National Issues at the Local Level: Lowell City Council Meeting for 1/17/2017

Mayor Mike DeVore (second from the left), city manager Mike Burns (center) speaking with Roger LaWarre, and council member Jim Hodges (next to Burns) at the meeting on 1/17/2017

Lowell, MI – The Lowell City Council convened on January 17, 2017, at 7 p.m. in the Lowell City Hall to discuss a variety of pressing issues in the town including the ongoing problem with the bio-digester, the high levels of e. coli in the Flat River, and the city’s revenue problem.

The first major topic of discussion concerned the ongoing bio-digester fiasco that began in August 2016 when people living in the area started complaining about noxious odors coming from the facility. At the time of the meeting, the bio-digester was not in operation and may need extensive cleaning. Mike Burns, Lowell’s city manager, said, “There’s just no simple solution going forward.” He met with Lowell Light and Power and the city attorney to discuss options about dealing with the bio-digester. The bio-digester provided 2,600 residents with green electricity through the conversion of organic waste into methane gas that powered a turbine to generate electricity.

The council voted on several pieces of local legislation: Compensation for members of the board of Light and Power, crossbow hunting on 10 acres of private land, keeping Steven Schultz as the city attorney, and painting the water reservoir at a cost $67,400 and something that hasn’t been done since 1994. On every piece of legislation, the council voted unanimously, “yes,” seeming to indicate a strong level of unity in the city council.

A major issue that came up during the meeting dealt with the Flat River, which runs through Lowell. The river has high levels of e. coli bacteria, more than the Environmental Protection Agency allows, but it is not beyond saving. One option on the table is the creation of green spaces to naturally filter rainwater and wastewater before it reaches the river. Alan Teelander, the mayor pro tem, said, “I’d like Lowell to be the first city (on the river) to protect the river…and keep our river nice and safe.” He advised people not to swim in the river right now. Developing a system to better manage water runoff into the river could coincide with road maintenance and improvement.

Near the end of the meeting, Greg Canfield, elected to the council in the November 2016 elections, brought up Lowell’s municipal revenue issue. “Michigan ranks 50th for municipal revenue,” Canfield said, then focused on Lowell, “Lowell has lost $1.4 million (of revenue)…I’m surprised we even have roads.” He illustrated just how dire the situation is, saying, “It could be 30 years before we’re back to where we were 10 years ago.” Canfield went on to state that the solution has to be a combination of efforts from the Michigan state legislature and from the city of Lowell. His idea is to get more businesses to build a stronger tax base. Roger LaWarre, a local retired pastor and involved with local charity, said about the revenue problem, “That’s a crucial piece for our future, and the legislature needs to act.” This is most likely referring to the legislature’s use of tax revenue to deal with state financial problems rather than spread the wealth to Michigan’s cities.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for January 24, 2017, as joint meeting with Lowell Light and Power. City council meetings are also recorded and available for viewing on the City of Lowell YouTube page.




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