City Council Recap: Officers Honored, State Program and Water System Discussed

Chief Bukala and Detective Lauren (l to r)

Lowell City Council spent nearly an hour and a half addressing a long list of items before going into a closed session to discuss labor negotiations last night. During the course of their open meeting, councilmembers honored three members of the Lowell Police Department, heard a presentation about a state grant program and discussed extending water and sewer services into Lowell Charter Township.

Officers Honored for Exemplary Service

Officer Shears, Chief Bukala and Officer VanSolkema (l to r)

At the start of the meeting, Police Chief Steve Bukala and Sgt. Chris Hurst presented commendations to three members of the Lowell Police Department.

Officer Shears was given the Life Saving Citation for his work in responding to a call of a person choking. He arrived on the scene within two minutes, found a person semi-conscious and in distress and administered the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge food stuck in her throat.

Detective Lauren received the Distinguished Service Award for coordinating the Cold Weather Warriors Project for the last four years. Through his efforts, more than 150 area children have been outfitted with coats, gloves, boots and other winter wear.

Officer VanSolkema received both a Life Saving Citation and a Distinguished Service Award. The Life Saving Citation was awarded in recognition of his work to save an individual who had overdosed. Officer VanSolkema administered two doses of narcan, performed CPR for nine minutes and resuscitated the man while waiting for medical personnel to arrive. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for managing the department’s 1033 Military Equipment Surplus Program which has allowed Lowell to receive more than $100,000 worth of equipment and vehicles from the federal government at no cost or minimal shipping charges.

State Redevelopment Ready Communities Initiative Creates Waves

Councilmembers next heard a presentation from Pablo Majano, a Redevelopment Ready Communities planner with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The state agency offers financial assistance with downtown revitalization projects. In Lowell, for instance, the MEDC is currently working with developers to secure funding for the Superior Lofts apartments.

However, for projects to be eligible for this state funding, their community must be participating in the Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) program. This requires municipalities to implement a number of best practices when it comes to attracting and retaining businesses.

Lowell already has in place one third of the items required to be RRC certified and is in progress toward 25% of the other standards, according to Majano. The remaining standards that need to be met include items such as the development of an overarching economic development strategy, unified marketing strategy and orientation packets for incoming board members.

City Manager Mike Burns took exception to the program’s requirements. “What I see here is this is a bureaucratic attempt by the State of Michigan for communities to comply in order to receive economic development funds, and I don’t think that’s very fair,” he said. “These requirements are almost impossible for a community our size.”

Majano replied that he has worked with a number of smaller communities, such as Mancelona and Rogers City, which are participating and have been able to meet the best practices. He said the process doesn’t have to be expensive, and communities can work at their own pace to implement the standards.

To remain prioritized for state funding, the City of Lowell needs to pass a resolution within 30 days indicating its intention to continue with the RRC program. Councilmembers did not say whether they plan to do so.

Lowell Township Water and Sewer Service Discussed

Lowell Charter Township Supervisor Jerry Hale addresses Lowell City Council.

If and how to extend additional water and sewer service into Lowell Charter Township was the other topic to receive substantial discussion at last night’s meeting. Currently, the township owns 18% of the wastewater system’s capacity and is a wholesale customer for the city’s water system. As the township grows, there may be additional demand for water and sewer service, but that will likely require an expansion of the city’s wastewater facility.

To address the growing need for service in the township, Burns outlined three options:

  • Modify current agreements with Lowell Charter Township to provide the township with both sewer and water on a wholesale basis
  • Require 425 agreements for future developments to have access to the system
  • Sell half the water and sewer assets to Lowell Charter Township and create an authority in which the city and township jointly control the systems

For Burns, the choice seems clear. “I cannot recommend extending service outside the current service area without a 425 agreement,” he said. “Our water and sewer is the best economic development tool we have.”

A 425 agreement allows a municipality to capture tax revenues from an area outside their borders in exchange for providing services such as utilities. The last time a 425 agreement was attempted in Lowell was in 2005 when a developer in Vergennes Township was seeking utility service for a parcel along Vergennes Road and Alden Nash Avenue SE. The City of Lowell and Vergennes Township could not reach a consensus on the details of a 425 agreement, and the developer sought to have the land annexed by the city. The State Boundary Commission denied that request, and the development never took place.

It does not appear a 425 agreement will be a viable option for Lowell Charter Township either. Supervisor Jerry Hale told city councilmembers that a developer who owns land near I-96 is not interested in a 425 agreement. Instead, he would prefer to build his own water system, and Hale said the township may partner with him in that project. In that case, that system would provide all future utility needs in the township south of the river.

Councilmembers agreed to schedule a separate meeting to discuss the matter further.

Other Items on the Agenda

In other action, Lowell City Council did the following:

  • Tabled a discussion about the fate of 990 N. Washington until the tenant could be present at the next meeting.
  • Recapped a training session with consultant Lew Bender in which they set the following goals:
    • Provide more police presence in the historic downtown
    • Take a stronger approach to code enforcement
    • Implement the sidewalk repair program
  • Removed $582.99 in 2014 personal property taxes from the rolls. After numerous efforts, this money was deemed uncollectable.
  • Heard a report on Planning Commission activities from the past year
  • Extended park use agreements for a year to a number of youth sports organizations
  • Approved a $7,500 contract to Risner’s Roofing to replace the roof and gutters on the Gee Dr. pump station.
  • Tabled a change to the commercial and industrial districts ordinance to get clarification on whether the Planning Commission intended to allow residences on the first floor of buildings in the historic downtown
  • Ok’d a timeline for reviewing and approving the Fiscal Year 2021 budget

Since February 17 is Presidents Day, the next Lowell City Council meeting will be held at 7pm on Tuesday, February 18.

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