The first July gathering of Saline City Council was a busy one. It started with an 80-minute work meeting in which the possibility of Saline getting a hotel was discussed. Following this was a two-hour regular meeting, during which steps were taken to advance construction of a new and unique development at 207 Monroe Street.
The meeting began with Mayor Brian Marl’s City-Charter-Sanctioned July State of the City Address. In a nine-minute speech, Marl reviewed what has been happening in the city.
He spoke of the ongoing Michigan Avenue renovation and streetscape project, the completed city portion of the sidewalk repair, the improvements underway at the Waste Water Treatment Plant and road improvements in the Maplewood Farms subdivision. He also spoke of expansions completed or underway by various local companies including: MMI Engineered Solutions, Liebherr, Condat Corporation and PSMI.
“Looking back on 2016, I hope people will say the focus was on economic development and creating an atmosphere and environment where business development and entrepreneurship can flourish,” Marl said.
While acknowledging the work of Saline Code and Ordinance Task Force thus far, he also said he would like to see new ordinances established for property maintenance and non-discrimination.
Concluding his talk, the mayor said “I have no doubt that our best days are yet to come.”
After approving a zoning change for the Monroe Street property from R-2 to R3-A, council also awarded developer Damian Farrell a 90-day extension of the purchase agreement. Marl called his current vision for the property “a solid proposal.”
“Damian, I appreciate your patience and your thoughtfulness and your willingness to engage with the residents of the area during this entire process,” Marl said. “I think this kind of development is needed. I think it does diversify our housing stock which we hear time and time again is an absolute necessity in this community.”
Council Approves Insurance Bid
Renewal of a contract for city employee life insurance was next on the agenda. The city has looked for ways to reduce the cost of this benefit for its employees, but have faced challenges. There are 18 retirees who have contracts guaranteeing life insurance coverage for life.
City Manager Todd Campbell recommended that the city accept a deal with Mutual of Omaha for a two-year contract that includes a price increase of $9,900, nearly 38 percent. The insurance covers all of the active employees, but the increase is mostly “because they know they have 18 life insurance policies that they know will come due at some point.”
After some discussion about the lack of alternatives, council voted to approve the contract. Councilman Ceo abstained from voting because he is one of the 18.
Council Wants More Information on PUD Ordinance
The next item for discussion was a proposal to pass a new Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance. The PUD allows flexibility in allowable development within a particular zone.
The city already has a Community Unit Plan (CUP) which is similar, but more limited.
Late last year, the Saline Planning Commission authorized Carlisle/Wortman to draft a PUD ordinance for the city. Subsequently, the planners have reviewed and refined the document.
“The PUD ordinance is something we’ve long desired,” City Engineer Gary Roubal said in introducing the proposal. “We needed added flexibility the CUP did not offer.”
However, council members were a bit overwhelmed by the size and detail of the ordinance. Councilman David Rhoads suggested that they needed more time to review it.
Rhoads also took issue with the lack of any mention of “non-motorized pathways” in the ordinance, although the phrase “pedestrian way” was used. Council decided to ask Carlisle/Wortman to address this issue and to take up the proposal again in their next meeting.
Brecon Grille to Use Leather Bucket Alley
Nick and Amy Wallen of Benitos Pizza sent a letter to the city saying that they would like to relinquish their license to use Leather Bucket Alley for seating customers. Meanwhile, Paul Geragosian of Brecon Grille asked if he could use the area for café tables.
This simple exchange was approved with very little discussion. However, council member Janet Dillon took the opportunity to object to the practice of allowing exclusive use by businesses.
“It’s city property and why isn’t it used as a public space,” Dillon said. “All these restaurants actually have sidewalk cafes designated to them and to tie up the alleyway that we could be using for the public to use in whichever kind of area they want to, whether they want to pick up their own takeout and sit down there, or sit in there during the summer music fest, I’m a bit concerned about that, that businesses are controlling that alleyway.”
When the issue came to a vote, Dillon registered her concern by voting nay.
Chief Hrinik Reports Improvement in Police Department
The final issue on the Council agenda was a quarterly report from Police Chief Larry Hrinik. Last year the mayor had called for an independent review of the department which was completed by consultant John Hess. The quarterly reports are part of the follow up.
Hrinik reported that through the work of consulting firm Lexipol, 137 revised policies have already been completed. None of these have been officially implemented yet, but will be phased in with continuing education of the officers.
He also reported that communication within the force is improving with rollcalls at every shift, weekly updates and a monthly meeting of the sergeants with the chief.
Various officers are involved in training programs. Most of the officers have now been trained in the national “Below 100” program, and three are taking it currently.
“It’s not been since the early 1940s that there has been less than 100 officers killed in the line of duty in any one year,” Hrinik said. “So they stress training to hopefully get that number below 100.”
This training is especially timely in view of the recent attacks on policemen in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
The chief also spoke about an 18.5 percent increase in activity for the department in the first half of 2016. This was partly due to the Michigan Avenue reconstruction project.
Hrinik is proud of progress made in improving the department.
“I believe when Mr. Hess comes back he’s going to see significant improvement and give us a nice nod,” Hrinik said.
The next City council meeting will be Monday night, July 18. There will be a work meeting at 6:00 p.m. followed by the regular meeting at 7:30.