Regular meeting at city hall on Tuesday, Feb. 4,
City council discusses condo development, more at meeting
At the meeting, Ralph Brecken was promoted to utilities supervisor after 18 years of service to the city and Lowell police officer Mike Stephens was promoted from part time to full time officer.
Lowell city council had their latest regular meeting at city hall on Tuesday, Feb. 4, delayed one day because of President's Day on Monday. The meeting lasted 59 minutes and was attended by 10 citizens.
The council discussed the potential Unity School condominium development. At their last meeting, the council talked about a land swap with the developers, who want to trade a 3,216 square foot piece of land that they own adjacent to Riverside Park for a 1,842 square foot portion of land that is currently part of Riverside Park.
“Since our last meeting we've learned some things about what we need to do for the next step,” said Lowell city manager Michael Burns. “We learned during the last two weeks... the parks and recreation master plan was never approved through the planning commission, meaning it doesn't need to follow the Planning Enabling Act requirements. Also, the rec plan, according to my understanding, was never approved by the [Michigan Department of Natural Resources], correct?” “It was submitted to the DNR as part of getting a trust fund grant,” said city attorney Dick Wendt.
“We've met all of the requirements for [the] DNR, on our end, for them to consider the land conversion, the transfers of property,” Burns said. “That being said, the next step at this point would be at our next council meeting we will present a resolution to the council that will do two things. The first thing it will do is to make amendments to the parks and recreation master plan, basically identifying the land transfer. The second action would be to approve the land conversion, basically the transfer of property. Both of these things still need to be contingent with and approved by the DNR. That ultimately has to happen in order for the transition to occur. There's a number of items that need to be submitted to the DNR that both the city and Unity Schools Developers LLC are working on, but once that resolution is presented at the next council meeting, it will just be presented. It has to sit for 20 days per charter, and after the 20 day period, the council could decide whether or not they want to vote and wait for DNR to possibly approve it or they can just wait until DNR approves it. Those are your options. That's where we're at, at this point. We learned a lot from this process. Dealing with this project has been very tricky because of the land grant requirements and even the provisions in the city charter. It doesn't look like it's been the cleanest type of project, but these are all necessary steps.”
“I believe, Mike, you've worked with the developers a little bit about possibly purchasing the south [parcel of land], have we proposed that to them, that option?” asked councilor Greg Canfield.
“That hasn't been proposed,” Burns replied. “I don't have the authority to propose that. I've had discussions with them about future options, that's about all I've done.”
“I very much support this project, but I feel we need to address the issues of access to the boat ramp and turnaround there,” Canfield said. “Jerry Zandstra [along with Todd Schaal, one of the Unity condo developers] had mentioned to me when I met with him that he felt the city should have just bought the south parcel when it was for sale at a separate price, and the proposal that I took to Mike, and I believe you submitted that to them, in theory, was that we could get an option to purchase that at that price that it was listed at, but I won't be able to support this until we clean up all the loose ends on this.”
“I'm in the same camp,” said councilor Cliff Yankovich. “I think, as this process has gone along, we've seen a lot of things that were left undone, and I don't think we should continue to leave things undone. I don't think they have any intention of blocking access to the river, but I would just like to see that spelled out. It's a pretty big deal. Honestly, if we could purchase the south piece, that would solve all the problems, wouldn't it?”
“Right, or either just get an option that would give us three years to purchase it,” Canfield said. “[That] was what I felt was a good compromise.” Later, the council went into a closed session, “at the request of the city manager to discuss the purchase of property.” They came back to an open session and voted 5-0 to do something.“The city council [went] into a closed session to discuss the purchase of property,” Burns said in an email to the Ledger. “I cannot legally discuss what occurred in closed session. However when we entered into open session, I was directed by the city council 5-0 to take the action discussed in closed session. [...] Purchase of property is one of the provisions in the [Open Meetings Act] statute which you can enter into closed session for.”
The Ledger made a FOIA request to find out exactly what the council directed Burns to do.
This request was "denied in part" by police chief Steve Bukala in an email to the Ledger on Monday, Feb. 25.
"Your request is denied in part," Bukala's email said. "The public body is not entitled to what is discussed in a closed session, however the direction of the city council coming out of closed session AND directing the city manager to do occurs out of open session to complete the vote. That is all that is required for the open meetings act. We are not going to keep Brandon here for an undetermined amount of time to turn the camera back on to record a vote when the city clerk has the vote in the minutes. When the city council has their next regularly scheduled meeting on March 4, 2019, the minutes will be reviewed and approved by the city council and the vote will be on those minutes and those minutes will be placed on the website. Again items discussed in closed session will not be on the minutes because it is closed session, however the vote of the council in open session will be on those minutes. I hope this answers your FOIA request. If you need information sooner, I suggest you wait at the end of the hallway until the closed sessions are complete and stick around for the open session vote. If you disagree with my denial, you have the right to appeal this decision."
Next, the council discussed demolition of the Lowell Showboat. Earthworm Dozing and Excavating, a Lowell company, was the lowest bidder at $6,000 and got the contract.
“The Department of Public Works requested quotes from five firms to demolish and remove the entire showboat structure and pontoons from its location on the Flat River,” said assistant city manager Rich LaBombard. “That's our proposal, is to just have them work onshore and pluck it out of the river. We want to do it while it's frozen so that we don't have to worry about anything going down the dam.”
The council voted 5-0 to give an industrial facility tax credit to King Milling, 149 S. Broadway, to help complete a $6 million, 41,000 square foot warehouse and packing facility on the former Michigan Wire site.
“Industrial facility tax credits are abatements of 50 percent of real and personal property taxes on the new investment,” Burns said. “Since the state of Michigan will have completely phased out the personal property tax on all property in 2023, the impact to the applicant is mostly the real property on the new expansion. King Milling has received IFTCs in the past. During my tenure, we have provided IFTCs to Litehouse and Big Boiler Brewing. […] King Milling meets the legal requirements to be considered for an industrial facility tax credit. This project revenue would be captured by the Downtown Development Authority and would not have a negative impact to the tax base. However, the DDA would only capture 50 percent of the new taxable value of this project, except for school taxes, during this abatement period.”
The council voted to switch from HUB International to BHS, the city's property and liability broker, who will now administer the city's healthcare plan as well. Two representatives from BHS attended the meeting.
“After meeting several times with BHS, I feel we receive more value from them than we receive currently,” Burns said. “[Services they will provide] include human resource consulting, where we can use them as a resource to assist us with HR-related issues such as recruiting and hiring, policies and procedures, performance management and record-keeping requirements. Additionally, they will provide us with an onboarding benefit administration system that we do not currently have. [...] By the city switching to BHS, this will allow the city to have all of our insurances administered by one firm. This, to me, makes administering our insurances more streamlined by having one firm, rather than multiple.”
The council voted to approve the 2020 budget calendar. After it's prepared by department directors, the city manager and the city treasurer, the 2020 budget is scheduled to be presented to the council on Monday, April 15. After a work session and a public hearing, the finalized 2020 budget is scheduled to be approved by the council on Monday, May 20. Fiscal year 2020 is scheduled to begin on July 1.
“While it is obviously important to engage with the council and the general public regarding the proposed budget, I will be holding another annual all day budget session on Saturday, April 27,” Burns said. “Department directors will be presenting their budget line item by line item on that day. The public hearing for the budget... will be held on Monday, May 20, 2019. The council can approve the budget that evening, or if we need to make changes, we can do so.”
The council voted 5-0 to approve a $497,553.80 installment purchase agreement between Lowell Light & Power, Solar Turbines Inc and Macatawa Bank. The money will be used to purchase a new control panel for the Solar combustion turbine engine, to replace the 1988 model it has now. The council also voted to terminate a 1927 “joint pole use” agreement between the city and “Michigan Bell Telephone,” currently AT&T.
To watch this meeting and many past city council, board and commission meetings, visit the city of Lowell’s YouTube channel.
Lowell city council's next regular meeting will be at city hall at 7 pm on Monday, March 4. The council will also meet with the public at a “Coffee with the Council” event at Lowell Chamber of Commerce headquarters on the Riverwalk from 8 until 10 am on Saturday, March. 2.