February may be a short month, but the agenda was long at Monday’s Lowell City Council meeting. The group approved a $1.3 million utility and street project, heard from a teen aviation expert and got an update on whether Main Street will ever see a crosswalk.
The meeting capped off a long evening for council members which started with a Committee of the Whole to discuss city income. Here are the highlights from what was discussed during the regular council meeting.
Old Business: City Contracts and an Ordinance Update
The City Council had two items on the agenda that were hold overs from previous meetings. The first was a review of professional services agreements and contracts. The city contracts with third parties for property tax assessments, database management and legal services among other things. Of these, insurance was the most expensive service contract paid by the city followed by attorney fees.
“I can tell you, obviously, the attorney costs, especially last year, were quite high,” Burns said. He added the city attorney Dick Wendt may begin curtailing his practice in anticipation of retirement later this year. When that happens, his firm, Dickson Wright, could provide a replacement or the city could seek bids for a new attorney. Currently, the city pays a fee of $185 per hour for legal services which Burns said was quite affordable compared to other municipal attorneys.
At the end of the discussion, the council agreed to put together a task force to consider bidding out services such as the contract for building inspections which will expire this year.
The other bit of old business involved an ordinance change to regulate short-term rentals such as those offered through the website Airbnb. The council sent the ordinance back to the Planning Commission for further review. In particular, Councilmember Greg Canfield noted concerns with language requiring a site plan review. “Things are getting a little out of control with the government in our lives,” he said about requiring such a review of interior changes to a property.
New Business: Street Project, Presentations and More
Moving on to the new business, City Council first approved a $1.269 million project to complete utility and road repairs to South Broadway and Ottawa Streets. The contract was awarded to Kamminga & Roodvoets, the second lowest bidder. A representative of engineering firm Prein & Newhof noted the company had previously worked with the city and would be better able to complete a project of this scope and size as compared to the lowest bidder. Work will begin in the spring, and funding for the project comes from a 2016 bond.
Next, Lowell Area Historical Museum Director Lisa Plank presented her annual review to the council. Following Plank was Alex Taylor who was invited by City Manager Mike Burns to share details of his business plans.
Taylor, a student at Lowell High School, is founder of Wind Craft Aviation. His company is focused on developing innovations in personal aviation and hopes to create a maker space in Lowell for businesses and entrepreneurs to work on their own initiatives.
Along those same lines, Taylor is hoping to develop a program at Lowell Area Schools that will bring in experts to guide students. “We’re working on creating a curriculum around helping people develop their creativity,” he said. Ultimately, Taylor hopes to open up the cement hanger at Lowell airport and turn that into Wind Craft Aviation’s base of operations.
After that there was discussion, but no resolution, on how to enforce the current sidewalk ordinance. The City Council also passed a resolution authorizing MDOT to complete a speed study on Main Street. The last one was done in 1989. Finally, the council ok’d the transfer of LOOK Fund money to the Grand Rapids Foundation in the hopes of getting better investment returns.
Manager’s Report: PFAS, Crosswalk and a New Assistant City Manager
In his manager’s report, Burns began by saying he’d asked for the city water supply to be tested for PFAS. The toxic substance is currently being found in wells in Rockford and surrounding areas. “I wanted to know for sure,” Burns said about why he authorized the testing. Fortunately, the results showed no sign of PFAS in the city water.
Burns also met with MDOT officials to discuss traffic and pedestrian safety along Main Street. “We are looking at some sort of signalized crosswalk to let pedestrians cross at the Showboat,” he said. MDOT has indicated they may be willing to consider discussing the addition of a center lane to the road as well.
DPW Director Rich LaBombard then reviewed a recent water main break on Bowes Road. After which, Burns noted LaBombard had been an indispensable resource in the past year. While Burns had to focus much of his time on issues related to the biodigester and police department, LaBombard was able to fill in on other tasks as needed.
After expressing concern that LaBombard’s leadership skills may mean other municipalities could try to woo the DPW director away from Lowell, Burns announced he was elevating LaBombard to the position of assistant city manager. “I felt it was necessary for the stability of the community,” he said.
The meeting adjourned at 8:20pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, February 19.
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Rich LaBombard’s name.