Reporting From the Jan. 11, 2021 Saline City Council Meeting


The following is reporting from the Jan. 11, 2021 Saline City Council meeting:

Work Session

Mayor Brian Marl said he was looking for consensus on two issues regarding the wastewater treatment plant. He wanted to know if council had consensus on the idea to rebuild/rehab the plant in place, and whether or not the city should use the state loan fund, which should be cheaper, but perhaps not as timely.

Councillor Dean Girbach said the city should retrofit the existing plant and expand in place. Building new or hooking into the Ypsilanti system would be too expensive, he said. Trying to relocate the plant would cause issues elsewhere in the community, Girbach said. He said the city needed a second opinion on the project and phasing. He supported using the revolving loan fund for a lower interest rate.

Marl said he supported Girbach's opinions.

Marl said he also agreed on the idea of having a second opinion on the project - which he said should not be taken as a slight to Tetra Tech.

Councillor Janet Dillon said she agreed with Girbach. She said the city needed to have a growth plan in place.

Councillor Jack Ceo said the ideal would be to build a brand new plant somewhere else, but that building in place made the most financial sense. Ceo agreed with using the revolving loan fund. Councillor Jim Dell'Orco said growth-in-place is the only practical way forward. The other options would cost close to $100 million. The option allows for a phased approach, which allows the city to grow capacity as the city grows. He said new developments/users need to shoulder the burden as the plant grows. Councillor Kevin Camero-Sulak agreed phased growth-in-place would limit the financial burden on citizens and allow planned incremental growth. Councillor Dawn Krause said she was in favor of using the revolving loan fund and a phased approach to rebuilding in place.

Marl noted the unanimous agreement on rebuilding in place and using the state revolving fund.

City Manager Colleen O'Toole said there are firms the city will be able to use to provide a second opinion on the plans moving forward.

City Engineering Position

Manager O'Toole recommended extending the engineering contract with Jeff Fordice while coordinating additional engineering services. O'Toole said she viewed filling the water/wastewater superintendent and DPW Director as higher priorities.

Longterm, O'Toole said it was important to start building institutional knowledge within the city organization and its contractors. Mayor Marl said he was amenable to continuing its relationship with Fordice - the former DPW Director and Engineer who's been working on a contract basis since moving away.

Girbach asked how internal and external projects would be handled. O'Toole said internal projects would be handled by staff, sometimes with council's approval, before choosing a firm to work with. For external development, Fordice would have more freedom to engage consultants for fieldwork or construction inspection.

O'Toole said she felt the city would eventually need a full-time engineer.

Dillon asked what kind of timeframe the city would look at having a full-time engineer. O'Toole said ideally, the city will identify a new engineer within nine months.

Ceo asked Fordice if he felt he could provide reasonable service despite being away from the city. Fordice said the technology has made communication effective. He said he and O'Toole talked about having Fordice visit Saline on three occasions.

Fordice said he's felt the arrangement has worked better than he thought it would - and he was optimistic.

Fordice said this new arrangement with engineering consultants would save staff time.

Marl asked O'Toole about her efforts to secure a firm to provide a second opinion on the city's wastewater plant.

O'Toole said there were two things she's looked at. One is a short-term contract for management services at the plant. Another option is for the second-opinion  (discussed above). O'Toole said operator services could be on the agenda by Feb. 1. Finding a firm for a second opinion of the city's wastewater treatment plant project might be further away.

The work meeting adjourned at 6:48 p.m.

Regular Council Meeting

Mayor Marl was absent from the regular meeting.

Water Plant Purchase

Council approved spending $36,300 for 60 reverse osmosis unit membranes for equipment in the drinking water plant. One of the reverse osmosis units has been down since October. The components help remove bacteria from the drinking water, Dell'Orco said. The purchase was approved unanimously.

    Phase II Environmental Assessment Proposal

    Council will considered a motion to spend $54,900 with Tetra Tech for Phase II environmental studies at 237 and 247 Monroe Street. 247 S. Monroe St. is the location of the wastewater treatment plant. The city would like an understanding of the contamination on the site, and its potential origins, before it begins expanding the plant. 237 S. Monroe St., now home to a transportation company, was once home to a parking lot for the business at the contaminated property across the street. It was also home to a city dump. This study will also investigate groundwater and soil. The city is also interested in what impact this might have on the nearby Salt Springs Park.

    Dillon asked if the city obtained permission to conduct testing on private property. Brian Rubel, of Tetra Tech, said that call had not been made yet.

    Dell'Orco asked about soil boring under Monroe Street to understand if pollutants migrated across the street from the contaminated Adient property. Tetra Tech's Patti McCall said that was removed from the proposal due to cost. 

    Councillor Dawn Krause asked how long it would be before the city saw the results of the study. McCall said it would take 6-8 weeks. Krause asked if there was any reason to believe the private ownership would have concerns about the city testing on their property. O'Toole said the city would follow up.

    The motion passed unanimously.

      Pre-Qualified Engineering Services

      The city considered a motion to pre-qualify six recommended firms for engineering services. They are Fleis and Vandenbrink, Mannic and Smith Group, Midwestern Consulting, OHM, Tetra Tech and Spicer Engineering.

      The city received 11 bids. Staff recommended pre-qualifying six firms. O'Toole said using pre-qualified engineers might help streamline city projects.

      Girbach asked about the city's long-term plan with this approach. O'Toole said in the short-term, it's a stop gap measure while the city contracts out the engineering position. When the city has a full-time engineer, that engineer would work with these firms which would gain institutional knowledge about the city.

      The motion passed by a 6-0 vote.

        WWTP Ad Hoc Committee

        The city council considered a motion to create an ad-hoc committee to provide additional oversight regarding wastewater treatment services. The committee will include City Manager Colleen O'Toole, the plant superintendent or his/her designee, Mayor Pro-Tem Dean Girbach, and Saline resident Laurie Champion. The ad-hoc will meet regularly, provide City Council with monthly updates and provide community updates.

        There is a vacancy. Girbach said the city would like to find someone with experience with wastewater treatment to serve on the group.

        The monthly updates will replace the WWTP discussions which take place each meeting.

        Dell'Orco said he was concerned the city lost an experienced person who was considered for the group.

        The motion passed unanimously.

          Water Plant Purchase

          Council considered a recommendation to purchase a variable frequency drive replacement for a high service pump in the water plant. The cost is $21,985.

          O'Toole said the equipment controls pump speeds. 

          The motion passed unanimously.

          Rec Center Loan Resolution

          Council considered adopting a resolution to support the Rec Center operations. The resolution states the city's general fund would support the Rec Center with no more than $300,000. The funding is needed to balance the center's budget.

          Treasurer Mickie Jo Bennett said there is a shortfall at the Saline Rec Center because of COVID-19 measures. Bennett said Rec Center management continues to work on lowering expenses. 

          Councillor Dillon asked if council will be updated on the Rec Center's situation. Bennett said staff will go back to council before actually transferring funds to the Rec Center.

          Dell'Orco said the $300,000 amount is required after deferments and planned cuts to operations. Rec Center Director Carla Scruggs said that was the case. Scruggs said the department is waiting to hear from the state about current mitigation measures, which were tightened in November. Scruggs said she expected financial stress on the Rec Center going into the next fiscal year, but said she was confident the Rec Center would pull through.

          Dell'Orco asked about the residential makeup of the Rec Center. 

          Scruggs has 383 membership packages in the City of Saline - or 30 percent of memberships. 25 percent are Pittsfield Township memberships. 13 percent are in Lodi Township and 11 percent are York Township.

          Dell'Orco said it was reasonable to provide a stopgap for the Rec Center, but that council may not be able to do it for another year. Dell'Orco said the council may need to get surrounding municipalities to agree to share in the cost of the center.

          Camero-Sulak asked if the Rec Center had made progress on alternate ideas to raise revenue. Scruggs said the Rec Center is saving $1500 a month on cleaning. She said staff is taking on extra duties to cut costs.

          The Rec Center just distributed its winter/spring program guide, but it's limited due to the  COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Staff will create a video to apply for aid from the Barstool fund.

          The motion passed unanimously.

          Budget Amendment

          Council considered a recommendation to amend the budget to include $2,500 for DEI Committee expenses, $250,000 in MERS pension payments, and a $300,000 loan to the rec center. The motion passed, 6-0.

          Commission Reports

          Camero-Sulak said the Arts and Culture committee continues to seek votes for its logo. The DEI Task Force will soon announce it is seeking recipes for a cookbook.

          Krause said the Historic District Commission spoke about the Saline Area Social Service building, which is changing its design to meet client needs.

          Girbach said the Civility Action Committee is looking at ways to bring people together.


          Girbach mentioned See Click Fix is no longer working. The city is looking for new tools to allow citizens to report problems to city staff. Dillon asked if there was a mechanism to allow citizens to report problems. Assistant City Manager Mike Green said the city website's "Contact us" feature continues to work.

          WWTP Update

          O'Toole said the city has looked at repair options in several options. 

          Dillon said the odor around town has diminished. Camero-Sulak said it was nice not to have bad news and thanked O'Toole for her wok on the issue.

          Eastlook Drain Issue

          O'Toole said there were three courses of action to deal with the Eastlook Drive drainage issue. One option would involved the city taking on some of the cost of the drainage issue. One option is to do nothing. One is to continue with the homeowner assessments.

          Ceo and Dillon said they didn't want city taxpayers to fund the solution. Dell'Orco said he thought the city should share some of the cost.

          Council will consider the recommendations at a future meeting.

          Public Comment

          Bernard Miller asked if the variable frequency board can be repaired.

          Margaret Klocinski said if the city had helped 14 years ago when they were told about the Eastlook Drive drainage issue, the costs wouldn't have been necessary,

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