By Karen Cornelius
Mayor’s report/Pearl Harbor Day: Vermilion City Council met on Monday night, December 4. There was no city correspondence, no audience participation, and no old business. Councilwoman Barb Brady was absent.
Mayor Eileen Bulan thanked every organization in the community that has organized Christmas programs going on all through the holidays. A special thank you went to the U.S. Coast Guard who came to Vermilion on Saturday, November 25, to lead the icebreaker down the river for the Christmas Tree Ship. It was a great event and everyone even got to get on the Coast Guard cutter and tour it.
She announced that this Thursday, December 7, is Pearl Harbor Day and the Vermilion Veterans Council will be holding a ceremony at 11a.m. at the Public Boat Ramp.
Lastly, the mayor stated that the downtown decorations look fantastic again this year. She thanked Dana Corogin and all the Main Street Vermilion in Bloom volunteers for all the decorations and life rings and lighted trees in the downtown. She said all the decorations were made possible by the generous donations of citizens. In most communities, the city has their employees do all the decorating so Vermilion is fortunate that there is all this volunteer help. The mayor thanked everyone.
Safe Routes to School: Service director Tony Valerius reported that there was a meeting with the Ohio Department of Transportation concerning the Safe Routes to School project. He said this project has been resurrected. He said property owners in the construction zone will be receiving letters around December 11 with information. This would include Sanford Street and some surrounding streets. Valerius said field crews would be coming in to do surveying and field work collecting data. Any questions on installing sidewalks and safety measures around the Vermilion Local Schools campus should be directed to him.
Finance director’s update: Finance director Brian Keller stated they are making great progress on capital assets which hasn’t been touched in seven years. He said they are sharing them with department heads for review of the capital assets listing so they can determine what the city has and doesn’t have. He had a meeting with Mike Lennon who prepares the city’s financial statements. They started identifyig issues related to the bank reconciliation and also discussed the carrying value of the city’s investment portfolio. There is a second meeting scheduled for Thursday, December 7. Keller told council the final appropriations amendment will be submitted to council on Thursday, December 14, for the December 18 council meeting. He said the ordinance will need to be passed that night so they can submit figures to the Erie County Auditor. The auditor turns around and issues the certificate that final appropriations do not exceed estimated resources. This certificate is important to have.
The finance director told council he would be submitting the 2018 budget to council in January in the hopes of having it passed in January or February. Last year it was passed at the end of March, but he would like to have it passed earlier. Also, there is an ordinance on the agenda that night for a temporary 2018 budget for the first three months of the year. He said it can be reviewed in committee next week or passed that night. He said it’s just a formality until the actual 2018 budget is passed by March.
Council-at-large Monica Stark asked Keller if the bank reconciliations would be done monthly in the future. He responded they would and he would like to get them weekly if he can. Stark thanked him for the audit report and asked to be present at the exit meeting. She also asked about the ACA (Afforable Care Act) and if the city could receive fines. Keller answered that he doubted it and they are looking at technicalities for a small group of employees as far as hours of work and when they were hired. He said there are gray areas concerning full benefits.
New FEMA mapping for at-risk flooding: City engineer Lynn Miggins reported that she and the mayor had a meeting with FEMA representatives on all the lakefront communities in Lorain County. She said there are changes in rate maps and a new study by FEMA on coastal flooding along the Great Lakes which involves eight states. There are new preliminary maps identifying risk areas when there are severe storms during high lake levels. This also changes Vermilion’s current map with a new high-risk zone including Edson Creek and the Vermilion River.
Miggins recommended the city hold a public hearing to inform the public, perhaps during the first quarter of 2018. She said the maps will be adopted in 2019 with the newly mapped areas in the special flood plain. The city will also have to have new ordinances. Property owners will be getting a letter from FEMA and have 90 days to comment and present studies for their properties. The city can also present data that might differ from FEMA. She commented the Vermilion Lagoons along the lakefront will have new maps and there is a higher base flood elevation for Vermilion River properties. She said it is important for the city to get this information out to the public.
Council president Steve Herron assumed there would now be an increased need for flood insurance. Miggins said it is voluntary unless property owners have a mortgage and then the bank would require it. She said they expect more properties to be in this high-risk area and have higher rates.
Councilman Fred Ostrander asked Miggins about the work on Main Street with the storm drainage. He said there is a protrusion sticking out into the street across from Chez Francois that snowplows and cars could hit. She said she would look at it. Council-at-large Stark asked the city engineer why the Liberty Avenue Traffic Signal Project was going on so long all summer with those ugly boxes everywhere. Miggins said the holdup is the mast arms for the signal poles which are supposed to arrive in December. However the supplier is holding the contractor hostage. She said at least the underground work is done. She expects the March completion date will have to have an extension.
Law director’s report/eminent litigation: Law director Ken Stumphauzer asked for an executive session to discuss possible litigation concerning a new state statute the city might be interested in looking over. Under new business, council voted to go into executive session with possible action when they reconvened. After the reading of the ordinances, council recessed and met for ten minutes. When they returned, members passed a motion to enter into litigation at the Lorain County Common Pleas Court concerning State House Bill 49 dealing with net profit taxes. Vermilion will be joining other cities against the state of Ohio. Law director Stumphauzer explained that the state is usurping local home rule and allowing companies in and outside of the municipalities to file net profit taxes with the state instead of with RITA, the city’s tax collecting agency. He said if there is an error filing with penalty and interest charges then the city has to pay all of this and not the state even though the city wasn’t involved. In essence, the city could lose revenue if the filings aren’t accurate.
Reading city ordinances: Council gave a second reading to an ordinance to hire South Shore Dredge & Dock of Lorain to provide icebreaking services on the Vermilion River from January 1 through February 28, 2018. They suspended the rules and adopted the ordinance by emergency. Council members suspended the rules on four ordinances up for a second reading that would purchase various chemicals for the Utilities Department. They adopted them all by emergency.
They gave a first reading to an ordinance to make temporary appropriations for current expenses for the first three months of 2018. The ordinance will go to the Finance Committee next week for review although four members tried to suspend the rules opposed by Stark and Ostrander who wanted more time to study it. The motion didn’t carry because it takes five votes to declare an emergency.
There was a first reading for two resolutions to executive settlement agreements for the acquisition of property interests from Wilberto and Debra Torres and Daniel and Deanna Walther for the Highbridge Road Bridge Replacement Project. The rules were suspended and the resolutions for settlment were adopted by emergency. The Torres received $9,500 and the Walthers received $30,000.
Council’s schedule: All five committees of city council will meet on Monday, December 11. City council will meet on Monday, December 18. City offices will be closed December 25.