Port Huron Council approves bids for seasonal services

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

Council approved various bids for needed services Monday night.

Port Huron received three bids for city pavement marking services — crosswalks, arrows and onlys — to be completed this year.

City Engineer Bob Clegg answered council members’ questions before M & M Pavement Markings’ bid of $20,608 was approved by a vote of 6-1.

“We bid two types of pavement markings,” he said. “Once a year we have a vendor come in and paint arrows, onlys, stops and crosswalks. Then once a year we do long line painting, which are the markings in the center of the road.”

Clegg said they bid them separately because it takes different equipment to complete the task.

Council member Ken Harris was the lone vote against the recommended service.

Port Huron also received two bids for one complete mow and trim of the 120 city-owned or vacant lots.

Kevin’s Lawn Care bid of $1,320 was unanimously approved over Clean Cut Maintenance, LLC, which placed a bid of $1,845.

Mayor Pauline Repp asked if it was the same price they received last year for lawn services. Clegg said the property to be mowed changes each year.

“The number of parcels the city has to take care of varies each year,” Clegg explained. “We analyze the costs with seasonal employees and we also go out to bid. Whichever is the lowest cost to taxpayers is the one we go with. In this case, we found it was less expensive to bid this work out.”

Other business

Council members approved to schedule an April 27 public hearing during its regularly scheduled meeting to listen to comments on the establishment of an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act District at 609 Huron Ave., which is owned by Port Huron Citadel LLC.

Port Huron native Bob Davis was presented with a certificate of appreciation for his videos on the history of Port Huron.

Davis, who just posted his 100th video, expressed his thanks.

“My passion for Port Huron’s history began with my father’s postcard collection,” he said. “I started the video series with just one video in mind. You know what happened next.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 13, 2015)

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Recall petitions for Cottrellville Township officials approved

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

Recalls are moving forward against the supervisor and clerk of Cottrellville Township.

Supervisor Kelly Fiscelli and Clerk Lori Russelburg are facing recalls for “violating the Open Meetings Act on May 8, 2013,” according to the language of the approved petitions.

Two other petitions were filed against Russelburg, but were denied during Monday’s clarity hearing.

Cottrellville Township residents Barbara Basney and Tammy McGuire filed the recall against Fiscelli.

Township resident Robert Pfaff filed the approved recall against Russelburg.

Fiscelli and Russelburg have 10 days to appeal the commission’s decision.

About 300 signatures are needed on the petitions to move the recalls to the voters. St. Clair County Clerk Jay DeBoyer said the petitions are valid for the next 180 days, but the signatures must be collected in a 60-day window.

The recalls could make it onto the November or May 2016 ballot, he said.

Fiscelli said she doesn’t deserve to be recalled because the violation occurred two years ago.

“I was a little disappointed they are grasping at straws for something that happened two years ago,” she said. “I thought if that’s the only thing they have to complain about, then I must be doing a pretty good job.”

St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Michael West ruled in 2013 the township was in violation of the Open Meetings Act when it cut short the three-minute public comment period of a trustee and two members of the public.

Bob Seibert, who represented Cottrellville Township and township Supervisor Kelly Lisco, said in 2013 the judge found the violations to be technical violations.

Russelburg said she believes Pfaff’s recall petition has more to do with a personal grudge than any violations.

“I think the election commission did their due diligence,” she said. “However, the people who are doing the petition are in error. I am not a named defendant and was not found guilty.”

A second recall petition has been filed against Fiscelli.

Basney and McGuire filed a petition alleging Fiscelli failed to conduct an asbestos survey prior to the demolition of structures in the township, resulting in a fine by the Department of Environmental Quality. A clarity hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. April 29.

DeBoyer said there’s no limit on how many recall petitions can be filed against an official, but he or she can only be recalled once per term.

“Whichever one gets the signatures and is validated first would go on the ballot,” he said. “The other one would be considered null. You can only be subjected to be recalled once per term.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 13, 2015)

Marysville to end sewage agreement with Port Huron

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

The sanitary sewer service agreement between Marysville and Port Huron will officially come to an end Monday.

Bari Wrubel, Marysville wastewater operations supervisor, said a resolution to end the agreement is on the Marysville City Council’s agenda because the city completed its installation of a new pump station that will direct sanitary movement.

“We are redirecting the flow that was going to Port Huron to our own wastewater plant through the new pump station we just built,” he said. “The line was already bypassed and plugged up at the end of February. Now it’s just a formality of paperwork to go through.”

The pump station cost $600,000 to construct with wastewater reserve money at the corner of Ravenswood Road and Gratiot Boulevard.

Wrubel said the city was billed $60,000 to $80,000 a year by Port Huron. Wrubel expects a nine-year buy back with these savings.

“It’s like renting a car and now you have bought one for yourself and no longer have to pay to drive,” he said. “We don’t have to pay that fee anymore to Port Huron. Once the project is paid off it will basically be a gain.”

Marysville broke ground on the pump station in July and finished construction in February.

The project also included rebuilding one of the older pump stations and the two generators for those stations. The old pump station that was rebuilt, is a half mile south of the new one.

The overall project was just over $1 million.

Mayor Dan Damman said city officials began talking about constructing a new pump station three or four years ago in an attempt to wrangle in some of the city’s spending.

“We were sending Port Huron anywhere between $15,000 and $19,000 per quarter,” Damman said. “This project allowed the city to become completely independent. This extra source of revenue will come into play when we look into additional maintenance to our infrastructure.”

The contract between the two cities was created in 2000 with end date in mind. If either party wanted to opt out of the agreement they would go by its notification procedure.

Wrubel said the two municipalities have been in discussion for about a year about ending the contract before construction began on the new pump station.

“It was a pretty big project and to know that bill is not coming in every quarter feels good,” Wrubel said. “There’s no bad blood, it’s all about saving money and being smart with it.”

City Engineer Bob Clegg said the agreement will have little impact on Port Huron’s sewer fund.

Port Huron had a sewer fund of $10.4 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Clegg said the cities entered into an agreement because officials had discovered a small portion of Marysville’s discharge was moving through Port Huron’s sanitary system.

“We also learned that the city was not billing them for that service and entered into an agreement to bill them,” he said. “Now that the flow changed hands, we need to have our respective elected bodies agree that the agreement no longer exists.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 12, 2015)

Port Huron trash pickup in ‘need of an overhaul’

Marcotte Disposal workers collect garbage from the curb Tuesday in Port Huron. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

Marcotte Disposal workers collect garbage from the curb Tuesday in Port Huron. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

Port Huron’s trash tax isn’t raising enough money to pay for the service.

Officials are looking for ways to make costs match revenues.

For nearly a decade, the revenue from the 3 mill trash tax hasn’t covered the costs of picking up trash and recyclables. City Manager James Freed said the difference has been made up with the savings that accumulated while higher property values generated more tax revenues.

But those savings will dry up this year. In 2006-07, the fund balance had $1.3 million in it.

“The city charges 3 mills in order to generate revenue for the garbage and rubbish fund,” city engineer Bob Clegg said. “The problem is revenue, not expenses. We’re still in the process of looking at alternatives, but we are not ready to roll anything out yet.”

The trash tax brought in $1.6 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year. The trash collection contract cost $1.7 million.

In the 2008-09 fiscal year, the tax generated $2.1 million, and the cost was $2.2 million.

The tax costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $150 a year.

In 2013, the city cut costs by rebidding trash, recyclable and leaf pickup. The deal with Marcotte Disposal saves the city about $200,000 a year over the former contract with Waste Management.

“Expenses have gone down because of rebidding the contract, but it has not gone down as much as revenue has,” Clegg said. “We had a fund balance that was significant, but it is dissolving because of this.”

Freed said the city administration has ideas for addressing the problem, but wouldn’t go into detail until they have been discussed with City Council.

“The current model of how we deliver these services is broken and unsustainable,” Freed said. “More than $1.3 million from the fund balance has been used to mask the problem, but that fund balance is gone. The millage may not be the best means of a revenue source. Maybe we need to cut that tax.”

Freed said solutions will be discussed during budget workshops in early May.

Freed said an option might be switching to a fixed fee for garbage collection services.

Port Huron Township uses this model to pay for disposal services with Waste Management.

Carol Maxbauer, a utility billing clerk, said the township charges residents about $40 on a quarterly basis the same way it would for utility fees.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 9, 2015)

Marine City Commission looks at tax, utility increases

Police chief and acting city manager Don Tillery listens to a presentation Tuesday during a Marine City Commission budget meeting at the fire hall. The commission is considering a special assessment tax and raising water/sewer rates. (Tony Wittkowski | Times Herald)

Police chief and acting city manager Don Tillery listens to a presentation Tuesday during a Marine City Commission budget meeting at the fire hall. The commission is considering a special assessment tax and raising water/sewer rates. (Tony Wittkowski | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

Marine City is facing a $159,000 budget deficit, and looking to increase taxes on residents to balance it.

The latest proposed $2.8 million budget for the city includes a 1.86-mill increase in property taxes and a 5.15 percent increase in water and sewer rates, as well as $100 a year ready-to-serve fee for water and sewer.

The property tax increase, which would be applied as a special assessment for public safety, would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $93 more a year in taxes. It is estimated to generate $159,000 a year.

The city currently levies 16.8707 mills in property taxes, or about $843.54 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house.

The proposed budget also includes increasing water and sewer rates by 5.15 percent. Residents currently pay $6.39 per 1,000 gallons of metered water and $5.07 per 1,000 gallons of waste produced. The city also is looking at imposing a quarterly $25 ready-to-serve fee.

Those increases would generate $1.9 million, according to Treasurer Mary Ellen McDonald.

Commissioner Lisa Hendrick looks through her notes Tuesday during a Marine City Commission budget meeting at the fire hall. The commission is considering a special assessment tax and raising water/sewer rates. (Tony Wittkowski | Times Herald)

Commissioner Lisa Hendrick looks through her notes Tuesday during a Marine City Commission budget meeting at the fire hall. (Tony Wittkowski | Times Herald)

McDonald said an average residence that uses 24,000 gallons of water a quarter would see an increase of $156.64 a year, including the quarterly ready-to-serve fee.

The ready-to-serve fee would go into the city’s water and sewer fund for major capital improvements, she said.

McDonald said the water and sewer rate increases are needed in addition to the special assessment because it would cover the city’s current operations, debt obligations and minimal capital improvements.

While the city’s savings could cover the budget deficit, commissioners have said they are against using any more of the fund. As of June 30, 2014, the fund balance was at $624,000.

Don Tillery, the city’s police chief and acting city manager, recommended the special assessment tax go into effect for five years and be evaluated by the commission annually.

“It’s up to the commission, but my recommendation is five years,” Tillery said during a Tuesday budget meeting. “It would be enough time for the economy to turn around and for our tax revenue to increase.”

Money raised by the special assessment tax would stay in the general fund to cover the city’s maintenance and operational expenses for public safety, which includes the fire and police departments. The public safety budget for 2015-16 is about $950,000.

“If we enacted the PA33 (special assessment), the city would have a balanced budget,” McDonald said. “Otherwise budgets with all departments would need additional cuts or further adjustments.”

Mayor Raymond Skotarczyk discusses the city’s budget with other commissioners Tuesday during a Marine City Commission budget meeting at the fire hall. (Tony Wittkowski | Times Herald)

Mayor Raymond Skotarczyk discusses the city’s budget with other commissioners Tuesday during a Marine City Commission budget meeting at the fire hall. (Tony Wittkowski | Times Herald)

Mayor Raymond Skotarcyzk said the tax is necessary in order to avoid cutting any more city services.

“Not everyone is willing to do what it takes to move this city forward,” Skotarcyzk said. “We can’t just keep decimating the city’s services and watch it fall apart. We either cut out more capital spending or include a special assessment levy.”

Commissioner Lisa Hendrick said she is not in favor of the tax because it takes the decision out of the taxpayers’ hands.

The special assessment levy would not go to a public vote. However, the city would have to hold public hearings before the commission could approve it.

“I can’t justify this for the taxpayers,” she said. “They don’t want to give the public a right to vote on it. Even if you do all this, at the end of the day, you still don’t have any extra money to add to your general fund.”

The only agreement so far on the budget is cutting how much the city spends on public television by half.

The commission approved Tuesday to renegotiate a new contract to reduce its contract franchise fees with CTV from $60,000 to $30,000.

CTV, a local cable company, records and broadcasts the commission meetings, community publications and athletic events such as high school football games.

Those events would still be broadcast, as the franchise fees the city receives from the local cable company would be evenly split between Marine City and CTV for their services.

Commissioners were hesitant to cut any more expenses.

“A balanced budget is good, but it would not solve a systemic problem,” said Commissioner David Simpson. “The PA33 (special assessment) would give us a way to adjust that. It allows us to address these long-term issues. Every time we have a meeting there always seems to be more problems. It’s about providing a solution.”

Marine City’s fiscal year begins July 1. Tillery said it has no timetable for when the city wants an approved budget from the commission.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 8, 2015)

Greenleaf Township supervisor facing recall May 5

Greenleaf Township voters will be asked to choose a supervisor in the May 5 election. (Times Herald file photo)

Greenleaf Township voters will be asked to choose a supervisor in the May 5 election. (Times Herald file photo)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

After months of turmoil, Greenleaf Township residents will decide who will lead the municipality May 5.

The recall of township Supervisor Kirk Winter is the only local race on the May ballot. He’s facing two challengers in the recall effort against him — Rodney Mazure, a township resident, and Randy Schuette, who is a trustee on the township board.

Ronald Brzuchowski filed the recall petition alleging Winter moved forward with purchasing a new township hall without board approval.

In September, the board began talks about buying six acres of property and an 86-by-120-foot building from All Star Sevices at 6345 Bay City-Forestville Road that would serve as the new township hall.

In the end, the board approved purchasing the property at its Nov. 20 meeting after Winter had put down a deposit on the township’s behalf. The township now owns the property, but has not moved into the building.

Sanilac County Clerk Denise McGuire said the top vote-getter will complete Winter’s current term, which ends in December 2016.

Winter, who has served as the township’s supervisor for the last 16 years, said he has never seen anything like this and insists he has done nothing wrong.

“It’s been nerve racking over these last few months,” he said. “It’s nonsense. This money that we used (for the new hall) we’ve had set aside for over 25 years.”

Winter says buying the township hall had to be taken care of fast because two other parties were interested at the time.

“This was a need that was long overdue. My board agreed to it and we are moving forward. It’s too bad that a good thing like this has to turn sour because of a personal vendetta,” Winter said, referring to Mazure, who ran against him and lost during the previous election.

Mazure did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Winter said he expects there to be at least a 50 percent turnout because of the state proposal that will also be on the ballot.

Schuette is in his first term as a board trustee and said he is running based on how the purchase of the township hall was handled.

Schuette was in favor of buying the property and building, but said there would have been enough time to call a special meeting and vote on it properly.

“The situation could have been handled better, but I do feel the building in question was a good fit for our township,” he said. “I’m interested in taking on this position. I’ve got a flexible schedule and would make myself available to any township business as needed. Kirk and I are friends and whatever the results may be we will still be friends.”

If Schuette is elected, the township board would have to appoint someone for the duration of his term as trustee.

Trustee Ken Brown has been on the board for two years and says he does not know how the recall accomplishes anything.

“I think this recall is ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t think Kirk did anything that warrants to this extent. Every move he makes is being analyzed now. I hope there are better times ahead.”

Brown said the election will be held at the old township hall on Gilbert Road. The building is small and considered out of date as township employees work out of their homes.

Come election day, Brown said he believes Winter is the best man for the job.

“We lost a lot of experience in the last election,” Brown said. “There are three of us on the board that are new. I’d like to keep some experience on the board for a while.”

Another change to the board is expected to come before the May election.

Treasurer Louis Laming resigned March 28 after more than 20 years of service.

Brown said a new treasurer has not yet been chosen, but a special meeting will be set by the end of April to make a selection.

The board meets once every other month.

“The best time (to resign) would be now because the new summer taxes come out in July and I want to give them enough time to adjust,” Laming said. “I got tired of all the paperwork, I want to spend some time with my family.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 7, 2015)

Baker College dorms remain on construction schedule

The Blue Water Bridge is seen in the distance Mon, April 6, behind the future Baker College student housing in Port Huron. (Andrew Jowett | Times Herald)

The Blue Water Bridge is seen in the distance Mon, April 6, behind the future Baker College student housing in Port Huron. (Andrew Jowett | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

After breaking ground in early December, the Baker College student apartments are one third of the way complete.

Jim Cummins, president and chief executive officer of the Baker College system, said the work has been moving forward as planned. The 48-bed student apartment building should be completed by August, and ready for students in September.

“That gives us plenty of time to get it furnished and have all the final touches done,” he said. “It’s still in the rough stage. A lot of the internal walls should be close to ready to be put in.”

Since work began on the 11,472-square-foot structure, the foundation has been completed, and external walls and framing are near completion.

According to weekly reports Cummins receives from Orion Construction, the majority of the plumbing and electrical work is done.

“There is still a lot of interior work to be done,” Cummins said. “I don’t believe the brick work is going to begin until sometime early in May. I’m encouraged by the fact that it’s right on schedule.”

Cummins said the new student apartments costs between $3.5 million and $3.6 million.

The two-story building will house 48 beds in 17 units.

Orion Construction — a Grand Rapids company that has also worked on Baker College’s Culinary Institute of Michigan building and the Blue Water Convention Center — is heading up the project.

Cory Bixby, director of marketing and public relations at Orion Construction, said framing of the building is about 90 percent done.

The next component of construction will be roofing and drying the interior of the building.

“That roofing portion is going to go fast,” Bixby said. “It should be completed in two weeks with dry weather. A lot of the detail work will take a little more time.”

Donald Torline, president of Baker College in Clinton Township and Port Huron, said the dorms are being built specifically for the culinary students but might consider other students if they don’t fill the entire building.

“We expect the students to be in the dorms this coming fall near the end of September,” he said. “If we don’t fill all of those apartments we might reconsider that decision.”

Baker College also offers dorm living to students at its campuses in Cadillac, Flint, Muskegon and Owosso.

“We’re invested in that campus in Port Huron,” Torline said. “We believe it is a good location for the culinary arts. We are hoping to get more people out of the state by having these dorms so close to the facility.”

Marguerte Gavin, who lives near the site, said the construction has not bothered her.

Gavin said the work has been going by fast and thinks the student housing will make a great addition to the St. Clair River waterfront.

“They look like they are going to be beautiful dorms,” she said. “It doesn’t obstruct my view as far as seeing the river or the bridge. I’m happy with it.”

Port Huron resident Dewey Conrad lives across the street from the structure and said it is larger than he imagined.

“Even more of my view is gone than I thought, but that’s life in the city,” he said. “The city’s got to make money and I would like it if they had made it a park, but it is what it is.”

Conrad said it has been interesting to watch the construction over the last four months when workers began cleaning up the area. He said the construction crews put up a large tent where they began to pour the foundation’s concrete during the winter.

Despite all the work that has been done, Conrad said he’ll miss his view across the border.

“When I first bought this place 17 years ago I looked out and told myself, ‘enjoy that view, because it’s not going to be there forever,'” he said. “It’s nice to see the culinary school doing so well, but I like to look at the casino that is behind it in Canada.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on April 6, 2015)