Lowell City Council Starts with Fireworks, Ends with Closed Session

It took less than 30 minutes for Lowell City Council to move through agenda items during last night’s regular meeting at City Hall. They approved a change to the fireworks ordinance, ok’d an agreement with the Kent County Youth Fair and gave their blessing to two easement requests made by Lowell Light & Power.

Then, they went into a closed session “to discuss pending litigation” and had a conversation that lasted roughly an hour. City Attorney Dick Wendt and LLP General Manager Steve Donkersloot sat in on the session. When the council reopened the meeting to the public, they adjourned without taking any action.

Here are more details on what was addressed during the open portion of the meeting.

New Fireworks Ordinance Adopted

For their first order of business, councilmembers unanimously adopted a resolution to adjust the dates on which fireworks can be discharged in the city. The ordinance change was prompted by an amendment to the state law that reduced the number of days on which fireworks must be allowed from 30 to 12. The Lowell ordinance includes all 12 of the state required days as well as the Saturday of Riverwalk Festival.

City Income Tax Update

Next, City Manager Mike Burns provided an update on the city income tax ballot proposal. The city already has a list of Frequently Asked Questions on its website, but Burns is working on creating a calculator that will allow residents to see how much the proposal will cost them specifically. The city manager noted he is also working to get a proposal from Sabo PR to use their services and that should be brought before the council at their next meeting.

Paving Cost to be Split by City, King Milling

The next agenda item was simply entitled “South Broadway,” and Burns noted that after meeting with King Milling, the city agreed to spend $6,000 to split the cost of asphalt with the company.

It was not entirely clear what this referred to until City Councilmember Greg Canfield explained to those in attendance that King Milling had paved a section of the right of the way. Normally, the city does not put asphalt in the right of way because it can be expensive to replace if utility work is needed. However, in this case, having a paved surface made sense for King Milling given the sanitation needs of their work.

However, the pavement needed to be pulled up as part of the reconstruction of South Broadway. The cost to replace it is $12,000 and since King Milling initially paid for the paving, the city agreed to split the cost of replacing it.

New Agreement with Kent County Youth Fair

Lowell City Council unanimously passed a new agreement with the Kent County Youth Fair for use of Recreation Park. In the past, the fair has paid the city 10% of its non-fair week revenue. That worked out to about $1,700 annually. However, city officials were concerned that the amount did not adequately cover the extensive hours spent by city workers to prepare the park for the fair. The new agreement includes a flat $3,000 annual fee to use Recreation Park in 2020 and 2021.

As part of the agreement, the city will take over the cost of an electrical line running onto the property. This has cost the fair approximately $600 each year, but Burns noted it didn’t seem fair to charge the youth organization this annual cost given their limited time on the property.

Other sections of the agreement dealt with the use of Burch Field during fair week and the future use of the King Building.

Electrical Line Easements

As part of Lowell Light & Power’s efforts to move from overhead to buried lines, Donkersloot came before City Council to request approval for two easements. The first is for a property in Valley Vista on which there is inadequate space in the right of way to bury the lines so they must cross a homeowner’s property. The other easement is for the placement of lines on the property of Dependable LP Gas Co in the southeast corner of the city. Both easements were approved unanimously.

New Department of Public Works Director Announced

Burns announced Dan Czarnecki will be the next director of the Lowell Department of Public Works. He is currently the DPW director for the City of Fenton, and Burns worked with Czarnecki for five years when he was employed as Fenton’s assistant city manager.

“It wasn’t just Mike Burn’s decision to hire him,” Burns said in making the announcement. While it doesn’t not appear city councilmembers were involved in the process, city department heads, Dave Austin of consulting firm Williams & Works and the city manager of Muskegon all helped review applicants for the position. “It was obvious to everyone that Dan was the number one candidate,” Burns said.

Czarnecki will begin his position in Lowell on August 5.

Well Testing Near the Ware Road Landfill

During his manager’s report, Burns also noted that Ionia County had tested the wells of five homes near the Ware Road Landfill owned by the city. All those wells came back negative for volatile organic compounds. That is good news, and the city will continue its own testing and monitoring efforts to make sure local groundwater is safe.

Funding Issue for City Pensions Looms

The Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) has lowered the rate of return on the city’s pension fund which means its funding level could be in danger of dropping below the 60% required by the state. That percentage refers to the amount of money the city has available to pay for its expected pension obligations. “We may have to file a corrective action plan at some point,” Burns said.

In the past, Canfield has proposed moving away from the defined benefit system, which provides a traditional pension to city retirees, and instituting a defined compensation plan similar to 401(k) accounts used by most private employers. As suggested in past meetings, Canfield believes old employees should be allowed to remain in the current pension system while new hires could be enrolled in a defined compensation savings plan.

Changing the city’s retirement system would help address the pension funding issue, but Burns has told Lowell’s First Look in the past that converting the retirement system would have an initial cost that the city cannot currently afford.

Commission Members Needed

There are several vacancies on various city boards and commissions. Most pressing are two vacancies on the Lowell Downtown Historic District Commission. Councilmember Cliff Yankovich noted the commission could not hold its last meeting because it did not have the necessary quorum. Other vacancies are on the Construction Board of Appeals and Downtown Development Authority.

City residents who are interested may complete an application for appointment.

Coffee with Council Cancelled

Due to the Fourth of July holiday, this Saturday’s Coffee with Council has been cancelled.

Lowell City Council will have its next regular meeting at 7pm on July 15 on the second floor of City Hall.

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