Lowell City Council met for 66 minutes last night as they approved the budget for the new fiscal year, selected a contractor for road work and heard about the city’s comprehensive tree plan. Most items took little time to cover, but there were longer presentations and discussions on the topics of insurance for the Showboat and speeding in the downtown.
All councilmembers were present for the meeting which was held in person as well as on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
Differing Opinions on Showboat Insurance
On June 1, the City of Lowell is expected to take ownership of the new Lowell Showboat as construction wraps up. A non-profit 501c3 is currently being formed to oversee the Showboat and once it has been established, ownership of the boat will pass to that entity. However, the question has arisen as to who is responsible for insuring the Showboat.
City Manager Mike Burns said the previous Showboat had been insured by the city for a cost of approximately $6,000 a year. Since the new Showboat is essentially a building located on the water, it requires a specialized insurance policy. Few companies seem equipped to provide this insurance, but Burns was able to obtain a quote through BHS Insurance for a policy with an annual premium of $35,750. The cost breaks down to $27,500 for property insurance and $8,250 for liability insurance.
That premium is based on a $2.9 million boat value and a $50,000 deductible. Burns noted that increasing the deductible to $75,000 or $100,000 didn’t result in significant savings. After meeting with the Showboat VI Organization committee, it was decided that an insured value of $2.7 million for the boat with a $50,000 deductible was most appropriate. The premium for a policy at these levels is $33,850 per year.
At a Showboat committee meeting attended by Burns, some committee members apparently said the boat should be considered a city asset and insurance costs should be a city expense. Burns disagreed, noting that he was worried the insurance premium would become a drain on the city’s general fund.
He noted the Showboat committee has $207,000 that is intended to construct restrooms on the Riverwalk, and the first year’s premium could come from that money. The city manager also suggested the city could loan the committee funds for the first year’s premium with the understanding it would be paid back once the boat began generating revenue as an event venue.
Councilmember Jim Salzwedel, who is the council’s representative on the Showboat VI Organization committee, thought the city should help pay some of the insurance cost. “The board is willing to pay for the liability [coverage] because they are hosting the events,” he said. However, the property portion should be covered by the city going forward, he added.
“I truly think this should have been talked about way before now,” said Councilmember Leah Groves.
Both she and Councilmember Cliff Yankovich said they would like to see some type of estimate of the revenue the Showboat is expected to generate. “I think we’ve been requesting something like that since we met in the park last year,” Yankovich said. He later added he was disappointed no one from the Showboat committee was attending the evening’s meeting.
Councilmember Marty Chambers noted the council has been very clear that no tax dollars have been spent on the boat so far, and he didn’t want that to change. Salzwedel said he thought it was naïve to think the city would never have any expenses related to the boat.
As for the Showboat committee using the money intended for restrooms to pay the premium, Groves had reservations. She didn’t think anyone would want to rent the boat if there were no restrooms nearby. “I am very concerned about there not being water there,” she said.
“I don’t believe it’s fully their responsibility to build those bathrooms,” Salzwedel said. Restrooms on the Riverwalk would serve more than just Showboat visitors, and the Downtown Development Authority or other groups that use the area should be asked to pitch in toward the cost, according to Salzwedel.
At the end of the conversation, the consensus on the council seemed to be that the city should not pay the insurance cost, and the Showboat VI Organization committee should be encouraged to seek a loan from the city to pay the first year’s premium.
Speeding Not a Problem Downtown
At the last city council meeting, Police Chief Chris Hurst presented information about vehicles speeding through the downtown. He had been asked to look into the matter and outlined his plan for determining the extent of the problem. Last night, he presented his findings.
The police department downloaded speed data from the two electronic signs posted on the boundaries of the historic downtown. A sign at Jefferson Street tracks the speeds of vehicles heading west into town while a sign at Broadway Street clocks the speeds of traffic traveling east into downtown.
The data covered a nine-day period, and Hurst said more than 65,000 vehicles passed the signs during that time. At the Jefferson Street sign, 97.96% of incoming traffic was travelling at 30 miles per hour or slower, and 99.72% was travelling at or slower than 35mph. Meanwhile, 90.26% of incoming traffic at the Broadway sign was travelling slower than 30mph, and 98.71% was traveling at or slower than 35mph.
To ensure that people weren’t simply speeding up once they passed the electronic signs, a Lowell police officer sat in an unmarked car near Monroe Street to track speeds at four different times of the day. This monitoring took place on Wednesday, May 12, during mid-morning, mid-afternoon, evening and night hours. This informal study found the following:
- 9:50-10:50am: Car speeds ranged from 12mph to 37mph with 96% of traffic moving at or below 30mph
- 1:45-2:40pm: Car speeds ranged from 16mph to 31mph with 99.5% of traffic moving at or below 30mph
- 7:15-7:45pm: Car speeds ranged from 20mph to 31mph with 98.6% of traffic moving at or below 30mph
- 9-9:30pm: Car speeds ranged from 20mph to 31mph with 99.3% of traffic moving at or below 30mph
“It does not appear there is a rampant speeding problem in the downtown,” Hurst said. Given the data, the chief said he couldn’t recommend dedicating an officer to downtown speed patrols.
“The biggest problem I see is the crosswalk,” he added. According to his understanding of the law, vehicles shouldn’t be stopping for pedestrians at the crosswalk, and he worried a vehicle could be rear-ended in these situations.
Other Agenda Items and Updates
Other action and updates from the Monday meeting include the following:
- Lowell City Council held a public hearing for the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. No comments were made, and the council voted unanimously to approve the $3.66 million budget. While expenditures are largely the same as last year, the most significant change includes approximately $1 million for local street projects on Amity and in the Valley Vista neighborhood.
- The road construction project for Amity was awarded by unanimous vote to CL Trucking LLC in Ionia. They submitted the low bid of $326,231 and have successfully completed other projects for the city. Work on the road is scheduled to be complete by October 8, 2021.
- Engineering firm Williams&Works was unanimously approved to complete design work for road projects on Amity Street and Jane Ellen Drive. The cost of services for the Amity project is $35,500 with $10,150 being paid by the Downtown Development Authority. The cost for the Jane Ellen Drive project is $26,500.
- Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki provided an annual review of the city’s Comprehensive Tree Plan. It provides guidance on tree planting and removal on city property.
- As a smaller town, the City of Lowell is considered a non-entitlement community for purposes of receiving federal stimulus money. Overall, $644 million was allocated to Michigan for non-entitlement communities. Burns said he was previously told the city would receive $411,000, but a finalized amount has not been provided yet.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on Monday, June 7, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.