The Vermilion City Council met for a regular meeting on Monday, October 22. The meeting started with Gwen Fisher sharing an email the council received from Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board President Terry Parker in response to comments made by resident Homer Taft at a previous council meeting.
Taft questioned why the parks board seemed to run independent of city council with very little oversight and where the accountability was in regards to actions and spending by the parks board. Parker responded with seven points. First, that the parks board was created by Ordinance (Charter Article VII-A) to be an “advisory board that shall make recommendations to the Director of Public Service for the maintenance of the parks, playgrounds, playfields, gymnasiums, public beaches and swimming pools, provided however that such board shall have the power to plan, schedule, govern and direct the operations of all recreational programs it shall sponsor consistent with the appropriations of city council.” After clarifying the defined role of the board, Parker wrote, “that .5 mil continuing levy may only be used for capital expenses as stipulated above. These are the only funds the parks board votes to expend.”
Parker goes on to explain that all operating funds including personnel and supplies are under the direction of the service director, parks operations manager, and recreation director. There are seven members of the parks board, six of whom are nominated by city council and the mayor for three-year terms. The seventh member is appointed annually by the Vermilion Local Schools Board. Parker added that all parks board meetings are open to the public. In addition, the minutes and recordings of each meeting are public record and available on the city’s website.
In regard to park usage, Parker wrote that large group use permits have to be brought before the board for approval, while small gathering requests are handled through the city office. There are representatives from the administration and city council at the each of the board meetings. Parker closed his letter by writing, “I believe there to be significant accountability throughout this system, and I hope that this brings some clarity to our relationship with the public’s interest.”
Mayor Jim Forthofer updated city council on many things starting with the Firehouse Committee, which met on Wednesday, October 17. He shared that site plans were overlaid on several potential sites by the city engineer for the committee to review. Financial director Amy Hendricks also attended that meeting to advise the committee of available financial resources for the project. Forthofer stated that the goal of the committee is to have a request for bid out on January 1, 2019. In addition to meeting with the Firehouse Committee, Forther reported that he along with councilman Steve Holovacs met with the fire department staff to hear their thoughts and opinions on potential sites. He concluded that the primary concern of the firemen was maintaining a fast response time for all emergencies.
Forthofer reported that the Joint Health Care Committee met on Thursday, October 18, which included representatives from city council and the administration as well as the police, dispatch, and labor unions to discuss the city’s health care program. Forthofer hopes to provide further updates on that at the coming meetings.
He happily reported that the employee manual team is continuing to meet and is making great strides on the creation of an employee manual. He commented that there have been four attempts to create an employee manual over the previous 12 years, and the process is further now than it has ever been in the past.
Finally, Forthofer touched on economic development throughout Vermilion stating that Defense Soap’s is actively moving forward and will hopefully begin building in December. Ed’s Equipment’s land has transferred, and he is also actively moving forward with his business plans. Finally, there is a new business showing interest in a property on Liberty, which involve renovating an existing structure.
Service Director’s Report
During his report, service director Tony Valerius stated that the contract with Pittsburg Tank and Tower for the replacement of the water tower stem was signed, and the contractor will have 60 days to complete the EPA mandated project.
He also stated he wanted to remind residents that they are not allowed to rake their leaves into the street. The city does not provide leaf collection services. Further raking the leaves into the street can clog the catch basins and prevent rain water from reaching the storm sewers, which can cause flooding problems. He went on to say that if residents bag up their leaves with biodegradable bags, they can be put out on the tree lawn on trash day and Republic will pick up unlimited leaf bags until December 14.
Valerius also took the opportunity to respond to assertions made by a resident at the previous city council meeting. The resident stated that the city was illegally dumping sanitary sewer waste at the site. Valerius stated that “this statement is absolutely false. The city does not, nor have we ever dumped sanitary sewer spoils at our dump site.” He went on to explain that they do dump hard clean fill primarily from main breaks and street sweepings, which they allow to dry in a separate area and dispose of in a dumpster.
Valerius went on to state that he arranged for an on-site inspection with Melissa Fetter from the Erie Conservation District and Jeremy Scoles from the Ohio EPA Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention. Valerius stated that the results of the inspection were very positive, and he would like the issue added to the agenda for the next Streets, Buildings, and Grounds agenda, so he could share those results with the members of council.
Finance Director’s Report
Finance director Amy Hendricks started her report by also responding to a question posed by a resident at a previous meeting regarding the legality of the city refusing to accept cash payments in the utilities department. Hendricks explained that this option was explored with the legal department and is compliant with state and federal guidelines regarding the collection of debts.
Moving on to debt financing, Hendricks reported that they finished their ratings update call with Moody’s, and they hope to hear back about their rating this week. She went on to explain that even though interest rates are rising, they are still in a good position. She stated that bonds allow for predictable budgeting of payments because the terms and rates were set for the life of the issuance unlike the notes. The city is set to save roughly $518,000 in issuance costs over the 20-year life of the bonds.
From the Audience
Vermilion Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandy Coe addressed city council regarding the proposed food truck legislation. She requested that the wording be including to exempt food trucks that are setting up for the Festival of the Fish and the Woollybear Festival. She explained that the chamber ensures that all of their food vendors are insured, inspected, and follow all safety regulations in order for them to participate in the festival. Having vendors go through the chamber’s selection process, as well as the city’s new permit process would be exhausting and difficult.
A resident also addressed the council regarding the proposed food truck legislation. She asserted that food trucks are the fastest growing segment in the food industry. She shared what she felt were the many benefits of allowing food trucks in Vermilion and urged the council to reconsider the proposed ordinance stating that banning food trucks would be a “step back into the dark ages.”
Brian Crandall, owner of the Silly Goose read a statement he had prepared updating the council on where things were at between the downtown merchants and Main Street Vermilion. He spoke briefly about the town hall meeting that was held on Tuesday, October 16, and shared some of the ideas that were shared including limiting the farmers market to produce only and moving Chalk It Up and the Corvette Show off of Main Street and doing the event elsewhere in town. He stated that he was informed he would receive more information next month on what decisions have been made.
Crandall stated, “As a city council you do have a say. $2800 tax dollars are spent yearly to Heritage Ohio for Main Streets’ dues. You have a stake in what happens.” He then referenced a comment made by council president Steve Herron at a previous council meeting that food trucks were not needed where the town already had restaurants. Crandall expanded on that comment stating, “Then, I think you would agree, we don’t need outside retail vendors at a farmers market when we have year-round retail stores.”
Council members passed several ordinances, which including renaming the fund for the Harbor View Project, and making changes to the residential building permit fees and permit application. There was also a change made to Chapter 1030.05 entitled “retaining walls.” The change mandates that retaining walls over five-feet will require engineered drawings. Councilwoman Barb Brady asked if this change was to ensure the city was legal with the Ohio Building Code. Councilman Steve Holovas responded that it is more than aligning with the state code; it is an important safety issue. He went on to explain that if a retaining wall of that size is not done properly, it could fall with enough force to kill someone.
Council conducted the second reading on the food truck ordinance, but agreed to table the third reading, which would come up at the Monday, November 5, meeting in order to further discuss the issue at the Monday, November 19, legislative committee meeting. Herron stated that with so many varying ideas and opinions, it is important to fully explore it before going forward.
Council waved the rules of three readings to pass ordinance 2018-67, which allows the mayor to enter into a confidentiality agreement with Dale Reising. Reising is an officer on in the Vermilion Police Department, but also does IT work for the city. With the upcoming union negotiations, it was necessary to create that legal agreement.
Finally, council passed a first reading to establish a “playground donations” fund for the efforts being made to build a new playground at Sherod Park, and a resolution urging residents to support the school district’s safety and security levy in the upcoming election.
City council will meet again on Monday, November 5. There will be no meetings on Monday, November 12, in observance of Veterans Day, and then the five city committees will meet on Monday, November 19. There will be no meeting the week of Thanksgiving. All meetings are at 7 p.m. in the courtroom of the Municipal Complex on Decatur Street.