Council discusses potholes, traffic signals, water bills, economic development

By Karen Cornelius

Council president’s report/Dickerhoff condolences: Vermilion City Council met on Monday, March 5. There was no city correspondence and no audience participation. Council president Steve Herron introduced Main Street Vermilion’s director, Marilou Suszko who gave an annual report on the nonprofit organization. Herron also expressed his sympathy for the loss of Larry Dickerhoff. Herron said he had gotten to know Dickerhoff through sports, and he was a great guy who was always involved in the schools and the city. He said he will be missed. Mayor Jim Forthofer also wanted to underscore his passing and said Dickerhoff had a legendary influence on the community, was a multi-faceted man known for his big and small things even stopping to snowplow for the elderly.
Mayor’s report/economic development/water bills: Mayor Forthofer said recognition was deserved for the Vermilion schools and police department. He stated they kept the school population safe and calm in the aftermath of Parkland, Florida’s tragedy. Recently students said something when they saw something and the SRO Beckwith and chief Hartung responded promptly and decisively. A community discussion about school safety was held on Sunday night, March 4, and it was a good step that so many citizens and city leaders were in attendance.


The mayor also announced Vermilion received one of the safest city rankings in Ohio. He then discussed the recent problem with water bills. He said the software provider responsible for the erroneous water overdue notices that went out the past two months sent technical representatives to the Utilities Department to assist with the March billing. The service director, Utilities clerk, and the mayor worked with them to triple check the process. He said the reps will be back on April, and the city has established a random review of 30 bills by the service director or himself on all future billings so this problem will not recur.


Mayor Forthofer then went on to discuss economic development and informed council he had been invited to join the new Lorain County Economic Development Partnershiup overseen by the Lorain County Commissioners. He stated it will be a good resource to bring businesses into the area. He also had a meeting with state representative Arndt in Columbus who gave him some new directions to pursue and put Vermilion on the radar for economic development. His mission will be to invite the Economic Development Partner Lorain to Vermilion to meet with business and form a task force. He said the more government he can leverage the better. He advised the process will be slow, but they are making headway.


The mayor noted that it is impossible to manage any business or municipal organizations without good vital statistics. The measurement reports discussed in the February 10 goal-setting session are under development by his administration. He said the service department reports should begin within the next two weeks, and the new financial reports will begin after the budget is approved.


Lastly, he said they have done a first ever inventory of city computers and servers. He is speaking with department heads regarding strategic plans and equipment needs. He said the city has important departments that are dependent on reliable internet technology to serve the residents. It is his intention to run an ad soliciting qualifications as an IT partner for 24/7 help desk and for developing a long-term IT strategy. This will be pending council’s aproval of his IT Support request.


Councilman John Gabriel referred to his school safety remarks and said he had a family commitment last Sunday but would plan to be involved in the future. Council president Herron said it was an excellent meeting and very well attended with engaged, active participants on school safety.


Safety director’s update/traffic signals: Service director Tony Valerius first wanted to thank the waste water, distribution, and street crews for their work during the rain, wind, and snow storm last Thursday. He said many of them were out through the night maintaining lift stations, cleaning ditches. and catch basins, removing downed trees and limbs, and plowing snow. They did a great job. The Street Department has also been out filling potholes when the weather permits. The winter has done a lot of damage to the streets so he is having two crews filling holes in order to keep up. He told council he was introduced to an alternative product to use in place of cold patch to fill potholes. It’s called aquapatch. It’s environmentally safe and is activated by water. The city of Lorain has purchased 10 pallets of it and they find it more durable than cold patch. Valerius said he plans on purchasing a pallet of it, choosing a street to do a trial run, and then seeing how it holds up through the remaining winter and summer. However, the cost is about ten times more a ton than cold patch, but it will save labor costs by not repairing the same pothole over and over again.


He notified council that he sent the Dura-Patcher out to Leader Machine Company for a full cleaning and tune up. They will replace hoses and any gauges that aren’t properly working and give it a once over to ensure it’s smoothly running this season. Council-at-large Monica Stark asked how many guys were out during the storm. For a small crew they deserved everyone’s thanks. Valerius responded the Street Department has five men, and sanitary sewer has two with two more distribution out for sewer backups. He said Street employees were out 16 hours finishing the day with snow plowing.


Finance director’s report: Finance director Amy Hendricks said her focus last week was closing the 2017 year and working on transactions to do that as well as reconciling pension reports from March through December. Resources were also devoted to the 1095C forms concerning the Affordable Care Act and making sure all forms complied with the federal government. She said the 2017 audit would start on April 30 and she has begun sending information to them before the office visit. She is working on the budget in detail and will have more solid information for the March 12 Finance Committee meeting. She has also looked at the VIP software capabilities and thinks the analytics could be used for long-range forecasting. She would like to work on that and update the OhioCheckbook site from 2016.


Council president Herron said he wanted Henricks to know they were aware of the amount of work she has to do and they all appreciate it. He said it was a tough situation.


City engineer’s update/traffic signals/Haber bridge: City engineer Chris Howard said all the new traffic signal work should be complete by mid-May. He said new lights would be going up at West River and Sandusky Street and then the company would work eastward. He also was notified by the Erie County Engineer’s Office that the Haber Road Bridge was the bridge in the worst condition in Erie County. The northside of the bridge is owned by the city while the southside is owned by Vermilion Township. He said the county offered a 50-50 split to cover the cost which could be $300,000. Howard stated the county needs some direction from the city, but the bridge is not bad enough to close and could be dealt with in the next two years. He said he talked to the county about possible funding from the MPO or other sources to help both parties involved. He will get more information for the Street Committee meeting on March 26.


Councilman Brian Holmes asked if the traffic lights would be on the new arms in the downtown area. Howard said they would remain on the guide wires because of the existing historic lightpoles. Council-at-large Stark said the completion date was later than the original March date. Howard responded that the delay was Ohio Edison and the poles on order, and the bad weather.


Law director’s report/legal funding: Law director Ken Stumphauzer said he is working with the finance director on available funding for the law department. The prosecutor falls under his department and they are tracking down the money coming from the counties to cover some costs. He also introduced his law partner, Susan Anderson, who was in attendance. He said she has been involved in Vermilion cases including one with former officer Reinheimer and her arguments were heard by Vermilion Civil Service and the court. She has also been involved in all three union negotiations, is familiar with health care plans and brings her expertise here as a municipal and labor lawyer. Council president Herron asked about the class action lawsuit Vermilion had joined against the state concerning collecting business taxes. The law director said the judge sided with the state, but they should be an appeal coming. Herron also asked about the statutes law enforcement uses to prosecute cases such as using city or state ones. He thought using city codified ordinances brought the revenue to Vermilion. Stumphauzer said he is looking into all these topics and making sure they are being paid for their legal services.


Councilwoman Brady asked the finance director if she could see at a later date what each department generates in terms of revenue to the city such as the court and building department. She said she would like to compare it with the costs for each department.


Executive session: Under new business, there was a motion for council to recess into executive session for personnel, firing, hiring, and compensation after the reading of the ordinances. The five council members present voted to go into executive session. Absent for the evening were Frank Loucka and Steve Holovacs.
Reading city ordinances: A second reading was given to an ordinance to amend the chapter on stormwater management to change the $100,000 for debt to 40 percent of the revenue known. A second reading was given to the 2018 budget for expenses. A first reading was given to an ordinance to repeal a section of the code concerning the administrative clerk of boards and commissions. A first reading was given to an ordinance to amend a section entitled clerk of council. There was a first reading to designate banks as depositories of interim and inactive deposits of Vermilion starting in April and ending in 2023. The banks are Key, Fifth Third, Huntington, and Northwest. A first reading was given to an ordinance to amend a chapter of the code regarding the municipal income tax for state updates. A first reading was given to update the replacement pages of the codified ordinances of Vermilion.


Council’s schedule: Council will meet again on Monday, March 19, at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex on Decatur Street. There could be a special Finance Committee meeting following if necessary.


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