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Council discusses rental home, LL&P, Showboat, more at latest regular meeting

Lowell city council had their latest regular meeting at city hall on Tuesday, Jan. 21. The council discussed a home they've been renting out for decades, the water treatment plant, Lowell Light & Power and the Lowell Showboat. The meeting lasted about 35 minutes and was attended by eight residents. City councilors Marty Chambers and Greg Canfield were absent.

The council voted to approve a $39,421.80 “change order” for Lowell Showboat construction. Funds from the Showboat grants will be used for this.

“There was an issue pertaining to the height on the two deck and the wheel house,” said city manager Michael Burns. “The attached order is for the time and material to make the proper corrections to the vessel. [...] This is an increase of the total project cost by 2.6 percent.”

“The reason that I’m voting for it is because I want the project to move ahead as quickly as possible,” said councilor Cliff Yankovich. “I know there’s people that want to point a finger and find somebody to blame, but when Lou D’Agostino got up and told us [at the Dec. 16 city council meeting] that he’s been there from the get-go and there really isn’t a clear [person to] blame. The boat builders aren’t at fault because they’ve made boats to various heights. I’ve been on boats and they don’t have eight or ten foot ceilings all the time, so that's why I'm voting to get it done.”

The council voted to give a pay raise to Lowell Light & Power board members.

“For the past six years, 2014 through 2019, the Lowell Light & Power board compensation has been set at $35 per meeting,” said LL&P executive director Steve Donkersloot. “We meet once a month, typically the second Thursday of every month. Because there hasn’t been an adjustment to the compensation for the previous six years and due to the fact that Light & Power board meetings routinely take a minimum of two hours - most of the time they’re at least three hours - it is my recommendation to bump that compensation up to $45 per regular or special meeting, not to exceed $900 per annual year."

The council voted to approve LL&P’s request to change the retirement benefits for its employees. The changes were already approved by the L&P board earlier this month. They will close the open LL&P hybrid retirement plan, and all new hires will instead be enrolled in a defined contribution retirement plan.

"The LL&P defined benefit pension plan is underfunded and poses a significant future financial risk to conduct normal and routine operations,” Donkersloot wrote in a Jan. 13 memorandum. “Moving to a [defined contribution] plan eliminates the potential for an additional future unfunded liability, our current problem, for new hires.”

“By doing this, it does begin the process of reducing the future liability,” Burns said. “Your costs are going to go up by doing this because there is an additional cost for closing a plan, but what it does do, though, is that liability, over time, will diminish.”

Workers performing the previously-approved $19,894.92 overhaul and cleaning of pump four at the water treatment plant discovered the need for $9.633.74 worth of new equipment. The total cost for the project is now $29,528.66. The 40-year-old pump bowls are worn out, cannot be reused and need to be replaced, along with the pump column suction pipe that connects the bowls to the motor.

"We got 40 years out of it, we might as well fix it right," said mayor Michael DeVore. "We'll save on labor by doing it all at once."

Finally, the council tabled their discussion of 990 N. Washington, a city-owned home on three acres of land in Vergennes Township that the city has been renting to Sandra Bartlett and Gary Dietzel since 1979. Their current rent is $450 a month, and the lease is set to expire on June 30, 2020. The council's discussion included breaking the parcel into three pieces and selling them, bringing the home up to code, auctioning the property and selling to the highest bidder, selling the house to the pair for $1 and merging the property (or a portion of it) with Scout Park.

“I do not understand what the justification was to rent the property for all these years,” Burns said. “In my opinion, the property and home are not a need of the city. We don't have a use for it. [...] It is also not a good practice for municipalities to be landlords.”

"When they moved into the house it was very disheveled and they made it into a livable place," Yankovich said.

"Even if they do stay there, we need to get out of the landlord business," DeVore said. 

The council will discuss the issue in more detail at a future meeting when all five city councilors are present.

Lowell city council's next meeting will be a special one “to consider resolution 02-20 pertaining to the transfer of property with Unity School” at 7 pm on Monday, Jan. 27. The council will also meet with the public during a "Coffee with the Council" at the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce building from 8 am until 10 am on Saturday, Feb. 1. Their next regular meeting will take place on Monday, Feb. 3.

To watch city council, board and commission meetings from the past few years, look for the "City of Lowell" or "Lowell Light and Power" channels on YouTube or visit archive.org.

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