By Ralph Echtinaw
They’re not talking about merging Alma and St. Louis yet, but recent developments seem to be sliding in that direction.
The cities have already combined their water service and use the same trash hauler. St. Louis contributes to the Alma Transit Center (that serves residents with Dial-a-Ride buses) and participates in the Airport Authority.
Now Alma is likely to take over St. Louis’ property assessing services on a contract basis after city council action Tuesday.
Council voted unanimously to hand off property assessing services to Alma. Alma Assessor Kathy Roslund will list, appraise and maintain records for all real and personal property in St. Louis, if also approved by Alma City Commission.
The deal pays Alma $65,000 for one year with an option to continue the arrangement if all goes well, but not necessarily at that price.
“We believe we can gain some economies of scale,” said City Manager Kurt Giles via email. “Kathy has the required certifications to be the assessor for both cities but would need help to complete the work. If this is approved by the Alma City Commission, they would plan for making the staffing addition to her office that wouldn’t necessarily require the level of certification that Kathy holds.”
Giles believes the city will save money on this deal, as the cost of hiring a city assessor would likely be more than what the city will pay Alma for assessing services.
The deal that Alma commissioners vote on will be slightly different from the one that was submitted to St. Louis, as council members wanted it specified that Roslund or a “designated representative” will attend Board of Review meetings (where property owners can appeal assessment increases).
“There’s a lot of questions that come up at board of review that we’re not qualified to answer,” said Councilman Tom Reed.
Mayor Pro-Tem Melissa Allen found a discrepancy in the contract, which in one place said the the deal runs from June 1 this year to May 1 next year and in another place gave an 11.5-month length of service. The language was changed so the contract runs from May 15 this year to May 15, 2020.
The Alma City Commission must approve the contract with the aforementioned amendments.
Then, during council comment time, Councilman George Kubin suggested that St. Louis combine its police services with one or more nearby cities and/or villages.
“If we had one larger department that serves several communities, we could have (officers) that specialize in things and have a better police force that (could more easily) retain quality employees,” he said.
Mayor James Kelly approved, saying it would be “a great opportunity for all the officers because there would be more promotions. There could be detectives. And it would avoid the problem off us being the trainer, and they run off to bigger departments just like I did.”
Kubin said, “I think we have an excellent police department. And I would not want to see it deteriorate. But maybe this could make it better for the whole county.”
Kelly said that “when Bob McConkie was city manager they were talking about (merging police departments). And I was talking about doing it with Breckenridge. We need to re-enter those negotiations. I think Kurt and (Alma City Manager Matt) Schooley would be an excellent place to start.”
Giles said he will raise the issue with Schooley the next time they meet.
Asked to expand on what he said at the meeting, Kubin said this via email: “In concept, I am hopeful a study would include Alma, Breckenridge, Ithaca and St. Louis, although it could start with any combination. The idea is a larger (police) department that that could offer more specialized services and opportunities for advancement to staff. This has been talked about in concept for years. If Ithaca is studying a change, this might be an ideal time to take the concept to the next stage.”
North Mill Paving
Council voted unanimously to pay Central Asphalt of Mt. Pleasant $215,000 to repave North Mill Street.
Rite-Way Asphalt, Crawford Contracting and Valley Asphalt Paving were offered a chance to bid but did not do so.
Department of Public Works Superintendent Mark Abbott said Central Asphalt can probably do the job in five to eight days in June.
New contract for cops
Council unanimously approved a three-year contract for the city’s police officers that takes effect July 1.
Wage increases are 3.5 percent in first year, 2.5 percent in second year and 2 percent in third year.
Currently, an officer with more than four years on the force earns $49,444 per year. Over the next three years that will rise to $51,175, $52,453 and $53,503.
Council voted unanimously to pay $97,750 to Berthiaume & Co. of Saginaw to conduct annual audits of the city’s books through 2023.
Other bidders included Roslund Prestage ($107,500) and Yeo & Yeo ($101,000), both of Alma.
“I personally have been happy with our current audit firm,” wrote Finance Director Bobbi Marr to the council. “Receiving bids in this manner has confirmed that we continue to receive a good price for our audit.”
Council voted unanimously to pay $36,000 for 21 new computers that will replace 19 computers that are out of warranty. All are running Windows 7 or earlier, which won’t be supported after April 2020.
Eighteen of the computers purchased will be HP EliteDesk 800 G4 desktops with 16 gigabytes of RAM and 256 gigabyte solid state drives.
Two will be HP EliteDesk 800 G4 desktops with 16 gigabytes of RAM and 512 gigabyte solid state drives.
And one will be an Intel NUC 8 VR Gaming with Vega graphics for cameras.
Pool house art piece
Council voted unanimously to approve purchase for up to $8,000 of an “art piece” to be installed next to the pool house. The money will come from a grant and NOT from St. Louis property owners.
The metal structure will feature a 15-foot shark and a cage that can be entered by visitors to be photographed.
The art piece will be built by Justin La Doux, whose work you have seen if you drive past his house on Begole Road between M-46 and Alma.
State Street reconstruction
Council unanimously approved an engineering services proposal from Rowe Professional Services for West State Street reconstruction between Michigan Avenue and South Main in the amount of $61,000.
The work is tentatively scheduled to occur in the summer of 2022.
The city’s share of the cost is $375,000. Michigan Department of Transportation pays the same.
The city also pays $95,000 for sanitary sewer work and $50,000 for water main work.
Expensive repairs ahead
In his city manager’s report, Giles told the council that a radiator that cools engines eight and nine in the city’s electric generation plant is leaking. The engines and radiator were installed 16 years ago and were not new even then, Giles said.
The cost of replacing the failing equipment will be “pretty substantial,” Giles said, but he won’t share an estimated cost “until we know whether competitive bids will be available for this work. We have an idea of the cost for re-coring the existing radiator and understand replacement with multiple units may be less expensive, however a significant cost.”
Road millage proposal?
During council comments time, Kubin said city officials should try to get a millage on the ballot that would fund additional road maintenance in St. Louis.
“Driving on the roads locally lately, they’re just a mess,” he said. “I’m sure you‘ve seen a few of those big pot holes out there. It doesn’t seem like it was a very good winter to those roads. They are just a mess.”
Kubin suggested forming a committee to look into it and recommend a specific millage to ask voters to approve.
“The intent would be for the millage to generate additional funds, not replace the funds that we are spending now,” Kubin said via email. “In my opinion, we would have to guarantee that this is not a shift of funding, which seems to have happened repeatedly at the state level.”
Councilman Tom Reed said he likes Kubin’s idea to form a committee to study a possible road millage and suggested another one to re-imagine evaluations of city employees and department heads. “Our employees should be able to evaluate the department heads and vice versa,” he said.
Downtown semi truck ban?
The Downtown Development Authority has asked that the city enact an ordinance prohibiting large semi trucks from using North Mill Street.
“The DDA board believes that North Mill Street is not able to accommodate this type of traffic,” wrote DDA Director Phil Hanson in a letter to city council. “They also don’t believe that large trucks need to use North Mill Street when North Main Street is available nearby and much more suited to this type of vehicle. Not only is it a safety issue on North Mill Street but large truck traffic leads to the quicker deterioration of the road surface.”
Council members discussed the issue, but no conclusion was reached.
Four St. Louis residents have turned in petitions with a sufficient number of signatures to be on the ballot in November for election to city council.
They are Bill Leonard, 73, Don Dean, 70, Roger Collison, 69, and this reporter, 60.
The four of us will compete to fill two city council seats that are open because council members Jerry Church and Melissa Allen are not seeking re-election.
Mayor James C. Kelly is on the ballot, too, but running unopposed.
All candidates are invited to write an article for the Sentinel to introduce themselves to voters.
There were no absences on the council. Council candidates Leonard, Collison and this reporter were present. Donald Dean was not.