Saline City Council In Brief: Goverment Is Getting More Expensive

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If you thought the cost of local government services was getting high earlier this year, it may only just be getting started.

Inflation - the rising cost of virtually everything - was a central theme during 3 1/2 hours of Saline City Council discussions Monday night.

Here's a brief recap.

Capital Improvement Plan

Saline City Council, without Mayor Brian Marl (absent for the early meeting), met to discuss the five-year capital improvement plan. The plan outlines six years worth of planned infrastructure and civic improvements. The plan features $93,357,601 of projects - including about $67 million in sewer system improvements. So far, city staff has identified about $60 million in funding. Mayor Pro-Tem Dean Girbach said city council is going to need to work together to prioritize needs, saying he expected infrastructure needs will be prioritized. Councillor Dawn Krause agreed, noting that clean water would come before new swimming pools. Councillor Janet Dillon asked City Manager Colleen O'Toole if she believed the needs would require the renewal of the road millage.  O'Toole said another road millage was on her radar but said it was too early to be certain and added that it could be for a different amount. Dillon also noted the capital improvements plan did not have much money in the plan for improving or renewing the Mill Pond dam.

Parks Commission Report

Jason Sheilds, Vice Chair of the city's parks commission, updated council on the commissions accomplishments.

Wastewater Treatment Project Plan

The price tag for the revamped and rehabbed wastewater treatment plan continues to spiral. The first phase of the project is now estimated to cost $56.4 million. That's up from $39.3-45.3 million estimated last year. In June of 2020, that cost was $30 million. Brian Rubel, VP of TetraTech, said costs were up because of minor revisions to project components and because construction bids are up 30-50 percent since last summer.

At $45 million, the city was already planning steep increases to utility bills. 

The $56 million estimate could rise, too, because some council members believe a substantial piece of the project's second phase, planned for 2027 or beyond, might need to be done in the first phase.

Most of the first phase deals with storm surges/high flows - problems the state is requiring Saline to address as a result of the administrative consent order. The second phase, generally, begins to address potential growth. Part of the second phase is to replace the rotating biological contractors that treat the wastewater with an activated sludge process. But, as Councillor Dillon noted, council recently learned of the high cost of repairing one RBC. The wastewater treatment plant has 18 RBCs. 

The city is hoping to fund the wastewater treatment project with a low-interest loan through the state revolving loan fund. Even more, the city is hoping federal grants might waive a big portion of the loan.

Council Passes Two Recreational Marijuana Ordinances

Council unanimously approved two ordinances to allow recreational marijuana establishments in the city. The ordinances are similar to the ordinances previously used to allow medical marijuana ordinances. The ordinances were recommended by the city's Code Review Task Force and Planning Commission.

City Votes to Help Fire Department Budget

Council voted unanimously to approve an additional $20,382 for the Saline Area Fire Department, which is experiencing financial troubles. Mayor Marl and Councillor Dillon serve on the Saline Area Fire Board, which oversees the fire department for the City of Saline and Saline, York and Lodi Townships. Marl said the department's money trouble has been the subject of its last two meetings. Councillor Dillon said the fire department asked for an extra $60,000 from its member governments to stay "in the black" this year. Dillon said each of the member communities kicked in with its pro-rated share.

The fire department is funded by a one-mill special assessment in the four member communities, although the City of Saline has always paid its share from its general fund and not assessed property owners. Marl said the extra money was a one-time stopgap to give Chief Jason Sperle time to determine a sustainable way forward.

As more rumblings emerge of a new SAFD millage, Marl said he believed it was time to have an independent third party review the department's funding structure, governmental structure and practices. He said he planned to bring the matter to the next fire board meeting. 

City To Enact Fire Assessment

City of Saline property owners will see a new assessment on their bills - a 0.7-mill assessment to pay for the Saline Area Fire Department. For years, the city has funded the fire department's budget using its general fund and chosen not to assess up to 1-mill against properties in the city.

For the last two years, the city's share of the fire department cost has been around $470,000.

That bill is increasing by 35 percent this year to $638,000.

Despite the overall increase, the city is actually going to reduce its general fund spending on fire services from $470,000 to $141,000.

The .7-mill assessment is estimated to raise $347,175.

The city is also going to use its "assigned legislative changes fund"  to provide $148,790 to the department.

Voters in the Saline Area Fire Authority approved the assessment in 1994.

Curtis Park Play Structure

Council approved the purchase of a new play structure at Curtiss Park for $39,700. This replaces a 23-year old structure that's become unsafe over the last year.

Storm Sewer Replacement

Council approved a proposal to eliminate and upgrade a storm-sewer as part of work approved for the Pleasant Ridge and South Harris Street sewer project expected this summer. The work will offline a dilapidated storm sewer behind Hillcrest Drive. The sewer has collapsed in several places. It will be filled with grout after being taken offline. The change to the contract increases the price by $12,472.

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