City Council Recap: All About the Money

As is tradition, councilmembers wore ugly sweaters to their last meeting of the year.

Donning their ugliest of sweaters, Lowell City Council met for the final time in 2021 on Monday night. It has been tradition for several years that councilmembers wear ugly Christmas sweaters during the last meeting of December although Councilmember Cliff Yankovich shook things up this year by sporting a tuxedo instead.

All councilmembers were present for the meeting, which ran for 52 minutes. There were no public comments, and the new business for the evening was dominated by budgetary matters – including a review of the city’s annual audit and allocation of an excess fund balance.

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City Ends Year with Extra Money

Peter Haefner, partner with accounting firm Vredeveld Haefner LLC, presented the findings of the city’s annual audit. Before running through the audit findings, he noted that it turned up no significant deficiencies or weaknesses.

The audit showed increases in fund balances for local streets, major streets and the general fund. The city also saw a sizeable increase in the amount invested in capital, and Haefner said this was largely due to the addition of the new Showboat.

Later in the meeting, City Manager Mike Burns shared that the city closed out its fiscal year with an excess of approximately $400,000. This money is a result of a combination of factors including higher than expected tax revenues and federal stimulus funds. Since the city already has a $1 million rainy day fund, Burns recommended allocating the additional money in the following way:

  • $141,683 toward the city’s unfunded pension liabilities with the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan (MERS)
  • $141,683 to the local streets fund for upcoming projects that include Heffron, Roberta Jayne and Faith Streets as well as all the cross streets between Lafayette and Washington Streets.
  • $100,000 set aside for potential testing needs at the Ware Road landfill.
  • $18,098 to install a key card entry system at the fire station.

The key card system – to be installed by Allied Universal – is a request of Fire Chief Shannon Witherell. Yankovich asked whether it was fair for the city to pay that cost itself rather than share it with Lowell and Vergennes Townships. Burns said since the city owned the fire station building, he didn’t have a problem with the city paying for the key card system itself.

Councilmember Marty Chambers said he would like to see more set aside for addressing potential issues at the Ware Road landfill. He worried testing and clean-up there could become expensive. Burns said the firm assisting the city with that matter estimated costs at $105,000, and a representative from the company would be before the council in January to provide further information.

Lowell City Council voted unanimously to accept the city manager’s recommendations for excess funds.

Other Agenda Items

Three other pieces of new business were considered by the council during their meeting:

Water billing assistance: Councilmembers voted unanimously to participate in a Kent County Community Action program to assist low-income households who are in danger of having their water service shut off. The program provides up to $650 in assistance to those who earn less than 150% of the federal poverty limit. As a condition of participating in the program, the city agrees to guarantee water service for 90 days after receipt of payment from KCCA.

Recreation master plan update: The city’s recreation master plan is due for an update, and Lowell City Council voted unanimously to approve payment of up to $10,400 to firm Williams & Works to assist with the development of a new master plan. The process is expected to include both an online survey and focus groups to gather public input.

Gee Drive storage tank improvements: Earlier in the year, the state noted deficiencies with the water facility on Gee Drive. While some issues are already being addressed, the city was informed it needed to take immediate corrective action to install a cover and fine mesh screen on openings at the facility. The work will require some changes to the existing infrastructure, and Lowell City Council unanimously approved a $6,000 expenditure for Williams & Works to complete engineering work for the project.

City Manager’s Report

In his city manager’s report, Burns shared the following:

  • Burns noted charges have been dismissed against former Lowell Police Officer Jason Diaz and said, “We are grateful that the judge saw no merit in the [charges].”
  • The city is looking to move its employee health insurance into a larger pool.
  • A tube at the water treatment plant broke in half, presumably from a rotor failure, and will require an emergency repair that could cost in excess of $30,000. Fortunately, the system was built with a redundancy, and back-up components will keep the water plant running smoothly until repairs can be completed.
  • The Downtown Development Authority will be replacing two electric vehicle charging stations in the city. The new stations will be able to charge two vehicles at once, and there will be a fee for drivers to use them.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel noted that the DDA was also pitching in $5,000 toward a sidewalk near the recently sold line shack and wondered why the city was helping to pay for a private development.

Burns said the developer was applying for a state grant that requires a 10% local contribution. The total local contribution is expected to be $30,000. Councilmembers had interviewed several applicants who wanted to purchase the property, and Salzwedel expressed his concern that he thought the winning project was supposed to have funding lined up.

Mayor Mike DeVore echoed Salzwedel’s concern, noting the sidewalk was only valued at $5,000. “Where does the other $25,000 come from?” he asked. Burns said several different options were being considered, and he was just trying to help bring new business to town.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be on Monday, January 3, 2022. It will be held at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.

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