After months of meetings held via Zoom or at Creekside Park, Lowell City Council was back at city hall last night for their second regular meeting of October. Councilmembers met for approximately an hour and 40 minutes to discuss six agenda items, including the Showboat management, a contract for the new fire chief and roadwork updates. All members were present.
The biggest news of the night came at the very end of the meeting. Councilmember Greg Canfield noted he has been a part of community boards and commissions for 25 years, but recent developments in his family have put some constraints on his time. He announced he was resigning his seat, and this would be his last council meeting.
“I feel confident you guys will continue on,” Canfield said. “It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
The announcement appeared to surprise other councilmembers who sat in stunned silence for a moment before Councilmember Cliff Yankovich opined, “That’s not allowed in council comments.” Councilmembers were then quick to praise Canfield’s dedication to the city and wish him well.
Showboat Management in Question
Preceding Canfield’s announcement were long discussions about several agenda items. The first of which was the management of the new Showboat.
At the last council meeting, City Manager Mike Burns cast doubt on whether the new Lowell Showboat would make a profit as an event venue. Last night, members of the Showboat Committee were present to discuss the matter further in a conversation that became heated at times.
Prior to the meeting, the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce sent a document to the city sharing their vision for the Lowell Showboat and requesting a proposal from the city outlining how they would like it managed.
Yankovich asked if it was the chamber’s desire to manage the boat, and Executive Director Liz Baker said it was, assuming it made sense for the chamber to do so. She noted that it was unclear how the city wanted the boat to be managed.
“It’s been talked about, but it’s never been finalized,” Baker said. “It’s your boat. You need to tell us what you want.” She added that the Chamber board would like to receive a proposal from the city about the boat’s management.
However, there was some pushback from councilmembers who thought questions regarding the use and management of the boat should have been addressed before fundraising had begun.
“I wish we would have done this before, right at the beginning before it was sitting in the water,” said Councilmember Marty Chambers.
Mark Mundt, a citizen member of the Showboat Committee, took exception to the idea that the committee had somehow neglected its duty. “There’s a serious lack of communication going on between the city and the chamber,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t feel we have your support,” he added later.
Councilmembers noted it would still be 4-6 months before the Showboat was completed and ready for rental, but Mundt said people already wanted to know how to book the boat. He cautioned against waiting any longer to address issues such as rental rates and policies.
“Guess what?” he asked. “When [contractor] Wolverine walks out of there, they’re going to give you the keys and the bills become yours.”
Mundt also disputed the validity of the venue comparisons made by Burns at the last meeting. “You were comparing us to hockey arenas? Whatever.”
Burns replied, “I have a fiscal responsibility to the city, and unfortunately, I cannot bring unicorns and rainbows to every situation.”
The conversation ended on a happier note with Mundt announcing that the Showboat Committee has already raised $345,000 of its $780,000 goal.
City Council and the Showboat Committee will meet in a Committee of the Whole next Monday, October 26, at 6pm to discuss the matter further.
Wastewater Treatment Facility Taskforce Created
A development proposed near the highway in Lowell Charter Township needs municipal water and sewer services to move forward. However, the city and township have been unable to reach an agreement on how to do that.
Developer Sid Jansma, who owns the property, is hoping to break the impasse by bringing in an outside facilitator. He has hired Suzanne Schulz to help with the process, and she is the former planning director for the City of Grand Rapids and the urban planning practice leader for firm Progressive AE.
“The township really does want to have a conversation with the city,” Schulz said when addressing the council during the meeting.
She requested the city participate in a taskforce that would help determine if it was feasible to have one water and sewer system for the city and township, or if it would be best for each municipality to operate their own facility. The cost of the taskforce would be covered by Jansma.
“At free, that’s right in our budget,” said Mayor Mike DeVore. “All you’re spending is time.”
Councilmembers agreed unanimously that the city would join the taskforce.
Fire Chief Contract Approved
Lowell City Council unanimously approved a contract to transition Shannon Witherell from the position of interim fire chief to full-time fire chief.
“We’re getting a deal with Shannon because he’s dedicated to this community,” said DeVore, who is the council’s representative on the Lowell Area Fire and Emergency Services Authority Board. “In my opinion, he’s given us quite a bargain.”
The cost of the contract was not mentioned during the city council meeting, but Fire Authority Board member Carlton Blough told the Lowell Township Board during its Monday meeting that the cost was approximately $100,000 per year for salary and benefits.
Burns said the contract would increase the city’s annual costs by $10,000, and that there was enough in savings to fund the expense for the first year.
DeVore made the motion to approve the contract, and there were no council questions or comments prior to its approval.
Roadwork Bonds Discussed
One of the longest discussions of the night revolved around the reconstruction of Monroe and Washington Streets. Work on the streets is expected to be completed in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
Dan Czarnecki, director of the Department of Public Works, walked councilmembers through the two projects which will replace watermains and sanity sewer pipes in addition to creating a new roadway.
The total cost of the Monroe Street reconstruction is $2.375 million, and the city has $375,000 in Michigan Department of Transportation funding to be used on the project. The Washington Street reconstruction will cost $1.553 million. The City of Lowell is planning to apply for a low-interest loan with a 40-year term from the United States Department of Agriculture to cover its costs.
Burns said the city should have about $600,000 in its local street fund for use during the projects. It is hoped that money can be used for roadwork on all the cross streets between Monroe and Washington as well as perhaps on Lafayette.
City attorney Jessica Wood explained the process of bonding for the USDA program. The first step will be to publish a notice of intent. This allows citizens time to decide whether the bond issue should be placed on the ballot. If 10% of all registered electors sign a petition to that effect, the bonding goes to a vote.
To wrap up their conversation regarding roadwork, councilmembers voted unanimously to spend $12,500 on a preliminary engineering report for the projects, to be completed by Williams & Works.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be Monday, November 2, at 7pm.