February 16, 2017 Meeting
By Emily Votruba
Eight members of the public showed up, representing about 2 percent of Village households.
Public hearing on the Village’s FY2017–18 budget
The proposed budget was posted on the Village website as of February 3. The adopted budget can be viewed here. The Budget, Finance, and Audit Committee met January 11 and January 15 to review budget requests from commissions and departments and prepare the proposed budget.
Council received a letter from Office staff (clerk and treasurer) expressing their concerns about the budget. FY2016/17 showed unusually high revenue, with a record year for Life Saving Station rentals and the sale of the Library (now Elberta Mercantile). But no assets are up for sale this year, and some budget requests had led the Office to a fear a “backsliding” in the progress of the deficit elimination.
During the hearing, Linda Manville thanked the BFA Committee and Clerk Cathy Anderson for making the draft budget available online ahead of time. She noted that revenue from water and sewer late fees decreased by 63 percent. “While this is a decrease in revenue, I think it shows real evidence of fiscal responsibility on your part in collecting payments on time. As someone who tries to pay her bills on time, I appreciate that.”
The Parks and Rec and Planning commissions had each requested $5,000 for Specific Projects. Manville asked for specifics on the Specific Projects. Emily Votruba (P&R Secretary) said the Parks & Rec $5,000 was their commitment to a drinking fountain at the proposed new plumbed restroom in Penfold/Farmers’ Market Park. Sue Oseland, who is on the restroom project grant team, revealed that the money for the drinking fountain would not be needed until FY2018/19, since it was unlikely the grant money for the whole project would come through before the end of 2017. Votruba said she felt could speak for the rest of the Commission in rescinding the entire sum for Specific Projects in that case, to make the Village bottom line look better. Bill Soper, a member of Council and also a P&R member, agreed.
Robin Rommell spoke for the Planning Commission, saying their $5,000 Specific Project was overhauling the zoning ordinance (more on that under Planning/Zoning, below), but they were searching for cheap/free options for that work. It was agreed for the sake of the bottom line to cut that sum from the Budget request and make an amendment later if necessary.
Manville noted that the Planning Commission had requested wages of $3,500 for the zoning administrator and code enforcement officer. Both those jobs are currently being done by Don Tanner. Manville asked how code violations are being enforced, since she has noted one house in particular has had junk on the sidewalk and public right-of-way since December. “What’s the procedure [for enforcement]? I’d like to see the code enforcement part beefed up a bit.” “Our biggest problem in this town is the junk that’s everywhere. There’s no excuse for it,” Ken Holmes said.
Ever wonder if parks have addresses?
The County Equalization Department wants the Village to change the address of Penfold Park from 248 Frankfort Avenue to 1098 Lake Street. This does not involve moving the park. Cathy Anderson mentioned that Consumers Energy considers Penfold Park to be at 190 E. Sheridan and the lift station at 212 E. Sheridan. Ken Holmes said Village streets and addresses have often been a source of confusion for EMS. Someone, perhaps a gnome, has entered the correct Penfold Park address in Google Maps.
Food trucks in Elberta: So far, so good
Last year about this time Council approved a food truck for the 2016 Elberta Farmers’ Market; at this meeting, Market Mistress Sue Oseland delivered a report on the experiment. Oseland spoke with Grow Benzie’s executive director, Josh Stoltz, who said it was a major learning curve for Grill Benzie, the one food truck that signed on to vend at the market, but they are “way on board” to rent a spot for the 2017 season. As for the impact on other local food-purveying businesses, Oseland spoke with Conundrum Café, Elberto’s, and the Lighthouse Café. All reported no impact or a slight increase in business on Market Thursdays. Michele Cannaert of Conundrum said Thursday was her busiest day. Jim Barnes, a noted food truck proponent, said he was slammed at the normal level. Lighthouse reported no change. Oseland said she didn’t consult with the Cabbage Shed or the Mayfair Tavern because the food truck was finished before their opening hours, often running out of food well before noon. Oseland said the food truck seemed to bring more and new people to the market, and its placement at the back end of the park drew foot traffic past all the other vendors. The vendors themselves liked having the prepared food available. Oseland said that because Grill Benzie had often run out of food by lunchtime, people who had come just for the food truck ended up patronizing Conundrum and Elberto’s Taqueria—net new customers. Sue strongly recommended having Grill Benzie again, and possibly allowing another truck if one came forward. Ken Holmes thought one was enough. Council approved a maximum total of two food trucks at the Market during market hours on Thursdays, with one no vote, from Holmes.
Water and Sewer
The water rate (price per 1,000 gallons) will go up every year by 2 percent or with the Consumer Price Index, whichever figure is higher—this follows an ordinance Council passed on the recommendation of the state auditor. Last year Council voted to let the usage rate go up but keep the Ready to Serve rate the same. Board President Holly O’Dwyer said that after the sewer work on Lincoln is complete Council may revisit the sewer rate. Rosemary Tanner said she gets curbside trash service and water service at her former residence for less than she pays in Elberta for water. For more information about upcoming water and sewer improvements and water rates, visit the water and sewer page on the Village website.
The Village will be contracting for required certified-operator lab tests and reports with Great Lakes Labs as part of the new DPW structure (see below).
How many electricians does it take to change a lightbulb?
During Approval of Bills, O’Dwyer said Kidder Electric had charged $1,974 to change 12 outdoor bulbs and ballasts at the Life Saving Station. That’s $164.50 per light. Bill Soper said Odette charges $55/hr for one man or $84/hr for two, which is significantly less per hour. O’Dwyer said she hoped the new DPW Superintendent would be able to keep these sorts of tasks in-house and save the Village money.
The Planning Commission will be seeking possible free or inexpensive help revamping the zoning ordinance. In 2013, Kurt Schindler, of MSU Extension, examined the ordinance in the wake of the Putney lawsuit and made some preliminary suggestions, offering to make necessary revisions at a reasonable cost. Schindler was not engaged to do the work at that time and an overhaul has yet to be done. The current Village zoning ordinance and zoning map, as well as permit applications, are available on the Village website. Robin Rommell said the Planning Commission would approach Kurt Schindler along with Sarah Lucas, of Networks Northwest, who substantially helped the Village create both its master plan and its 2014–19 Recreation Plan. Scott Gest suggested contacting the DEQ’s Coastal Zone Management Program for advice. Commissioner Gary Sauer said that Schindler would be retiring in May so if Planning wanted to talk to him they might want to do it shortly.
The delay in several tasks, including updating their bylaws and permit applications, is partly due to no-show Planning members and lack of quorum for meetings. Anyone interested in joining the Planning Commission should contact the office.
Cathy Anderson, clerk and special projects administrator, will carry on as street administrator until the new DPW superintendent is up to speed. Ken Holmes noted that Robarge needs to be made passable.
The Village owns the southern 50 feet of Crapo Street, but Council needed to pass a resolution to record that extension on the Village’s MDOT street map. So they did.
Snow removal from sidewalks on Frankfort Avenue
Soper said he was still working on something related to snow removal from the sidewalks in front of businesses on Frankfort Avenue. Ken Holmes said, “It didn’t happen the last time. I’m a little perturbed.”
2014–19 Recreation Plan amendments
P&R passed a resolution adopting the proposed rec plan amendments at their February meeting. Votruba introduced the amendments as “minor” and said two members of the public had submitted comments. O’Dwyer noted that the Village Council members listed on the title page are out of date. Votruba explained that the amendments were not intended to revise the entire plan; it’s still essentially the 2014–19 plan as adopted by those council members. Anderson said the point of the amendment process was to insert and clarify items that would help us with certain grants, such as the Alliance for Economic Success grants being applied for now. Council voted unanimously to adopt the amendments. In Public Comment Sue Oseland said the AES grant writer Karlyn Haas had highly commended the Village rec plan; “we’re getting a lot of points for what’s in there.” The amended plan, which was submitted to MDNR on February 24, can be viewed on the Village Parks & Recreation webpage.
DPW Steering Committee Recommendations
The five-person committee (Ken Holmes, Holly O’Dwyer, Sue Oseland, Robin Rommell, and Emily Votruba) was formed in December to research how other communities handle public works and to conduct a search for a new DPW superintendent after the no-notice departure of Ken Bonney on November 18. Committee members talked to Lake Ann, Thompsonville, Mesick, Bear Lake, Onekama, Almira Township, and Crystal Highlands. They came up with an exhaustive list of DPW tasks, then discussed which tasks might best be done by an employee, which by seasonal workers, and which through contractors. Ads were put in several places, including downstate and on the Michigan Municipal League site. Résumés were reviewed, background checks done, and three candidates were interviewed. The final proposal, presented as a resolution to Council, can be read here.
As part of the DPW proposal, the Steering Committee recommended a new paid contract position to serve as an intermediary between Council and Village staff. The committee suggested Robin Rommell fill this position to start with. On Soper’s suggestion Council voted to review this position in August, after six months, rather than the proposed one year. In addition to relaying directives from council, the personnel coordinator will oversee the training of the new DPW super to take over some of the duties Cathy Anderson took on after Ken Bonney’s departure—for example daily water tests and wellhead checks.
Rommell said, “I see this as a team-building position. We all have been here through the adversarial relationships, where the DPW took every opportunity to belittle what the clerk and treasurer were doing and vice versa. There was never a feeling that we’re all in this together and we’re part of a team working for the future of the village.” The PC position is intended to help create and sustain that team feeling and to foster clearer communication between staff and Council. “For example in code enforcement,” Rommell continued, “there’s a DPW component and a clerk component. It’s not something you can do without the support of the other people on the team.” Rosemary Tanner mentioned that the Village’s ordinances have to be written so they’re enforceable. Rommell agreed, citing the revisions intended by the Planning Commission. Holmes said the sewer project on Lincoln in the spring is going to require DPW knowledge and vigilance: “When they start tearing up someone’s yard, he’s got to know where the lines are. I remember when Earl Snow drew up a map, [it would say something like] ‘The water shutoff is five feet from the light pole.’ Well, the light pole is gone now. This is the kind of stuff we have all through our connections. Mark my words, you can’t have just one person in charge of all the stuff that goes on in this town.”
Council approved the Committee’s recommendation to hire Chris Pritchard, who has been filling in on plowing already this season, with a salary of $37,440 plus a $300/month health stipend. O’Dwyer, who became acting Village president after the resignation of Diane Jenks and who has a job at Paul Oliver as well as young children at home, said the Personnel Coordinator will make things easier. “I know the Charter says the Village president should do absolutely everything, but that just isn’t happening with me. I made just a few phone calls today about the lights at the LSS and it took me an hour and a half.” Ken Holmes agreed: “We need an in-between person and we just haven’t had that. When there’s friction between the office and the DPW there’s friction in the whole town.” The new ongoing five-member Employee Relations Committee will also help to keep things running smoothly, he said. Council voted to approve the Resolution, with one nay vote, from Joyce Gatrell.
Penfold Park Planning Committee
Sue Oseland, Cathy Anderson, Bill Soper, Robin Rommell, and Michele Cannaert will help the Village secure grants to bolster the USDA grant received for the Penfold Park restroom and also for improvements to the MiniPond boat launch. Bids for that project came in at more than twice the USDA grant award; the USDA money will be used as matching funds. Karlyn Haas, a freelancer, will be writing the Michigan Trust Fund grant, shooting for $200K, which is due April 1. Tim Ervin, of the Alliance for Economic Success Manistee, had suggested that Council recognize a committee to meet with the Spicer Group to make sure the site plan abides by the Recreation Plan. Scott Gest, of Networks Northwest, asked if the Betsie Valley Trail extension would be incorporated into the plan. Oseland said Haas had asked for information on the trail for the site plan; the extension of the trail to Elberta Beach is part of the long-term goals listed in the Rec Plan. Gest said he would try to get the trail extension options to the committee. Council voted to authorize the committee with this membership. “It’s a huge quick turnaround,” said Oseland. “Council has to approve the grant language and a lot of things have to happen between now and the next council meeting.”
Village Garage/Office restroom remodeling
Because the Village Office is a public building where residents must be able to talk to staff and pay their bills, ask questions, etc., it must be ADA compliant. Therefore the restroom needs to be remodeled. O’Dwyer asked if heating and cooling improvements were included in the contractor’s bid. Anderson said it’s not called out specifically in the contract but that she and Soper were assured that it was included, although they were trying to negotiate a lower cost. O’Dwyer was concerned that the DPW office was not going to get heated and cooled. Rosemary Tanner said, “He’s not supposed to be sitting in his office. He’s supposed to be working.” O’Dwyer said, “He has to file reports for the streets and water and do other paperwork, so actually I hope he does spend a lot of time in the office.” Ken Holmes added that climate control was also necessary in the DPW office because of “all the maps that are lying around in there.”
New snow plow?
The former DPW head was sure our current plow truck would not pass another year’s examination at MDOT. Treasurer Mary Kalbach has been looking into that. Council had initially thought a new-to-us truck could be got for about $95K, but research has shown it will likely be double that; plus, the lead time on a new truck is about 220 days, so if we need one a decision needs to be made at the March meeting. Anderson says we’re looking at about $220K to buy a new truck to meet our needs. Or we can get a lot of plowing from a contractor for that amount. Used options are also being investigated. For just the cab and chassis one used vehicle was going for $85K. Our big plow blade is OK and actually predates our truck. “It’s a big hunk of steel. It never goes out of style,” said Anderson. Plus (minus?), new trucks are taller now and won’t fit in the Village garage. Using the Community Building garage (and losing rent revenue) would be cheaper than building a new garage, says Anderson. O’Dwyer said, “If we don’t spend this money on the truck we could get a special piece of equipment to clear the sidewalks.” Anderson said, “Or you could just not spend the money.”
LSS for graduation open house rentals?
Kristine Mills, who manages LSS rentals, had received some inquiries about using the LSS for graduation open houses. O’Dwyer had asked Mills to come up with some numbers. Lots of dates are available that won’t be booked for weddings at this point. Council voted to authorize Anderson and Mills to produce a contract and start soliciting rentals on a trial basis to Frankfort–Elberta and Benzie Central High Schools; $250 for the wing (south end) and $650 for the whole building with additional cleaning fees. Soper suggested not limiting it to local schools, but Holmes and Gatrell felt that would be best for the trial.
Request for partial refund of rental fee for Solstice Foundation
Soper said that when he signed the LSS rental contract for the Elberta Solstice Foundation for the 2016 festival, he didn’t realize there was a $500 discount for local residents. The Foundation paid a discounted rate of $5,000, but with the local discount added on there’s still a $600 difference, so he asked to be refunded the $600. Tabled till Council could look at a copy of Soper’s contract at the next meeting.
Buzz about… Commissioner Sauer’s Report
Sauer reported on a CDBG Loan hearing for Sleeping Bear Apiaries, “the bee guys”; they had closed out a loan for $205K that was for hiring four people. The new loan is for $70K to upgrade equipment and hire two people. Sauer said there was still time for public comment. The health department has finished remodeling; the dental offices are open upstairs, and exam rooms and offices that were upstairs are now downstairs. Sauer had been to a meeting the night before in Joyfield Twp concerning marijuana law changes. “I know that strikes a lot of nerves, but there’s quite a possibility for money.” If a township or village decides to zone and develop ordinances for various types of entities they stand to make up to $5K per license and then gain a percentage of tax revenue. The possible entities/licenses are: production facilities, which grow up to 1,500 plants; quality control facilities, which track the product from seed to harvest and monitor potency and safety; processing, for edibles and other products; and secure transportation. Sauer mentioned that the County purchased two new (non-marijuana) trucks this year and would get two more next year, and the cost of a stripped down chassis is $120K. Anderson said, “Their old ones are too big for our streets.” Sauer said, “I don’t know that you’d want too many of their old ones.”
O’Dwyer called out an item from the DPW written report submitted by Anderson, regarding a conversation with Krista Robinson at DEQ. The Village will be getting a letter noting a violation of monitoring and reporting that occurred under the former DPW, and the Village will have to include notice of this violation with its consumer confidence report for 2016. The DEQ acknowledged that the violation is not ongoing and has been corrected. DEQ found that the monthly operating reports submitted by the former water operator (Ken Bonney) were suspiciously the same month over month, and had a degree of accuracy not possible with the monitoring equipment available to the water operator. The DEQ will investigate and may take action against the former water operator.
Boarded up LSS windows
What’s going on there? asked Ken Holmes. Anderson said there are storm windows on some of the new windows, and plexi was put over some of the other ones, but some of the old wooden windows are rotted; the OSB was an effort to preserve them until all the windows could be made weather tight. She mentioned that three pedestrian doors are at LSS are also rotted.
Final public comment
Linda Manville said she was pleased that, for the first time she is aware of, an employee hire had involved not only Council members but representatives from the community in a unified group decision. O’Dwyer said, “I think we all agree we need all the help we can get.” ψ
No—this is not a review of the old John Wayne cavalry movie of a similar name. This is about a book by a writer from northern Michigan—Elberta country. It is a war story. It is a story of exceptionally brave people. It is not all about men, although some very tough men are core characters. The events in this book are now more than 15 years old, yet it will provide any reader with a better understanding of a place still struggling with a daily reality and way of life shaped by those events, in ways almost unimaginable here in our bucolic existence.