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Nov. 7, 2017 city council meeting

The following were the high points of the St. Louis City Council meeting of Nov. 7.

New Sound System

A new sound system has been installed in council chambers and was used during a meeting for first time on Nov. 7 with yours truly doing the testing.

I have what audiologists call a severe hearing loss, so the sound system was a Godsend for me. It consists of five microphones on council table, four small speakers mounted high on the walls (but only two are connected) and two portable receivers with headphones.

I wore the headphones and was able to understand 90 percent of what folks at the council table said. (Up from 20 percent before.) There remains a problem with speakers who aren’t at the table, but council has tentative plans to add a portable microphone, or possibly one that hangs from ceiling, to address that deficiency.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Modifications

Council voted 4-0 to spend up to $31,000 to modify the sewage treatment plant’s wastewater discharge into a lagoon that is a pass-through to the Pine River. The modification should reduce the amount of duck weed growth in the lagoon.

Swimming Pool Repair

Council voted 4-0 to spend up to $20,000 on swimming pool repair. Councilman Tom Cook worried aloud about spending money on the pool when money is tight. Mayor Jim Kelly said he wants to keep the pool open even though it costs the city upwards of $30,000 a year to do so. “I would hate to lose control of the pool,” he said. “ I would hate to give it up. I’m sorry.” The Gratiot Community Foundation has agreed to pay roughly half of the pool repair cost.

In a related issue, council noted that the county parks millage comes up for renewal in 2019 and could potentially be rewritten to allow part of the funds raised by that millage to be shared with municipalities to supplement their parks and recreation spending. Council members seemed to think that’s a great idea.

I emailed Gratiot County commissioners George Bailey, Jan Bunting, Russell Bongard, Sam Smith and Tim Lambrecht for a reaction on Nov. 8. Lambrecht responded as follows: “I understand the desire of local municipalities to get a share of the millage money with increasingly tight budgets. The question that needs to be explored is, is there a more efficient way to provide quality park and recreation services throughout the county? The county is the only entity that has a professional, trained parks and rec director. I am interested in exploring not just how we spread money around, but if there are benefits to increased collaboration or even creating a county-wide parks authority. These are big questions, but that is what we’ll be exploring between now and then. And of course, we want to continue to maintain our county parks at the high level we’ve been operating at. There are many stakeholders and it will be interesting to see where the conversations go.”

Bus Service Contract Renewed

Council voted 4-0 to renew the city’s contract with the Alma Transit Center (the outfit that operates the short blue buses you see around town). The contract costs St. Louis property owners $5,000 per year.

Here are ridership statistics for a 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2017:

A total of 1,631 rides originating in St. Louis were given. To break that down by destination, 977 of those rides were to Alma, 420 to another place in St. Louis, 199 to Pine River Township, 31 to Ithaca and one each to Bethany, Fulton and Wheeler townships.

Some 1,434 rides that ended in St. Louis originated in Alma (1,026), Pine River Township (125), Ithaca (27), Wheeler Township (2), Fulton Township (2) and Arcada Township (1). Another 251 rides ending in St. Louis came from unknown locations.

To learn more about the ATC bus service, follow this link:

https://almatransitcenter.com/

Please comment below if you have an experience with ATC bus service to share.

Banning Large Trucks Downtown

Downtown Development Authority Director Phil Hansen has suggested an ordinance change to bar large trucks from using Mill Street downtown. “We don’t feel there is enough room for big trucks to travel down North Mill Street without it being a safety hazard,” Hansen said via email. “With cars parked on both sides of the street, a large truck such as this doesn’t allow much room for a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. Our police department is also in support of examining this type of restriction.”

First-floor Apartments Downtown

Hansen also suggests an ordinance change to allow first floor residential use in some portions of the Central Business District.

Hansen said via email: “Currently there are no first floor residential units allowed in the Central Business District.  However, we feel that the PURPOSE of that is so that on the main stretch of businesses (North Mill Street) it needs to be a solidly commercial stretch straight through.  There are properties we believe that are on side streets where it WOULD be OK to have residential on the first floor. There would be no interruption of the main stretch of businesses, and there is value of course to having people living in the downtown.”

Planned Power Outage Dec. 2

Maintenance on the city’s electrical system will require a planned power outage of six to eight hours beginning at midnight of Saturday, Dec. 2. “This is to allow for the connection of the new switch gear equipment to the 2,400 volt distribution system at the downtown substation,” said City Manager Kurt Giles in an email. “Two of our dual-fuel generators and the two hydroelectric units have been disconnected to install modern controls and circuit breakers.” Public Services Director Keith Risdon said scheduling the outage is a balancing act. Start too early and the bars are hurt. Start to late and restaurants miss much of their breakfast rush.

Having a Laugh

A bit of humor ensued when council members briefly discussed possibility of changing meeting times next year from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tom Church said he wouldn’t mind meeting at the earlier hour, causing Jerry Church to quip: “No. You’d be cutting into my lunch time.”

Council stuck with the 6 p.m. on second and fourth Tuesdays of each month meeting time.

Elementary schools

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