City Council Recap: Annual Budget Passed

Lowell City Council met in open session for about 80 minutes last night. All councilmembers were present for the regular meeting which included several presentations and passage of the annual budget.

Highlights of 2023-2024 Budget

During the meeting, councilmembers unanimously approved the budget for Fiscal Year 2024, including funding for Lowell Light & Power. However, before making that motion, they heard a presentation from LLP General Manager Charlie West and held a public hearing.

Lowell Light & Power Budget

West presented the upcoming budget numbers for the municipal utility, noting that Lowell Light & Power expects to receive about $10.6 million in sales revenue during the upcoming year. This is an 8.2% increase over Fiscal Year 2023 and is largely attributable to load growth, increased power supply costs and rate changes.

After expenses, LLP expects to have a net income of $552,716 for the upcoming year, a 27% increase from the previous year. As a not-for-profit entity, net income is funneled back into capital projects that are intended to improve and maintain reliability. Planned projects include running a new line under the Grand River and installing new poles up Jackson Street and across North Street.

At a cost of $5.6 million, purchased power is the largest expense for LLP. The utility is a partial owner in several power plants and also has several agreements for purchasing energy from renewable sources. LLP spending on purchased power is up 4% since last year and 45% since Fiscal Year 2021. Those increases are due to a combination of load growth and market factors.

“We are very supportive of de-carbonizing our power supply, but the timing is a challenge,” West said. He noted that while some coal plants are being decommissioned, alternative power suppliers aren’t coming online as quickly as expected, pushing prices higher.

City of Lowell Budget

The City of Lowell budget includes the following projections:

General Fund Revenues: $4.07 million

Generation Fund Expenditures: $4.01 million

Major expenditures for the upcoming year include the following:

  • $3.5 million for infrastructure work on Monroe Street (paid with USDA financing)
  • $400,000 to repave Grindle Street (paid from the Local Streets Fund)
  • $215,722 to repave cross streets between Monroe and Washington (paid from the Local Streets Fund)
  • $195,000 for work on Shephard Drive (paid from the Local Streets Fund)
  • $192,953 for Ottawa Street resurfacing (paid by the Downtown Development Authority)

The budget also maintains the current millage rate of 15.7 mills.

A public hearing was held on the budget, but no comments were received. A copy of the entire budget can be found online.

Compensation Committee Report

The Local Officers’ Compensation Committee, which is comprised of five appointed residents, is responsible for setting the compensation for members of Lowell City Council. The last recorded report from the committee was dated 2008, according to Chair Roger LaWarre. As a result, the committee has recommended a significant increase in officer compensation.

Currently, councilmembers receive $40 per meeting, up to 35 meetings, for maximum annual compensation of $1,400. The mayor receives $47 per meeting, up to 35 meetings, for maximum annual compensation of $1,645.

Under the committee’s recommendations, compensation would increase to:

  • Councilmembers: $60 per meeting, up to 35 meetings, for a maximum of $2,100
  • Mayor: $70 per meeting, up to 35 meetings, for a maximum of $2,450
  • All members: $200 per special work session or long duration meeting, up to two per year
  • All members: $100 stipend to those who complete an educational program through the Elected Officials Academy offered by the Michigan Municipal League.

A resolution to enact these increases will need to be drafted, and the issue is expected to be before councilmembers at a future meeting for a vote.

Other Meeting Items

Other news from the meeting includes the following:

  • Fire Chief Shannon Witherell provided an update regarding his department. The department was able to improve its ISO fire rating from 6/6Y to 4/4Y. The lower the number, the better the rating, and being in an area with a low rating could help reduce homeowner insurance premiums for residents.
  • Planning Commission Chair Bruce Barker provided an annual report on the commission’s activities.
  • Public hearings were held on two project notices regarding an expansion of the city’s water and wastewater facilities. City Manager Mike Burns noted there had been some confusion about the notices which made it appear that the city was ready to undertake the projects, which have estimated price tags of $6.6 million and $26 million, respectively. Burns said the city is applying for grants for the projects and those necessitated the notices. After the public hearing, no vote or council action was taken.
  • Councilmembers unanimously adopted a regional 5-Year Hazard Mitigation Plan prepared by Kent County.
  • Councilmember Marty Chambers announced he would be hosting a “breakfast for dinner” event for Department of Public Works employees.
  • Mayor Mike DeVore announced that he and Chambers are organizing a charity softball game for September that will pit members of the Lowell Police Department against members of the Lowell Fire Department.
  • Councilmembers agreed to cancel the July 3, 2023 meeting and close city hall for the day.

Lowell City Council went into closed session at 8:17pm to discuss labor negotiations.

The next regular meeting of the council will be Monday, June 5, 2023 at 7pm in City Hall. Prior to that meeting, there will be a special joint meeting with the Downtown Development Authority at 5:30pm to discuss the purchase of Flock Safety cameras.

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