City Council Recap: Distinguished Citizen Citation Awarded

Lowell City Council met for one hour Monday night at Creekside Park. Mayor Mike DeVore was absent, and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Salzwedel presided over the meeting. All other councilmembers were present.

After adding and subtracting several items from the published agenda, the council had a half dozen pieces of old and new business to discuss. However, before they reached those items, they heard a special presentation from Police Chief Chris Hurst.

Here are the highlights from the September 21, 2020 Lowell City Council meeting.

Local Man Recognized for Helping Crack a Case

At the start of the meeting, Hurst stood to award a Distinguished Citizen Citation to David Sefton for his assistance in providing evidence that was instrumental in tracking down a suspect in a breaking and entering case.

The incident took place in July at the T-Mobile store on W. Main Street. The employees at the wireless retailer had been notified that a Jenison store had been robbed and were advised to lock their doors. They did so, but when the four suspects arrived, they proceeded to break the windows and enter the building.

Sefton was working next door at Northern Physical Therapy. When he heard noise from the neighboring store and realized it was a robbery in progress, he moved employees and clients to safety in the back of the building. Then, he returned to the front of the physical therapy office and snapped several photos.

Hurst said Sefton’s photos were crucial to a quick resolution of the case. A law enforcement officer recognized the suspect in the photos, and he was apprehended within a few hours. All items stolen from the Lowell T-Mobile store were recovered as well.

For his quick-thinking and courageous behavior, Sefton was awarded the Lowell Police Department’s highest civilian honor.

Money Matters: Expense Questions and Revenue Announcements

When it came time for councilmembers to approve the payment of outstanding invoices, Councilmember Greg Canfield had questions on two items.

First, he asked about what prompted a $4,900 invoice from Sabo PR. City Manager Mike Burns replied “police chief” to that question. Canfield said he didn’t believe the city had used much of what had been provided by the firm in that matter, but Burns answered that the city had used quite a bit of their material.

Then, Canfield inquired into a Servpro charge of $1,800 for COVID cleaning of city facilities. Canfield had been under the impression that this service had been discontinued. Burns noted that this was the final bill from Servpro. A new company would begin doing the work at a cost of $265 for each cleaning session.

“That’s something we can’t do in-house?” Canfield asked. Burns said no, the city did not have the staff or special equipment needed to sanitize for COVID properly.

At the end of the meeting, in his city manager’s report, Burns said he did have some good news to share regarding city finances. The City of Lowell is expected to get additional state and federal money from a number of sources. These include:

  • $94,000 in additional Act 51 money from the state for roadwork
  • $43,000 in additional revenue sharing from the state
  • $17,000 in additional PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) monies from Lowell Light & Power
  • $17,000 from the CARES Act for COVID expenditures
  • $130,000 from the CARES Act to be distributed by Kent County but for which guidelines about its use have not yet been issued
  • $46,000 in CARES Act reimbursement for public safety payroll expenses
  • $1,200 in unclaimed property held by the state

In his final comments of the night, Canfield thanked Burns for his work in managing city finances. “I think you’ve done a great job,” he said.

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Citizen Comments: Time to Think about Youth Fair Exit

During citizen comments for items not on the agenda, Perry Beachum rose to address the council. He had planned to discuss his comments with councilmembers at the September Coffee with Council event, but that was cancelled because of the Labor Day weekend. While Beachum understood the reason for the cancellation, he noted there was no notice on the city website, City Hall or the Chamber of Commerce building to alert people to the change of plans.

He went on to say there is a large mound of trees and debris at the corner of King and Lafayette Streets. He checked with Lowell Light & Power to see if the debris may have been left from the transformer fire in the spring but was told it was not. He was not sure if the debris was from the redevelopment of the former Unity High School property, but he thought it should be removed.

Beachum, who is a former member of the Parks & Recreation Commission, then said he thought it was time for the city to issue a 30-day notice to the Kent County Youth Fair to revoke their use of Recreation Park.

“I don’t think it’s working out for the city and the citizens,” Beachum said. Last month, Lowell Youth Football was apparently told they couldn’t use the grounds. The city says it never told the football program that, and Beachum believes it may have been the Kent County Youth Fair that was denying access. He also said that in order to use Recreation Park for this week’s Pink Arrow Drive-In event, organizers needed to get approval from the fair.

“The Youth Fair sets the rates for us to use the city park,” Beachum said. “I don’t think that’s right.” He said he thought it was time for the city to consider an exit plan for the fair. The Kent County Youth Fair is currently in the midst of developing new fairgrounds in Lowell Charter Township.

Council Split on Parks & Recreation Appointment

Normally, appointments to city commissions and boards are done with little discussion or disagreement. However, the council was split last night on an appointment to the Parks & Recreation Commission.

Salzwedel said that DeVore would like to appoint Todd Schaal to the Parks & Recreation Commission and wanted to know what other councilmembers thought. There was a long pause before Councilmember Cliff Yankovich said he was not in favor of the appointment. Canfield and Councilmember Marty Chambers then said they did not have a problem with adding Schaal to the commission.

In a social media post made after the meeting, Yankovich explained his opposition. “I think putting someone [on the commission] with a large business interest that abuts City Park property is an open door to a conflict of interest,” he wrote.

Schaal is co-owner of the RiverView Flats condominium project which is being built on the site of the former Unity High School Building and is adjacent to Riverside Park. He previously sued the City of Lowell and received a section of Riverside Park as part of a settlement.

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Other Agenda Items

In other agenda items, Lowell City Council did the following:

  • Approved the placement of additional monitoring wells on the site of the Ware Road landfill.
  • Expressed tentative support for a request from the Flat River Grill to place igloos on the Riverwalk for dining in the winter, so long as questions regarding snow removal and heating are answered sufficiently.
  • Approved a $15,000 study to determine how Lowell Charter Township’s plan to build its own water and sewer system will impact rates for the city system.
  • Approved changes to surcharges for the wastewater Industrial Pretreatment Program. These changes only affect two industrial customers.
  • Approved a resolution in support of the LARA Fred Meijer Flat River Valley Trail. Councilmembers previously approved a similar resolution, but a new one needed to be adopted now that the trail route has changed. The resolution is required as part of the process of seeking a state grant.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place at 7pm on October 5, 2020.

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