This week’s public portion of the City Council meeting was bookended by two closed sessions. The first was a joint City Council and Lowell Light & Power Board meeting “to discuss pending litigation” according to the special meeting’s agenda. At the end of the regular meeting City Council members went into a closed session “to discussion labor negotiations”. The regular meeting lasted approximately one hour and 15 minutes and focused mainly on three topics.
Scenarios for Cuts for Street Fund Revenue
On November 5, City of Lowell residents voted and the results were not in favor of implementing a city income tax along with a property tax reduction. Of the 810 votes pertaining to Proposal 1, which would allow a City income tax, 315 or 38.8% voted yes compared to the 495 or 61.1% (rounding allows these percentages to equal 99.9%). Without funding from a city income tax, City Council and City staff will have to look at other avenues to replace and maintain streets in Lowell.
City Manager Mike Burns reviewed a number of scenarios with the board to increase revenue for streets saying, “I’m not doing my job if I don’t give you options.” Possible action could include raising the current millage to the limit of 17.4597 mills or create an assessment for police and fire in the amount of 9 mills, both of which can be done by a vote of City Council without resident input at the ballot. It was agreed that both of these options would not be considered after the vote of the people indicated a tax was not wanted.
However, there was some discussion about bringing the city income tax and property tax reduction back to the ballot (link to the portion of the meeting where this discussion took place) in November 2020. Councilmember Yankovich made the suggestion and Mayor DeVore agreed saying, “I think it’s our obligation to bring it back.” He continued to say that he feels it’s up to the people to decide and that City Council is just bringing options. There was also discussion about the lack of education within the community as observed on social media. The hope with putting the effort back on the ballot next year would be to spend more time educating the public prior to a vote and then give the voters another chance to voice their opinion. There were no comments from other councilmembers on the topic of putting the initiative back on the ballot.
Additionally, numerous other options were presented including cutting the Police Department, cutting just part-time employees at the Police Department, not filling roles when city employees retire in the coming years, eliminating or reducing maintenance of city buildings and parks, using LCTV Funds, and more. The complete list of scenarios outlining what street funding surplus would be gained from cuts along with potential negative implications can be viewed on a spreadsheet provided by City Manager Mike Burns. Each possibility is presented on one tab and it is necessary to scroll to the right to see all of the tabs.
Future Street Projects
There were no decisions made at the meeting about how to have steady income dedicated to roads but it’s likely discussion will happen again as roads continue to deteriorate. The City is planning on using money from the current fiscal year and unused funds from the last fiscal year to replace Howard and Suffolk sometime next calendar year. Riverside Drive was to be addressed this year with funds from the 2018-19 budget. According to Burns, the departure of former Assistant City Manager and DPW Director Rich LaBombard this summer, the city was unable to move forward with the project. There was no indication as to whether Riverside would be part of projects slated for 2020.
It is anticipated that work on Monroe Street will take place in 2022 with the help from grant money the City is expected to receive. Along with resurfacing the road, infrastructure work below ground will also take place.
KDL Annual Report
Englegardt Library Branch Manager Sandy Graham, KDL Executive Director Lance Werner, and Lowell representative on the Board Caitie Oliver each spoke about KDL and the Lowell branch, updated City Council on efforts being made at the branch and highlighting successes.
Graham indicated that hot spots remain the most popular item available. The Lowell branch has 30 of them and there is always a waiting list. She mentioned if more were available they too would be put to use. Booster Packs are also popular. These packs are geared toward students in third grade and lower to help incentivize reading in an effort to help with the Michigan law that students not reading at grade level by the end of third grade can be held back.
The Lowell KDL branch will also begin a curbside pick up service in the near future. Designed to help the busy mom, elderly, and others who find it difficult to come into the building, patrons will be able to call and have items checked out in their name, call again when they are outside the building, and a staff member will bring items out to the vehicle. The Wyoming and Lowell branches will also begin offering a means of legal advice via conference call. This pilot service will be available for those who qualify. Lowell is one of the locations to see how this program works in part due to the needs of the community as indicated by Flat River Outreach Ministries.
So far this year over 25,000 items have been checked out of the Englehardt branch. This is compared to 23,000 items checked out during the year 2018. An increase in the use of the services offered at the Englehardt has been seen compared to previous years. During councilmember comments, Councilmember Canfield thanked KDL for being in Lowell and all they provide for the community.
Lowell Light & Power (LL&P) General Manager Steve Donkersloot outlined efforts of the department to become safer from cyber attacks. Customer payments, payroll, vendor payments, phone service, and more rely on remaining cognizant of breaches in security. The LL&P Board voted on funding to be used to better secure the utility’s assets and way of doing business. City Council members also voted to join in the effort, which will come with a bit of savings with two entities using the same contractor. LL&P will foot the bill up front with the City paying their portion of the expense over the course of three fiscal years. Burns indicated that the data processing fund has money in it to pay for this year’s portion and the next two years will be budgeted for as needed.
A block of residential homes, some of which are along Main Street near Little Caesars were rezoned into a C-1 district. The Planning Commission passed information on this rezoning which was moved on to City Council for final approval. Under previous zoning these homes would not be able to be rebuilt should something such as a fire destroy them, thus making it hard for current property owners to sell when a mortgage company or bank would not want to help with funding. Under the rezoning homes can be rebuilt. The properties can also be purchased for commercial use, however more than one parcel would be needed to create a business development.
During council board updates, Councilmember Yankovich mentioned the Look Memorial Fund recently disbursed funds. LowellArts, Flat River Outreach Ministries, and the City of Lowell were among those who received grants. Councilmember Salzwedel mentioned that the LCTV Board will meet in December and will soon be taking applications for grants.
City Council will meet again on Monday, December 2 at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall. Meeting agendas, packets, and recordings can be found on the Lowell City website. Videos can also be found at the City of Lowell’s YouTube page. Or check in with Lowell’s First Look for recaps following each meeting.