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Featured Story

Council passes 2019-20 budget, undecided on utility rate increase

The Charlotte City Council adopted its 2019-20 operating budget Monday, June 10. However, there is still much work to be done on capital improvements, such as streets and water and sewer infrastructure in what City Manager Gregg Guetschow said is a pretty bare-bones budget. 

Council will resume discussions June 24 on a proposed 22 percent increase to the city’s water and sewer rates. Discussions were tabled June 10 in order for Guetschow and DPW Director Amy Gilson to provide council with potential alternatives to the increase, including phasing an increase in over a two-year period.

“The biggest investments we are going to be making, besides streets, are in the utilities area,” Guetschow said. “We need to spend about $1 million per year on infrastructure. That goes along with reconstructing our streets. For example, reconstructing Lovett Street, there’s 1885 water main under there that has to be replaced. There are asset management plans, to make sure we keep our facilities up.”

Guetschow said the city has done a good job in managing its assets, but is being forced to be more formal in its planning efforts for water and sewer asset management by state regulations. Mandates from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality make up nearly 20 percent of the utilities budget.

“We’ve been warning that it’s time to look at an adjustment to the utility rates,” he said. “We’ve proposed a 22 percent increase, which would result in about a $10 per month increase to the average user.”

Councilmembers will likely finalize a rate increase at its first meeting in July. Any increased rates will not be reflected on water bills until October at the earliest, Guetschow said. The council last approved a rate increase in 2015.

“We want to provide the best solution that is both fiscally responsible and politically palatable,” Guetschow said. 

Streets are another big concern for community members, and the adopted budget includes more than $1 million for reconstruction and rehabilitation projects. However, Guetschow said the city needs to look at creative ways to generate revenue to tackle the city’s poor streets, which is an estimated $50-to-$75 million problem.

“We can’t cut our way to get these streets done,” said City of Charlotte Mayor Tim Lewis. “We’re not growing at a rate where growth is going to be the answer in terms of streets. We’re going to take a really serious look at what the options are. Just saying ‘if you cut the budget more we’re going to get ourselves out of this.’ It’s just not going to happen.”

Guetschow said there aren’t many places, if any left to cut.

“There are some areas we do need to and are going to be spending a considerable amount of time on, our costs for pensions and health insurance are higher than are sustainable in the long run,” Guetschow said. “We have some of those areas, but they’re not going to be enough to fund a truly aggressive street reconstruction program. The dollars just aren’t there.”

Lewis said he is confident in city leadership that solutions will be found.

“We have a combined total of 175 years of experience in all of our departments,” Lewis said. “These are highly professional people, who when sitting down with the budget, it’s very clear to them that the council is very interested in maximizing the tax dollars, and they are in agreement with that.”

The council’s June 24 meeting begins at 7 p.m. in council’s chambers, located on the second floor of City Hall. The 2019-20 budget can be found on the city’s website,



Featured Story

Gardener’s grave blankets bring comfort during cold winter months

The December chill doesn’t quite have the same sting as it once did for Monica Lee, a resident of Battle Creek. Kathy Gardener, an Olivet resident, has made sure of that.

It’s been 12 years since Kathy reached out to Monica unexpectedly with a special gift — one that brings Monica tremendous comfort every December.

Kathy, who started making grave blankets more than 30 years for her daughters who passed as small children, donated a grave blanket to Monica in 2006 after hearing how she had tragically lost her only daughter.

“To think she was thinking about someone else at that time,” Monica recalls. “Kathy is a beautiful woman. My baby is warm every year. It gives me a warm feeling.”

Monica has ordered a grave blanket for her daughter ever since, and has added a grave blanket for her mother as well. Monica said it brings her great comfort to know her daughter, who died on Dec. 2, is warmed by the blanket throughout the cold months.

Kathy said she identified with Monica’s story after hearing about it on the news and knew she needed to reach out to her. 

“I’ve been there, losing someone close to you,” Kathy said. 

She started making grave blankets after losing two daughter 35 years ago. Her daughters passed in October and she said she recalls thinking about how they were going to be cold all winter. That’s when she first learned about grave blankets, and the concept brought a feeling of comfort for her daughters. It’s a feeling she said people often convey to her about her creations.

“I hear a lot that blankets are a comfort,” Kathy said. “Our loved ones aren’t with us physically, but they are always in our hearts. The blankets provide a comfort to us and color to the cemetery.”

Kathy donates at least one grave blanket each year, often to a family like Monica’s. 

“It changed my life losing my girls,” Kathy said. “This is a legacy I can carry on through my daughters.”

The blankets are made from fresh pine branches and weigh 25-30 pounds. They are anchored in the ground before it freezes. Kathy said she is very particular about the colors she adds through flowers and bows. Each takes about an hour to create. She said she cuts down about 11 big trees from a local tree farm each year.

To order a grave blanket for your loved one, call Kathy at (269) 274-3266.

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Featured Story

Bronco basketball teams look to cap off perfect regular seasons

The road to perfect regular seasons for both the Bellevue boys and girls varsity basketball teams could go through Athens. 

The Bronco boys were 18-0 heading into its toughest remaining regular season test, a Friday, Feb. 22 showdown at Athens High School. Bellevue defeated Athens, which was undefeated at the time, earlier this season, 68-62 in Bellevue. The game could be much more difficult in a hostile environment.

The Lady Broncos, meanwhile, host Athens on Tuesday, Feb. 26. Bellevue defeated Athens on the road in their tightest contest of the season, 37-36. The girls were 16-0 heading into their game at Climax on Thursday, Feb. 21. Bellevue defeated Climax 49-15 at home earlier this season.

In their most recent action, Bellevue guards Wyatt Waterbury and Gino Costello led the Broncos to a 60-73 win over Climax, securing a third-straight SCAA West Division title. Waterbury paced the Broncos with 20 points, 6 steals and 4 assists. Costello added 14 points, and 4 assists. Carson Betz recorded a double-double, finishing with 10 points, 14 rebounds and 5 steals.

The team travels to Jackson Christian High School on Monday, Feb. 25 to open District play against Tekonsha.

In the girls most recent victory, Morgan Messenger led the way with 13 points as Bellevue defeated Waldron, 33-30. Mikayla Crawley finished with 10 points, 3 steals and 2 assists. 

The Lady Broncos host Colon on Saturday, Feb. 23, and finish off the regular season with home games against Athens on Tuesday, Feb. 26 and Tekonsha on Thursday, Feb. 28.

The team opens District play at Athens High School on Monday, March 4 against Battle Creek St. Philip.

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Eaton County

Eaton County

Featured Story

Charlotte author shows the faces of resilience in new book Struggle & Strength

Great stories have their way of finding Sharon Kennedy. It helps, of course, to have a friendly, and inquisitive nature, of which Kennedy certainly possesses. 

But more than that, Kennedy has a genuine fascination for those around her, a yearning to celebrate what makes people unique, and the ability to find that thread that connects us all. Kennedy does just that in her latest book, Struggle & Strength, Eight Ordinary Women with Lives Most Unusual. She will share some of her book at a special engagement at AL!VE in Charlotte on Friday, June 21 at 8:30 a.m.

“The entire book is about resilience and what these eight women overcame,” Kennedy said. “After I completed my interviews and research, I looked at definite themes that arose, resilience, and being rooted in place and values.”

One woman’s story hits close to home for readers in Eaton County. It’s the remarkable story of Gladys “Rusty” Deland of Bellevue. Kennedy met Deland a few years back while both were working out at AL!VE.

“I looked over and there was this 95-year-old woman sitting at the leg press, using the same weight I was using,” Kennedy recalls. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Deland’s story, however, goes much deeper than her active lifestyle. It delves into a difficult start as a single mother and how she was able to pick herself up through hard work.

“Her longevity has nothing to do with having an easy life,” Kennedy said. “Her early stories can be hard to read. But, she picked herself up. Her story, overall, is very special.”

Struggle & Strength is broken down into small stories about each of the eight women, how Kennedy came to meet them, their personal stories, and why they were included for the book.

Kennedy will participate in a second community engagement in July at the Charlotte Community Library. She will speak about her book and possible upcoming projects on Wednesday, July 31 at 6:30 p.m.

Kennedy, who moved to the Charlotte community six years ago and has since split time between Charlotte and Tuscon, Ariz., said her next project will be a personal essay about the Charlotte community. She will take a look at the community’s history, and a couple of events she feels makes the community unique.

“I’ve always loved learning people’s stories,” Kennedy said. “I can look back and realize that I’ve been pretty fortunate in the live I’ve had. It leaves me even more impressed with how the women in these stories overcame hard times.”

Struggle & Strength can be purchased at either upcoming event or on

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Featured Story

JoLei’s Diner opens in downtown Vermontville

Crissta Ames

Contributing Writer

When looking for a delicious place to eat, check out Vermontville’s newest restaurant, JoLei’s Diner. The farm-themed diner, which had its grand opening on Saturday, June 8, serves breakfast and dinner foods like skillets, omelettes, country fried steak, a variety of sandwiches, pizza, and more. If you’re in the mood for chicken and waffles, they’ve got that too! 

The owner, Denna Matonis, managed the Maple Leaf for five years and has been in the Vermontville area for about 10 years. 

“I like this community. I try to help out with the community as much as I can, with the schools, volunteer coaching, doing Vermontville days,” Matonis said. “The community needed a restaurant.” 

Matonis has been asked many times if she is JoLei, but she is not. However, the name of her restaurant has a very personal meaning. 

“When we decided to purchase the restaurant, we obviously had to come up with a name.  I wanted a name that differentiated the restaurant from anything it was in the past. I wanted a name that was personal and had meaning,” Matonis said. “I have two wonderful children. Joseph is 9 and Leigha is 7.  These two are my world. Therefore, I decided to name my new labor of love, after my forever loves. ‘Jo’ for Joseph, and ‘Lei’ for Leigha.” 

She also chose the word “Diner” to give the restaurant a cozy, small-town feel and absolutely succeeds in doing so, with warm red walls, fresh flowers, and cute animal decor all around. 

“I get a lot of compliments on my decor, and I have the barn door to stand out,” said Matonis. The front barn door follows right along with the farmhouse theme so visitors can spot it from the road and know that’s where JoLei’s Diner is.

While brainstorming for the diner’s menu, Matonis wanted to create foods that were unique and not easy to find in the area, like cheese curds, chicken and waffles, and tater tot tumblers. Tater tot tumblers are a mixture of mashed potatoes, hash browns, bacon, cheese and onion, all deep-fried together. 

“We tested a lot of things.” Matonis said. The diner opened shortly before Syrup Festival and that served as a little trial run for the business, and it’s done well in the meantime. “I’m happy with it. It’s been a fun venture.” 

JoLei’s Diner is located at 174 S. Main Street in Vermontville, and hours can be found on their Facebook page.

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Featured Story

Gospel Fest brings main stage to Lake Alliance June 7-9

Clint Dickerson can see the pros and cons of moving the 3rd Annual Potterville Gospel Fest entirely to Lake Alliance Park in Potterville. Excitingly, the move will allow for the headlining acts to rock the main stage Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Dickerson said he is excited for this year’s lineup, which will feature acoustic acts in the “Lounge,” located in the pavilion, throughout the day, followed by performances on the main stage each day.

“We try to book acts that are uplifting, and family-oriented,” Dickerson said. “Not everything is Christian. We have some classic rock in addition to a few southern gospel groups.”

The main stage kicks off Friday, June 7 at 7 p.m. with Chainbreakers, followed by Ransomed, and closing with the headlining act, Chosen. Saturday night’s main stage lineup leads off with Matt Moore at 7 p.m., followed by family-friendly comedian Will McDaniel, and closed out with Sweet Crystal. Music hits the main stage on Sunday, June 9 at 2 p.m. with the Jacob David Band, and closes out with Verosity.

Guests can enjoy all of the musical performances free of charge, Dickerson said. 

“I said when putting this on that I’d never campaign for money,” he said. “We’ve been blessed. The bands come and play for free, all of the workers are volunteers, and a lot of people pitch in where they can.”

The fair and pony rides are two things that aren’t offered free, though Dickerson said he went with a different company to provide the fair rides this year, and the price for a wristband has gone down from $20 in the past to $14 this year. 

“The petting zoo is completely free,” Dickerson said. “We try to keep as much free as possible.”

There will be market and food vendors on site throughout the weekend in addition to all of the musical entertainment. 

Also new this year is a cornhole tournament being put on by New Hope Community Church of Charlotte. The tournament takes place on Saturday, June 8 at noon. Pre-registration can be done online at

For more information, find Potterville Gospel Fest on Facebook.

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Eaton Rapids

Eaton Rapids

Featured Story

‘Taco Truck’ to settle down on Main Street

Las Flores, more commonly known as “The Taco Truck” to area Mexican food fans, is moving into a permanent, brick and mortar building on the main corner in downtown Eaton Rapids. The restaurant will go into the space formerly occupied by Madres and the Evelyn Bay coffee shop on the corner of Hamlin and Main Street.

Ady Pintor, who owns and operates the food truck along with her husband Miguel, said they expect to move into the new spot by the end of the month.

“We wanted to move for our customers,” Pintor said. “We wanted them to have a place to sit while they waited (for carry outs) and a place to sit down while they eat. We didn’t want them to have to wait in the rain and snow.”

Having a permanent building, rather than a truck, will also allow them to stay open year-round.

Pintor said both she and Miguel are very fond of their customers.

“Most of them feel like family,” she said. “We know a lot about each other – they care about us and we care about them.

“We really love this community and our customers. It’s what keeps us going. We are grateful for everyone’s support over the years.”

The Las Flores food truck has been serving up delicious Mexican food in Eaton Rapids for the past three years. For the first two years, they were on Main Street. Then they moved to their current spot in the parking lot next to the canoe livery, behind the old fire station.

The Pintors excel at traditional Mexican staples – including tacos, burritos and tamales. Ady Pintor said customer favorites include the tamales and their “taco special.” The special includes three tacos, rice and beans.

The new location will offer both carry out and sit-down dining.

“We are planning on adding some dishes and having a little bigger menu,” she said. “But we are going to continue to keep things simple.”

Las Flores, which means “the flowers” in Spanish, will continue to be open Monday through Saturday. They are always closed on Sunday. Once they move into the new location at 203 S. Main Street, winter business hours are tentatively set for 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The phone number is (517) 803-1799.






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Beloved Dimondale restaurant to reopen

With a sigh of relief and a round of applause, residents of Dimondale, and the surrounding areas, celebrated at Mike’s Village Restaurant Wednesday, June 27 as Lori Conarton announced she’d be reopening the Dimondale favorite....

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