Monday’s open session portion of the meeting lasted 40 minutes before City Council went into closed session to discuss labor negotiations. A variety of topics were on the agenda, all of which were relatively easy to discuss, ending in taking action on four items.
Cascade Township Severs Relationship with City
For at least two months, the use of Cascade Township, contracted to provide inspection services, has been a topic for discussion. During a Committee of the Whole meeting on April 17, the company was available to answer questions about their services. At the last City Council meeting, a contract with Cascade Township was brought up for vote and was not carried through due to a split vote with Councilmember Phillips absent. Three of the four Councilmembers voted to direct City Manager Mike Burns to request proposals from three companies interested in providing inspection services, with Mike DeVore being the lone dissenting vote. In the two weeks since the last meeting, Cascade Inspection has informed the City they no longer wish to do business with them, indicating if a replacement can be found prior to the conclusion of their current contract, ending June 30, 2018, that is preferred.
During Monday’s City Council meeting, a contract between the City of Lowell and PCI was established. The year-long relationship will enable Lowell to work with PCI without any strings attached and decide if a long-term relationship can be established.
Kirk Scharphorn, Sr. President of PCI was on hand to answer questions. “I want to be part of your community.” he said, indicating his involvement sponsoring sports teams and fireworks in other communities with which he works. “We want to explain why and the best way to fix it.” he continued when referencing how PCI works with businesses and residents to fix issues hampering inspection approval.
Some permits will cost more compared to Cascade Township, while others will cost less. One significant change is all permits will be filtered through City Hall rather than going directly to the company providing the inspection services. Additionally, the City will no longer get a percentage of each permit fee collected. But the dollars lost to the city are “minimal” according to Mike Burns, stating he can provide a number but estimated it would be 10-12k lost to the City through the percentage of fees received in the past.
Mayor Pro Tem Greg Canfield indicated he has worked with this company in the past and believes they will do a good job. Mayor DeVore indicated he liked what they had to offer. City Council passed establishing a contract with PCI for the next year with a review at six and nine months to ensure the services provided are meeting expectations. Cascade Township did not respond to our contact with them by the time of publication.
Other Agenda Items
Following items brought before City Council were employee healthcare, PROTEC, and an Michigan Municipal League Defense Fund for the city of Escanaba.
City employees will now have a high deductible, HSA plan through Priority Health. The City will pay 100% of the premium while the employee will pay a $1,400 annual deductible for a single person or $2,800 for two or more people. “I have not had any complaints.” commented City Manager Mike Burns of the new policy similar to what other municipalities and businesses have been moving to in recent years as a means to deal with rising healthcare costs. “It’s customer driven.” Members of the union are also okay with the new plan according to Burns.
CIty Council members voted to spend $472.88 to become part of PROTEC, a Michigan coalition to protect public rights-of-way. Approximately 75-80 communities are part of this group.
Additionally, it was voted that $500 should be given to a Michigan Municipal League Defense Fund to benefit Escanaba. This fund will help with legal costs the city is paying to fight the correct assessment of big box stores. Significantly lower values for properties where big stores have come and gone are driving down the value of other property in the area. About 34 municipalities are involved in helping Escanaba. “This is more of a fight for municipalities.” said Burns. Mayor Mike DeVore suggested the $500 amount saying, “You’re sending a message.” Meaning those who stand with Escanaba are showing they will not back down to big companies looking to bring down property assessments.
City Manager Report
City Manager Mike Burns merely noted in his report that Hudson Street construction would start soon. As long as the weather cooperates, work on Hudson south of Main Street will begin on June 11. There is currently a sign indicating the start of this work, including notice of the road being closed for two days – June 11 and 12. Traffic will be diverted to Jackson. A four-way stop will be put up at Jackson and Main Street during this time. The second portion of the project will take approximately three days to complete. Hudson Street north of Main Street to the city boundary will remain open during construction, but lane shifts will take place throughout this time.
It is anticipated the top coat will be put on N. Broadway by the end of this week. An update for the project is expected to happen today (Tuesday).
The next City Council meeting will take place in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall on Monday, June 18 at 7pm. Meeting minutes and agendas can be found on the city’s website. And meetings can be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel. Or check in with Lowell’s First Look after each meeting for a recap of what happened.
You can also listen to meetings live at WRWW the, Lowell High School’s radio station. Tune in at 92.3.