The Lowell City Council kicked off a busy evening on Monday with a Committee of the Whole at 5:30pm. That session included a presentation about significant changes in state rules regarding lead in water pipes. It was followed by a shorter discussion about whether the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce could buy their current building.
After that, the group went into a regular session at 7pm to wrap up some old business and tackle new matters. An income tax study, sidewalks and changes to business parking requirements were among the items covered.
Here’s a look at the highlights.
New State Rules Could Mean City Work on Water Lines
The Committee of the Whole agenda included two pieces of business. The first was a presentation about newly formalized lead standards for drinking water. It was given by Dan Sorek, project manager with civil engineering firm Prein&Newhof.
“The state did take it on the chin about how they handled the Flint situation,” Sorek said, referencing toxic levels of lead discovered in that city after the municipality changed water sources. “[The new rules] are coming about because of what happened in Flint.”
As part of the rules, the acceptable level of lead in water is being reduced from 15 parts per billion to 12 parts per billion. That shouldn’t affect the City of Lowell through, which only has trace amounts of lead in its water system.
More relevant to the city is a requirement that municipalities inventory and replace lead service lines. These are the pipes that run from the main water line in the street into individual homes. Not only is the state requiring municipalities to replace lead lines, but they must also replace any pipes that may have previously been connected to lead pipes. That’s because any pipe previously connected to lead may have deposits of lead inside it.
“The state’s goal is to eliminate all lead service lines,” Sorek said. Traditionally, these lines have been the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain, and some cities are considering suing the state over the requirement to inspect and possibly replace them.
“It’s a violation of the state Constitution,” said City Manager Mike Burns. While he didn’t know how much it would cost Lowell to meet the requirements, he noted the City of Jackson estimates it will need to make $60 million in repairs. “This is not accounted for in our rates,” Burns said.
However, Councilmember Greg Canfield, who has 25 years of experience as a plumber, gave reason for optimism. “I have never seen a lead service in Lowell,” he said.
The presentation was provided to educate councilmembers on the issue, and no action was taken at its conclusion.
Council Open to Selling Chamber Building
Up next at the Committee of the Whole was a request from the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce to buy the building it currently occupies on the Riverwalk. The chamber has one year left on its lease and would like to purchase the building from the city in order to make updates and renovations.
Rick Seese, manager of Greenridge Realty in Lowell, spoke on behalf of the chamber. “The question becomes, are we ready to put a purchase agreement together?” he asked. A purchase agreement is needed for the chamber to pursue grant money that can be used to finalize the sale.
Councilmembers seemed receptive to the idea, but the only way to issue a purchase agreement is to first put the property out for bid. What’s more, the city must sell the property at market value. “We can’t sell the building for a dollar,” Burns said. “The state Constitution doesn’t allow that.”
The building has already been appraised, but the chamber questioned whether the value of $215,000 was accurate. Apparently, the comparable properties used for the appraisal included buildings in Ada and Hudsonville.
Seese and Burns agreed to meet and talk further about the process needed to sell the property.
City Council Crosses Off Old Business
At the last city council meeting, Canfield noted council agendas rarely included any old business. He expressed a concern that older items might be forgotten. This week, old business was back on the agenda, and the council crossed off several items during their regular meeting.
- City Income Tax Study – Councilmembers had previously instructed Burns to further study the feasibility of a city income tax. Burns received two quotes for a study on the subject, and councilmembers voted unanimously to accept the bid of $9,750 from Great Lakes Consulting for the project.
- LARA Commitment – The City Council unanimously approved a previously made commitment to contribute $25,000 to the Lowell Area Recreation Authority.
- Sidewalks – Police Chief Steve Bukala and Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard reevaluated sidewalks on the east side of town and noted 40-45 properties with sidewalks in need of replacement or maintenance. Letters should be going out to affected property owners shortly.
- Brownfield Redevelopment – The City Council held a public meeting and unanimously passed a resolution to create a Brownfield Redevelopment Authority in the city.
Pink Arrow Proclamation Tops New Business
During the new business portion of the agenda, the City Council approved changes to how parking requirements are calculated for some city businesses, appointed to Burns to be one of the city’s representatives to the MERS annual meeting and discussed whether to hire a new water/sewer distribution supervisor or contract out the work.
However, the council’s first order of business was to proclaim Thursday, August 30, 2018 as Pink Arrow Pride Day – Arrow Force XI. The resolution was unanimously approved. Councilmembers and staff also wore their Pink Arrow shirts during the meeting to show support for the annual event that raises money to help community members and families impacted by cancer.
Citizen Comments Focus on Traffic
At the start of the meeting, the councilmembers heard from two citizens who had concerns about traffic.
Ron Steffens, a resident of Monroe Street, was frustrated by truck traffic. “They don’t need to be bouncing up and down this road,” he said. Steffens thought making the block by City Hall a one-way road might force trucks to use the designated route on Jefferson instead.
Meanwhile, Steve Doyle of Riverside Drive, was worried about the speed of traffic going north on Hudson Street. “Since the repaving of Hudson, I’ve noticed the speeds have increased 10 miles over, 15 miles over [and more].” Bukala noted he was planning to get more electronic speed signs and place one on Hudson.
The regular meeting adjourned at 7:55pm, and Lowell City Council will meet next on September 4, 2018.