Street costs, Fulper lot, water billing, VOL program, solicitors discussed

By Karen Cornelius

Fire chief’s report/new fire station: During the Health and Safety Committee meeting on February 5, fire chief Chris Stempowski reported 14 incidents in January with the year total at 14. He said the department ended the year, 2017, with 251 incidents. He is still compiling statistics for his annual report. He said they replaced a battery in truck #95, and they have the new trailer and boats in service and will do some training soon. The boats are not in the water yet and are waiting for weather to break. The department did some ice rescue training at Romp’s Water Port and also gave a demonstration on ice rescue at Mill Hollow in January. He said on January 12 during the bad snow storm he had men standing by to respond if there were any emergencies. He was not able to get a new command vehicle last year and would like to purchase one this year to replace the 2000 Blazer.


He said the city’s law department gave him information on the design/build process for a new fire station and he believed the next step was to advertise for qualifications from firms. Mayor Jim Forthofer stated that state laws have changed about the process and there are a lot of steps to follow for a big project. The mayor said this will be a big investment, one to last for decades. Councilman Steve Holovacs commented that North Ridgeville was building a new fire station and so was Norwalk, but they were going out to bid and that was another option to consider to find an architect. The fire chief responded North Ridgeville paid 3/4 of a million dollars for the design architect on an $8 million new station which was a lot. Stempowski is talking to all the chiefs in the area for advice. He said the design/build process made sense to follow. The chief will also go out and look at other facilities and see what the needs are. Councilwoman Barb Brady asked where the location would be for the new station. The chief said they have not determined that yet as there are a lot of factors to consider.


Police chief’s update: Police chief Chris Hartung also reported to Health and Safety and said his annual report was ready. He said council will notice in the report the business and house checks are up due to a program to have officers get out of their cars and walk at night. He said they did 4,000 more checks this way. Hartung is now focusing on pending retirements for 2019-2020 of experienced, veteran officers. The department is also concentrating on doing their required training. The chief noted a lot of vehicle entries around the Morris area and advised people to lock their cars. He said if people see something, say something. Call the department immediately. Don’t wait for another day.


Cost estimates for 2018 street program: The Streets, Buildings, and Grounds meeting met after Health and Safety. City engineer Chris Howard was asked to look at costs for repaving Main Street and a section of Hollyview. He said repaving Main Street from Liberty Avenue to Main Street Beach would cost $205,000 with a five percent contingency. There would be no curb and gutter work. He estimated the total project for Hollyview’s reconstruction from Sanford to Forestview would be $701,916. The city has a grant for $412,000. The construction would include 1,480 feet. It would be a complete tearout with new curbs and gutters and asphalt. Howard advised council should do some soil borings first to determine the base. Three borings would probably be up to $6,000. If the city went ahead with Hollyview it would not be until 2019. Councilman Holovacs told council members they need to look at the budget first since it appeared they would be down to no money if they did Hollyview. Although he wanted Hollyview fixed, they also had to consider doing other streets for the city.


Traffic signal project/ballasts: Service director Tony Valerius said it was suggested they need ballasts to protect the new traffic signal posts in case vehicles would crash into them. He said there are nine areas were these protective barriers should be placed including West River at Liberty, Sandusky Street, Dairy Dock, Vermilion Road at Liberty, the Linwood light, and some at South Shore Plaza. The cost would be $6,649.20. He said ODOT would pay the 80 percent. He asked clerk of council Gwen Fisher to prepare an ordinance for a change order for the traffic signal project to include these ballasts. He said they would be yellow and six-inch round structures. They could put reflective tape on them. The committee passed a motion to prepare the change order.


Council-at-Large Monica Stark stated that some people are asking her why the poles are black in the downtown area and not for the eastern stretch of Liberty. She wished they could be consistent, all black, to enhance the Bridge-To-Bridge project. The service director responded that there is a costly price difference to do all the poles. He said even if they painted the rest, there is a maintenance issue. Stark said the silver boxes along Liberty look terrible and she suggested having artists paint them to make the community look nicer.


Gas station parking lot: Councilman John Gabriel asked the administration what they were going to do with the empty Fulper gas station lot at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Grand Steet. He said the land is empty now and he hoped no one was considering another city park for that area as they have Friendship Park nearby. He would like to see a parking lot there or have the city sell the property and generate some income. Mayor Forthofer said he was notified on January 11 that the EPA gave the lot an all clear of any contamination and the ground was safe and the soil clear. The mayor said he has been talking to people because he would like to see it as an investment opportunity. He has spoken to the Vermilion Chamber and Main Street Vermilion about the need for a multi-use retail and residential building and would entertain proposals for that purpose. Right now the land can be used for parking. He agreed they don’t need another public park on that corner. The mayor said they do have more free parking now that the city has purchased the Grand Division Parking Lot. What they need is good signage to direct people to park there.


Council-at-Large Stark said she would support a parking lot for that corner since the festivals and Third Thursday are getting so large. She said the city has plenty of empty buildings where investors could put their money. The mayor stated that there are different zones in Vermilion and the downtown is really filled to capacity. It’s the eastside that has the empty buildings.


Vermilion-0n-The-Lake infiltration/pilot program: The Utilities Committee met after Streets with councilwoman Barb Brady reminding the city about the storm water causing a backup into the sewer system in VOL. She is still looking for a resolution and doesn’t want toilet paper in the streets. Councilman Holovacs said he met with the service director and city engineer concerning this issue. He said the lines are the city’s and the laterals going into the homes are the property owners responsibility. They see the problem is with some laterals that are illegally connected to the sanitary as well as downspouts going into the sanitary. He said smoke testing has been done to show these bad connections. Many laterals are made of old clay and are not sealed with water seeping through them. Holovacs suggested a pilot program by picking one street and using a camera into the laterals. He said the city’s mainline is good, it’s the laterals. They need to seek pricing to do this. If laterals are broken, the homeowners would pay to fix them. Brady asked that the line be checked as well just to make sure. Council president Steve Herron said this is a health situation and he agreed they should do something. By doing one street it could signal to other street homeowners to fix their laterals. Service director Valerius warned that this problem is not just VOL its storm water infiltration all over the city. He said the storm going to the sewer plant during a heavy rain is costly to treat. Councilman Gabriel advised they would also need a legal procedure included to have the homeowners fix laterals if they are broken and a means of payment. He said this could turn into a big project. The committee asked the administration to go out for prices to do a pilot program on televising the laterals and also talk to the law director about a payment procedure, especially if the homeowner could not pay and could have the cost added to taxes.


Utility billing followup: The service director told the Utilities Committee that they now have a fee structure online when people paying their utility bills monthly can go to and click to a blue box where the fees are noted upfront. He said service fees apply for online payments and they are $3.25. For phone payment service the fee is $4.20. He said the Auto-pay option occurs with no fees. The form can be mailed or dropped off at City Hall. Residents can also pay through their own bank account and there is no charge. He said the city of Vermilion’s online billing and payment solution offers more ways to view and pay utility bills, plus the addition of 24/7 phone payments and pay by text. Customers can receive and view bills electronically, make a payment with credit/debit card or e-check and choose to go paperless. A quick, one-time payment can be made without registering or people can create an account to enjoy more features like setting up automatic payments, saving payment information for later use and viewing history.


Councilwoman Brady said the fees are just too high and that’s not acceptable. Mayor Forthofer agreed they need to shop around. He said telling some auto-pay customers they were delinquent was a mistake made by the software company and it was wrong that the water would be turned off. He said he wrote to the president of the company about the erroneous messages and was told it would not happen again. The mayor said it was embarrassing. Council-At-Large Stark asked about the calls complaining about the wrong billing and if they were going to an answering machine, not a real person. She hoped there were callbacks on the problem. Service director Valerius said they have two utility clerks who are on the phones all the time. Councilman Holovacs said they should have a system in place to check these bills so there are no errors. He said there should be checks and balances. The mayor agreed the city should check and suggested they pull a round of 30 or so bills and review them to catch any mistakes.


Drinking water notice: Service director Valerius said the EPA instructed the city to send out notices that created some misunderstandings about the drinking water. He said a test was missed on raw water to see if any E-Coli was detected, and if so, how to deal with it. He said this was a special EPA program that lasts 24 months of testing. He said the city checked the raw water in Lake Erie in 2010 and there was no problem. He said this missed test wasn’t on the list so it wasn’t done. The testing in no way affects the drinking water. He said he did send a memo to council notifying them of the notice to the public. Councilman Gabriel suggested the administration should have sent out a press release or letter to customers explaining the EPA language and what it really means to them. He said the notice scared some people. Valerius said he didn’t think the city should negate an EPA notice as if it meant nothing.


Peddlers, canvassers, solicitors draft legislation: The Legislative Committee met after Utilities. Councilman Frank Loucka said he met with police chief Hartung to get his comments on rewriting legislation on solicitors coming into Vermilion. He said Hartung contributed five points to incorporate into the upcoming legislation. One is to increase the history of these solicitors back five years, not one since they are transient. Another was questions on fingerprinting or taking DNA. The chief said they can’t be that invasive unless they have justification such as a criminal offense. They have to be aware of lawsuits and need to consult the law director on what qualifies as justifaction. Councilman Holovacs asked if they would have badges. The chief said they would issue permits the canvassers must have on their person, and people should ask to see those permits. Councilman Gabriel said he notes that no license is required for religious solicitors, and he wondered if they have to register. The chief said they have to register so he knows how many people are going out to homes. He questioned the age of minors under 17 being sent out and if they should only be non-profit reasons. He said they should not be excluded from registering or a business could go out and hire minors. Since there was no appeal in the draft legislation, Gabriel thought one should be included. Council president Herron agreed. Legislative chair Stark said the draft should be referred to the law director with these changes and he could determine who could not receive a permit, who could be a danger.


Deposits and proceeds of collections/storm water: Council president Herron stated that the Storm Water Advisory Committee requested a change in the city ordinance section on proceeds from the storm drainage utility charges and other collections for the storm water system. It currently states that the city can borrow up to $100,000 and they would like to see this go up to $200,000. Councilman Gabriel suggested they do percentages instead such as borrowing up to 40 percent unless the numbers are bad on the known income. Finance director Amy Hendricks suggested they say based on the previous year’s figures so they can set a benchmark, something they can measure. The committee passed a motion to make these changes.
Committee schedule: The city committees will meet again on Monday, March 12, at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex on Decatur Street.


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