Committees review insurance, budget, street revenue, marijuana ban

By Karen Cornelius

Fire chief’s report: The Health and Safety Committee met on Monday night, November 13. Vermilion fire chief Chris Stempowski reported there were 15 incidents in October with 223 total through the year so far. He said this is on par with last year’s calls. The chief said the new helmets have arrived and firefighters are happy with them. The police department has been assisting the fire department with the installation of wireless modems which will make dispatching a lot smoother. The department is receiving training from the police. He said they do a great job with dispatching. He added hose testing in-house is complete as well as the aerial truck inspection and all the ladders. The chief reported that the ice rescue boat is on order and will be here in a few weeks. It’s a swift water boat. They are looking for a second boat like a rowboat but sturdier for river abuse.


Councilwoman Barb Brady told the chief fire station #2 on Overlook looks great after improvements and makes a difference to the neighborhood. She asked about the retention pond. Stempowski stated that the pond is lower and doing its job since there are no storm water issues or flooding.


Police update/Simko case: Sitting in for chief Chris Hartung was captain James Graham. He said a massive weight has been lifted with the department due to the resolution of the Simko murder case. He stated sergeant Steve Davis did an excellent job and their hard work paid off with a conviction against Simko’s wife on all counts. The captain said the judge complimented Davis as the most honest officer he has had in the court. The captain added the department on the administrative level has had a lot of schooling and the department is in a good place moving in the right direction.


Council-at-large Monica Stark stated she understood there was training last Saturday on massive casualities and gun shot wounds, and it was excellent. She thought the fire department could benefit from this training if possible. The captain responded the training was as real as it can get with blood pumping and quick clot training. He said with the recent Las Vegas shootings the skills are great to have. The fire chief said they are open to all opportunities for training and will look into it. He said the firefighters are medical first responders and some are paramedics.


City insurance coverage: The Finance Committee met next with Allen Thorley Delloyd insurance agent Jerry Pearl attending to answer questions for the city’s upcoming renewal for one year, 2018. He said the insurance provider is Travelers, a very strong company specializing in municipalities. They provide a lot of in-service and helped the police department last year with revising their handbook. Pearl said the coverage in 2017 was $253,531 and the coverage for 2018 would be $256,467, a one and one-half percent increase. He stated they increased some property values and added the port authority docks for physical damage. The fence around the cemetery was included with an increased price. The city will have $2 million underlying for liability and a $5 million umbrella. While this may seem like a lot, Pearl said lawsuits like to use money in the millions. There is also cyber coverage. Councilwoman Brady asked if an inventory was done of city buildings and property. Pearl said it was updated with the help of finance director Brian Keller.


Review of 2017 budget: Finance director Keller had given council members information before the meeting on the budget so they could look it over. He said there was a three-year historical look for 2015, 2016, and 2017 showing the actual expenses incurred and a lot of other data such as the budget versus the actual and comparisons for spending this year and last year. Keller said the annual longevity pay is due in November so they will see increases in some wages. The finance director said he is happy so far with the budget’s performance.


Councilwoman Brady pointed out Permissive Use had $166,000 left over and she wondered why the service director left this on the table when the streets are so bad. She veutured they could have hired more people. Keller responded that there is still a lot to pay for through the end of this year, and the money is used for street repairs in tandem with the street levy fund. Brady commented that the sewer and water funds did well, and she asked where the musuem property money was coming from, the funding. Keller said there is a carryover balance and he was relocating it to the Parks Capital Improvement Levy Fund. Keller estimated the carryover in the general fund would be between $200,000 to $300,000.


Review of rubric street selection: The Streets, Buildings, and Grounds met after Finance. Streets chair Jim Forthofer said he and Keller went back and looked at the funding to see where they were with streets and how they could simplify it. Keller said there are a lot of moving parts looking at the Permissive Use Fund and the Streets Levy Fund. He said they are committed to a lot of contractual obligations to pay on such as the bridge for Highbridge Road, the Vermilion Road resurfacing, and the traffic signal project for Liberty Avennue. This could be close to $1 million. Also, Safe Routes to School is coming back to life in 2018.


Keller said there is also a discretionary/wish list they could or could not do in 2018. He reported they have $125,000 to spend and there is a $500,000 cushion giving them a balance around $624,000. It was commented to repave North Main Street the cost could be $140,000. Councilwoman Brady said they also have Street M&R funding. Chairman Forthofer stated they should wait for the city engineer to return to work to get her input as well as have time to wrap their arms around expenses. He said now they have some money which is better than none reported earlier.


Highway overpass promotional costs: Council-at-large Stark had suggested Vermilion could use one of its bridge overpasses to promote the city similar to other communities. She said the cost could be pricey, $38,000. She said it was just a thought and she didn’t recommend they move forward, but service groups might find this a good idea for a project. Mayor Eileen Bulan said she talked to ODOT and they recommended a “Gateway Sign” at the Sunnyside exit not using an overpass. Plans would have to be submitted to ODOT and funds raised by a service organization if they wanted to adopt this idea to attract people to visit Vermilion.


Peddlers, canvassers, and solicitors: The Legislative Committee met after Streets. Legislative chair Frank Loucka said an ordinance on the agenda has been tabled at the suggestion of clerk of council Gwen Fisher who gathered ordinances from other communities that are more up-to-date than Vermilion such as Bay Village and Amherst. Loucka said they could put together a hybrid of Vermilion’s ordinance and Bay Village to deal with people coming door-to-door and regulate them. He said Vermilion needs to define canvassers who are different from solicitors and exempt from getting permits and paying fees. These are political candidates and levy and state issue supporters. Currently people have to go to the mayor’s office for permits, but in other cities, they go to the police department. Also to think about is the acceptable hours wich vary for different municipalities. Vermilion’s time is 9 a.m. until sunset. Others have 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. Vermilion’s permit with a background check is two weeks with other cities at five days or fifteen days. It was agreed that Loucka would sit down with clerk Fisher and modify Vermilion’s ordinance so council could look at a draft.


Flood damage fees ordinance: Legislative also looked at an ordinance on council’s agenda that was tabled for further discussion concerning a Special Flood Hazard Area Development Permit Fee application of $500. The city engineer had suggested a revision to this ordinance stating that the applicant should be responsible for the cost of all review fees incurred by the city. Lately, the work and hours involved cost a lot more than $500 for some applicants who have larger projects they want to build in the flood plain. Finance director Keller was asked to come up with a five-year study of the costs to determine if fees should be raised or passed on to applicants going above the $500.


Keller passed out the history to the Finance Committee showing fees from 2011 through 2016. Most years charges were higher than the application fee of $500. For example, in 2016, there were fee receipts of $4,000 but flood plain management charges of $4,606. In 2015, there were fees paid of $3,000 and real charges of $7,459. The year 2014 was questioned with $500 of fees and $38,570 in actual charges. Service director Tony Valerius said that was the year FEMA found 20-25 flood plain properties not in compliance building below flood elevation. He said inspections and photos and reports had to be done.
From the audience, John Gabriel had suggested council put a cap on the fees that can be charged an applicant, not making an applicant responsible for an unlimited amount, facing a blank check. He said most other cities do not even charge a fee for this work. He said 3-5 applicants per year is not a massive work load. Councilwoman Brady said she liked a set fee as a contract service and they could go out to bid for a firm that would handle the administrative work for $500 per application. It was decided that the ordinance was up for a third reading next week and that council members could decide to just vote the revision down if they wanted to stay at the $500 level.


Updated zoning map review: Service director Valerius told council he and city engineer Lynn Miggins updated the city’s zoning map which hasn’t been done since 2009. He said they did not rezone, but just corrected wrong information and added new street names. An ordinance will eventually have to be done, but the revised map goes back to Planning Commission for review.


Medical marijuana sample legislation: Council president Steve Herron suggested instead of passing six-month moratoriums on medical marijuana that council just decide to do a permanent one. He said the state has already listed places for the use of marijuana for medical purposes and he doesn’t see the need for it in Vermilion. He said the law director has sample legislation that they could adopt that would prohibit the cultivation, processing, or dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes in any form within the city. Herron said if a company approached Vermilion, they could always change their mind at a later date or consider it. The Legislative Committee passed a motion to prepare this legislation by 6-0 with councilman Fred Ostrander absent.


Vermilion-On-The-Lake infiltration: The Utilities Committee met after Legislative. Chair Brady said she wanted to keep this issue in front of council to see if they had any ideas how to fix the situation of sanitary sewer overflow during heavy rain. She said residents could not use their toilets and sinks and having sewage in the streets is not acceptable. Service director Valerius responded that this is no secret and many homes in this area are very old, 80 years or so, and were built first as cottages. He said they have old laterals made of clay and storm water infiltrates through these laterals weeping storm water. He said the bottom line is who is going to pay because these are private laterals. Brady stated that VOL is the only area that had to pay to have their sewers lined. She said she would keep the problem on the agenda.


City committee schedule: All five city committees of city council will meet again on Monday, December 11, at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex on Decatur Street.


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