paying the PPT. “I just hope it isn’t too much when the Village gets around to assessing ours.”

Sheila Lafleur, proprietor of the Lighthouse Café, said Saturday that she hadn’t decided how she’ll vote on the measure and didn’t want to go on the record with her opinion of it. She said she’s had the same kitchen equipment for a long time, it’s still serving her well.

Colleen and Ed Jones acquired the Betsie Bay Marina from Kris Mills in mid-June this year. Colleen is familiar with the PPT from previous business ventures. “The existing tax law is really poorly written. It’s difficult to put reasonable values on your property, and it’s not enforceable. It’s a double tax on business owners.” She plans to vote yes on Tuesday to eliminate PPT, but concedes that the proposal “isn’t ideal—the allocation measure for replacement of revenue is kind of weird.”

Michele Cannaert of the Conundrum Café was undecided on the proposal when we spoke on Friday. She had applied for and received the new exemption, for businesses with less than $80,000 in equipment. “That’ll be $700 less that I’ll owe for next year. I can use that money to increase my inventory, or hire another person.

“I’m looking into whether that exemption will still be in effect if the proposal doesn’t pass,” she said. Cannaert, who is also an educator in the public schools downstate, is concerned about loss of revenue for schools and other services, but thinks the personal property tax is a disproportionate burden on small businesses like hers, not just in terms of money, but time and hassle. She files her taxes quarterly, and must submit a list of equipment values every time.

“It would be great if they could just keep that [small business] exemption in place even if the proposal doesn’t pass,” said Cannaert. “That would cover it. I don’t see why these larger companies need another break. But I do wonder how they’re going to offset that loss with the use tax. The use tax is unpredictable too.” Ψ

*Source: MLive report

2014 Bruce Catton Award Winning Essay: “He Was Lost, but I Found Him”

In Community Alert, Culture Bluffs, Education, GOOD NEWS, Our Men and Women in Uniform on April 18, 2014 at 2:02 pm

The following story, by J.J. Swander, took first place this year in the annual Bruce Catton Awards event. Each year, freshmen at Frankfort–Elberta High School compose essays inspired by their reading of Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train, about his life growing up in Benzie County. J.J. Swander is a fifteen-year-old freshman at Frankfort–Elberta High School. He is the son of A.J. and Molly Swander, and the second eldest of five siblings. He enjoys reading, video games, working out, and hanging out with friends. Here he’s written a wonderful tribute to an Elbertian veteran. To read more Catton Award essays, visit this page on the Frankfort High School News site.


By J.J. Swander

I walk slowly through the thick grass of the cemetery, making my way down the paved trail, searching and searching. I examine headstone after headstone, peering at the inscriptions, looking for the surname, “Van Brocklin.” The sun beams down through the clouds and superimposes me with the blinding light of spring.  The wet leaves slide and mat under my shoes with every footfall. SQUISH. SQUISH. Down the path a few yards, I finally discover it. “LaVaughn Van Brocklin.” My great-uncle. An American flag is poised beside it, the Stars and Stripes rippling in the chilly wind of Memorial Day. His headstone depicts his life as a World War II fighting man, displaying two crossed rifles, along with a symbolic engraving reading, Killed in the Service of his Country. I gaze at his name, and his resting place, and smile.

LaVaughn didn’t live past the war. He never left the sandy beaches and jungles of the Philippine Islands. He never left his boyhood. He was a typical American, drafted and thrust into the nation’s war like so many other young men. He was a prime example of the workingman of America during the time period. He was, as a young boy, a member of the 4H Club in Benzonia. He was, as a teen, a laborer in the Crystal Canning Company in Benzonia, working with fruit. As a young man, he was a prominent member of the Elberta community, participating in children’s events and occasions. He lived in the building next to the post office. He worked on the car ferries on Lake Michigan, and the Ann Arbor Railroad, which extended all the way from Frankfort, to Ann Arbor, to Toledo. He married Charlotte Pierce in the Elberta Methodist Church in 1940. He fathered two sons. All of these life events added up, molding and shaping his young life. All of that was taken away from him when he read his name in the draft notice he received in early 1944.

The day before he departed for boot camp, his in-law’s held a party in his honor. They celebrated his dignity and bravery. Before he left, he had a last dinner at his mother’s home in Benzonia, in the Homestead Township area. She saved his breadcrumbs in a bag. He went to Beulah with the other draftees, and they promptly were shipped out to Detroit before entering boot camp.

After months of training, in various locations around the United States, he learned of his destination. Mindanao. Mindanao is an island in the Philippine chain, which was occupied by the Japanese. It is the southernmost island, and the second largest. The Japanese had suddenly become LaVaughn’s enemy. And he was forced to fight them, leaving behind his Benzie County life for good. After only two weeks of fighting the Japanese, in the early morning hours of a May dawn, LaVaughn and his fellow soldiers were in the city of Davao, which is located on the coast of Mindanao, in the Davao Gulf. It is known that the conditions these men were fighting in were terrible, with abaca fields everywhere, which is a plant which can reach twenty feet high and allows visibility at only ten feet. LaVaughn and a group of men rushed an enemy strongpoint that was essential to neutralize, probably amid these abacas. The Japanese responded with a barrage of fire, and mortars thundered down on the men like rain on a stormy night. LaVaughn was struck.

A mortar exploded near LaVaughn, and fragments of shrapnel riddled the left side of his body. His left shoulder, notably, was hit. It was perforated and ripped apart by shrapnel. My grandfather believes that his left arm was entirely torn off. We can never be sure. Either way, a medic came to his side, administering first aid to his wounded form. Finding the wound to be mortal, he was evacuated and sent to the battalion aid station, before being moved to an army hospital. His platoon commander, Ernest Zwerner of the 19th Infantry Regiment, recalled in a letter that, although dying, he was cheerful and in good spirits from the onset of his injury to his removal. This showed a great deal of bravery, courage, and dedication to his country and family left behind. He succumbed to his wounds and died during the night of May 11, 1945.

The next day, he was temporarily buried in a cemetery in Mindanao, Chaplain Lamar S. Clark providing religious services. Meanwhile, a War Department telegram reached the door of Charlotte Van Brocklin, his wife. News spread around the close-knit village of Elberta. My great-grandmother, Ida Van Brocklin (now Ida Mix), on Beech Street in Frankfort was told. Her husband, LaVaughn’s brother, was told. Cousins learned of the news. Charlotte’s siblings in Elberta learned. LaVaughn’s brothers and sisters were told. One vital job remained. The job of telling LaVaughn’s mother of the news. LaVaughn’s mother was a woman who deeply loved him, so deeply, that her emotional level was fragile, with three boys gone in the military, fighting somewhere out in the world. Charlotte and Ida, sister-in-laws, traveled to Benzonia, and informed her of the grim news. She fainted. After finally awakening, she fainted again. She would never sleep easily again. She would need wine to sleep from now on.

Four years after, in 1949, LaVaughn was exhumed from the cemetery in Mindanao and sent overseas to Frankfort. He arrived at the American Legion Hall, flanked and protected by two National Guard servicemen. A funeral was held at the Elberta Methodist Church, H.M. Smart officiating, and a large quantity of people attended. Finally, he was moved to his ultimate resting place, the Crystal Lake East Cemetery in Frankfort. Every year, I visit LaVaughn. I visit him, silently talk with him, and thank him. He literally gave his life for his country. On Memorial Day, my family leaves flowers for him. I dig the holes. We watch the American Legion fire their rifles in his honor.

I just stare at the headstone, and the coarse words engraved, and the Benzie County fighting man’s resting place. I reach out and touch it, the cool rock chilling my fingertips. I trace the words on the headstones, tracing his life, his experiences, and his death with my finger. I feel a sense of power in this moment, being touched in a way no one can ever be touched. There is a heaviness in my chest as I dig a hole in the ground, and carefully place flowers in the Benzie County fighting man’s final resting place.

I appreciate LaVaughn for all that he did. I consistently call him a “man” in this writing. In reality, he was only a boy. He never became a man. He never left his boyhood. He never enjoyed life like he should have. He was only 24 when he died. But, if he had not died, I would have never been born. His widow married again, and from that union, I am descended. Without his death, I would not be writing this piece, nor would I be alive to commemorate his life. I honor his sacrifices, and remember him as the Benzie County fighting man and uncle that I never was able to meet.

I can see him now. I can see him. Not with my eyes. I will never be able to do that. But I can see him. Seeing him in this way makes me proud. Even though his dreams were not dreamt, and his life was not lived, he is an accomplishment in my eyes. Perhaps I can live my life for him. Maybe I can take responsibility, and live his dreams for him. I’ll live for LaVaughn. I look at the inscription on the gravestone, and the dates, and the engraving. Killed in the Service of his Country. I gaze at his name, and his resting place, and smile. Ψ

Adult Spelling Bee to Contain No XXX Words

In Community Alert, Education, Kid Stuff on March 18, 2014 at 8:47 am

By Emily Votruba

On Friday, April 11, Stormcloud Brewing Company and the Betsie Current newspaper present a spelling bee to raise money for a great cause: local education.

If you are a mature, brewery-going person with an orthographic bent, find yourself a partner and register to spell competitively by sending an email to

Your team’s entire $25 sign-up fee (payable at the door), plus 10% of the ‘Cloud’s sales during the event, go toward Frankfort–Elberta and Benzie Central high school student journalism and cultural arts programs. The bee will be emceed by Benzie Shores District Library’s assistant director, Stacy Pasche.

Fittingly, the evening will also serve as a launch party for the revived Betsie Current newspaper, edited by Jordan Bates and Jacob Wheeler, which will drop April 17. So dust off your Merriam-Webster and get ready to say it, spell it, and say it again from 8 to 10 on April 11.

Learn more about the bee here, on the Glen Arbor Sun website.

Catton Essay: “The Biggest Game of the Year”

In Culture Bluffs, Education, Kid Stuff on January 19, 2014 at 2:57 pm


By Mason Loney 

Each year, first-year high school students at Frankfort–Elberta High School and Benzie Central read Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train and create their own reminiscence of growing up in Benzie County. Mason Loney submitted this essay to the Bruce Catton Awards contest in 2013. Mason, now a 16-year-old sophomore, is the son of David and Kate Loney of Benzonia, the sixth child of eight. He is a challenging opponent on the basketball court as well as the football field. Mason is proud of his family’s long history in the area, including his grandfather, Max Loney, who maintained a turkey farm with his brothers. Max was personally invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to deliver one of his turkeys to the White House to be used for a presidential holiday meal, which he was happy to do.

This year’s essays are already done and being judged. The Catton event will take place at a date and time to be announced in April. Watch for details! They are wonderful essays this year. In the meantime, enjoy Mason’s story about a quintessential high school experience.—Rebecca Hubbard, Frankfort–Elberta High School English teacher

This was the biggest game of the year. It was the game that would decide who was the best in the conference. We all knew that it would be hard to keep our mouths shut during the game. It was against Glen Lake at our gym. I remember running out onto the court. I was so nervous. I mean, I was a freshman playing with the varsity. The stands were packed. Read the rest of this entry »

Little Free Library Comes to Elberta

In Alert Reader, Breaking, Community Alert, Culture Bluffs, Education, GOOD NEWS, Kid Stuff on November 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm

A new “Little Free Library” has opened for business in Elberta. It’s located on the front porch of the Conundrum Café at 603 Frankfort Avenue. Books are available 24-7. If your inner book worm is turning and you feel the need (the need to read) “check out” one of the books. When you’re finished, return the book to the box, or pass it directly on to a fellow reader. Just finished something fantastic? Drop it off inside the box. (Note: Not all 60 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary will fit.)

This thumbelinesque bibliothèque means Elberta is no longer without a library. “As a librarian, it pained me every day to think that people in and around the village did not have easy, free access to books,” says Michele Cannaert, proprietress of the Conundrum Café. She says she’ll add new books if the inventory wanes.

When the official Little Free Library charter sign arrives, our library will be posted in the LFL website. For more information go to: Thanks for this great addition to the Village, Michele!

Little Free Library on the Conundrum porch, November 2013.

Little Free Library on the Conundrum porch, November 2013.

Give a Local Kid a Better Start to the School Year

In Breaking, Calendar, Community Alert, Education, GOOD NEWS, Kid Stuff on August 22, 2013 at 9:12 am

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August Events at the Benzie Shores Library

In Calendar, Culture Bluffs, Education, Kid Stuff on July 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm

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Thursday, August 1 – Story Hour with Miss Julie

Friday, August 2, 10:00 a.m. – World of Lego, ages 5-12

Monday, August 5, 10:00 a.m. – Circle Time for Infants & Toddlers

Tuesday, August 6, 10:00 a.m. – Young Artists, ages 6-14

Wednesday, August 7, 10:00 a.m. – Fun and Games!, ages 5-12

Thursday, August 8, 10:00 a.m. – Story Hour with Miss Julie

Friday, August 9, 10:00 a.m. – World of Lego, ages 5-12

Saturday, August 10, 3:00 p.m. – “World Passport” Summer Reading Program ends

Monday, August 12, 10:00 a.m. – Circle Time for Infants & Toddlers

Wednesday, August 14, 9:00 a.m. – Book Share Group

Saturday, August 17, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Friends of the Benzie Shores District Library Annual Used Book Sale

Monday, August 19, 10:00 a.m. – Circle Time for Infants & Toddlers

Tuesday, August 20, 7:00 p.m. – Reflections by the Bay “Michigan’s Ghostly Lighthouses” presented by Dianna Stampfler

Monday, August 26, 10:00 a.m. – Circle Time for Infants & Toddlers

Proposed Free WiFi Area

In Breaking, Community Alert, Education, GOOD NEWS, Gov't Watch, Infrastructure and Planning, On and off the Apron, Open Season on June 10, 2013 at 11:08 pm

The Alert obtained this printout of the proposed free WiFi coverage area from Frankfort City Council member Richard Haan. This is just a preliminary plan, not final; if you’re interested in this issue, contact a Frankfort City Council member or attend one of their regular meetings, on the third Tuesday of each month at 7 pm in City Hall. The next meeting is June 18.

Proposed WiFi Coverage Area Frankfort Elberta

Support Outdoor Education and Blooming Michigan Artistry

In Community Alert, Culture Bluffs, Education, Green Elbertians, Kid Stuff on May 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm

By Lena Wilson

Many potent life lessons come through interaction with young people in our lives. By making an effort to pay closer attention and ask questions we’re reminded, though we didn’t know we had forgotten, how to play and act in the moment. Though the children certainly don’t intend to influence thought or create change, by observing their growth one can be transformed, just as poor soil can be aided to become a rich humus. This experience of becoming more like a child feels like remembering and seems to be as vast a reservoir for exploration as life itself.
How can we set up the learning stage so that we can learn from our children? How can we give them room and nourishment to grow? An active example of experience-based nature education in our area is the Human Nature School in Traverse City, Michigan. The Human Nature School was founded by Matt Miller and Kriya Townsend, who modeled their school and programs after their two years of experience at the Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) in Washington State. Jon Young, the founder of WAS, began his nature programming on the East Coast but moved to Washington, where nature connection programming was flourishing. Matt and Kriya have been running programs in Michigan for almost three years. The school has an office in Building 50 in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Many of their programs are held in the parkland surrounding the Village.
The heart of the Human Nature School is the home-school youth program that runs year round. The kids in the youth program are ages 6 to 13, and a pre-K group meets for ages 4 and 5. During each class, the group shares in a circle: stories, gratitude, dance moves, take-home challenges, etc. They practice making one-match fires, learning about bow drill fire technique, animal tracking, shelter making, and working with knives. Days are often spent focusing on learning about the flora and fauna of our area. The kids and instructors really enjoy playing games that focus on awareness, tactics, and animal forms. They journal, sing songs, and get dirty. All around, days at the Human Nature School are jam packed with fun. On most class days the students have a chance to explore nature on their own, something that is, surprisingly, a rare thing for many of them. What a pleasure it is to see the eyes of youth shine.
The Human Nature School is funded by donations, student tuition, and small occasional fundraisers like a Barn Dance and a concert by Joe Reilly. Student tuition is only $5 an hour, with sibling discounts and need-based scholarships covering up to 100% of a student’s tuition. The school is greatly supported by its enthusiastic community. It’s a new school—a shiny new, lime green sprout.
I’ve been volunteering with the school since September 2011 and have come to love this community and the kids. As a gift for the school I’ve drawn designs for three nature T-shirts and created a fundraiser campaign to print the shirts for the students and school inventory. The success of this project also supports me, Lena Wilson, as a young artist. My artwork will be seen and appreciated by many people if printed on shirts, and this will serve as a great portfolio project. After the shirts are paid for, 8% of the goal amount is budgeted to pay myself for the designs and the many hours I’ve put into promotion and the project webpage. All the income generated from future shirt sales will go directly to the school.
May 16 is the last day of the fundraising drive to fund the shirts on Kickstarter. Please consider checking out my personal website,, where you can find information on the Human Nature School T-shirt fundraiser, or go directly to the campaign’s webpage at Call (231) 740-3469 or write to me at with any questions or if you wish to contribute and do not want to use the internet. Ψ
One of three T-shirt designs made by Lena Wilson as a benefit for the Human Nature School.

One of three T-shirt designs made by Lena Wilson as a benefit for the Human Nature School.