City Council Highlights: Income Tax Documentation Passed, Money Sought for Monroe Street, Various Updates

Monday’s Lowell City Council meeting was just under an hour.  A wide range of items were on the agenda. Most were updates on items, with the longest discussion surrounding the upcoming city income tax being placed on the November ballot.  

Prior to the regularly scheduled meeting, the Planning Commission and City Council held a joint meeting to discuss the S. Broadway Project and restoration along with King Milling’s work in the area.  

Planning Commission and City Council Joint Meeting

Stemming from discussion at the last City Council meeting about whether the city or King Milling should pay for a swath of land to be paved in the city’s right of way, a joint meeting between the two boards was held to discuss the project.  

Two main items were discussed.  The first was whether a King Milling sign would be allowed to be placed in the right of way.  The sign would indicate that buildings in the area belong to King Milling. It would also provide a visual to indicate through traffic is not permitted down Broadway and must turn west onto Ottawa toward Hudson.  There has been some contention surrounding this area of Broadway as it remains a city owned road, however only trucks going to and from King Milling are the primary vehicles to traverse this section. There is no longer an outlet to Main Street from Broadway for vehicular traffic, although pedestrians are still able to walk from Recreation Park to Main Street along this path.  It was determined that the sign would not be permitted in the right of way because King Milling has enough space to erect a sign within City code.

The second item was who would pay for restoring a section of city right of way and more importantly how it would be restored.  Typically the right of way is kept as a grassy area. In the event the City needs to access power lines, sewer, or any other underground infrastructure land in any right of way can be torn up.  King Milling wishes this right of way area to be paved while the City would like the area to be grass, which is cheaper. The issue wasn’t resolved, however through consensus, both boards indicated the wish to use grass rather than asphalt in the area.  Although if some sort of meeting in the middle is needed, the possibility of the City contributing a portion of the cost to pave the area was also discussed. The City will go back to King Milling for further discussion on the topic.

Proposed Income Tax Information Approved

Four members of City Council approved passing of one ordinance and two resolutions which will put the city income tax initiative on the November ballot.  The ordinance will allow the city to charge a 1% tax to city residents and a .5% tax to non-residents who work in the city. Mayor Mike DeVore was not at the meeting, although he has been a proponent of the tax as it has been discussed in prior meetings.  

Two resolutions were also passed, however they will not take effect unless the income tax is adopted by voters in the fall.  The first resolution permits the levy of an income tax beginning January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2035. This resolution will head to the Michigan Governor and Attorney General for approval.  Once approved, the city has until August 13 to contact Kent County regarding placing the income tax questions on the ballot. The second resolution rolls back property taxes beginning in 2021.

Money collected via city income tax will first be used to offset the property tax reduction so that the general fund balance remains intact.  The remaining funds will be used for local street repair and maintenance. An additional resolution is set to come before council at a later date which will indicate the current council’s resolve to use these funds on streets and nothing else so that future members of the board will know the intent of the income tax.  

The November ballot will have two questions pertaining to the city income tax.  The first will be accepting of the tax itself and the second will be for rolling back property taxes.  Both need to pass in order to move forward – if rolling back property taxes passes but the income tax does not, nothing will change.  If the city income tax passes, after 15 years voters will be able to again decide to continue the tax or go back to increased property taxes without an income tax.  Because it will take a year for the city to see income tax revenue, should the income tax pass, for one year, residents would have to pay the new tax as well as higher property tax rates. The city’s website has a frequently asked questions page about the income tax.  The ordinance and two resolutions which were adopted at the meeting can be viewed starting on page 23 of the City Council agenda packet.

Other Items on the Agenda

A number of items on the agenda did not require much conversation, with some of them being more of an update.

  • BLDI continues to work on the contamination of ground water at the Ware Road Landfill.  While efforts to determine the scope of the issue are moving forward, no information has been determined at this time as far as the severity and cost to alleviate the problem.  
  • After sent a Good Faith Offer to the attorney for the Unity School Project on Friday, May 10, there has been some communication but no response.  Because 21 days has passed, litigation will be filed with the 17th Circuit Court sometime this week to seek condemnation by eminent domain on a strip of on the portion of 238 High Street where underground lines exist.  Plans for the 219 High Street parcel continue to move forward according to the developers.  
  • Through a Michigan Department of Transportation Small Urban Project, the city is seeking funding in order to replace Monroe Street.  The maximum amount available is $375,000 but the entire project would come in at an estimated $750,000. Funds would not be available until 2022.  A letter of commitment for the city to come up with the remaining cost ($420,000) needs to be submitted to the state. City Manager Mike Burns indicated that there is currently about $300,000 in the street fund and there would be more in three years when the money would become available from the state.
  • The Foreman building, where the Department of Public Works (DPW) stores equipment, was damaged during storms in April.  Through an insurance claim, the roof and facia of the building will be replaced.
Rich LaBombard attends his last City Council meeting.

City Manager Report

City Manager Mike Burns thanked Rich LaBombard for his time and service in Lowell as this is his last week working for the City.  He will being a new position as the City Manager of the Village of the City of Douglas on Monday, June 10. After the deadline for resume submission comes, it is anticipated that four candidates will be interviewed.  Burns says he hopes to fill the position by the end of the month. Until then, he will be working half of his time at City Hall and the other half overseeing DPW.

Other brief items mentioned were the DPW building as well as City Hall was recently equipped with key cards and results from the Recreation Park Design Day will be shared with the committee involved with the project next week.  

Meeting Information

City Council will meet again on Monday, June 17 at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.  Meeting agendas, packets, and recordings can be found on the Lowell City website.  Or check in with Lowell’s First Look for recaps following each meeting.

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