City council hears multiple concerns and complaints, receives updates

By Melanie Williamson


The Vermilion City council met for a regular meeting on Monday, September 10.


Mayor’s Report: Mayor Jim Forthofer shared several updates during his report. One being that Defense Soap has made its way through the Planning commission with a lot split and should be up for a site plan review in October. Forthofer also shared that the property of Ed’s Equipment has passed a variance by the Board of Zoning Appeals, a wetlands survey, and a lot split through planning. Forthofer stated that both companies will hopefully be clear of all requirements within the next two months.


Forthofer is working with the city engineer and The Lorain County Community Development Office to define the parameters of the Route 6 Corridor Study. A $35,000 grant was awarded to the city for this study, and Forthofer stated he wants to make sure they make the most of that money. He thanked Jim Cordez, county administrator and the commissioners for the grant, and shared that it has the potential to make a big difference to the eastern side of the city along Route 6.


In regards to the proposed Verizon cell tower for the Western edge of the city, Fortherfer shared that the agent for the project informed him that it was being “pushed out” and they were reassessing the design plan for Vermilion.


Firehouse Committee: The council agenda included a first reading for Ordinance 2018-62, which would allow the mayor to enter into an agreement with Poulos Schmid Design Group of Sandusky for the future fire station facility. This ordinance would also approve the finance director to pay $17,300 to Poulos Schmid Design Group for their services. During his report, mayor Forthofer requested that the council suspend the rules and vote on the ordinance that night, so the firehouse Committee could resume discussions on the plan.


When it came time to vote, the council agreed to suspend the rules. Councilman Steve Holovacs clarified that by passing the ordinance the city would be able to move forward with the new fire station. Councilman John Gabriel asked about the proposed new location of the fire station, and city engineer Chris Howard responded that the location has not been determined yet. He went to explain that there are options and part of working with the design group will be determining the best location based on cost and feasibility.


Service Department Updates: Great Lakes Pipeline Service was in town last week completing the CCTV inspection of the sanitary laterals on Harcourt Street. This was done in response to drainage issues and it being unclear whether the problem is in the laterals or at the street. Approximately 40 laterals were inspected, and the city will receive a full report, as well as a flash drive identifying any signs of infiltration that may appear.


The city has begun work on the ditch enclosure project along Sunnyside Road. This project was deemed necessary due to the narrow width of the road and the fact the edge of the road is crumbling into the ditch. Along with the enclosure, catch basins and a stone berm will be installed.


The new pressure reducing valve and vault were installed two weeks ago at the east end of town at the city’s Lorain water main connection. The new valve was tested last week during a day-long water plant shut-down and functioned as intended.


An initial inspection of the clearwell was also done during the shut-down. Wednesday, September 12, the water plant was shut down again so EPA-mandated repairs can begin. A new access hole will be cored into clearwell #2 so that equipment and personnel can enter more easily, and all three clearwells will be cleaned, followed by a full inspection, and necessary repairs made. Valerius expects the plant will be shut down for approximately one week. The city will get water from Erie County and the City of Lorain during the shutdown.


Utilities Department updates: During his report, mayor Forthofer shared that the utilities department will be under the direction of the finance director. The service director has stepped in when the city was in transition with the finance director, but because it is essentially a billing department, it will go back to the finance director. He also stated that he will be working with finance director Amy Hendricks to streamline the utilities billing operations and ensure accuracy.


During her report, finance director Amy Hendricks stated the utility department payment window will be closed Wednesday, September 12, and Thursday, September 13, while staff is attending training.


Hendricks also reported that effective September 17, cash payments will no longer be accepted at the utilities department payment window. Payments can only be made with a check, credit/debit card, or money order. Additionally, credit card payments will no longer be accepted over the phone at the city office. Customers can call the number listed on the website or make their payment using these methods online. This keeps credit card information more secure. She added the transaction fee being charged goes directly to the processing company to cover their services.


Finally, Hendricks reiterated that customers can enroll in the auto-pay program, which allows their monthly payments to be withdrawn from their checking or savings account for free.


Finance Director Update: Finance director Amy Hendricks reported that the Audited 2017 Financial Statements were submitted to the Auditor of the State by C.E. Harris on Friday, August 31. The compliance areas cited were: (1) need to maintain more accurate capital assets, (2) Negative cash balance at year end in three funds, and (3) Weaknesses due to the original GAAP statements not including a new lease from January 2017, as well as including the amount of the ODOT funds that were paid directly to contractors in the final value of a project.


Hendricks stated that all departments need to contribute to the tracking of capital assets and changes in month-end closings will correct the issue of negative balances for 2018. Overall, she stated that the compliance areas cited were related to the timing of the change in finance directors and would not be ongoing problems.


From the audience: Brian Crandall, owner of the Silly Goose, addressed city council regarding his concerns about specific local events as a business owner. Crandall stated that he attended a previous council meeting and councilman Brian Holmes instructed him and other business owners to attend the Parks and Recreation Board meeting with their concerns. Crandall stated that they went to the Parks Board meeting, but the board stated they didn’t know why the businesses were there.


The three local events he was referring to are the Main Street Vermilion Farmers Market in Victory Park, the annual corvette show, and the Chalk Walk. He asserted that these events block traffic, eliminate parking, and hurt their sales.  In regard to the Farmers Market, he shared it was suggested to him that they should set up in the park with their products. Crandall stated that was not a viable option going on to state that they pay rent, utilities, and taxes to the city, and they shouldn’t have to get a truck and pack up their stuff to sell in a park.


Crandall stated that he was also told to go talk to Main Street Vermilion about the Farmers Market. However, he said that he and other businesses owners have tried to explain their concerns with Main Street Vermilion and those attempts did not go well.


He went on to say that there are many events that do help businesses, encouraging shopping local, and bring people into town. He provided Ice Affair, Third Thursday, the Wine and Chocolate Walk, and the Beer, Bacon, and Buckeyes event as examples of great events that help downtown businesses. He urged council to look into the issue and do something to help the local businesses. He emphasized that he was no the only business owner who felt that cited several other downtown business owners.


Resident Rick Kamholz spoke to city council regarding a fence he was trying to put up on his property.  The problem arose when Kamholz attempted to get a permit for the fence because the city right-of-way goes approximately eight feet onto Kamholz’ property. Under new business, city council was set to vote on whether or not he would be permitted to erect a fence outside the boundaries of his property line and into the city right-of-way.


When addressing council, Kamholz stated that the fence he wanted to install was a vinyl fence, and he would be willing to cement in the vinyl sleeves, but not the posts, so that the fence could be easily removed and moved if the city needed access. After some discussion, he stated he was willing to make an agreement with the city regarding the height and width of the fence and that the city would not be responsible if the fence was damaged or needed removed.


Council-at-Large Monica Stark shared that she had walked the property with Kamholz and spoke to his neighbor, and she did not think it was going to be a problem.


After more discussion, council voted 3-3. With councilwoman Barb Brady not in attendance, it was a tie, and without a majority, the motion failed. Council president Steve Herron, councilman John Gabriel, and council-at-large Monica Stark voted in favor of allowing the fence, while councilman Frank Loucka, councilman Steve Holovacs, and councilman Brian Holmes voted against the fence. Throughout the discussion, neither Loucka, Holovacs, nor Holmes shared why they were opposed to the fence.


Resident Tom Chofer addressed council first congratulating Amy Hendricks on a recent award, then stated that the last few years have not been good and he was happy to see that Hendricks appeared to be getting things in order. Referring to the capital assets citation in the financial audit, he stated that has been a problem since at least 2012. He emphasized the importance of tracking the capital assets stating that the assets are expensive, and the residents are paying for them.


He also asserted that permits and projects need to be handled better. He stated that when permits are approved without a full understanding of the project, property lines, and easements, problems arise. He referred to several projects that have been scrapped or interfered with due to previously approved permits that should have never been approved. Chofer urged the council and administrators to keep working towards improving these areas.


Possible project funding: Council suspended the rules and voted to approve three ordinances that allow the mayor to prepare and submit applications for the Ohio Public Works Commission State Capital Improvement Program to seek funding for Highbridge Road resurfacing, the Liberty Avenue water main project, and to replace the bridge on Haber Road. In regards to the Haber Road bridge replacement, city engineer Chris Howard stated that by working with Erie County on this grant, it will actually by a 50-25-25 split instead of a 50-50 split, so the city would only be responsible for $82,000 of the total project. Council-at-Large Monica Stark explained that the Haber Road bridge was determined to be one of the worst bridges in Erie County it is was recommended to the city that it be replaced.


Future meetings: All five city council committees will meet on Monday, September 24, and then city council will meet again on Monday, October 1. Both meetings start at 7 p.m. and are in the courtroom of the municipal complex on Decatur Street.


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