Kalamazoo Commission OKs Foundation for Excellence memo

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo City Commission took a solidified step Monday toward using roughly $70 million in private donations to help cover city costs, OK’ing a preliminary plan for the proposed Foundation for Excellence.

Only one commissioner voted against approving the Memorandum of Understanding — a document outlining the agreement between donors and the city and each party’s commitment — during a public meeting at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

It was a packed house for the meeting — which also streamed live on the city’s Facebook page — as dozens of community members spoke passionately about why they felt the city needed the money and others expressed major concerns about how the funding would be handled long term.

“I think when you first announced this, I referred to this as Zoloft for the community because we’ve kind of been depressed with all the cuts and along came a possibility of a dream,” Kalamazoo resident Max Tibbetts said.

When the concept of the Foundation for Excellence was introduced in July, many were hopeful it would happen and help those struggling in Kalamazoo.

“All good gifts come from the Lord. And that being said, it brings a great responsibility,” resident Bill Lindsey said.

The $70 million would be donated over three years to endow the foundation, which would in turn help to stabilize the city’s budget, lower property tax rates, and invest in infrastructure and neighborhood improvement projects.

>>PDF: Memorandum of Understanding

But not everyone was convinced the numbers add up.

“I’d like to see the model of how the foundation actually in year four and on does this sustainable model for the city,” said City Commissioner Matt Milcarek, who voted against approving the memo.

Some residents at the meeting said there’s a bigger problem than just the financial details.

“Know that there are trust between you and the founders and the only reason that I’m one of the people from the community is just to let you know there ain’t no trust there,” resident Chris Wahmhoff said.

But Mayor Bobby Hopewell answered that doubt.

“Imagine Kalamazoo has been working differently than any other effort to get community input that we’ve ever had, and has been in every neighborhood,” he said.

Now that the memo has been approved, legal documents will be drafted to create the foundation by end of August 2017. The city will also begin work on the property tax millage, lowering it to 12 mills, and on the 2017 budget.