City Council Recap: Showboat Revenue Update, Concerns About Point Broadband

Mike Chambers addresses Lowell City Council

Lowell City Council met for just more than an hour on Monday night for its first meeting of December. Councilmembers discussed three pieces of business and heard from two citizens. All members of the council were present.

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Citizen Comments Feature Pot Proposal

After unanimously approving the consent agenda – which includes the agenda, previous meeting minutes and payment of invoices – the council opened the floor to citizen comments.

Up first was Perry Beachum who thanked the council for keeping him apprised of how the city was handling complaints about utility work being done in the city right-of-way. This issue would be discussed in greater detail later in the meeting. Beachum also thanked Police Chief Chris Hurst for personally notifying residents of Riverside Drive that last Saturday’s Santa parade would be lining up on their road.

Next was Mike Chambers with what was presumably a tongue-in-cheek suggestion. Dressed as Cousin Eddie Johnson from the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and carrying eggnog to the podium, Chambers encouraged councilmembers to “embrace the pot.”

Noting there are several adult marijuana establishments in the city, Chambers suggested a “hash bash” festival along the Riverwalk that could be called “Smoke on the Water.” He pointed to Ann Arbor for inspiration.

“It’s going to be a goldmine, I tell ya,” Chambers said. “We’re going to raise so much money.”

Lowell councilmembers did not appear receptive to the idea.

Point Broadband Called Out for Questionable Work

The first item of business on the agenda was a review of the city’s right-of-way permit process. Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki presented a four-page memo he prepared on the topic.

Czarnecki explained that when a company wants to do work in the right-of-way, it needs to notify the city and pay $50 for a permit. Once the work is completed, a DPW staff member will inspect it. For larger projects, the city requests a pre-construction meeting to go over the work details.

So far this year, 65 permits have been requested. That’s up from 41 in 2019 and 2020. The city has also received 960 MISS DIG requests that require the city to mark where its utility lines are located. Czarnecki said a challenge has been that some requests are for whole city blocks and when staff reaches out to the company making the request to try to determine the area of immediate work, there is no reply.

“It’s very time-consuming, [and] it’s starting to be a headache,” Czarnecki said of the large MISS DIG requests. Only three employees handle those, the DPW director added.

While Czarnecki’s memo did not mention concerns about any specific company, from councilmember comments, it appeared the presentation was made in response to concerns about Point Broadband. The company is apparently in the middle of a citywide project to lay underground cables for its service.

Councilmember Cliff Yankovich asked about the permitting process for the Point Broadband project, and Czarnecki said the company was applying for its work in batches. He thought the company had received six permits for its citywide project. At $50 each, that means the city has collected $300 in permit fees.

“It seems to me you’re undervaluing your employees’ time,” said Councilmember Marty Chambers.

Yankovich agreed that the fee seemed low for the amount of work involved by city staff. He added, “I’m not suggesting they have to pay $50 per home.”

“Why shouldn’t it be $50 a home?” asked Mayor Mike DeVore.

“Anyone who comes out to my house is going to charge me more than $50,” added Councilmember Jim Salzwedel.

However, a city attorney present at the meeting noted state law limits the amount municipalities can charge telecom companies for work permits. He presumed this was why the permit fee was set at $50.

The conversation then moved on to work being done on private property. Councilmembers noted there were numerous complaints of contractors for Point Broadband running lines on private land and, in one case, digging up a driveway.

Chambers said he had an issue with cables for Point Broadband being run across his backyard. He was unable to get any response to his concerns until he threatened to use bolt cutters to remove the cables himself.

Ultimately, these issues must be addressed between the private property owner and the company, according to the city attorney. He also suggested people may want to file complaints with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Report on Showboat Revenue

Nearly a dozen people were present in the audience for Monday’s meeting.

At last month’s meeting, Yankovich requested an update on rental activity for the Lowell Showboat VI. Salzwedel provided that update last night.

So far, the Showboat has been rented seven times and has grossed $13,338. After expenses, its net income is $11,497. The boat has seven rentals currently on the schedule for 2022.

The Showboat committee is working to finalize paperwork to create a nonprofit that will take over the boat’s operations once formed. A website will also soon be launched where people can make reservations for the boat online.

Chambers noted it did not appear deposits were taken for most 2022 reservations. Salzwedel replied that credit card numbers had been collected from everyone reserving the boat. Yankovich thought it would be good to take non-refundable deposits for people to lock in their reservation date.

DeVore was concerned with the minimal number of rentals scheduled for next year. He asked if the committee was planning any marketing, and Salzwedel said that was planned. He added that the committee hoped to have a good handle on its budget by next February.

Bathrooms Now Open on Riverwalk

There are now public bathrooms open on the Riverwalk in the former DPW building across from the Showboat.

While work on the bathrooms is complete, city officials are looking for a convenient way to unlock and lock them each day and for special events. Allied Universal – which employs Salzwedel – offers a security solution that would allow the doors to be locked and unlocked remotely using a laptop. An access card and code would also be part of the system to allow for emergency access.

The cost for the system is slightly more than $5,500, and the cost is to be covered by Showboat funds, the Downtown Development Authority and federal stimulus dollars.

Councilmembers approved the expense with Salzwedel abstaining from the otherwise unanimous vote.

Manager and Councilmember Comments

During his city manager’s report, Mike Burns noted the annual Santa parade went well, and the city did a few things differently this year in light of the tragedy that occurred during the Waukesha, Wisconsin Christmas parade. In that city, a man drove through a barricade, down the parade route and into parade participants and onlookers, killing six and injuring another 60 people. To prevent a similar event here, all access points to the parade were blocked with vehicles, according to Burns.

The city’s electric vehicle charging stations need to be upgraded, and Burns suggested the Downtown Development Authority fund and maintain the new stations. In addition to the two current stations, a third one is being proposed for near the library. The city is considering charging a fee to use the stations.

Burns and several councilmembers also expressed their sorrow over the school shooting in Oxford, Michigan in which a 15-year-old killed four students and injured seven others.

During his board updates, Salzwedel said the LCTV Board has $106,000 in grant money to award next year. Applications are due by February 4, 2022.

Yankovich and DeVore expressed support for the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education during their comments. The school board has come under fire from some parents regarding concerns about various issues including mask requirements and the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion program.

According to Yankovich, school board members only make $300 a year in stipends, which indicates to him that they aren’t serving on the board for personal gain. “I think it’s sad that they have to take the amount of crap that they’re taking right now,” Yankovich said.

The councilmember added that few people seem interested in making the time commitment needed to sit on the board since most board members run unopposed. “People aren’t fighting to donate their time to 22 meetings a year,” Yankovich said.

The meeting adjourned at 8:07pm, and the next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on Monday, December 20, at 7pm.

Special Meeting on November 22, 2021

Lowell City Council also held a special meeting at 6pm on November 22, 2021. The meeting was held for the purpose of going into a closed session “to discuss a legal opinion subject to attorney/client privilege.”

According to the meeting minutes, Beachum addressed the council prior to the start of the closed session. He shared his concern about utility work in the city right-of-way. At 6:23pm, the council then went into closed session for 55 minutes. No vote was taken after the council returned to open session and the meeting adjourned at 7:23pm.

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