Vermilion city council hears department updates and residents’ concerns

By Melanie Williamson

Vermilion City Council met for a regular meeting on Monday, October 1. All council members were in attendance for the meeting, as well as members of the city administration to provide department reports.

The meeting started with Gwen Fisher reading a letter council received from resident Neal Norris. In his letter, Norris made reference to the upcoming school safety and security levy that was presented in the Back to School Edition of the Photojournal with supportive comments, and then made reference to an ad that ran in the Back to School Edition for a gun raffle sponsored by the Lorain County Coon Hunters and hosted by the American Legion Post 397.

Norris wrote, “While on one hand, school district staff, municipal leaders, and the larger community are working together diligently and proactively to provide a safe learning environment for our children and grandchildren, gun raffles and ownership transfers are being promoted barely one mile from the school campus…I hope out municipal and educational leaders can recognize this concern and initiate a conversation with the folks at the American Legion regarding the appropriateness of future raffles of weapons so close to our schools. A zone free of gun sales, raffles, or transfers near our schools seems a modest proposal that most citizens would understand and could support.”

 

Mayor/Safety Director’s Report

In his report, mayor Jim Forthofer commended Gene Baker and his crew at the water treatment plant and Charlie Grisel and the water distribution crew, as well as service director Tony Valerius for the recent work they did. He stated, “Though everyone is aware of the inconvenience caused by the recent low water pressure during plant maintenance, not many are aware of the long hours and skill used by these departments in getting us back on line without breaking one of our aged water lines.”  Forthofer also acknowledged Police Chief Chris Hartung on his acceptance into the Certified Law Enforcement Executive program.

In regard to the Mapleview Ditch project, Mayor Forthofer stated that he attended the Lorain County Commissioners hearing on September 9. At the hearing, Forthofer reported that he asked the commissioners and the county engineer to provide less invasive alternatives for the ditch excavation that would preserve properties along the south side of Rolling Meadows. “Since those Vermilion residents will be charged for part of the excavation, I asked the engineer to provide alternatives that may cost more but that residents may be willing to pay.” The next hearing will be Tuesday, November 20, with possible engineering alternatives.

The Community Housing Impact and Preservation (CHIP)program is looking for new applicants in Vermilion. This program is administered by the Erie County MPO, but it is open to all Vermilion residents including those that live on the Lorain County side. Forthofer stated that dozens of Vermillion homeowners have already benefited from this program, and the income requirements to apply are “pretty liberal.” Forthofer recommended the VOL Clubhouse for the CHIP Program and stated there is contact information on the Vermilion web site, and it will also be available in the upcoming utility bills.

Finally, mayor Forthofer reported that the Firehouse Committee met Wednesday, September 19, with architect Mark Wagner of Poulos & Schmidt design group. Wagner submitted an initial plan for the new firehouse as a starting point. Before the committee meets again in November, the members of the committee will review the initial plan and its ability to accommodate department needs, as well as opportunities to expand or reduce the plan as needed.

 

Service Director’s Report

Service director Tony Valerius reiterated mayor Forthofer’s praise of the water plant and distribution employees for the work they did. He stated, “Not only did they successfully clean and sanitize all three clearwells, but were able to get the plant back on-line after an eleven-day shut down without any major issues.” Valerius reported that all the repairs were made by an outside contractor and were in compliance with the EPA mandates.

Valerius went on to announce that hydrant flushing will start in the city on the west side of the river. With that in mind, he warned that citizens may experience periods of low water pressure or a slight discoloration on their water. If that happens, residents are encouraged to let the water run until it clears before drinking or doing laundry.

After speaking to the Brownhelm Township Clerk, he confirmed that the Jerusalem Road repaving will start later in the week or early next week. In closing his report, Valerius asked council to approve a motion to authorize the administration to go out to bid for ice breaking and chemical contracts.

 

Finance Director Report

Finance director Amy Hendricks shared that she and staff attended software training and were able to come back with several ideas that will help the finance department. She also briefly referred to Ordinance 2018-65 and 2018-66, which would allow the city to move forward with refinancing their debt. Council was asked to suspend the rules and pass the two ordinances that night, which they did later in the meeting.

 

From the Audience

Brian Crandall, owner of the Silly Goose, addressed council to provide an update on the ongoing frustrations of downtown business owners. Crandall shared that he had spoken to the Parks and Recreation Board and that he wanted to clarify that although he has become the spokesperson, the frustrations are not solely his. He asserted that many of the downtown businesses share his frustration with some of the downtown events. He also shared that his wife Jill Crandall was contacted by Main Street Vermilion through Facebook and asked to meet to “clear the air.” After some exchange, Jill stated she was willing to meet with Executive Director of Main Street Vermilion Marilou Susko, as well as other merchants, a member of the parks board and a member of council.

Resident Dave Turken addressed city council regarding proposed changes to the wording on building permits, which would clearly state that it is the owner’s reasonability to know where their property lines are and the existence of any easements. He strongly agreed with this proposal stating that property owners should have to provide a copy of their deed and a drawing of their property from the county website. Then, after the project is complete, it should be inspected to make sure the project was completely where it was supposed to be completed.

Resident Julie Horn spoke again trying to sway council to change the age restriction on golf carts. At the legislative committee meeting on Monday, September 24, council members stated that they were unwilling to lift the restrictions due to the potential danger of young children riding in golf carts. Horn stated that they cannot prevent every possible danger with laws. She shared that she has been to the beach and on several occasions seen toddlers playing near the waters edge while their parents were further up on the beach on their phones, sleeping, or otherwise distracted. She then asked council if they were going to make it illegal to take children to the beach because a handful of parents don’t watch their kids. She then went on to say that there are a lot of good parents that are careful. She questioned how many golf carts accidents there have been in Vermilion and how many children have been hurt on golf carts since the law was passed allowing them. She closed her argument by urging council to not “punish all families because of a few bad ones.”

To clarify the issue, John Gabriel stated that the age restrictions are already in place and the golf cart ordinance on the agenda was to expand the law to allow utility carts and side-by-side vehicles on the road.

Resident Homer Taft addressed council stating that there are still significant problems in VOL with the sewer lines and he hasn’t heard any updates on what the city found after videoing the lines on Harcourt. He requested updates on what was found and updates on the enforcement program that was previously discussed. While at the podium, Taft also shared that while he supports the food truck ordinance proposal for city property, he asserted that they cannot stop private businesses if they want a food truck on their own property. In regard to the golf cart age restrictions, he stated he thinks they are over the top and agrees that children on the back of bicycles and motorcycles is far more dangerous than golf carts. He also stated that he doesn’t understand why the Parks and Recreation Department is so independent from council. Although they are part of the city, they get to do their own thing with no oversight.

Resident Ken Bowman went before council holding up a one-dollar bill and reading “legal tender for all debts.” He went on to say he attempted to pay his utility bill with the city and was told he couldn’t pay with cash. He stated that if it is a debt, the city must accept cash, and that it is wrong not to. He asked if the administration can fix the situation.  Council president Steve Herron stated that the administration will need to come back with a response to Bowman’s question at the next city council meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, October 22.

Resident Tom Chofer reiterated Dave Turken’s statements about the building permits. He stated the permits are not just a piece of paper, but rather a process that needs to be followed from start to finish. He then referenced a letter he sent to councilman Frank Loucka several months earlier about the service department open house he attended. Chofer stated there is illegal dumping happening at the service station and everyone at the open house saw it. He stated that all sanitary waste and street sweepings must be dumped at an approved site, and they are not.

Regarding the community pool, Chofer asked where they are at with the funding. He stated that people donated a lot of money to keep the pool open, and he wanted to know what the long-term plan was to fund the community pool. He then asked about the Mapleview Ditch project stating that he thought the project had been scrapped. Council president Steve Herron responded that it had been stopped and started several times, but that it is currently happening. Chofer then stated that municipalities forget maintenance, which leads to problems. There should be a maintenance schedule that is followed. When Chofer was done, Herron took a moment to clarify that the Mapleview project was not a city project, but rather a county project and the city did not control the maintenance.

 

Ordinances

City council voted to pass the two ordinances allowing the city to refinance their debt. They also passed ordinance 2018-48 expanding the golf cart law to include utility vehicles and side-by-side vehicles. Ordinance 2018-63, the “Mobile Food Services” ordinance went through a first reading and will be up for a second reading at the next city council meeting along with ordinance 2018-64; “building permits; certificates of occupancy.”

 

Future Meetings

City offices will be closed on Monday, October 8, for Columbus Day. The city council committees will meet on Monday, October 15, and city council will meet again on Monday, October 22.

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