City Council: Hotel Vote Delayed, Park Requests Approved

 09/16/2016 - 02:12

The top item on the agenda for Monday night’s City Council meeting was to make a final decision on whether to sell city-owned property to James Junga for the purpose of building a Best Western Plus Hotel and expanded Ace Hardware Store. It did not happen.

For reasons that were not well explained, the item was pulled from the agenda. It appears that either Council had not yet acquired the information it needed for a decision or that there were unresolved disputes about the terms of the purchase agreement.

Mayor Brian Marl said that a private meeting was scheduled later in the week between the prospective buyers and undisclosed city representatives. This could indicate that the issue will appear on the agenda for next Monday.

“I don’t control that, the city does,” Junga said. “And I don’t know how quickly they are able to move, they move at their own pace – to be kind – and as they move, as long as we’re still in the hunt, we’ll be there when they’re ready to do it.”

Although the big issue was removed from the agenda, many other issues were handled.

Council Asks Pipeline Be Shut Down

Included in the consent agenda was a resolution regarding Enbridge Energy Line Five. Council had agreed at a previous meeting to write a resolution regarding the precarious pipeline.

Line Five is a 62-year-old twin pipeline that runs from Superior, Wisconsin through Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario. Along the way it passes beneath the Straights of Mackinac.

In a 2014 study, a group from University of Michigan determined that the Straights would be the “worst possible place” in the Great Lakes for an oil spill to occur. Enbridge does not have a great track record regarding spills. In 2010 a broken Enbridge pipe spilled nearly a million gallons of tar-sands oil into the Kalamazoo River.

For these reasons and more, Council’s resolution declares that Line Five should be shut down. They are sending letters to that effect to Governor Snyder, Attorney General Bell Schuette, State Representatives, State Senators and U.S Senators.

Rhoads Replaces Martin on Library Board

Also in the consent agenda were various comings and goings on boards and commissions.

Phyllis Martin resigned from the Saline District Library Board while David Rhoads asked to be added to it. He stated that he wanted to carry on the legacy of his late wife Leslee Niethammer. Matthew Cheney asked to be added to the Parks Commission, stating that his family uses the parks often and he wants serve his community by helping to maintain them.

Approval of the consent agenda meant that Council approved the Line Five resolution and the board positions.

City Gives Money to Addiction Task Force

 Police Chief Larry Hrinik, writing on behalf of the Saline Community Addiction Prevention Task Force, asked that the city loan the group $1,500. As Hrinik explained, a donor that had promised $5,000 had only delivered $1,000 and this caused the group to overspend their budget.

The group recently became an independent entity from the city and now needs to apply to the state for 501c3 nonprofit status. This designation may be necessary to receive some potential donations. The application costs $400.

In addition, the task force wants to begin advertising for a person to serve as a paid director. This will require more startup funds.

“I believe we will be able to pay you back because we have at least three of four donors who have pledged way more than the amount we are going to be borrowing,” Hrinik said.

This includes Saint Joseph Mercy Health, which pledged $10,000 annually.

Fiscal watchdog Dean Girbach did not like the idea. He felt that the task force should first work on securing donations to get out of debt before requesting a loan from the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Rhoads and Mayor Marl both said that they were confident the donations would come and that obtaining 501c3 status would help in that process. Council voted to approve the loan with only Girbach voting ‘Nay.’

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Parking Ordinance Update Pushed Back

Hrinik stayed at the podium for the next agenda item, a request for approval of an updated parking ordinance. The purpose of the update was to clarify certain sections, remove redundancies and generally streamline the document.

The ordinance also added a somewhat unrelated “super-drunk” provision (defined as a blood alcohol content greater than 0.17) whereby a person could be charged under city ordinance with revenues going to the city rather than the county.

There was extensive discussion. Council member Linda TerHaar said she could not find the super drunk language in the document. Council member Jack Ceo suggested that it may be contained in a reference to an outside document, Michigan Vehicle Code 257.625.  

In fact, this document defines the higher level of drunkenness, but says nothing about how that affects the paying of fines.

Rhoads had a series of questions. He pointed out that the document required a contract with a towing company which the city does not have. Also a process to allow parking in the lawn extension (between curb and property line) which was mentioned in the ordinance did not exist and would need to be created.

Furthermore, he was concerned that the person processing parking tickets was called a “referee” yet had no authority to make judgements. He also noticed that there did not seem to be anything in the document permitting police dispatchers to accept ticket payments as is currently done.

Because of these issues, Rhoads asked that the vote be delayed until the perceived problems with the document were clarified or corrected. The rest of the council members concurred.

TerHaar moved that the vote to approve be postponed until the next council meeting on September 19. The motion was seconded by Girbach and was passed unanimously.

Council Approves $10,000 Ask for Brecon Park Playground

Parks and Recreation Director Carla Scruggs came forward to ask for permission to apply for a second CARES grant of $10,000 to acquire sufficient funds for a Brecon Park playground. The project began in 2013 with a proposal by Woodland Meadows third grader Donovan Gillow.

Scruggs had already received $10,000 from CARES in 2015 and tried unsuccessfully to get the remainder through the Judy Ivan Healthy Communities Endowment.

Girbach added up the numbers and found that less was needed to complete the project than Scruggs had suggested, but she was still short by over $5,000. Some alternative fundraising strategies were suggested.

“We will keep plugging away at this,” said Marl and Girbach called it a “great collaborative effort.”

Council voted to approve the grant application unanimously.

$24,000 For New Parks Signs

Scruggs, together with Janie Colton and Sunshine Lambert then petitioned the city to use $24,000 received from a Building Healthy Communities grant to pay for new park signage at five city parks. The parks are Tefft, Brecon, Curtiss, Wilderness and Henne Field.

These parks were chosen for their walkability and availability of trails. The full color signs would provide maps and information on distances, historical information and unique features.

Several companies were contacted and the trio chose Penchura, LLC to make the signs. They were recommended by the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County and they make a very durable sign using “digifuse” technology.

The request was approved unanimously.

City Pays TetraTech, Discusses WWTP Odor

The next agenda item was to approve payment number 11 for $191,436 to TetraTech for work on the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Naturally the subject of odors was also raised.

Council member Janet Dillon asked if there was some quantitative method to assess odor before and after the work. City Engineer Gary Roubal replied that it would be difficult because the WWTP odor is a moving target changing with the weather, the daily input and other factors.

Todd Campbell said there were many theories about where the odor was coming from, some even being from somewhere other than the WWTP. He said cracks had been sealed, but a complete cure had not been found.

“When it’s all done we’ll notice a difference,” Marl said, but he added that it is, after all, a sewage plant and there will be some odors.

He said that it would good to invite the public to tour the plant after the work is completed.

The vote to approve payment was unanimous.

Bowley Bridge Set for Niethammer Preserve

Friends of the Saline River have asked the City for the old Bowley Bridge that was replaced at Mill Pond Park in 2012. The old bridge was removed and stored at DPW, but the City has not found a suitable use for it.

The Friends would like to use it at the Leslee Niethammer Preserve as a boardwalk to cross a low spot on the trail they are building. City Attorney Smith reported that there would be no liability to the city and the structure would actually be used outside city limits.

The Friends would be helping the city by moving the unwanted structure at no charge. The proposal was approved unanimously.

Council Says No to Advertisements on Streetlight Poles

Finally, Evangelical Homes of Michigan had requested that banner signs advertising an Open House they are holding be displayed by the city around Christmas time. The signs say nothing about Christmas.

Council was united in their dislike for this proposal. As Girbach summarized, it was promotion for a private entity at public expense. Council voted unanimously to not approve the banners.

The next meeting of city council will be on September 19 at 7:30 p.m.

Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at bobcphotography@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.