By Ralph Echtinaw
City council voted Tuesday to apply for a $250,000 grant that would make the reconstruction of Maple Street more affordable.
The city hopes to tear up the existing road, replace or repair underlying sewer and water lines and top it with a new road compete with curbs and gutters. Consumers Energy will come in at some point when the road is torn up to replace a gas line.
In signing the agreement, the city commits to providing at least $470,000 toward the construction costs and costs for design, permit fees, administration and cost overruns. Total cost of the job is expected to be $1.2 million, said City Manager Kurt Giles.
The project is tentatively planned for fiscal year 2019/2020. Administrators should know if the grant was approved in mid May, Giles said.
“Boy that will make a nice project,” said Councilman Jerry Church.
New water main
Replacement of the water main on Pine Street from M-46 to Michigan Avenue and along Michigan Avenue from Pine to Hazel is shaping up to be done “fairly early this construction season, if possible,” Giles said. Digging up the street will be kept to a minimum.
The city just received bids, and the lowest was $405,000 from Wards Excavating of St. Louis, a bit less than was estimated.
Other bids came from Champagne & Marx ($700,000), Rohde Brothers Excavating ($610,000), The Isabella Corporation ($577,000), Crawford ($526,000), Malley Construction ($516,000) and McGuirk Sand-Gravel ($497,000).
St. Louis administrators are not certain of the age of this particular water main. “But the newer water mains in this area are circa 1962,” Giles said. “These smaller diameter lines seem to be much older and have had a significant history of repairs.”
Giles said the bid will likely be awarded to Wards Excavating at the council’s March 19 meeting.
Council voted to contribute $3,000 to the Mid Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team, better known as MAGNET (a multi-jurisdictional narcotics and violent crimes undercover investigative team serving Gratiot and Shiawassee counties).
In a letter to Mayor Jim Kelly, MAGNET commander Michelle Taylor said the group’s mission is “to investigate, arrest and prosecute illegal drug traffickers at all levels with emphasis on mid to upper level drug dealers.”
Taylor requested one dollar for every person living in St. Louis ($7,249), which includes the prison population, but only got $3,000. This is an annual contribution that St. Louis has made for a number of years.
“There’s a huge issue of drug trafficking coming into the prison right now,” said Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. “And, of course, to get to the prison they have to come through our area.”
Ramereiz said MAGNET officers are “repeatedly” in St. Louis doing work. “I can’t say enough good about what MAGNET is doing, and as understaffed as they are. There’s definitely a need for a lot more. Manpower is an issue with them. They are down to two or three members from Shiawassee County. Used to be there were officers from every agency in Shiawassee County, but now there’s only two or three.” (The Gratiot County Sheriff’s Department provides one officer to MAGNET.)
St. Louis has not assigned an officer to MAGNET since 2012. “I would love to put somebody back on but we don’t have the budgeting to put a person on there,” Ramereiz said.
Each agency that has an officer assigned to MAGNET must pay that officer’s salary and benefits plus the costs of a vehicle lease.
In 2017, the last year for which statistics are available, MAGNET initiated 184 investigations and arrested 110 people on 182 counts. Thirty-one search warrants were conducted and more than $2 million worth of illegal drugs seized.
Drugs seized include cocaine (6.54 grams), heroin (7.7 grams), methamphetamine (10.3 grams), morphine (73 units), Oxycodone (12 units), Psilocybin mushrooms (18,561 grams), Valium (100 units), Vicodin (44.5 units) and marijuana (78,434 grams).
MAGNET investigations during 2017 included 31 in Alma, nine in Pine River Township, six in Ithaca and six in St. Louis. There were 73 Gratiot County investigations in all during 2017.
Calling all cars
Ramereiz told the council that the police department’s 13 portable radios and four car radios won’t be supported by Motorola after 2019 and therefore must be replaced, although not immediately. New portable radios go for about $2,500 each, and car radios are $5,000 each.
Chrouch Communications recently tested all St. Louis police radios and took two of the portables back for service. There is also an issue with the department’s base station radio that Chrouch will return to fix, Ramereiz said.
“When Motorola cancels support, that means they will no longer do depot repairs, and they will not guarantee parts availability,” Ramereiz said via email. “Normally, Chrouch Communications can still get parts to repair most things for a few years, and Chrouch Communications does have a third-party depot that can normally repair controller level problems for a while. Batteries, antennas, chargers, and microphones are normally available for five to ten years after support cancellation.”
Ramereiz was pleased, however, to find that the vast majority of the department’s radios are in good condition. “It does give us a little satisfaction to know the radios are working fine,” he said. “The need to (replace) them all right now, immediately, at once is not there. So that gives me a little bit of happiness. That’s a big expense.”
Ramereiz told council about a deal he may get on 4,096 rounds of ammunition to use for target practice.
The bullets come from the Law Enforcement Support Offices of the US Department of Defense. Ramereiz requested 812 .38 caliber pistol rounds, 2,325 5.56mm rifle rounds and 899 shotgun shells.
St. Louis only pays for shipping, which will be no more than $614, Ramereiz said. “Compared to buying a case of ammo it’s a pretty good deal. Next to food, free is one of my favorite four-letter words.”
Cost of training ammo varies, Ramereiz said. “At this time, our training ammo vendor quoted me the following costs.”
1,000 rounds .40 S&W – $220
1,000 rounds 5.56MM – $300
1,000 rounds 12 gauge – $252
“I am not guaranteed to receive any of the ammo that is available or requested,” Ramereiz said via email. “It is a first come/first serve basis for all law enforcement agencies in the US that participate in the program.”
Water service agreement amended
St. Louis will take over financial accounting for the Gratiot Area Water Authority after approving a change to a water service agreement signed in February 2014 when Alma and St. Louis combined their water systems.
Originally, the agreement designated Alma as the party providing financial accounting for GAWA. The amendment says Alma OR St. Louis can perform this function.
The resolution says, “The authority board shall from time to time designate by resolution which entity is responsible for financial accounting.”
Costs for the accounting work will be borne by GAWA, as they have been in the past, Giles said, except the St. Louis finance department will do the work “for the foreseeable future.”
The amendment will go before the Alma City Commission on Tuesday, March 12, for ratification. That would be the last step to allow implementation.
Pool house asbestos removal
City council awarded a contract to Mid-State Asbestos Removal of St. Louis to remove 14 or 20 windows from the pool house that contain asbestos in the interior glazing in addition to one plumbing vent and the water heater exhaust.
Council approved paying up to $5,400 for the job.
Giles said the work should take place around March 21.
Kudos to Mark Abbott
Mayor Pro-Tem Melissa Allen praised Department of Public Works Superintendent Mark Abbott after a DPW profile appeared in the latest city newsletter. “I hope that it hit the target market of trying to educate people on all of what you do do, because people want to call and just think you can jump,” she said.
Councilman George Kubin asked Clerk Mari Anne Ryder to name the people who have pulled petitions to run for city council. Ryder said that Bill Leonard, 73, Don Dean, 70, and this reporter, 59, have pulled petitions.
Two of the five positions on city council are on the ballot this year, and the incumbents, Jerry Church and Melissa Allen, have said they will not seek re-election. Mayor Kelly is running for re-election, so far unopposed.
If you would like to get your name on the ballot you can pick up petitions at city hall. You will need 26 signatures of registered voters who live in the city on your petition to get on the ballot. However, Ryder recommends getting 30 signatures to be safe, as some may turn out to live outside the city limits or not be registered voters.
The filing deadline is 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.
Council members are paid $700 per year and $35 per meeting.