At last night’s meeting, Lowell City Council held a Committee of the Whole, an open meeting and a closed session. Topics for the evening included the city pension plan, street repairs, a PUD rezoning request and adult use marijuana.
Committee of the Whole: Pension Funding Issues
At 5:30pm, councilmembers kicked off their evening with a Committee of the Whole. Mike Overley, regional manager for the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS), spent most of the meeting explaining the actuarial report for the city’s pension plan.
The City of Lowell offers its workers a traditional pension plan upon retirement. Workers are vested in the plan after 10 years of service, and pensions are calculated using a formula that takes into account the average of a person’s highest earnings over a 36-month period and their length of service. Those numbers are multiplied by 2.5% to determine the annual pension amount.
As an example, Overley said someone with final average compensation of $50,000 and 25 years of service would receive an annual pension of $31,250. In the City of Lowell, workers with 25 years of service can retire as young as age 55. Otherwise, workers must be vested in the plan and age 60 before they can receive a pension.
“The traditional defined benefit plan promises this individual this benefit at this level for the rest of his or her life,” Overley explained. To pay for that promise, the State of Michigan requires municipalities to pre-fund pension plans.
MERS provides actuarial reports to help determine if municipalities will be able to fully meet their pension obligations. Assuming a 7.35% rate of return, the City of Lowell pension fund is currently 63% funded. Communities that fall below 60% need to file a corrective action plan with the state.
Water Award Presentation
Before getting to the main agenda, Lowell City Council started its regular meeting with a presentation from the Michigan Section of the American Water Works Association.
“At our annual conference, your fine guys here brought the best tasting water,” said a representative of the AWWA as he presented city workers with the Best Tasting Water Award.
In order to win, representatives of Lowell took a mason jar of water straight from the tap to be judged first at a regional conference and then at a state conference. The water was judged on four factors:
It was a tight competition, but in the end, Lowell was named the community with the best tasting water in Michigan. Lowell’s water will now travel to the national AWWA conference in Florida to see if it can win the honor of being named the best tasting water on the continent.
15-Year Plan for Road Repairs
City Manager Mike Burns noted the first informational meeting on the city income tax proposal will be held on Wednesday, September 18, at 6pm in City Hall. Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki then presented the proposed road plan that could be implemented if the income tax proposal is passed.
Czarnecki explained that he had worked to create an infrastructure management plan that would coordinate both street and sewer repairs. What’s more, his proposal includes maintenance for roads in good condition as well as repairs to those in poor condition. “If we have something nice, we want to keep it nice,” he said.
As proposed, the plan would call for street work on and around Amity in 2021, on and around Monroe in 2022 and in the Valley Vista neighborhood in 2023. Other areas are designated for repairs or maintenance each year through 2032. However, the plan is contingent on the passage of the city income tax proposal.
PUD Approved, Adult Use Marijuana Tabled
With no discussion or comment, Lowell City Council unanimously approved the creation of a planned unit development, also known as a PUD, at the site of the former Unity High School building. As approved, the plan allows for 44 residential units to be built over three phases. Developers will provide 49 parking spaces on the property. The remaining 39 spaces required by city ordinance will be filled from nearby public parking lots. The developers will also be required to install a sidewalk on the north side of High Street as part of phase one of the project.
Next was a public hearing on a regulatory ordinance for adult use marijuana facilities in the city. Greenville resident Brad Klosner stated he was concerned the ordinance prohibited the use of high-intensity discharge (HID) lights in grow facilities. He mentioned those lights are the standard used by marijuana growers.
In a departure from last month’s public hearing on the PUD – in which Mayor Mike DeVore was clear that the public hearing was not a time to ask and answer questions – the adult use marijuana ordinance was tabled to give councilmembers a chance to look into the concern. “Let us get you an answer on that,” DeVore said to Klosner.
City Attorney Jessica Wood also said some issues had been brought to her attention by potential applicants and those would have to be addressed as well. However, she did not say what those issues were.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Discussed
Under new business, councilmembers addressed two issues pertaining to the wastewater treatment facility. First, they approved $61,440 to fix the wastewater digester #3 lid. Then, they ok’d an expenditure to study an expansion of the wastewater treatment facility.
Lowell’s wastewater treatment plant is nearing 80% of its capacity, and the state requires an expansion study once that percentage is exceeded. The study, which will be completed by engineering firm Williams&Works, will cost $13,000. Lowell Charter Township, which owns 18% of the capacity in the wastewater system, has agreed to split the cost of the study with the city.
The open meeting ended at 8:06pm, and the council then went into a closed session to discuss pending litigation between the city and the Unity School Investors, LLC. This firm owns the former Unity High School property which was rezoned to a PUD earlier in the meeting.
The next Lowell City Council meeting will be held on October 7 at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.