Lowell City Council met for 40 minutes on Monday night to discuss two pieces of new business. They also heard an update on the budget and listened to comments from two city residents who had suggestions for the council to consider. All councilmembers were present for the meeting.
Citizen Comments: New Dams, Leaf Pick-Up
At the start of the meeting, two residents spoke during the citizen comments portion of the agenda.
First was Mike Bachmann, who is a lifelong Lowell resident and lives on Riverside Drive. He proposed placing three new dams on the Flat River to create more hydroelectric power. These would include two to the north, near the Atwood property, and one south of the King Milling dam at Main Street. As part of the project, he would like to construct two new roads across the Flat River and build a 6-foot walking path along both sides of the river. He felt this could be accomplished without impeding the river flow.
City Manager Mike Burns asked if Bachmann had been in touch with King Milling or the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy. Bachmann said he had attempted to contact King Milling without success and had not yet reached out to EGLE.
“Before you do anything, you need to get clearance through EGLE,” Burns advised. The city manager also asked if Bachmann was planning to fund the project, but Bachmann replied that he thought it would need to be a community and taxpayer-funded endeavor.
After the meeting, Bachmann told Lowell’s First Look that he is a former Marine who has experience in power plants and avionics. For the past few years, he has worked in the cannabis industry, and he feels he could lead this project to completion thanks to his strong electrical background.
Bachmann said he will be following up with various companies and EGLE to further explore the matter.
The second citizen suggestion came from a resident of Birchwood Court who thought the city should offer leaf removal services. She contacted East Grand Rapids about their program which runs from April through December.
“They allow people to put all debris in the street,” the resident explained. Then, the city uses trucks and backhoes to collect the debris which is eventually turned into compost for city use.
“I propose we give that some consideration for Lowell,” the resident suggested. She believed it would save hours of work for homeowners who would no longer need to rake and bag leaves. It would also provide the type of service that would help make Lowell “the next place to be.”
New Business: Conflict of Interest Policy, Skate Park Renovation
Under new business, Lowell City Council considered a policy regarding conflicts of interest. The city is applying for a loan from the USDA for an infrastructure project on Monroe and Washington streets, and the policy is required for funding.
Burns said the city has a passing reference to conflicts of interest in Lowell City Council rules, but a more formalized policy needs to be adopted for the government loan. The policy presented on Monday passed unanimously.
The second piece of new business was a proposal from Bob Rogers to remove the existing ramps at the skate park and replace them with concrete ramps. The park would also get a design overhaul that could include a shaded area for spectators and a section intended for artistic creativity, with the hope that it would deter graffiti elsewhere in the park.
Rogers presented his proposal to the Parks & Recreation Commission and estimates the renovation cost will be between $120,000 – $240,000. He isn’t proposing any taxpayer money be used for the project, but rather that funds be raised privately.
“If they come up with the funds, I think it would be a huge benefit to the city,” said Councilmember Leah Groves, who is the council representative on the Parks & Recreation Commission.
The commission voted to recommend that Lowell City Council support the project. That could include the city setting up a designated account where donations could be held. Councilmembers voted unanimously to accept the commission recommendation and support the initiative to renovate the skate park.
In his budget update, Burns noted that Lowell’s annual audit was almost complete. While the numbers haven’t been finalized yet, it appears the city took in approximately $400,000 more in revenue last year than anticipated. That will leave the city with a $1.4 million fund balance.
Burns said he would have a more formal recommendation later for how to spend the additional $400,000. However, his inclination is to use a portion to pay down the city’s unfunded pension liability, direct some money to local streets and use the remainder for HVAC upgrades needed at City Hall.
As for streets funding, Burns shared that the city expects to see an annual increase of $30,000 in its Act 51 revenue from the state. That’s thanks to an increase in city population from 3,783 in 2010 to 4,142 in 2020.
During his final comments of the evening, Councilmember Cliff Yankovich asked if it would be possible to get a report from the Showboat about how many times it was rented out this year and how much revenue it’s generated.
Councilmember Jim Salzwedel, who sits on the Showboat committee, said he would see if that information could be gathered. He also said that he wanted to have a meeting with other Showboat committee members and ask some “tough questions,” but he did not specify what those would be.
Yankovich also shared that the Look Memorial Fund awarded $10,000 to the Lowell YMCA. It also gave $9,000 to FROM to complete the laundry room at the former Denny’s Rooms building that is across from Ball’s Softee Crème on Main Street. Yankovich noted that the building had 10 units, include six for single occupancy. Rent for the rooms ran between $650-$700 a month, including utilities, and Yankovich said it was his understanding that a study found Lowell could use another 80 more rental units in that price range.
Councilmember Marty Chambers asked if Lowell Light & Power would be holding a holiday lights contest this year, and utility general manager Charlie West replied that the event was not planned for 2021. West noted that the Rotary Club had previously spearheaded the project, but LLP hadn’t been approached by them this year.
In her final comments of the night, Groves reminded residents about the Treasures for Troops collection going on now. She also encouraged people to sign up to help prepare and serve the Open Table Thanksgiving dinner next Thursday.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be Monday, December 6, at 7pm in City Hall.