In November, Saline City Council voted to approve a planned unit development for the proposed Layher Farms subdivision on North Maple Road. A few weeks ago, city council learned the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality wants the city to agree to upgrade the sewer line that serves the city’s east side before the state approves sewer permits for the Layher Farms.
On Monday night, in a surprising vote, city council voted against a resolution to demonstrate intent to construct improvements to the city’s eastbelt sewer line. It’s expected council will consider a similar motion March 18.
In October, members of city council were somewhat surprised to learn its eastbelt sewer line was overburdened. Council has known about issues on the westbelt line for years – which is one of the reasons the city has been cool to the idea of extending utilities west of the city limits. That the city’s eastbelt line is already overburdened is an issue because there are three housing developments expected to come on line in the near future. There are also plans for development in the city’s industrial park, served by the same line.
Mayor Brian Marl on Monday reiterated his argument the city needs to prioritize upgrading the eastbelt line. He believed council had reached consensus on the issue at a recent board meeting.
“I am strongly in favor of proceeding whether or not Grand Sakwa (the developer), because we currently have a deficiency that needs to be resolved. I believe that whether we receive grant funding or dollars from outside sources or not, this needs to become a priority in the next couple years,” Marl said. “There is additional growth happening on that side of town. This is something we absolutely need to get done.”
City Manager Todd Campbell agreed the westbelt line needed improvement “at some point,” but because no development is expected on the west side, it wasn’t as high a priority.
Councillor Dean Girbach, who previously expressed concern about the city choosing to build infrastructure for Layher Farms as it declined to do so for Andelina Farms west of the city, listed more concerns at Monday’s meeting. Girbach wondered if the city should agree to fund a project before it has identified funding sources – especially since the project appears to be tied to a permit for Layher Farms.
“I don’t have a problem moving forward, but I don’t want the city to promise we’re going to invest this money in the future when we don’t know if we’re going to have a grant or the extra funds to do this,” Girbach said. “If I knew we had the grants or the funds, I’d be fine. If this is painting a picture for somebody’s permits, then why we’re trying to be this positive raises some questions for me. There are pieces in here that aren’t concrete.”
Girbach wondered if the city exposing itself to liability if it passed the resolution but later determined it didn’t have the funds to complete the work.
City Attorney Roger Swets said he believed the city would not face legal issues if it changed its mind.
Still, Girbach wasn’t comfortable.
“If we go forward there will be a bonding and all these costs will be placed upon existing users. We will recover some costs, but most of those revenues will likely go in to the general fund,” Girbach said. “I am very uncertain, at this point and time, to not have a grant in place, to make a commitment, that says, ‘Go head, build those additional homes and tie them into the sewer.’ And we hope to heck we have the funds and resources to fix this before a potential 100-year storm occurs.”
Councillor Christen Mitchell shared some of Girbach’s concerns about making promises the city can’t keep. She said she didn’t want to approach the state with anything less than certainty.
Still, Marl, sensing some hesitancy from council, suggested the matter be delayed while the city attorney’s office reviews the question.
Believing it was following Robert’s Rules of Order, since the motion was already introduced by Councilor Jack Ceo, council voted against the motion. Marl then asked Ceo to move a motion to postpone the same motion. Councillor Heidi McClelland moved to postpone. Council voted on the motion, which was passed by a 6-1 vote – with Ceo voting no.
Council should consider the motion March 18.
The utilities study listed three proposed sewer improvements that could be incorporated in the city's capital improvement plans.
- Eastbelt sewer improvement north, 2020, $1, 617,000
- Eastbelt sewer improvement south, 2022, $1,299,000
- Westbelt sewer improvements, 2026, $2,078,000.