Lowell City Council met for 23 minutes last night in what was their first regular meeting for the month of March. The meeting was held via the Zoom videoconferencing platform and all councilmembers logged on from Lowell.
Most of the items on the agenda were informational in nature although the council did approve a memorandum of understanding with Lowell Charter Township as well as the most recent round of grants from the LCTV Endowment Fund.
LCTV Endowment Fund Grants
The LCTV Endowment Fund was created with money from the sale of Lowell Cable Television to Comcast in 2007. Each year, the LCTV Endowment Fund Board meets to review grant applications for capital projects from organizations serving the City of Lowell, Lowell Charter Township and Vergennes Township.
Councilmember Jim Salzwedel, who represents the council on the LCTV Endowment Fund Board, said during last night’s meeting that eight applications were received for the most recent round of grants. Two requests did not meet the guidelines established for receiving a grant. The rest are being recommended to Lowell City Council in the following amounts:
- Greater Lowell Chamber Foundation — $50,000 for the Lowell Showboat VI
- Kent County Youth Fair — $7,488.60 for still exhibit displays
- Lowell Area Arts Council — $2,200 for technology upgrades
- Lowell Open Table — $5,790.50 to move their community meals outside
- The Barn for Equine Learning — $17,000 for an indoor riding arena
- Vergennes Township — $22,000 for the remodeling of the new township hall
Plus, the City of Lowell was granted $4,000, as is the case in every round of grants, to recoup its costs for administering the fund.
Councilmembers unanimously approved the endowment board’s recommendations.
Memorandum of Understanding with Lowell Township
The council also unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Lowell Charter Township regarding a valuation of the city’s water and sewer systems. The city and township have been involved in lengthy discussions regarding the growing need for water and sewer services in the township. Among the ideas being considered is the possibility of the township buying the utilities from the city.
Sid Jansma Jr., who owns property near I-96 and would like to develop it, has offered to pay $40,000 for an appraisal of the city utilities in the hopes of spurring discussions forward. If the valuation leads to an agreement between the two municipalities, the city will reimburse Jansma for a third of the appraisal fee.
The memorandum approved by the council last night spells out the terms of this agreement and will be signed by representatives of both the city and township.
Social District and Showboat Update
In a brief update on the status of the Lowell Showboat VI project, councilmembers were told $860,000 had been raised so far, and the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce had $40,000 in pledges that still needed to be collected. The project is in good shape financially, and bids for the construction of restrooms on the Riverwalk will be opened this month.
The Showboat City Social District has been open since February 19, and City Manager Mike Burns said it seemed as though Saturday was the most popular day for its use. While the city had initially closed Monroe Street at Main Street, Burns received complaints from businesses and the street was reopened.
Councilmember Marty Chambers noted the Lowell Area Fire Department was spending a lot of time manning the fires and asked whether those work hours were coming out of the department’s budget. Burns replied no, the Downtown Development Authority was covering the cost.
Chambers also noted that more trash receptacles were needed, particularly by Sneakers and near the warming station midway down the Riverwalk. Mayor Mike DeVore said he had heard feedback that the fires were placed too high to warm people. Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki said he would see what he could do about both matters.
The city’s unfunded pension liabilities has been another issue of ongoing discussion for Lowell City Council. The Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan (MERS) requires cities to have enough money set aside to make expected pension payments for all current and future retirees. The City of Lowell currently has approximately 60% of its pension system funded.
MERS will be assessing larger payments from the city each year until the pension system is 100% funded. These larger payments are expected to become untenable, and Burns has been discussing with the system the possibility of extending a 30-year payment period for the unfunded liabilities. That should reduce annual payments to a more manageable level. As part of that discussion, Burns has explored the possibility of the city issuing pension bonds. While not required, a bond proposal might make MERS more likely to reset the repayment period.
Burns has asked MERS to run some ballpark figures on the city’s costs under these scenarios. After reviewing those, the next step would be for Lowell City Council to authorize an actuarial report, at the cost of a few thousand dollars.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, March 15, at 7pm.