Council committees discuss several ongoing city projects with administration

By Melanie Williamson

The five city committees met on Monday, February 11. The Legislative Committee, however, had nothing on the agenda to discuss. The meeting started with the Health & Safety Committee, which included reports from Vermilion Fire Department Chief Chris Stempowski and Vermilion Police Department Chief Chris Hartung.

Health and Safety Committee

Stempowski reported that the department responded to 16 incidents in the month of January. He went on to say they maintained extra staff on Saturday, January 19, due to the snow storm to ensure faster response times should they be needed. On Wednesday, January 23, they help rescue three families from the flooding along Riverside Drive, and later in the month they participated in the MetroParks River Days event demonstrating how they perform ice rescues.

Both Stempowski and Hartung reported their departments have been working with LifeShare to ensure a seamless transition and appropriate response times. Hartung shared that he is already very impressed with Lifeshare, and he feels it is a really good situation for the city.

Hartung congratulated the fire department on their response to the flooding on Riverside Drive in January. He stated they responded admirably to the situation. He also stated that he was not happy with the first incident when potential flooding was reported. He went on to explain that the goal is always to ensure ample time to “react accordingly” notifying residents and evacuating the area before rescue efforts are needed. While sometimes the flooding happens so quickly, that is not possible, they are always evaluating their efforts to make improvements. In response to this most recent flooding, Hartung stated that he is relistening to every transmission to reevaluate what could have been done differently.

Hartung also thanked the residents for abiding by the most recent winter parking bans. He stated that he usually gets a number of calls and complaints, but this time people kept their vehicles off the roads allowing the plows to get through.

Finance Committee

Finance director Amy Hendricks updated the members of council on the Transient Accommodation and Excise Tax, which has been applied to short-term vacation rentals by Erie County. She explained that they are already registering properties and collecting taxes, so she asked them when would be the best time for the city to get involved, so the appropriate amount of what is collected comes back to the city. She was informed that April 1 would be most ideal as it is the start of the second quarter.

Vermilion resident Louis McQueen addressed the members of council regarding her feelings on the issue of vacation rentals. She stated that one of her neighbors wants to start renting out her home as an AirBNB. McQueen stated that she wants assurance that the tranquility of her neighborhood will be preserved. She went on to say that she owns over 14 acres and people already ignore property rights in rural areas cited that she has to deal with people on her property all of the time hunting, riding snowmobiles and four-wheelers, riding horses, and much more. She also stated that she thinks people come to rural areas with a party mentality. McQueen stated that she wants to keep the area an agricultural and residential, which means quiet and rural.

Councilman John Gabriel responded that the proposed legislation they were discussing will bring tax money back into town. He went on to say that the second part of legislation regarding vacation rentals is a one-page basic outline stating that the properties need to be inspected and that if they become a nuisance, the owner can lose their permit, which means they will no longer be allowed to rent out the property. McQueen shared that she provided her representative, Brian Holmes with the regulations enacted in Columbus, Ohio as well as a list of things she wants to see enacted. Holmes stated that he will share what she provided with the rest of council.

Before closing the discussion, council president Steve Herron stated that if there is a pattern of bad behavior, law enforcement needs to be notified. He went on to say that it’s hard to do anything when residents wait until the last minute and come to them with a list of issues when law enforcement knows nothing about it and there is no record of the incidents being described.

Utilities Committee

City engineer Chris Howard proposed a new idea to consider regarding the Harcourt Sanitary Sewer Laterals, which have been explored and discussed for several months. Council has been looking at moving forward with work on replacing and fixing laterals to help alleviate the overflow problems they are having in that area of Vermilion on the Lake. Howard suggested they hold off on the repairs, which will be expensive and in the mean time buy or rent some flow meters to place strategically throughout the neighborhood to monitor where the majority of the water is coming from.

The meters would be placed for data collection and then moved every couple months until they have a clear picture of how the water is flowing through the neighborhood based on all the data collected. This would allow the city to spend the money where it is most needed and will have the biggest positive impact on the problem. Council president Steve Herron asked for clarification on what flow meters are and how they work. Howard explained that they will monitor and record the amount of water and where it is coming from. It added that it is logged digitally, so they can view and monitor the results in real time.

Councilwoman Barb Brady stated that she thought it was an amazing idea adding that it was proposed once before, but no one was willing to move forward with it in the past. Councilwoman-at-large Monica Stark also supported the idea stating that it would provide a better big picture of what was going on. Councilman Steve Holovacs asked Howard if he could get pricing for them on the flow meters by the February 25 meeting, and Howard responded that he could, so the discussion will continue then.

Streets, Buildings, and Grounds Committee

Councilman Frank Loucka proposed that council consider legislation to require dumpster/grease cart screening. He made reference to Chez Francois as they have built a visually appealing screening to hide their dumpsters that matches their building and represents quality. He also made reference to a restaurant just East of the railroad overpass, which he did not specifically name, which has two dumpsters on the side of their building in full view, as an example of the opposite. He stated that Vermilion does not have regulations on dumpster screening, but that other surrounding communities do. He argued that keeping the dumpsters out of view shows a quality business and he believes it would allow Vermilion to be more competitive.

Councilman John Gabriel responded by first stating he thought what Loucka was suggesting was a positive thing. However, he argued that the timing is not good. He went on to say that local businesses have been hit with a wide range of extra expenses. He pointed out that in 2017, local businesses were hit with an increase in stormwater rates; in 2018, they got increases in permit fees and water rates; and now in 2019, they are being told they have to pay for sidewalks. Gabriel reiterated that he thinks the timing is wrong to proposed dumpster screening legislation because it is not fair to businesses. He added that if they are going to make special requirements for dumpsters and they are forced to pour a pad for their dumpsters, that will also increase their hard surfaces, which will increase their stormwater rates.

Councilman Steve Holovacs suggested this is something they could look at for new businesses as they move into Vermilion, opposed to already established businesses. Council clerk Gwen Fischer added that this is something Boards and Commissions is looking at for new businesses. Gabriel spoke up again stating that in the past five years, the city has only received two complaints about dumpsters and both of those were related to construction projects.

Loucka commented about the image we want for our city and added that Chez Francois is nationally known and they even have a roof on their dumpster enclosure. Councilmembers agreed to discuss it further at a future meeting.

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