Committees review Main Street project costs, water bill fees, 2018 streets

By Karen Cornelius

Fire chief’s update: The Health and Safety Committee met on Monday night, January 8, and heard an update from Vermilion fire chief Chris Stempowski. The chief said there were 10 incidents in December bringing the total for 2017 at 251 calls. He stated he attended an “Active Shooter” course in Detroit concerning industrial settings and found it informative with information he shared with the department. The chief informed council members that Erie County HazMat was reorganizing its team and a Vermilion firefighter and one from Huron are taking the leadership role.


The chief discussed a structure fire on Shadyside near the end of December with frigid weather calling for mutual aid from Florence Township and Vermilion Township to guarantee the water resources. The homeowner got out safely and everything flowed smoothly despite the weather.


The chief said on last Saturday the department’s gas monitors both went down which was due to a sensor and was unusual. He borrowed one from Amherst and found another until Vermilion’s are repaired. The gas monitors tell the department about carbon monixide, oxygen levels, and the atmosphere used for CO2 calls. He added during training that Monday night there was fittings for the correct size masks. The department is also doing refresher training and testing bail-out kits used to escape with hooks to a window if there is danger. There’s a refresher driver course as well. He urged residents to have smoke and CO detectors because they save lives. He said it’s better to call 911 than hesitate. He is working on his annual report.


Health Committee chair Barb Brady asked if there was anything new on a proposed new fire station. The fire chief said he is waiting for the law director to investigate a design/build procedure. Councilman John Gabriel asked about the boats on order since there could be a thaw and rain later in the week. Chief Stempowski said the boats are here and they are waiting for the trailer to haul them. He said the firemen are going through the boats tonight. Council-at-large Monica Stark asked about checking hard-wire detectors that are going into new homes. The chief said they should be checked to make sure the batteries are working.


Police chief’s report: Vermilion police chief Chris Hartung stated the department’s training schedule for 2018 is complete and he is working on the annual report as well as updating the policies and procedures for the department. He is also rewriting the job descriptions since there will be union negotiations in October. Health chair Brady asked about a new dedicating broadband service. The chief said he is aware and waiting for a charge. He said this leans toward Homeland Security dedicated to public safety.


Employee health care benefits: Chair Brady asked if they could have someone come to council and talk about any concerns in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. She said the city is self-insured with a backup medical plan and she would like to know where they are and what is ahead. Councilman Steve Holovacs stated that for the upcoming budget it would be ideal to know where the city is at concerning benefits and any upcoming changes. He said the costs keep going up. Mayor Jim Forthofer will check into it and invite a speaker from BAC.


Street program for 2018: The Streets, Buildings, and Grounds Committee met after Health and Safety. Chairman Frank Loucka stated they probably have to repave North Main Street from Liberty Avenue to Lake Erie because it was all torn up by a recent project. He wondered if council had any other ideas for 2018 and if they should request a cost estimate on North Main. Council president Steve Herron thought they should start thinking about street repairs and they need more accurate numbers. He advised council members should not have closed minds yet and see if they could afford another project. As far as other ideas, mayor Forthofer suggested they refresh and look at Hollyview between Sanford and Forestview. Councilwoman Brady said they should look at street striping in the Permissive Use budget. She said that should really be a Street M&R expense and that money, $90,000, could go to streets for 2018. The Streets Committee passed a motion to have new city engineer Chris Howard from Bramhall get costs for repaving North Main and for Hollyview.


Traffic signal project protection: Councilman Holovacs said he was driving around town and noticed the new control boxes for the traffic light project. He thought there should be some sort of ballast to protect them since drivers have been known to crash and take down poles in the past. He said this would be an extra expense, but he thought there should be some protection. He advised they could see if ODOT would pay some of the expense since its their 80-20 project. The committee asked service director Tony Valerius to look into it.


Vermilion-On-The-Lake infiltration: The Utilities Committee met after Streets and councilwoman Brady said she wanted to continue reminding everyone of the sanitary sewer overflow at Lansing and the westend with three manholes. She suggested the city camera the line and pop manholes to discover the problem. Service director Valerius said he thinks there are downspouts tied into the sanitary and they can have them corrected in the spring. He also showed council a visual of the elevation map for Edgewater to show the problem with the water level going up once it hits Lansing. City engineer Howard agreed he thought the problem was with the laterals with most being cracked and allowing storm water to seep into the sewer system plus the manholes are low. Brady asked Valerius and Howard to get back to them.


Water fill fee charge: Councilwoman Brady said water billing is continually frustrating to her. She said some people are receiving emails that state their bills are due on the day the email was sent. Then they are charging late fees without much notice. She said something is broken here, and the city owes the residents some leeway with late fees. Councilman Brian Holmes agreed and said one caller told him a call was received at 7 a.m. that the bill was due that day. When the caller went down to pay it, there was no one there. A short-term moritorium was suggested because no one thought the $11 late fee was fair. What also bothered councilman Holovacs was being told after using a debt card there would be a $5 fee attached. He said people should be told upfront about the fee, not after paying. Clerk of council Gwen Fisher said the billing is a new system, new software, and she said they should check with the Utilities Department to see what the program was capable of doing or changing. It was agreed the administration should look into the problems and get back to council to see what can be done.


Water/sewer funds transfer: Councilman Gabriel said since they will be looking at the 2018 budget soon he would like to suggest transfers from the sewer and water funds to the general fund for administrative services be stopped and kept in the funds for capital improvements. He said he is opposed to these transfers and the city doesn’t charge any other departments for administrative work such as the Parks Department. He said they transfer money and then they increase rates which affect everyone. Councilwoman Brady was opposed and said there is another side. She was upset outside contracts with the city for water and sewer service were not paying enough. Gabriel suggested they contact the law director to see if these contracts could be re-negotiated since they are old, from the 1980’s. The committee passed a motion to have the law director review the outside contracts, sanitary and water.


Executive session request: Before Utilities adjourned, Brady asked for an executive session after committees to discuss personnel, specifically compensation. The committee voted to go into executive session later with no action forthcoming for the night.


Review of 2018 audit: The Finance Committee met next with chairman Holmes tabling a review of the audit until a new finance director was appointed by the mayor and approved by city council members.


Change order #3 for Main Street Water Main Improvements: The city engineer Howard told council members the final invoice for the Main Street project was due, but there were additional costs of $35,538.23 for over-runs, quantities, under-runs. He said the final payment would be $44,792.75. Councilman Holovacs was upset it has taken so long for council to be informed about this change order since the project was finished after Thanksgiving. He asked who gave the city the go ahead to do this extra $35,000. Service director Valerius said the mayor, Eileen Bulan, did so there would be no work stop and winter weather was coming so they needed to patch with asphalt. Holovacs told the service director it was alarming to hear about this change order two months after it was done. Council president Herron said they can no longer make these change orders a habit. He said they have to pay their bills, but it is frustrating. Councilman Gabriel agreed and said they have to review how they go out to bid and sometimes not pinch a penny that will cost them a dollar. Councilman Holovacs said they need to be aware of what is going on with projects. The committee passed a motion to prepare legislation to pay the contractor for the change order, the third one for this job.


Peddlers, canvassers, solicitors ordinance: The Legislative Committee met last and tabled a discussion on revising an old ordinance on solicitors until new members got up-to-date and old members reviewed the issue. Clerk of council Fisher and councilman Loucka are working on a new ordinance looking at how Amherst and Bay Village handle the topic. The issue will go back on the agenda in March or April.


Committee schedule: Committees will meet again on Monday, February 12, at 7 p.m. at the municipal Complex on Decatur Street.


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