By Melanie Williamson
The five city council committees met on Monday, October 15, to discuss several ongoing issues, ideas, and ordinances. The committee meetings provide city council members and residents an opportunity to openly discuss the items they have concerns about and ask questions, as well as receive updates from the fire and police departments.
Health and Safety Committee
Vermilion Fire Chief Chris Stempowski reported that in the month of September, the department responded to 15 incidents bringing the year-to-date total to 164. He shared that the hose testing is complete. They tested 30,800 feet of fire hose, and five sections failed. He also shared that having the hose testing conducted by a third party made a huge difference. They were able to get it done in a matter of days, opposed to months. The pump testing is also complete and all the pumps passed.
Engine 81, which was involved in an incident at the station, will be repaired next week. Engine 90 had some repairs done for recertification. Pickup 97 had some minor problems that were also repaired.
The fire department completed another Fire Prevention Week, which was busy for everyone. Stempowski stated the week included multiple visits to schools, preschools, and other community groups. They also hosted open houses at each of the fire stations, and delivered pizzas once again in the fire truck checking people’s homes for smoke detectors. Stempowski was happy to report they only found two homes without smoke detectors, and he feels the activity is a great way to raise awareness about the importance of having working smoke detectors in the house.
Vermilion Police Chief Chris Hartung updated council on the golf cart and side-by-side vehicle inspections, which had started. He reported that so far they had three new inspections. Hartung stated he wanted to remind the public that insurance for the golf carts and side-by-side vehicles still have to meet the Ohio requirements for minimum insurance. Additionally, he urged people to talk to their insurance agent about the appropriate amount of insurance stating that insurance is not a good area to try to cut expenses. He also stated that owners of the side-by-side vehicles need to make sure their mufflers are not too loud as he has noticed this being a problem with this types of vehicles.
Hartung also shared that they were focusing on the No Knock Resolution that was passed now that the Woollybear Festival was over. He stated they have been beta testing an online option that would allow residents to submit and update their no knock status on the department website. Once everything is up and running, he will provide additional updates.
Chief Hartung shared that several of their part-time officers are leaving for full-time jobs in other departments. They will also have several retirements in the next couple years, so the chief stated they are preparing for some significant turnover. Hartung reminded everyone that trick-or-treating will be from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 31. As they have done in the past, officers are volunteering to walk the various neighborhoods during this time. He urges all residents to drive carefully.
Finally, Hartung stated that if anyone wants to submit a tip or information anonymously, they can do so by emailing email@example.com.
The Legislative committee had two items on their agenda: a review of the food truck ordinance and a proposed resolution to support the school safety levy. To start the discussion on the proposed food truck ordinance, mayor Jim Forthofer stated that he understands the motivation of the ordinance is to protect the brick and mortar businesses, but he wanted to suggest they extend that to protect the brick and mortar businesses that want to extend their business by including a food truck on their property.
Councilman Frank Loucka stated that the thought that was a great suggestion. Councilman Steve Holovacs disagreed stating that downtown businesses have a lot of expenses that would not apply to food trucks, and he felt allowing a business to use a food truck as their kitchen would just be cutting corners. Councilman John Gabriel stated that he thought changing the ordinance to allow businesses to add food trucks would overly complicate the issue and create loopholes. Mayor Forthofer reiterated his point stating that it seemed like a logical extension of protecting brick and mortar businesses. The discussion continued back and forth with council president Steve Herron adding that he saw the ordinance as more than just protecting brick and mortar businesses, but also protecting the downtown area stating, “we don’t need food trucks where we have restaurants.”
Resident Homer Taft addressed the council members stating that while they have discussed safety issues in regard to public spaces, what a business does on their private property is their business. Taft did not feel the council had the right to dictate what is done on private property in regard to the food truck issue. He also mentioned the fact that every ordinance is passed with an emergency clause meaning it goes into effect immediately. Taft questioned the need for the emergency clause.
Joe Jesko, one of the owners of the Pavilion Food Truck, also addressed the council members. He acknowledged that the issue was complicated, but stated that they are a local business. He went on to say that both him and his co-owner Jeremy Crawford live in Vermilion, they pay went through all the proper inspections, they pay taxes, and they pay rent at Pence Lake Erie Lanes. He urged council to consider allowing businesses to outsource their food preparation to a food truck as long as the food truck is following all the appropriate regulations and safety measures.
Following Taft and Jesko’s statements, council-at-large Monica Stark asked the other council members what they wanted to do. The options at that point were to continue moving forward, propose an amendment allowing business to include food trucks on their property, or to start over with a new ordinance. Loucka suggested they move forward but consider amending the ordinance. Herron stated that there are two legitimate sides to the issue, which is both emotional and important; he didn’t feel they should make a decision with two councilmembers absent that evening. The council members that were present agreed that the issue should be tabled until the following month when all seven council members will be there.
Following the food truck discussion, council president Steve Herron asked the other council members if anyone would object to putting a resolution on the agenda for the next council meeting to support the school safety levy. The council members that were present offered their full support of such a resolution.
City finance director Amy Hendricks provided council members with an update from the city finance department. She shared that they were recently working on the city’s Moody rating, and she expects the city to maintain their current rating but will be able to provide an update on that in the near future. She also reported that she feels the city needs to lock in rates to move forward with the restructuring.
In a preliminary report on the community pool, Hendricks stated that $63,016 was raised for the pool fund. Of that, $30,000 was used this year. She stated they are still waiting on a final gas bill and a final phone bill, but the total is approximately $30,000. This leaves approximately $33,000 for next year.
In reference to a resident questioning the legality of the city refusing to accept cash at the collection window, Hendricks stated that she conferred with the legal department on this matter and determined that the city is within their right to do so. Explaining the decision to go cashless, Hendricks stated that maintaining internal controls for cash involve a large time and personnel commitment, which is unreasonable for the small staff. It is also more expensive to the city as they needed to make bank deposits almost daily, which involved added fees from the bank as well as time and transportation of city employees. By not accepting cash, they are able to make remote deposits, which saves time and money.
Councilman John Gabriel asked if some of these changes could be applied to the courts. Hendricks responded that they were testing things on in their office and would then look at what would be feasible for the court.
City engineer Chris Howard provided each council member with the report from the Sanitary Lateral Video Inspection performed by Great Lakes Pipeline Services. The inspection was ordered in response to flooding and drainage issues in VOL. It was unclear what was causing the issues and whether it was the responsibility of the city or of the residents. The report included a list of each property that was inspected and what was found. Howard stated that there was a lot to consider based on this information, and he wanted the council members to have time to go over the report carefully and determine what questions they had moving forward. He suggested they discuss the report at the next utilities committee meeting. Councilman Holovacs stated he felt that was a good idea particularly because there were two council members not present including Barb Brady, which was very involved in this issue.
Based on the report provided. There were 40 properties inspected. Of those 40, nine reported “no issues found.” Of the remaining 31 properties, the issues included root blockage, joint separation, and corrosion. Although root blockages appeared to be the primary issue discovered. There were problems found both inside and outside the right-of-way on several of the properties. The results of the study will be discussed further at the November utilities committee meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, November 19.
Streets, Buildings and Grounds Committee
At a previous meeting, the city engineer Chris Howard was asked to prepare a conceptual layout of a parking lot in the Fulper Lot. During the Streets, Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting, Howard presented the conceptual layout, which included 25 new parking spots, an asphalt surface, and landscaping areas. He also presented a cost breakdown of the proposed parking lot, which totaled $88,772.40.
Councilman Frank Loucka asked if they had the cost if they choose pervious pavement instead of asphalt. Horward responded that he could get that information. Councilman John Gabriel, who requested the conceptual layout stated that this lot was “not near the front burner,” but now they had an idea of the cost and what it could look like if nothing else happens with the lot and they decide to move forward with parking. Council at Large Monica Stark asked if this project could be considered for the Erie Shores and Islands grant. Mayor Jim Forthofer stated he would look into it.