City Council Recap: Water Authority Discussion, Sale of LLP Line Shack and Design Engineering for Howard and Suffolk

Prior to the regularly scheduled meeting, a Committee of the Whole took place on the topic of developing a water authority.  Then a lightly attended, short City Council meeting last night began and ended within 30 minutes before the board took a break to set up for today’s election and head into a closed session.  No discussion or decisions were made after returning to open session prior to the conclusion of the meeting.

Development in Township Spurs Water Authority Talks

A developer is envisioning hotels and restaurants by the I-96 interchange in Lowell Township, but he can’t make those plans a reality without water and sewer service.

Sid Jansma Jr., who owns an approximately square mile section of land in the township, was on hand for last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting which tackled the topic. Councilmembers discussed their options for extending additional sewer and water capacity to Lowell Township and seemed to settle on creating a water and sewer authority to facilitate utility service to the area.

Currently, Lowell Township is a wholesale customer of the city’s water service. It also owns 18% capacity in the wastewater system. Of that 18% capacity, nearly half is already accounted for by existing township customers and the other half will be filled by approved or expected developments.

By creating an authority, the city and township would share ownership of the water and wastewater systems, and it would be expected that the township would have a buy-in cost. However, the amount of that cost is a sticking point.

According to City Manager Mike Burns, the current water plant dates to 1976 when it was expanded at a cost of $1.39 million. Of that, $1.31 million was a loan from the federal government and the rest was paid with cash on-hand from the city. The wastewater treatment facility was built in 1987 at a cost of $5.9 million. The funding came from various sources including $2.22 million in city bonding.

While the city’s insurance company has determined the facilities have a $17 million replacement cost, the township has balked at the idea of an $8.5 million buy-in to create the authority. Councilmembers decided they would pursue a specialized appraisal to help them determine what would be an appropriate and fair buy-in amount.

Police Chief Bukala Receives Award

After the City Council meeting was called to order but prior to tackling any of the items on the agenda, members of the Lowell Police Department entered Council Chambers.  Sgt. Chris Hurst was given the floor where he described a panel had determined Chief Steven Bukala would be presented with a Medal of Valor award for his response and effort during a call which took place this past summer.  Bukala and Officer Reamsma were the first to respond to a victim in Stoney Lake who went beneath the surface of the murky water. Members of the police department are not formally trained in water rescue, however Bukala has received training.  He reacted quickly by taking off what gear and clothing he could before entering the water to retrieve the victim with the help of others on the beach.  

While the outcome of the situation resulted in a death, Bukala was recognized for his actions.  The Medal of Valor is awarded for going above the call of duty. Officer Reamsma read the award citation while Sgt. Hurst placed a pin on Bukala’s uniform.  

Fire Authority Proposal

Mayor Mike DeVore suggested that Lew Bender, who performs training sessions for City Council and Lowell Light and Power board members, be used to provide training information pertaining to the Fire Authority.  The amount to use Bender will not exceed $3,000 which will be split by the three municipalities (City of Lowell, Lowell Charter Township, Vergennes Township). This service would already be included in what the City has budgeted for Bender’s services.  

The use of Bender was approved unanimously approved 4-0 with Councilmember Salzwedel being absent for last night’s meeting.  This action does not change the “no” vote by Council at their last meeting to hire a consultant to determine whether full time employees are needed in the fire department.  

Sale of Lowell Light & Power Line Shack

Lowell Light & Power (LLP) General Manager Steve Donkersloot provided information during the meeting regarding a line shack located at 115 Riverside Drive.  The building has been vacant for years. It has been determined that this building is no longer needed for any of LLP operations. While the building is maintained and has been used by LLP, the entity does not own the building.  Therefore, it will be up to the city to seek a request for proposal from interested parties who may be interested in buying the property.  

Councilmember Canfield asked if LLP had any plans for putting in public bathrooms in part of another building used by the local utility located at 127 N. Broadway across the street from the line shack in question, indicating that perhaps this line shack could be used for such facilities which are lacking in the west part of the city.  Donkersloot indicated public bathrooms have been brought up as an option for the portion of their current building not being used after generators were taken out, but that no definite plans had been established. He said that in the coming months the LLP board would begin to discuss what to do with the space.  

Should the line shack be sold, proceeds from the sale will go to LLP as they have been maintaining the building.  

Engineering Work for Howard and Suffolk

In a memo from Dave Austin of Williams&Works, information was provided on engineering work which will be needed to resurface both Howard and Suffolk streets near Bushnell Elementary and Lowell Middle School.  This design work will not exceed $22,250.00 and was unanimously approved by City Council.  

The current fiscal budget has no street improvements scheduled, however this design work will allow the City to move forward with these two street projects sometime in 2020.  Money from the major and local street funds which has been unused will fund the project. Currently there is a $400,000.00 balance in the major streets fund and $233,000.00 in the local streets fund.  Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki said he is looking to get design information completed so the project is ready to go when the time comes.  

During the City Manager Report, City Manager Mike Burns also indicated that the City will be receiving grant money in the amount of $375,000.00 in 2022 to repave Monroe.  Additionally, utility work will need to be completed at this time. The City must match the grant money being received, which will be budgeted for during that fiscal year.  

Meeting Information

City Council will meet again on Monday, November 18 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.

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