During a one-hour meeting last night, the Lowell City Council took action on four issues and tabled a fifth matter for future consideration. The agenda for the regular meeting covered road work, a water trail and a shortened work week among other things.
Road Work, Traffic Signal Ok’d for Hudson Street
The first two items of business concerned Hudson Street. First, the council approved spending up to $151,000 to mill and overlay Hudson Street from the Grand River Bridge to the northern city line.
City Manager Mike Burns noted he had been working with the Kent County Road Commission for the past six months to iron out the details. In 1988, the Michigan Department of Transportation vacated Hudson Street which was then part of M-91. At the time, the City of Lowell and the Kent County Road Commission entered into an agreement to share costs of maintaining the street.
The total cost of milling and repaving Hudson Street is expected to be $302,000 with the two bodies splitting that cost. The Kent County Road Commission is responsible for any engineering expenses. Work is expected to begin in mid-May and be completed prior to July. Burns had asked if the project could be pushed back so it wouldn’t run concurrently with the South Broadway reconstruction, but there are cost-savings to starting earlier.
“In this particular project, we see an advantage if we can bid early and offer some flexibility to contractors,” said Wayne Harrall, who was on-hand to represent the road commission.
City Council unanimously agreed to the project. The money will come from the Major Street Fund.
The council also unanimously agreed to spend $60,000 to place a traffic signal at the intersection of Bowes Road and Hudson Street. The total price of the project is expected to be no more than $120,000 with the county splitting the cost.
The city portion of the project will be paid out of a $3.2 million bond that was issued in 2017. At a previous meeting, it was stated that the light was intended to facilitate truck traffic into and out of King Milling and keep those vehicles off Main Street. The light should be installed this summer.
Efforts Underway to Designate a Water Trail
After taking action on the road projects, City Council heard a presentation from Natalie Henley of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. The non-profit is working to designate the Grand River, from Lansing to the lakeshore, as a national water trail.
“It’s very similar to a hiking or biking trail, but this is on the water,” Henley explained. While the city isn’t being asked to contribute any money toward the project, it was hoped that the community would be open to adding amenities, such as restrooms, signage and an emergency phone, at the Grand River access point in Recreation Park.
Perry Beachum, a member of Lowell Parks and Recreation Commission, noted that group is supportive of WMEAC’s work to designate the water trail. “We were encouraged with what they are doing,” he said. “It’s something Lowell should embrace.”
The City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Grand River Water Trail project.
Shortened Work Week for City Staff Considered
The final item of new business before the council was a proposal to close City Hall on Friday afternoons during the summer. In a memo to the council on the issue, Burns wrote the new schedule would “promote effective and efficient city services along with improving morale for City workers.” It was unclear whether Burns was approached by city workers about the change or if the proposal was initiated by him.
Currently, City Hall is open from 8am-5pm on Monday through Friday. Staff receives a one hour lunch break each day. Burns recommends moving to a 7:30am-5pm workday on Monday through Thursday with 8am-12pm hours on Friday. Staff would receive a half hour lunch break. On weeks before an election or when there is a holiday, the schedule would revert back to an 8am-5pm schedule. Burns added that the City of Walker has operated on this schedule for many years without issue.
For DPW workers, Burns recommends moving to a schedule of four 10-hour days with Fridays off. This schedule would only be in effect during the late spring, summer and early fall months. During the winter, DPW would work a regular 8am-5pm schedule on Mondays through Fridays.
Steve Donkersloot, general manager of Lowell Light & Power, said he would follow the lead of the city when it comes to any scheduling changes for utility workers.
However, city council members had concerns with the proposal. “Taxes are high, [and] there are no cost savings,” said Councilmember Greg Canfield. “I just hate to start reducing the hours we’re available to our customers.” While Burns said that there was limited traffic and calls to City Hall on Fridays, Canfield noted there were still 20-30 people calling or walking into the hall for assistance on those days.
Councilmember Jeff Phillips asked how many people were needed to staff City Hall. Burns replied that five staff members were regularly in the office, and for security purposes, he’d want at least two people on staff at all times. Phillips suggested creating schedule in which a rotating, reduced staff was used on Friday to allow workers the opportunity to have Fridays off while keeping City Hall open.
Mayor Mike DeVore expressed concern about how often the schedule would need to be adjusted for holidays and election weeks. He worried the changing hours would be confusing. DeVore also asked if Burns had considered staying open late one night of the week to be more accessible for those who work during business hours. The city manager said he had run that by city staff, but the proposal didn’t garner much enthusiasm.
City Council tabled the issue for further consideration.
Sidewalk Enforcement to Begin
The final agenda item for last night’s meeting was regarding sidewalk enforcement. The issue had been tabled from the previous meeting to allow for further consideration.
At issue was if and how to begin enforcing the sidewalk ordinance which states residents must keep their sidewalks in safe condition. In years past, the city has been lax in enforcing the ordinance and looked for ways in which to split or share the cost of sidewalk repairs with residents, many of whom are aware that sidewalk maintenance is their responsibility.
Most recently, the City of Lowell received a $27,600 grant from the LCTV Fund in 2016 to create a cost-sharing program to assist residents with sidewalk repairs. However, before that program could be initiated, the city leadership changed. The new city manager and council decided to use the grant money to fix city sidewalks rather than create the anticipated cost-sharing program.
For some city residents, that move was just one example of a series of broken promises. “I’ve been here for 52 years,” said Sibley Street resident Dick Johnson in comments to the council. “They say they’ll fix it, they’ll fix, they’ll fix it and then they run out of money.”
Johnson was concerned that all the city programs to assist with sidewalk repair start on the east side of town where many city leaders live and never last long enough to benefit residents of the west side of town. “Now you’re giving us back the ownership of the sidewalk,” he said. Johnson said it was unfair, particularly for older residents, who have limited financial resources to pay for repairs.
Canfield noted that 20 years ago, he used a city program that allowed him to add the cost of sidewalk repairs to his property taxes and pay off the balance over a 10 year period. He suggested the city could maybe find a similar way to assist residents today. Canfield added that it was unfortunate the way sidewalks were handled in the past, but that “it has always been the responsibility of the resident to maintain the sidewalk.”
City Council voted unanimously to begin ordinance enforcement. Residents will be notified of needed repairs by this summer and have one year to complete the work.
Upcoming City Council Meetings
The next regular meeting of the Lowell City Council will be Monday April 16, 2018 at 7pm in City Hall. Prior to that, there will be a 5:30pm Committee of the Whole to hear an update on rebuilding the Showboat.
Residents can also meet with councilmembers this Saturday for Coffee with Council at the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce Office on the Riverwalk. The informal meet-and-greet will take place from 8-10am.