Kingston of Vermilion honored veterans on Veterans Day with help from Melvin Sayler from Stein Hospice. Kingston held a special pinning ceremony and each veteran received a certificate presented by Mayor Forthofer for their service.
"As Mayor there is no greater honor than to personally thank some of our most senior veterans on their special day," stated Mayor Forthofer.
"I was proud to be a part of the ceremony at Kingston Residence sponsored by Stein Hospice," said the mayor. "One old soldier said when I shook his hand and thanked him for his service, 'I would be back there today if I could.'"
Veterans Day, observed on November 11, is a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
At the Vermilion City Council Meeting on Monday, November 4, 2019 Amy Hendricks, Finance Director, reported that as they approach the end of the year she continues to work on revising the projections for 2020. It appears the city is going to have just under $6,000,000 in revenue for the general fund without any additional sources of revenue.
“The difference between this estimate and the 2019 actuals is that the city has received $190,000 in one-time revenue from repayments to the General Fund from monies that had been advanced or loaned to other funds in prior years, for example the sewer fund,” stated Hendricks. “In this case, the $35,000 in pool donations that were carried over from 2018 fundraising has been exhausted. Additionally, based on Meeder’s estimates, $50,000 less in investment income was due to declining rates.”
Expenses are projected to be $6,250,000 for the General Fund for 2020, according to the Fiance Director. If everything remains status quo, the City will be deficit spending by the end of 2020 based on these early estimates. She added 3% inflationary increases on all nonpayroll related expenses, as well as a 12% increase in health care costs.
The 12% comes from NFP, the city’s insurance advisors. They did have a scare last week when the estimate came back with an initial quote from United Health as a 17% increase. They have already started working on negotiations with other carriers and United Health, and they feel the 12% is probably more reflective of where the city would be based on the current plan design. She said salary increases will be determined at the conclusion of negotiations with both unions.
Hendricks said this information is not shared to cause panic – it’s shared so they have time to consider as they approach things for next year and throughout 2020 and going to 2021 when they look at revenue and expenditure decisions as the city moves forward to minimize any shortfall.
“One thing Moody’s mentioned in the city’s last rating review was that the city is showing progress, but they want to see the city sustain it for the overall health for the city,” stated the Fiance Director.
Council Member Brian Holmes said he wants to make sure the city is looking at their options for the pool and asked if this conversation would be ready to discuss at the November Finance meeting. Mayor Forthofer said there is a young man that worked at the pool during the summer who will be doing the sheet tabulations, and Tony Valerius is looking into three capital improvements for the pool.
At the Vermilion City Council Meeting on Monday, November 4, 2019, Monica Stark, Council At Large, asked the law director if he was familiar with drone legislation and if Vermilion City Council should start looking at an ordinance.
Ken Stumphauzer, Law Director, replied that this is an interesting topic and he understands that once drones leave the ground they are regulated by the FAA. He didn’t think it was a bad idea to have an ordinance.
“It would be more along the lines of not flying them in proximity of a house so nobody is videotaping somebody inside of a house,” stated Stumphauzer, “and not flying them where they can impede traffic or prevent an obstacle.”
Stark asked if the law department could draft legislation. Stumphauzer believed there were some modeled ordinances that other communities adopted, so they will look for those and will put something together and forward it to the Council Clerk who can share it with council.
At the Vermilion City Council Meeting on Monday, November 4, 2019, Vermilion resident Jim Machkoff, of 1087 Nautical Drive, said he wanted to present a proposal to Council of which he would like discussed at the committee meetings on November 18. He said he has had several discussions with Senator Gavarone and Matt Diedrich, who is the Chairman of the Ohio Rail Development Board, and they have come up with an idea which was discussed with Mayor Forthofer on how to silence the train whistles in the city forever.
“The railroad is willing to pay for it forever,” stated Machkoff. “The silencing of the train whistles will go all the way from Baumhart Road to the other side of town beyond the city limits.”
Machkoff stated he had some discussions with Matt Diedrich, and he has suggested a couple different things.
“The railroad is anxious to close another crossing in Vermilion and they’re willing to pay dearly for it,” said Machkoff. “Based on their ratings, the city could probably get more than enough financing to silence the railroad whistles on Vermilion Road by closing Sunnyside Road.”
He explained that Matt told him that because all the railroad crossings have certain designations as to how dangerous they are – Sunnyside Road comes up 465th out of 18,000 crossings in the State of Ohio.
“Vermilion Road comes up at 4,000, which is a lot lower than Sunnyside Road. Because Sunnyside Road comes up so high, the railroad is willing to subsidize and pay for possibly the complete silencing with all the equipment that is necessary to silence the whistles, not only on Vermilion Road, but if they close Sunnyside Road, then the whistles would stop all the way across town forever,” said Machkoff.
He has discussed this with Senator Teresa Gavarone and Matt suggested that he make this proposal to Council. He said there have been a lot of pros and cons from the people who he has discussed this with as they are hesitant to close Sunnyside Road because it’s a state road. Most of the businesses are all north of the railroad tracks and he believes Claus Road could be used as an alternate once Sunnyside Road is closed.
“If Council allows the railroad to close Sunnyside, Mr. Diedrich said they would probably foot the bill for any necessary equipment for Vermilion Road, which would silence everything from Baumhart Road because there would be no more whistles on Sunnyside either,” stated Machkoff.
He hoped Council would consider this proposal because he lives on one of the ends of the canals in Vermillion and when the wind is blowing out of the northwest, northeast or north, it sounds like the trains are coming in his bedroom. He’s sick of it as, he is sure, are a lot of other people. He said at the time when the Senator gave the city a million dollars, there was a lot of discussion where and what places to close, but there was never any discussion about the sound echoing up and down the river and canals, which is a constant problem. He is trying to remedy this, and this may not cost the city a nickel.
Council President Steve Herron referred this matter to the November 18, 2019 Committee Meetings for further discussion.
The monthly Republic bulk pick up will be Wednesday, November 6 in the City of Vermilion, according to Mayor Forthofer.
“Go ahead and haul out the Big Stuff!” stated the mayor. “Don't put those rusted lawn chairs through another winter.”
Place your residential refuse and the recyclables in the containers provided by Allied Waste by 6 am on your collection day. During the first full work week of each month, bulk items can be placed on the curb for pickup. It is not necessary to put out the recyclables container every week, only when full.
Collections are not made on these holidays: New Years Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. If any of these holidays fall on your garbage collection day, the collection will be delayed one day.
At the Vermilion City Council Meeting on Monday, October 28, 2019, Mayor Forthofer reported that he is continuing efforts to convert a salvage yard on the east end of the city to a Vermilion Lakefront Park.
“The Salvage Yard at the entrance to Vermilion has been on my active list for 22 months now,” stated the mayor. “I have been in contact with the primary parties and recently had a meeting with County Commissioner Lundy and representatives of the Community Development Department of Lorain and the Executive Director of Lorain County Metroparks. Conversion of the salvage yard to a county park has been in the Lakefront Connectivity plan for years. It would have a very positive impact on our Rt 6 Corridor Clean Up campaign.”
The mayor stated more details are forthcoming.
The Lorain County Commissioners released a comprehensive Lakefront Connectivity Plan on May 2, 2018. Proposed development projects in several communities along Lorain County’s 23 miles of lakefront are detailed in the plan. Vermilion’s east entrance on Route 6 is the site of a proposed lakefront park, walking trail and train observation platform.
The development site put forth by the City of Vermilion sits along the eastern border with the City of Lorain. The 26-acre site is comprised of two individual parcels, with the eastern parcel in Lorain and the western in Vermilion.
Vermilion Lakefront development would include a Lakefront Park and Nature Center on the Vermilion side of the site. Connecting a bikeway to the nature park would open up the opportunity for the public to experience the beauty of Lake Erie as well as connect with nature. A woodland nature walk would meander through existing and newly planted forest and meadow, and a wetland pond. A 60-foot tall watchtower would invite birders to view migrating species, and visitors to take in the Lake Erie vista.
The current use of the site is as a salvage yard for automobiles. Prior to this the property was used as a holding area for vehicles produced at the former Ford plant to the south, which closed in 2005.
The property is bordered to the north by an active rail line and the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie. To the south is the Route 6 corridor and the aforementioned Ford plant, now occupied by Trademark Global, Inc., Heidelberg Distributing, and a majority of the property is owned by IRG Lorain LLC. An overpass used by Ford to move inventory from the plant to the holding lot forms the eastern gateway. Wooded vacant property occupies several acres to the west of the property before transitioning to low-density residential lots.
Returning this site back to a more natural state and creatively implementing bioretention elements, it may also serve an educational purpose to understand how nature can filter rain and stormwater runnoff.
The proposed Vermilion Park transforms the existing automobile salvage yard into a lush, green space for active recreation, peaceful observation, and immersion in natural surroundings. A shared use path, accented by a painted blue dotted line guide, would travel the inner perimeter of the park space between the railroad and U.S. Route 6. Parking for 70 vehicles serves visitors seeking use of the open-air pavilion, community rooms, Nature Center, and outdoor facilities. Paved space adjacent to the building would provide placemaking with a fire pit and seating, full size individual swings under pergola shade, and access to the pier over an approximate half acre lily pad pond.
Additional elements enhancing the park would include:
approximately one and a half acres of a newly created forest
two acres of wetlands traversed by a pedestrian bridge
small rain gardens
and over five acres of prairie grass meadows.
These elements serve as green stormwater infrastructure to collect, attenuate, and treat stormwater while also providing natural habitats for insects, birds, and other species.
A railroad inspired overlook is proposed along the northern edge of the park, providing ADA accessible space to take in views of not only passing trains and ships, but of the stunning vista of Lake Erie spanning the horizon.
At the Vermilion City Council Meeting on Monday, October 28, 2019 Mayor Forthofer reported that the Mapleview Ditch was the subject of a Lorain County Commissioner’s meeting on October 22, again.
“For those who are not aware, this is a storm drainage ditch that runs along the border of Vermilion and Brownhelm Township parallel to Rolling Meadows Drive off West River Road,” stated the mayor. “The final County Engineer’s report for reconstructing the ditch was submitted to the Commissioners.”
The cost for the project is $98,609. The Commissioner’s accepted the plan contingent on current negotiations for the County to purchase a 5-acre parcel of land on West River Road in Brownhelm Township adjacent to the ditch. The proposed cost is $50,000. The parcel will allow the County to access the ditch for construction and maintenance.
“It is the less costly way to ensure access rather without engaging in litigation with the owner over an easement,” said Mayor Forthofer. “The county could sell part or all the parcel after construction.”
The cost of the project is planned to be split between the project cost and another fund.
“Probably waste water,” said the mayor. “My concern is that, if Vermilion residents are assessed for the project cost including the purchase of the property, if the County sells off all or part of the parcel in the future, will Vermilion residents receive an adjustment? I plan to attend future meetings.”
At the Vermilion City Council Meeting on Monday, October 28, 2019, Mayor Forthofer reported that the New Fire House One Committee met with Thomas & Marker Construction on October 24th. Final drawings were reviewed.
“Chief Stempowski and his crew have been working hard to insure necessary operational features are incorporated,” stated the mayor. “The budget is still $4 million, though the composition will change as T&M goes out to bid for a contactor. T&M bids are expected back December 1st.”
Once the construction partner is chosen, the City will revisit the budget and drawings and what features are in or out, according to the mayor.
Initial ground breaking may begin this year with foundation work in spring 2020 and the building going up during the summer.
The Vermilion Firehouse Committee recommended to Vermilion City Council in November 19, 2018 a $3.7 million project to construct a new fire station, replacing Station No. 1 on Ohio Street. The new station will be located at Douglas Street and Devon Drive. Vermilion City Council voted to approve the submitted plans.
The current station, No. 1, was built in 1954. At that time fire engines were the size of a large SUV. When the current modern engine is parked in the house, it takes four men to guide it into place with six inches to spare on the left side and three inches in the back. Also, when original engines were called out, they left the bay and headed to the call. The length of the current truck requires a three-stage pull out to get it positioned on the street to begin making its run.
The Vermilion Firehouse Committee examined options, such as buying up residential houses, to create a drive through. It would be costly and compromise the look of historic downtown, according to the Committee. Plus there is no place for drying racks, showers or beds. Even though the department is volunteer, there are times, such as snow storms, when Vermilion Fire Department personnel are required to sleep on station for fast response. Currently they are sleeping on the seats of the engine, the floor, etc.
The chief’s wish list included everything currently housed at station No. 1 with the addition of a training room, inside drying rack, decontamination station, a few beds, command center, cleaning station and expansion room.
At the Vermilion City Council Meeting on Monday, October 28, 2019, City Council voted to increase a $100 fee penalty for contractors who are not registered to $500.
Council Member Barb Brady said the ordinance bothered her because they are raising the penalty to $500 for working in the city and not being registered. They have raised all the building departments fees, and, in her neighborhood, there is so much work to be done and they’re making some people criminals, and they’re discouraging people from doing work because of the fees. She said there are people that don’t have the extra money to pay these fees, so she would like for the city to find a way to encourage people to improve their homes.
“It bothers me when I sees people sneaking around on the weekends doing the work and maybe being dangerous about it,” said Brady. “But they can’t afford the permits and the contractors. They can hire their neighbor to do their painting, but if you hire a painting contractor they must be registered. However, if they’re painting their house or replacing a window/door, its mind boggling that some of these things need permits and they must use license contractors to do this work.”
Council Member Steve Holovacs said the fees are not going up, so nothing will be different when they vote on the ordinance, and this ordinance has nothing to do with the fees. He said there is a $500 fee penalty for the individual who isn’t licensed.
“The $100 fee was a slap on the hand,” said Holovacs, “and if you are a registered contractor you have worker’s compensation and you know who they are for the protection of the residents, not the protection of the contractors.”
Holovacs said there was a lot of administrative wording changes in the ordinance. They also removed the bonding requirement because it makes the city responsible and not the homeowner, so they eliminated this section. This was from the advice of the Building Inspector and the state.
Tony Valerius, Service Director, said “the $500 fee for catching a contractor that is not registered weeds out the fly-by-night contractor – the contractors who might work out of their car, who come in to do a job and zip out.”
He didn’t feel the $500 penalty was too much as he reviewed this fee with other cities who are comparable.
Council Member John Gabriel said the simple work and smaller jobs he feels should be separated out from the big jobs, but he experienced a contractor situation which cost his neighbor an additional $10,000.
“If contractors follow the process and get licensed then they don’t have to worry about the penalty,” said Gabriel.
5 council members voted in favor of the ordinance. Brady voted against the ordinance. The motion carried.
Vermilion Municipal Court, 687 Decatur Street, Vermilion, Ohio 44089, is accepting applications through October 28, 2019 for the position of Deputy Clerk of Court.
General Statement Duties & Requirements:
The Vermilion Municipal Court is accepting applications for a part-time Deputy Clerk. This position is responsible for data processing, reporting, and clerical duties. This includes accepting filings, preparing new cases and assigning case numbers, submitting data to other government agencies, accepting and applying payments to individual cases, scheduling hearing dates, finalizing cases and verifying the accuracy of all data, preparing entries for the Judge, preparing warrant and other miscellaneous clerical duties. The Deputy Clerk will prepare court files for hearing dates, assist other Clerks, prepares judgment entries, monitor payments and review hearings.
Have a High School Diploma/GED.
Have a valid drivers license.
Have relevant work experience including previous administrative work.
Have equivalent combination of education, training and experience that demonstrates the ability to perform the duties of the position.
The position requires knowledge of court processes, procedures, policies, legal documents, laws and other legal factors pertaining to the court. Skill in general computer operations, specifically Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel and Outlook) and other related software programs. The ability to perform basic accounting. Accuracy in all work is extremely important.
The applicant must be able to maintain a pleasant and courteous demeanor working in a fast-paced environment. Must communicate effectively with the public and all levels of management.
Entry rate is contingent upon the applicant’s skills, knowledge and abilities. The City of Vermilion offers an excellent benefit package.
How to apply:
Submit an application, resume and cover letter including a brief overview of relevant work experience, education and training by October 28, 2019 to the Clerk of Court, 687 Decatur Street, Vermilion, Ohio during regular business hours or emailed to [email protected]
Streets in the City of Vermilion were recently striped, according to Mayor Forthofer. Due to funding issues, the streets were not striped since 2016, but the City will now return to an every other year cycle for street striping.
“No, your vision hasn't suddenly improved,” states the mayor. “Vermilion City streets and public parking has been striped for the first time since 2016. Striping was skipped last year because the City's penny jar was empty.”
“We should be back to an every other year cycle for street striping,” according to Mayor Forthofer.
Ahead of schedule…under budget. Mayor Forthofer announces the Hollyview Drive Project was completed on October 15, 2019.
“Fifteen days ahead of schedule and under budget,” stated the mayor. “Thanks to cooperative weather and hard work by Bramhall Engineering and Herk Construction, some long suffering residents of Hollyview finally get relief.”
At the Legislative Committee Meeting on October 21, 2019, John Gabriel, Council Representative to the Vermilion Planning Commission, conveyed that after much deliberation, a public hearing, and much discussion and review of literature, the Planning Commission voted 3-0 to prohibit medical marijuana, the cultivation, sale and distribution anywhere in any of Vermilion’s zoning codes.
“Even though there wasn’t that much discussion that night, I did speak with the members and some of the thoughts relayed to me were that because it’s already all around us, why do we need it here,” stated Gabriel. “Whether that’s what council feels, this is what the Planning Commission felt about this matter and this is an important part of the process.”
Council Member Brian Holmes said he read the Sunday’s Elyria Chronicle which had a great section covering medical marijuana and he encouraged council to read this article to help expand and educate them on this topic. He said they discuss how a lot of these are popping up in municipalities, and there are some bank issues with not wanting to fund them.
Gabriel said he has never been a part of any council that has overturned a board decision.
“However, I do think there are a lot of possibilities, and in my opinion they were talking medical marijuana and they’re talking about something you would need a prescription for by a physician educated in the matter,” said Gabriel. “There’s always a possibility without overturning their decision that they could put it on the ballot and go to the voters to decide.
Council Member Barb Brady didn’t think this was a bad choice.
Steve Herron, President of Council, agreed, but said the voters did speak and the State of Ohio changed its Constitution to allow it.
“The wisdom of whether having it here or not - I respect the decision of that commission, but the people spoke, and like it or not it’s here,” said Herron. “They must consider – do the citizens in Vermilion get different treatment if they don’t act. The citizens of Vermilion have a right to equal protection under the law.”
Brady said its equal access and Herron agreed. Herron said he has watched friends and love ones deal with pain management issues and if they have a physician that is going to help them, then they need to consider the fact that the people of Vermilion have that right to access. If council says no, then it doesn’t mean the people of Vermilion can’t go to another community and get it.
Monica Stark, Chairwoman, said as a council they put a moratorium on medical marijuana so do they continue with the moratorium if they follow the recommendation of the Planning Commission?
Herron said they could always enact legislation making the moratorium language permanent. However, they could let it lapse and then whoever wants to do business in that manner will have to go get their financing. He said it makes him nervous because if you can’t get financing then where are you getting your money to run this business, and then you start getting into law enforcement and it gets shady.
Brady asked if the Planning Commission rejected just the growing aspect, or did they reject the growing and the dispensary? Gabriel conveyed the vote was a complete straight-line prohibition. There was no aspect that was voted on separately. Brady said council could look at not growing and dispensary, one or the other. Herron said council could do whatever they wanted. Holmes clarified that growing is not out in the open – it’s in a contained building.
Stark asked the clerk when the moratorium expires, and Gwen Fisher determined the moratorium expires January 2020. Stark said council can decide what they want to do before this expires.
At the Legislative Committee Meeting on October 21, 2019, Council Member John Gabriel stated council had created an ordinance to help the city inspect Transient Accommodations properties to make sure they were safe for the Airbnb issue that has come on so fast and strong. He said this legislation has come into conflict with other legislation that is on the books, so it needs so much work that it’s almost better to repeal it, rewrite it, and bring it back again.
The Building Inspector was present to explain to council where they went off the rails.
“The Bed & Breakfasts are specifically addressed in the RS zoning district and exclusively in the Historic Downtown area,” stated Bill DiFucci, Building Inspector. “At the time, this was the only way they were getting into a transient rental was through the Bed & Breakfast venue. Things have changed now to where you can get into Airbnb’s or transient rentals of any type, but the way the code was written is that it allowed them in the RS; only in the Historic. Now, the way the ordinance was passed they’re free reign to go anywhere in the city, and I don’t believe this was necessarily the intent of the way the ordinance was written.”
DiFucci thought a lot of the ordinance had to do with having a safe occupancy, so nobody comes into town and gets hurt.
“People who have bought homes in a R1, R2, R4 or other zoning districts were of the understanding they were single family homes and their neighbors would live there full time, but now they’re having people coming and going all the time,” stated DiFucci. “They need to go into where they want these places to go and how they want to regulate them. I am 100 percent on board with the safety inspections.”
DiFucci provided council with pictures from long-term rentals on some of the things they have seen when going into these places. He said the transient inspections they have performed so far have been doing a great job of providing a safe structure for their guests. He said they have only done safety inspections – they have not issued licenses.
Gabriel said a subcommittee was formed to review this issue. The committee consisted of the Chairman of the Planning Commission, a resident who has many years of City Manager experience, and an expert in zoning on top of that, along with three council people. They met for a couple hours in a detailed meeting and out of it they provided council with recommendations which asks to repeal Chapter 873. He said the subcommittee will meet again to create another set of recommendations to bring back to the Planning Commission, and then Planning Commission will add their language and will then recommend it to City Council for additional input.
Council Member Brian Holmes said a lot of people are buying houses in residential areas and turning them into transient rentals. He said they need some teeth when creating short-term Airbnb’s.
Council Member Steve Holovacs thanked Gabriel for being a big leader in this issue. He said in the future he would suggest they form small subcommittees to work on these issues, as it might work out better for council as a whole.
Council Member Barb Brady said they also bring people in from the community that are experts to participate, so it expands the positivity of the matter.
Steve Herron, President of Council, said he didn’t have a problem with this procedurally, but he will not back down on his philosophy that if you buy a house you can do what you want with your house – he doesn’t want anybody to think that if they take away this ordinance that they can avoid the safety issues.
Gabriel asked DiFucci what will happen once council repeals this ordinance. DiFucci said there will be nothing on the books, and the problem is that these places are not operating as a true Bed & Breakfast, so they’re not addressing the city’s codes. They are transient rentals – they are short term rentals. It is governed by Bed & Breakfast when they serve a meal, so now they’re going to pop up and exist and be allowed to exist.
“Council needs to take into consideration if they do repeal this ordinance, what they’re going to do with safety inspections,” said DiFucci. “If there is a possibility of maintaining that then at least they will have eyes getting into these places in order to make sure the structure is safe. If the ordinance goes away all together, then they wouldn’t be forcing safety inspections.”
Monica Stark, Chairwoman, thought they should wait to repeal this ordinance until they have something ready to put in place.
Gabriel didn’t know if they were a permitted use in any residential area regardless. DiFucci said it’s not a defined use. Gabriel said if they leave Chapter 873 in place, then they can strike through the permit portion, so it’s strictly reworded for safety inspection. Gabriel said they can change the title of Section 873.02 to Transient Accommodation Inspections.
Brady asked the finance director what happens to the 3 percent if they don’t license them. Amy Hendricks, Finance Director, said it appears that Chapter 873 doesn’t address the lodging tax, so anything that has to do with the Erie County lodging tax, or the local lodging tax, would remain intact.
Gabriel moved and Loucka seconded to amend Ordinance 2019-5 (Chapter 873) by changing the title of Section 873.02 from License Required to Transient Accommodation Inspections, and striking 873.02(a), 873.03(a), and any other portions of the ordinance that deals with a license.
At the Utilities Committee Meeting on October 21, 2019, Mayor Forthofer reiterated conversations held last month regarding the city’s water meters reaching the end of their useful life. Vermilion has 6,200 water meters and 74% of them are 15 years or older.
Tony Valerius, Service Director, said the natural life of the water meters that were installed are 15 years. He explained that old meters experience problems such as the parts inside of the meters start wearing and they don’t measure the water going through the way it should, and meters begin to underestimate the amount of water going through them causing inaccurate readings.
Mayor Forthofer said the estimate of lost water being billed for old water meters is about a 10 – 15% loss. He said a local study was performed to see how they performed. Valerius said they reviewed a sampling of residential meters and it showed a 12% loss.
“When you start adding commercial meters the number will be a lot greater as the larger meters tend to underestimate at a higher level than the smaller meters,” he said.
Amy Hendricks, Finance Director, said the estimated loss in billings is $36,000 per month which equates to over $430,000 each year, and this is looking at a 15% under-reporting.
Mayor Forthofer said a lot has changed with meter technology from 15 years ago when the city installed water meters. Valerius said through technology they are seeing meters that last 20 years rather than 15. Mayor Forthofer said their accountability has tremendously improved as opposed to a truck driving around taking a reading every month or so, or having an electronic reading from the street, such as the city has now. There are now systems that will directly go downtown.
Valerius said it would be a real time reading from the unit to a collector and every morning the utilities department can bring up the average users and find out where there are leaks and heavy usage the night before.
Mayor Forthofer said it’s never advisable to be an early adaptor on the bleeding edge, so the city is fortunate to have surrounding communities who have gone through this process. He said the City of Elyria has replaced 22,000 water meters – 100 meters per day. They advised Vermilion that education is a big proponent of this.
Hendricks stated she attended a conference at Put-In-Bay, and she sat with the Finance Director of Elyria and they exchanged some ideas about how their project was going. When Vermilion gets to the point of moving forward with new meters, the City of Elyria will give them contacts within their Utility Billing Department to discuss their experiences of implementation in the most effective way.
Valerius said he has been in contact with Elyria’s Project Manager who mentioned their installation is going smoothly. The fact that Vermilion’s meters are pit meters, and the City of Elyria has many in-home meters, it should go easier for Vermilion because they won’t have to enter homes.
Mayor Forthofer said new software systems for meter reading is possible, as well as public communication during the installation, which is critical. The estimated cost is $2.1 million. If the city went about this, there would not be a need for a water increase.
Hendricks said the $432,000 is the cost recovery amount, so they are looking at a little over six years to repay this. They have looked at financing this, and with current interest rates in 20 years the city would be looking at payments in the amount of $210,000 versus the additional income of the $432,000. Even if it takes awhile for the cash flow to come in, the city can meet the debt service totally out of that additional revenue in water loss they are having now. She also discussed with Sudsina & Associates on how this would affect the city’s Moody’s rating because the city has been trying to trim back the debt structure. She was told this would be one of the things Moody’s would look at and evaluate and say this was the smart business decision. So, this would be a strength rather than a detriment to the city’s credit rating.
Mayor Forthofer said after the six years in which the city’s costs are recovered, the increased revenue the city would get from this through more billable water would be for 20 years, not just for the remaining 15 because these are longer living meters. In the process of doing this, they would probably discover how many dead meters they have.
Valerius said with EPA mandates the city would have to do something about having an employee since they must turn every valve in the city every five years, so they really need an employee to do this. With this new system, real time meter reading causes the city to be able to read the meters in a day or two as opposed to two-three weeks.
Council Member Barb Brady said they can’t be sure at this point that all the meters are reading 10% short or some that aren’t reading at all, so she would consider this a guessing game.
Mayor Forthofer said they did test some meters and the Service Director found they are running about 15% short. One way or another, they have reached the end of their advertised life by their manufacturer and if the city doesn’t do it now, they will need to do it some other time.
Brady stated she wasn’t arguing about doing it, but was questioning projecting additional billing to pay for it.
Hendricks said even if the city only billed half of the water that would be estimated, it would cover the project. She said the current meter reading system that is obsolete would alone cost $100,000 to get it going. They deal with nightmare situations every month and list of accounts have been coming up with zeros for a long time. They must enter estimates on a manual basis based on prior usage, so at least these people are being billed for something. This is something that hurts the city’s credibility and they still have people who don’t get billed at all, so this all becomes an issue.
Mayor Forthofer conveyed this is a big problem and new meters will make a big difference in professionalism as they operate the city and the city’s accountability to individual users. It sends a good signal for professional management to the people the city borrows money from, and it’s something the city must do anyway.
Monica Stark, Council at Large, agreed the city needs to do something, but her concern is that if they’re saying these meters will be good for 20 years, they’re also paying for them for 20 years at $210,000 per year, which is a big payment.
Hendricks said this is the way the debt would be structured and if any revenue is generated in each of these years in excess of the $210,000, then it could be put back in and invested.
Stark said hopefully the people in the city at this time in those future years will hang onto the money that is recovered and not spend it on other things. By the time the city is done paying for those bonds, the system will need replaced.
Hendricks said they can back the borrowing up to 15 years, but she would be hesitant to back it up to 10 years because it doubles the $210,000. Stark said she wasn’t opposing this, but it’s a long time to pay when the system will be obsolete in 20 years and they will just finish paying for it. Hendricks said as an example, the meters that are past their life still have bonds owed on them. Stark asked how long the city owes on them and Hendricks thought around five more years. Stark asked how much the city pays on them yearly and Hendricks believed it was small - $50,000ish.
Steve Herron, President of Council, said the city has an obligation to do this because the taxpayers have a right to know where all this water is going because they’re paying for water that nobody knows where it’s going, and they don’t know how much it is. So, this would increase their efficiency, and everyone has a right to the value of what they’re paying for.
Council Member John Gabriel said if they say they can’t afford $210,000, they certainly can’t afford to pay $400,000 for meters that don’t work. He said this amount will seem cheap 20 years from now.
Council Member Frank Loucka asked the Mayor if he had a time frame of implementation, and assuming from conversation he would think the commercial meters would be changed first. Mayor Forthofer believed it would be within a year.
Loucka asked if there is a brand of meter the administration has already selected that is the most highly rated. Mayor Forthofer said the administration is asking Council for permission to allow them to go out to bid, and they will take in consideration the experience Elyria and others had with their vendors. He said exploring is their first step.
Valerius said this puts the city back to zero with new meters and future finance directors and administrators can plan for this.
Steve Holovacs, Chairman, thought this was long overdue and felt the administration needs to proceed and come back to council with the numbers. Stark said at least they will be paid off at the end of their life rather than paying after, like the city is doing presently.
Coucil voted unanimously to authorize the administration to go out to bid for the Water Meter Replacement Project and software.
At the Finance Committee Meeting on October 21, 2019, Chairman Brian Holmes brought forth a request from the Parks and Recreation Board to ask Council to discuss the Vermilion Community Pool finances for 2020. Betsy Wakefield, of the Parks Board, conveyed they had a successful Parks levy two years ago, which council supported highly. They were thrilled when the levy passed as they got one mill. However, the city had some financial difficulties and they all had to make sacrifices in order to keep the budgets in line. So, most of their general fund was removed at that point in time.
According to Wakefield, “The general fund varied around $120,000 to $150,000. On top of this they were told they would be running a pool as well, so this is an additional amount of money they don’t have. The pool costs around $52,000 - $60,000 per year to operate, so take away their $100,000+ and add a debit of $60,000 to it - they are swimming upstream.”
Wakefield said she had a conversation with Councilman John Gabriel on trying to get other pools that would at least offer swim lessons through the Rotary Club. So far, they’ve been turned down by everybody. She said the tide has seemed to turn for the city a little bit and the finance director has been doing a fabulous job of negotiating medical expenses for the city and finding more money from different contracts, so the board members were hoping that because things were looking more promising for the city, that Council would consider stepping up by putting some of those funds back so they can operate the pool for next year. She noted the pool is very old and they don’t have funds to go elsewhere either, nor can they do any planning. They can’t go back to the public at this point in time because the levy was just two years ago, and this would be a bad face situation.
Gabriel said some of the pool opportunities were maybe’s, and Wakefield stressed they don’t have any positives though.
Mayor Forthofer said his hard-working former colleagues on the Parks Board have done a great job keeping the parks in shape. One of the main questions they must face is can the city continue to maintain a pool? They are one of the last communities in Erie County to have a pool and you don’t start hitting pools until you get to Westlake and Bay Village.
Out of the $52,000 to operate the pool, there is about $17,000 to $18,000 in revenue that comes through the gate on an average year, according to the mayor.
“This year was different due to the wet weather,” stated the mayor. “So, it really leaves about $36,000 to operate the pool on an ongoing basis.”
He said the Parks Board was faced with this in early 2018 when there was less than zero money. The community responded in a way he would have never expected, and they raised enough to achieve the $36,000 in operating costs for 2018, enough that almost got them through 2019 – just from community support. He conveyed he presented at that time a proposal to the Parks Board in that they should try transitioning the whole funding of the pool to the parks. Once the two years’ worth of community raised revenue was exhausted, that they start looking for ways to maintain the pool on their own. He even suggested that for the first several years that the city could put forth $15,000 of that $32,000, and the Parks Board would be responsible for raising the rest.
“Apparently, this hasn’t happened yet,” said the mayor, “but they’re still in October and the pool doesn’t open until spring. There are some questions they need answered – one being, how many people use the pool. The administration hasn’t had the opportunity to go through the sign-in sheets to determine this yet, but also operational costs are just a portion of the costs in operating the pool. They need some new pumps and the concrete decking is becoming dangerous, and they lose about 1.5” of water daily, so something is wrong with the pool. So, operating costs are just a part of it and they’re going to be looking at some capital expenses.”
Whether this can be docked from the parks levy, or out of the capital expenses somewhere, he did not know, but he’s suggested that this whole thing be tabled until the next committee meetings so they can research some of this data to see where they are.
Gabriel stated he thought he had read the Parks Department had received an additional $20,000 of income they were not expecting, so he asked if this money had already been spoken for, or could it be used towards the pool. Holmes thought it was part of the capital and it could be used.
Amy Hendricks, Finance Director, said there was an additional $20,000 in the operating fund but thought there was an additional amount of income due to the increased property values on the capital levy, and she thought it was less than $10,000.
“As far as the Parks Levy Operating Fund, including Park Use Fees as well as the Parks Impact Fees that are paid on new home constructions – about $281,000 has been received into Fund 218 so far this year,” stated Hendricks. “The expenditures, combined with the outstanding encumbrances for purchase orders, are year to date $110,000...so at this point it appears the Parks Board Operating Levy would have $171,000 at the end of December 2019, and then the budget cycle would renew again in January.”
Mayor Forthofer said the Parks Board is one of the harder working boards and they take real ownership of what they do, so the city owes these volunteers something for what they do. So it brought him back to the question – is this a good application of their labor?
“If they even take $36,000 minus what they take from the gate and take it from the general fund, then this is like a truck a year for the service department, or it’s $36,000 that can be used for a lawnmower,” said the mayor. “So by the next meeting they need to determine if this is the best use of their collective labor, and what does the community think.”
Holmes said they need to also look at what it will cost to fix the leakage, the pumps, the concrete, etc. He asked the administration to get a rough idea of these costs.
Council Member Barb Brady said back in the day, Bay Village and Westlake funded their pool (construction and repairs) through debenture bonds, so they sold bonds for the pool and they were really an investment in the pool.
“At the time, I think it was around $100 for a bond and then you got reduced rates at the pool for 10 years,” said Brady. “At the end of that 10 years, your debenture bond came due and the money was refunded, so it was an investment and it created a trust fund to maintain and improve the pool.”
She thought this might be something to investigate.
“In fact, Bay Village built their pool on debenture bonds when I was a kid, and Westlake did their first improvement on their pool with debenture bonds,” stated Brady. “So, basically, it’s the community putting out money to create a trust fund so that it maintains a pool. It never paid for labor, but for improvements and maintenance, so this could possibly be another funding option.”
Council Member Monica Stark said the City of Amherst has a beautiful pool at Maude Neiding Park that they redid, and she was uncertain if it was city-owned, but maybe they should investigate what their funding source was at that point to redo the pool. She asked the mayor to pull the last two years of attendance records when compiling data because this year was a wet season early on. She said having numbers for the improvements would be great as well. She thought it was obvious that the community would support keeping the pool open as they showed that two years ago in a huge way, so she thinks the city needs to do everything they can.
Council Member Frank Loucka said besides the analysis of the repairs, he would like to know what the estimated life of the pool will be. Mayor Forthofer noted the pool was built 50 years ago.
Council President Steve Herron asked everyone to keep in mind that what they did two years ago was the right thing to do. However, when the community stepped up to pass the levy it was for the parks, and he feels the rule needs to be that the city should support the pool because what they did the last two years should not be the norm. This was done to fix a problem. The people did not support a levy to have this money go to the pool. He said they will have a different financial outlook in January and February when reviewing the numbers, but they will need to make some philosophical and practical decisions.
Holovacs asked the administration to come back with repair costs so they know what they’re looking at along with the operating costs. He said concrete is over $100 a yard, and with the water loss are they looking at the pumps or not? He said they have been putting a band-aid on the pool for many years.
Holmes asked the administration to expand on what they are looking at when it comes to the repairs, so they have different options. Mayor Forthofer will let council know if they have all the data compiled by the November committee meeting.