City Council Meeting Recap: Assistant Manager Looks at Manager Position in Douglas, City Seeks Eminent Domain, LL&P Budget, Proposed Income Tax Update

Prior to the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, a joint closed session meeting was held between council and the Lowell Light & Power (LL&P) Board.  The City Council meeting on Monday evening lasted just under 45 minutes. During this time a number of topics were touched upon. A significant portion of the meeting consisted of City Manager Mike Burns updating member of council on progress toward having a City income tax placed on the ballot.
Eminent Domain on Portion of Unity Development Property

A closed session meeting was held between City Council and the LL&P Board prior to the regularly scheduled council meeting.  Upon coming out of closed session, council will move forward on an “acquisition of easement rights by condemnation for electric utility and communication purposes at 238 High Street” according to the YouTube video of the open session portion of the meeting.  This address is owned by Todd Schaal and Jerry Zandstra, who have shown interest in developing the old high school, which has been placed on hold after an agreement on a land swap could not be met.  It is unclear as to whether or not the developers will continue with the project.

The the grassy area located south of High Street next to Englehardt Library in question became a source of contention after talks halted on the Unity development.  The developers sent a bill in excess of $1.5 million due to power and cable lines which run through a portion of this property, claiming an easement was never in place for the lines.  This invoice has set untouched.

The portion of the parcel located at 238 High Street is a strip of land, not the entire piece of property, where electric and cable lines are buried along the north border.  The City of Lowell has sent a good faith offering for this strip of land in the amount of $60,000 based on a current appraisal.  The developers will have 21 days to accept the offer or reject it. Should the latter occur, a complaint will be issued with Kent County and the City will proceed with taking the land by way of condemnation through eminent domain.  “We believe this process is needed for the best interest of the City.” says City Manager Mike Burns. As this is a developing story, Lowell’s First Look will continue to provide updates.

Plan for City Income Tax Moves Forward

With City Council directing City Manager Mike Burns to move forward with a City income tax up for vote in November, an update was provided.  Burns began by providing information about what money Lowell would potentially see if the proposed gas tax at the state level is passed. Unsure of how the model was determined, Burns indicated Lowell would receive approximately $9,000 the first year after implementation and around $22,000 the following year.  Cities on the east side of the state with similar population and local roads to maintain are set to receive between $200,000 and $400,000. Burns indicated he has contacted Representative Thomas Albert and Michigan State Senator Winnie Brinks to question the reasoning behind projected payments.

Burns anticipates bringing an ordinance to council on June 3 which would allow the city income tax to be placed on the ballot.  This information would also be mailed to the State of Michigan for review and approval. The Attorney General must approve the language.  The Governor also has the ability to approve or disapprove, however City Council can overrule a disapproval with their vote. The State will have 30 days to respond once the city income tax information is received.

It is anticipated that a resolution would come before council on July 15 for an official vote for the issue to be placed on the November ballot.  This resolution would also go to the Kent County Clerk for approval of language and placement on the ballot. August 13 is the deadline to have all information filed with the county in order for the Lowell City Income Tax to appear on the ballot.  

Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard has also been working with Williams & Works to devise a street plan with projected revenues from the new tax.  Should the initiative pass, a list of projects by priority will be in place so work can begin as soon as possible. Burns indicated projects would focus on areas of higher volumes of traffic first.  He also emphasized that without additional revenue from a city tax major cuts in services and departments would be necessary to fund street projects.

LL&P Projected Budget for Fiscal Year 2020

Lowell Light & Power (LL&P) General Manager Steve Donkersloot attended the Monday evening meeting to provide an overview of his budget.  The LL&P Board will review this budget on Thursday, making any necessary changes, and then it will come back before City Council for final approval at a later date.  

Donkersloot said he and his staff reviewed each line item in the budget, which numbers over 100, and determines if items are still needed, can be reduced, or will need to be increased based on the past three years.  Expenses are calculated based on upcoming needs and past expenditures.

Revenue is based on LL&P staff knowing their customers and what is trending in power supply.  They factor into expected revenue things like new business development or expansions.

It is anticipated that LL&P will have a $1.4 million capital budget.  Over $1 million of this will be spent on projects. In the upcoming fiscal year a new circuit will be placed under the Grand River south of Lowell.  Overhead lines will also be converted to underground, which will also result in voltage upgrades. This work should start in early June. Some debts held by the utility will also be paid off and safety improvements will be made at the warehouse.  

A .73% rate adjustment is in the budget, to be implemented in January 2020.  Even with this slight increase, rates for LL&P customers remain 25% cheaper overall compared to Consumers Energy.

Other Items of Business

An update from Brian Vilmont of Prein&Newhof was provided on the progress of the S. Broadway project.  The remaining street and curbs should be in place soon as King Milling is finishing up their projects. The rainy weather has been a factor hampering the final steps to completion.  He also indicated water service is now available, with a new meter, to the ball field at Recreation Park.

The Lowell Rotary Club is renewing their lease with the City.  They will sign a three-year term in which they will pay $75/week, to be paid on a quarterly basis, for the use of Council Chambers for their weekly meetings.  

There are Showboat items which did not sell at the Denim and Diamonds Auction the end of April.  Between 75-100 pieces are still available. Councilmember Marty Chambers has offered to put the inventory into his system at Red Barn Consignments & Antiques.  He will track what is sold and all sales will go back to the City to be used for the new Showboat.

A public hearing was set for the next City Council meeting to review the budget.  

City Manager Report

During the City Manager Report, Mike Burns announced that Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard has sent a tentative end date for working with the City of Lowell for June 7.  While a contract has not been signed, it is anticipated that LaBombard will take a Manager position in Douglas, Michigan. Additionally, the Department of Public Works (DPW) has one employee out on injury leave and a candidate declining a position they anticipated filling.  Although there are some holes to fill in the department, it’s not anticipated that residents will see any impact. In other DPW news, the water treatment plant recently received the honor of being the Central Region Best Tasting Water by American Waterworks.

Meeting Information

City Council will meet again on Monday, May 21 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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