City Council Recap: $7.35 Million Road and Sewer Project Planned

Lowell City Council met for 97 minutes last night to discuss a long list of agenda items. These included a new patrol vehicle for the Lowell Police Department, an extension of the Kent County Youth Fair contract to use Recreation Park and a multi-million dollar road and sewer project for the east side of town.

All councilmembers were present for the meeting which was held in-person as well as on the Zoom videoconferencing platform. All councilmembers were present at City Hall with the exception of Councilmember Leah Groves who joined via Zoom from Logan, Ohio.

Citizen Comments: Marijuana Businesses and Address Change

At the start of the meeting, Lowell City Council heard citizen comments from two people.

Perry Beachum thanked the council for resuming its Coffee with Council meetings on the first Saturday of the month. He also noted he was in favor of marijuana businesses being established in town. While he does not use marijuana, he applauded the council for allowing its sale within the city. “It’s filling spots on Main Street and providing revenue,” he said.

Then, City Clerk Sue Ullery read into the record a letter from Todd Schaal, owner of the RiverView Flats condominium development. Apparently, the city changed the address of the condominiums from High Street to King Street, and this is causing difficulties for both current and potential residents. Mayor Mike DeVore noted the city assessor would be at the next city council meeting to explain the reason for the change.

COVID-19 Updates

In his COVID-19 update, City Manager Mike Burns said City Hall is scheduled to reopen to the public on May 3. That will allow all staff who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine time to receive both doses of the immunization prior to reopening. “If everyone gets it ahead of time, we’ll open ahead of time,” Burns said.

Kent County declared a state of emergency through early June which will allow council meetings to continue in a hybrid format with the option to log-in via Zoom. Up to 38 people can attend meetings in person and still meet capacity and social distancing requirements.

The state’s moratorium on water shut-offs has ended, and the city will return to its normal shut-off procedures in May. Currently, 10 accounts would be shut off if not paid before then.

Showboat Restroom Update

Previously, councilmembers had been told bids for restrooms on the Riverwalk came in much higher than expected. As a result, Burns said he asked the two companies that bid on the project to see how much it would cost to build two bathrooms right now in a way that could be expended in the future.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel asked if the city would entertain new bids from other companies. Burns said the council could do what it wanted, but everyone had an opportunity to bid the first time. He wasn’t sure it was fair to reopen bids at this point. Salzwedel disagreed, saying that if the project scope had changed, it might make sense to take other bids.

No other councilmember had a comment on the matter.

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Monroe and Washington Street Repairs

The next agenda items pertained to major repairs scheduled for Monroe and Washington Streets. The total project has an estimated price tag of $7.353 million.

The city is planning to apply for a loan through the USDA which will allow for payments over a 40-year period. When asked after the meeting about the cost of annual loan payments, Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki said that hadn’t been calculated yet. However, he believed the loan would have an interest rate of around 2%,

If approved, work on Monroe Street would take place during 2022. The road would be entirely reconstructed and all sanitary sewer pipe from Avery to Fremont Streets would be replaced. The cost of the project is estimated at $3.841 million.

In 2023, similar work would be completed on Washington Street. That project would also include paving the one block sections of Sherman, Grant, North and High Streets that run between Monroe and Washington Streets. The total cost of this project is estimated at $3.512 million.

“Just to be sure,” Salzwedel said, “this is the only way we can get this done?”

“We could significantly raise water and sewer rates,” Burns replied. “You’re looking at [an increase of] 100%.” He added that the loan program has a very low interest rate, making it a relatively cheap way to get the work done with limited impact to ratepayers. It will also improve a significant portion of the city’s street system.

Councilmember Cliff Yankovich added that the sewer updates will eliminate storm water inflow to the wastewater treatment plant and save money by reducing the amount of water being treated there.

After receiving the update about the project, the council unanimously approved the design work for the project at a cost of $190,000. That expense can be paid for out of the loan proceeds.

City Attorney Jessica Wood said the next step would be to publish a notice of intent in the local newspaper. This notice doesn’t obligate the city to take out the loan or issue bonds, but it starts the clock on a 45-day period in which residents can collect petitions for a referendum on the matter. Lowell City Council is expected to approve the notice of intent at its next meeting, according to Wood’s comments.

Sunday Marijuana Sales

Adult use marijuana retailer Lume requested a change to their Sunday operating hours which are currently set for 10am-6pm. While Lowell’s adult use marijuana ordinance lists business hours as 7am-9pm each day, the Planning Commission set a condition on the Lume permit that Sunday hours be 10am-6pm. Apparently, it is the only adult use marijuana business with this condition included in its permit.

“We looked at that pretty long and hard,” said Councilmember Marty Chambers, who also sits on the Planning Commission. He noted that the store is near a number of residences, and the hours were selected with those neighbors in mind.

DeVore initially stated that he was inclined to go with whatever the Planning Commission had decided. Salzwedel and Yankovich said they had no problem extending the Sunday hours for Lume to 9pm, and Groves said she lived near the store and didn’t have a problem extending the hours either. DeVore then said he misunderstood that the ordinance language stated 7am-9pm and that only Lume had the reduced hours on Sunday. He stated he believed all businesses should be treated equally.

The Planning Commission approved the permit with the condition of the Sunday hours. It is unclear whether the matter will now go back to the commission for discussion and a vote or if the commission will be bypassed and a change made to the permit administratively.

New Police Vehicle and Laptops

Lowell City Council unanimously approved the purchase of a new patrol vehicle for the police department and new laptops for all patrol vehicles.

The vehicle being replaced is seven years old and has approximately 91,000 miles on it. Police Chief Chris Hurst noted the department usually rotates out vehicles at 80,000 miles, and the department will need to replace one vehicle each year for the next four years.

The new vehicle will be a hybrid SUV that should get 23 miles per gallon compared to the 12 miles per gallon that the current vehicles average. The cost for the vehicle is $50,938, and while the city currently has $200,000 extra in its budget for this year, Burns said for accounting purposes, he would rather pay for the vehicle after July 1 when the new fiscal year starts.

With the city slated to receive approximately $411,000 in stimulus money from the federal government, there was some talk about buying all four new police vehicles now. This federal stimulus money comes with the restriction that it cannot be used for road work or to fund the city’s pension liability. However, Hurst noted that if all four vehicles were bought at the same time, they would need to be replaced at the same time, something that could be difficult in future budgets.

In addition to approving the purchase of the vehicle, council approved new vehicle laptops at a cost of $13,678. The current laptops were obtained five years ago as refurbished equipment from Rockford. They are running Windows 7 and can no longer be updated. The cost of the computers will be paid out of the department’s salvage fund so no taxpayer dollars will be used for the purchase.

Other Agenda Items and Meeting Notes

Other items discussed during the meeting included the following:

  • Edward Woods III provided a presentation about the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission which was created by a ballot proposal. The commission will hold 16 hearings across the state, including one on July 1st in Grand Rapids, in advance of redrawing state and Congressional legislative districts for the 2022 election cycle.
  • Approval was granted for the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce to hold their annual fireworks display on July 10, 2021 in conjunction with the Riverwalk Festival.
  • The resurfacing project for Jane Ellen Street was awarded to CL Trucking from Ionia at a cost of $236,036. The company was the low bidder, and their estimate is approximately $100,000 less than the expected project cost. CL Trucking has satisfactorily completed numerous other projects for the city.
  • New metal roofing was approved for a Shephard Drive pump station at a cost of $10,600. The work will be completed by Risner’s Roofing and Home Improvement.
  • Wood provided the council with a brief overview of the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act.
  • The council approved the use of Laurie Spencer as an assessor in the event of non-compliance in an audit. This would be a rare situation, and Burns said he didn’t think the city would ever have need of her services. However, state law requires the city identify an assessor for use under these circumstances. There is no cost to retain Spencer for these services.
  • An agreement with the Kent County Youth Fair was approved which will allow the fair to continue to use Recreation Park until December 2023. The fair believes its last fair in the City of Lowell will be in 2022, but it will need the additional year to remove its barns and other equipment to the new fairgrounds in Lowell Charter Township.
  • During his manager’s report, Burns shared that the Michigan Department of Treasury reports marijuana tax revenue per facility is expected to be lower next year given the increased number of businesses statewide and the dropping price of marijuana. For 2020, the City of Lowell received $28,000 and that money was placed in the local streets fund.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be at 7pm on Monday, April 19, 2021.

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