Council discusses disagreements regarding ordinances being voted on

By Melanie Williamson

Vermilion City Council met on Monday, November 20, for a regular meeting. After opening the meeting, Council president Steve Herron offered his condolences to the family of Matt Kobal, who passed away suddenly on Friday, November 17, as well as the players, students, and staff at Vermilion.

Mayor’s update: Mayor Eileen Bulan announced that December 6 through December 7, contractors will be at the Fulper lot working on removing the bad soil. She also announced that Erie County again received the CHIP grant with money designated for Vermilion. She stated that if anyone is interested in applying for grant money, they can do so by contacting the city office for an application. Finally, she shared that November 25 is Small Business Saturday, and she wanted to encourage people to shop in Vermilion. Also, the city is selling gift certificates for community pool members that can be purchased at the city office.

Service Director update: Service director Tony Valerius stated that the street sweepers have been out cleaning the leaves off the roads. He stated a reminder to residents that they should not be raking or blowing their leaves into the road as it clogs storm drains and causes problems. He went on to say that residents can still put out the brown paper yard waste bags with their trash up until Wednesday, December 13. Councilman Brian Holmes stated that he has received several calls from residents asking why the city does not offer leaf pickup, to which Valerius replied that they do not have the manpower.

Finance director update: Finance director Brian Keller stated that they are working on the capital assets extracting. They are comparing internal reports with the city-wide asset appraisal. While it is not complete yet, they have made progress. He also stated that they are working out some issues with their ACA compliance, and they are on the right track. Finally, he stated that they are currently focused on their year-end process.

Councilwoman Barb Brady asked if people were notified about the charge on utility payments following it up by stating a lot of people are mad about it. She went on to say that once you start the payment process online, you are not notified of the fee until it is too late, and she feels people should be warned before being charged. Keller responded that it is a technical issue and residents don’t have to pay online with a credit card; there are other options.

Councilman Jim Forther asked Keller if he has received any feedback on the Ohio checkbook webpage. Keller responded that he had a couple phone calls but not too much. He went on to say that there is a way for him to see how many people have viewed the webpage, but he has to look up how to do that.

Council at large Monica Stark asked Keller about the cash reconciliation and the 2016 audit. Keller responded that it has been a year since the last cash reconciliation and that the 2016 audit is complete and up on the auditor’s website. He also stated he would send a link out to council, so they can go online and view that.

Flood damage reduction ordinance: Prior to moving on to the reading of the ordinances, a motion was made to put Ordinance 2017-43 back on the agenda. The ordinance increased the amount of money the property owner could be charged for work done by the city engineer for houses being built in the flood plain. The set cost was $500 to the homeowner, but the actual cost sometimes exceeding that, so the city was paying the remainder. Councilman Frank Louka mad a motion to amend the ordinance to cap the total amount charged at $1000 to the property owner. This would be the $500 flat rate plus up to an additional $500 if needed. With this amendment, the city would cover any expense that went over the additional $500.

Councilwoman Barb Brady asserted that cap should go both ways. She asserted that the city engineer should be limited as to what can be charged. Brady suggested the cap should be on the owner to pay up to $1000, but also on the engineer to not charge over $1000. Louka responded that the city is in a contract with the engineer and they have to pay for time involved.

Council at large Monica Stark stated that other communities do not charge anything for this service, and she doesn’t want Vermilion to be a community that deters new construction by charging too many fees. She agreed with Brady that the city should work out the contract with the engineer that the city will only pay a certain amount for this service. Brady responded that part of the issue is that other communities have engineers on staff, which changes things. Vermilion would have to change their contract in order to change what they are paying, suggesting again a flat fee.

Louka responded that they cannot compare Vermilion to other cities. He followed that up by saying this is a minor issue for the people building along the river. The fee is not a deterrent for them.

The council then voted on the proposed amendment. The amendment carried with Stark and Brady voting against it. The council then voted on passing the amended proposal, which also passed with Stark, Brady, and Ostrander voting against it.

Commercial and heavy vehicle ordinance: The council was on the third reading of ordinance 2017-51 setting restrictions on what roads commercial and heavy vehicles can travel on. Under the ordinance, vehicles that need to travel on roads not designated for heavy vehicles would need to get a permit. After some questions, it was clarified that there was no fee for the permit, but there was a fine if caught driving on restricted roads without a permit. It was also clarified that this ordinance did not apply to garbage trucks or school buses.

The question was raised as to how companies and drivers will be made aware of this new ordinance. Valerius responded that they will send notices to all the companies that regularly operate in Vermilion. Additionally, it will be enforced through the police department, so Valerius stated he could discuss it with chief Hartung to make sure they are informing drivers that may not be aware of the change.

Council president Steve Herron stated that he felt this was over legislation. He went on to say that the primary areas of concern were the streets in VOL where they have had problems in the past, but the ordinance is citywide. Further, he pointed out how many exceptions there were suggesting it was law just for the sake of law.

Councilman Fred Ostrander made reference to Elberta being ruined by heavy trucks and stated that if there had been a law on the books against that, they could have done something about it. After some more discussion, the ordinance went to a vote and failed with councilman Brian Holmes, councilwoman Barb Brady, council president Steve Herron, and council at large Monica Stark voting against it.

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