City Council Recap: Address Change Explained, Park Priorities Reviewed

Lowell City Council met for just more than an hour last night to discuss nine agenda items. These included an explanation of why the address for the RiverView Flats development was changed, a review of Parks and Recreation Commission priorities and the addition of part-time police officers to a collective bargaining agreement.

Mayor Mike DeVore was absent, and the meeting was run by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Salzwedel. All other members were present. The public was able to attend the meeting in person or join via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

Update on Community Center

During the citizen comments portion of the meeting, resident Jake Davenport provided an update from the Community Center Committee, of which he is a member.

The committee was formed in 2019 and conducted a feasibility study last year to determine what amenities the community would like. Davenport noted that the center is not expected to be in competition with the local YMCA, and rather, the committee would like to collaborate with the Y.

He also explained that the center would cost $17-$18 million dollars to build, depending on the amenities offered. However, it was hoped a pool would be part of any plans. While many community centers are funded by special millage assessments, Davenport said the committee would like to be able to build and maintain the center without any increase in taxes. A membership fee would likely be charged to those using the facility to help cover costs.

While Davenport declined to cite any specific locations being considered for the center, Councilmember Marty Chambers said it was his understanding it would need about 20 acres of land. Salzwedel commented that the center would likely need to be located outside the city since there are few parcels that large within the city limits.

Address Change Explained

At the last city council meeting, City Clerk Sue Ullery read into the record a letter from Todd Schaal, co-owner of the RiverView Flats condominium development. He was concerned that the city had changed the address for the development from High Street to King Street.

Last night, city assessor Jeff Rashid joined the meeting via Zoom to explain why the change was made. He showed several drawings provided by the developers which designate the entrance off King Street as the community entrance. What’s more, since High Street was vacated as part of a legal settlement with the developers, the property no longer has frontage on High Street.

“High Street was vacated so High Street doesn’t even exist anymore in that area,” Rashid explained. That means the development needs to have either a Monroe or King Street address since those are the only two streets abutting the property. Since the community entrance is shown on King Street, it made the most sense to assign the development a King Street address, according to Rashid.

This was an informational item on the agenda and no action was taken by the council after the presentation.

LLP Line Shack Approved for Sale

Charlie West, general manager for Lowell Light & Power, came before Lowell City Council last night to get their blessing to place a former line shack building up for sale. The waterfront building, located on Riverside Drive across from the LLP offices, is considered an asset of the utility but it is owned by the city so the council must approve its sale.

Last year, the same building was put up for sale but only received one bid of $76,000. The LLP Board asked Lowell City Council to decline the offer since the board had requested a $100,000 minimum bid be included in the request for proposal (RFP). The utility board also noted the timing of the RFP coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and state shutdown and that may have impacted the number of bids received. Councilmembers disagreed and approved the sale, but it was later discovered that a second notice about the RFP had not been published and the sale could not be legally completed.

At last night’s meeting, West said the building had been appraised for $100,000, and the LLP Board would like to sell it for a minimum of that amount. Chambers asked what would happen when no one bid that much. West said the board was optimistic that with more marketing and a longer bidding time, suitable offers would be received. However, if not, the board will revisit the minimum bid amount.

Lowell City Council approved the line shack being placed out for bid. In a separate agenda item, they also unanimously approved an easement agreement between LLP and a property owner on S. West Street. The agreement will allow the utility to install infrastructure that will be used to serve customers in that area.

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Part-Time Police Officers Added to Collective Bargaining Unit

City Manager Mike Burns presented a proposal to add part-time police officers to the department’s collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police. In a memo addressed to the council, Burns wrote:

One of the issues resulting from the August 29, [2020] shooting involving former police officer Jason Diaz was that we realized our part-time police officers have no criminal defense protection in the event they are involved in an officer involved shooting or any use of force situation.

The August shooting was investigated by Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Diaz has since been charged with a crime. Since he was a full-time police officer, the Fraternal Order of Police’s criminal defense protection fund will pay for his legal fees, which are expected to range from $40,000 to $50,000.

However, part-time officers are not included in the collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police so they are not currently eligible for the group’s criminal defense protection services. The city’s insurance carrier also would not pay for legal defense in a situation like this.

Burns said he discussed the matter extensively with the police chief and was recommending that the council add part-time officers to the collective bargaining agreement. They would be excluded from most benefits given to full-time officers, but part-time officers would receive the following:

  • Court time payments such as those being provided to Diaz.
  • Time and a half pay if working on contractually recognized holidays.
  • Pay increase from $18.60 an hour to $20 an hour. Future increases would be made at the discretion of the police chief.

In return, part-time officers would need to pay dues to the collective bargaining unit. There are currently eight part-time officers in the Lowell Police Department.

Salzwedel asked if the city attorney had reviewed the proposal, and Burns say that was not necessary. Councilmembers then unanimously approved adding part-time officers to the collective bargaining agreement.

Parks and Recreation Commission Update

Paula Mierendorf, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, joined the meeting via Zoom to share an update on the work of the commission. The group has been reviewing the Recreation Master Plan and prioritizing park projects.

Councilmembers were presented a list of suggested updates for each park. These include improved signage across all parks as well as the following park-specific projects, among others:

  • Improve accessibility at Stoney Lakeside Park.
  • Add a boat and canoe launch at Scout Park.
  • Repair the ice rink and/or add a splash pad at Richards Park.
  • Add parking spaces at Creekside Park
  • Place a portable restroom near Riverwalk Park.

Mierendorf noted the commission knew not all projects may be feasible and the council may have different plans. However, she hoped the information would be helpful to the council as it considered park projects. Salwedel added he would like to see more information about parks on the city website, and Mierendorf agreed that would be beneficial as well.

Other Updates and Agenda Items

The following are other updates or agenda items from the Monday meeting:

  • City Hall will reopen to the public next Monday, April 26, 2021. Lowell Light & Power is expected to open their office the week after that.
  • Showboat fundraising is wrapping up, but no final tally was shared during the meeting. Burns has been in contact with Moran Iron Works about some issues with the exterior paint on the boat.
  • A resolution to allow for a major street and sewer project was expected to be before Lowell City Council last night. However, a financial advisor is still running numbers to determine whether it will be better for the city to issue capital improvement bonds or revenue bonds. The resolution is now expected to come before the council at its next meeting.
  • Salzwedel read a proclamation designating the last Friday in April as Arbor Day and encouraging all residents to support efforts to protect trees and woodlands. There are also two openings on the Arbor Board that can be filled by any interested city resident.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be at 7pm on Monday, May 3, 2021.

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