Clerk Question, Center City Project Dominate Discussion at Council Meeting

Several agenda items were addressed by the Hillsdale City Council at their regular meeting on Monday night, but the two that generated the most discussion were the continuing debate of the validity of the August 4th city clerk ballot question and the development of a new apartment complex for seniors.

Jump Ahead:
City Clerk Ballot Question
Center City Development
BPU Equipment Sale / Plant Repairs
EDC Fees & Abatements Review
Other Business

Lovinger Insists Ballot Question Was Valid

At the September 8th regular meeting, after comments made by this article's author, Josh Colletta, the council asked newly-hired City Attorney John Lovinger to research the legality of the ballot question posed to voters on whether or not the city clerk position should become appointed rather than elected.  Upon investigation of the ballot language, Hillsdale News Now found a reference to Section 4.12 of the Hillsdale City Charter, which refers only to compensation for the city treasurer with no mention of, or relevance to, the position of city clerk.

In the first public comment session of the night, Colletta clarified his September 8th comments, as he said they seemed to have been mischaracterized by Lovinger and certain media reports as being a question of conflict between the ballot language and the language that was in the amended charter sections.

"The legality of the August 4th city clerk ballot question has nothing to do with the existing city charter language," Colletta said.  "I may be relatively young, but I'm not stupid or uninformed.  I know what a charter amendment is."

Colletta cited state law as the root of the problem, quoting MCL 117.21 paragraph 3, which says the following:

A proposed charter amendment shall be confined to 1 subject. If the subject of a charter amendment includes more than 1 related proposition, each proposition shall be separately stated to afford an opportunity for an elector to vote for or against each proposition.

"So here's the problem," Colletta continued: "The city clerk ballot question includes a reference to a section of the city charter, Section 4.12, that has absolutely nothing to do with the city clerk.  That means that the city clerk ballot question, by legal definition, is a question about two propositions, not one, and thus violates state law.  That makes the vote on the city clerk ballot question invalid, which is why the city council must now take steps to notify the state of what has happened and work with the state to place the corrected question on the November ballot."

"Mr. Lovinger has said that he will look into the matter," he said, "and it's on the agenda tonight, so I'm sure he's come up with an answer.  But unless the correct question was asked, the answer is going to be wrong.  So I highly encourage both Mr. Lovinger and this council to keep in mind, as they take steps to move forward tonight, that it's a question of state law that needs to be settled, not a charter language conflict."

Later, during discussion of the issue as presented on the agenda, Councilperson Adam Stockford asked Lovinger to share the legal opinion he was charged with researching, and Lovinger, referring to information provided to the council but not included in the agenda packet, did so in a vehement tone.

"Just to get started based upon comments tonight, there were two separate ballot proposals," Lovinger condescended.  "Resolution 3212 -- that was the resolution that adopted the ballot proposal having to do with city clerk -- and resolution 3213 was the resolution having to do with city treasurer.  There were two separate ballot proposals.  These proposals were sent to the attorney general as your attachments to our opinion letter indicate.  Both the office of the governor and the attorney general indicated that the ballot language was appropriate, and in the case of the attorney general, further indicated that the ballot language was in compliance with Section 21 of the Home Rule Cities Act, which may very well be the same section that the comments earlier referenced."

To interject for the record, that is correct.  Section 21 of the Home Rule City Act is concurrent with MCL 117.21.

"There were two separate ballot proposals," Lovinger reiterated for the third time.  "The inclusion of charter section 4.12 in both ballot proposals was necessary because, prior to the ballot amendment referendum, charter section 4.12 discussed the compensation of the city treasurer, and was limited to that.  There was no charter section that discussed the compensation of the city clerk."

"In amending the charter and trying to address all the possible areas, it was determined that the best portion of the charter to place the discussion -- because now we're appointed as opposed to elected -- the term of office, the compensation of both the city clerk and the city treasurer was in Section 4.12.  Therefore, in the separate ballot proposals addressing city clerk and city treasurer, Section 4.12 was referenced."

"The question of whether the city clerk should become appointed as opposed to elected, which included reference to charter section 4.12, does not give rise to the electors being asked to address two separate matters in one ballot proposal.  It simply says we're going to be amending-- and there were several: charter section 3.7, 3.8, 4.9b, 4.12 and 5.4.  Now, they were both referenced in both charter amendments because that was necessary given the new setup.  But the mention of 4.12, which previously only had to do with the treasurer, does not make the ballot language invalid."

Lovinger went on to address the attorney general's approval, saying that the council's resolutions approving the language directed the city clerk to submit the language to the attorney general, and letters of approval had been included in the information Lovinger had provided to the council prior to the meeting.

"It is our opinion," he continued, "that the ballot proposals are valid, the inclusion of reference to Section 4.12 in the ballot proposal having to do with the city clerk does not somehow make it invalid.  The fact that it was mentioned in both ballot proposals does not bring two separate issues into play in one ballot referendum question."

"If you look at the documentation that was attached to resolution 3212 and 3213 at the time it was brought to the council's attention, there was a discussion of a variety of scenarios of what the charter might look like depending upon the outcome of the election.  There was a reference to if the referendum failed, we would have the same charter we have.  If the position of city clerk was voted to become appointed but the treasurer elected, we would have one version of the charter, particularly in Section 4.12.  If both were approved, we'd have different language.  So the inclusion of those references does not invalidate the election."

"Because they were presented separately, it was absolutely necessary that all affected charter sections that were affected by the ballot proposal be referenced.  The council passed a resolution -- two separate resolutions -- to place these on the ballot on [at the meeting on] May 4th.  They were properly reviewed by the appropriate authorities of the state, and I believe the election was valid, and I believe there is no obligation on the part of the mayor and the council to seek any type of assistance or cooperation from the state to address some invalid ballot referendum problem.  There isn't one."

Note: It remains the position of Hillsdale News Now that Lovinger's assessment is incorrect, and that position will be explained in an upcoming editorial.

The council further discussed the process for moving forward with the appointment of a new city clerk and city treasurer.  Mayor Scott Sessions suggested a timeline as follows:

  • Notice of the job openings would be posted by the end of this week, September 25th, and applications would be accepted until October 16th.
  • Handout of those applications to the council would take place in time for the regular council meeting on October 19th.
  • Discussion of the applicants would take place at the regular meeting on November 2nd.

As Sessions finished detailing the timeline, City Attorney Lovinger interrupted to say that the resolutions passed by the council approving the ballot language both include language that says "commencing November 9th, 2015," which would make that the earliest date at which the mayor could possibly make those appointments.  Lovinger suggested holding a special meeting on November 9th specifically for the purpose of making those appointments, because appointing them at a later date would mean that the ending of the current officeholders' terms would make them unavailable to facilitate the transition.  Sessions agreed with that assessment, and added the November 9th special meeting to his proposed deadline.

Councilperson Stockford asked if the top candidate for each position could be deputized to train under the current officeholders prior to their official appointment, as was discussed as a possibility at the previous meeting.

"The charter provides that deputies of the clerk and treasurer can be appointed," Lovinger explained.  "It has to be approved by council.  You do have the power to appoint a deputy clerk, for instance, so that they would have some on-the-job training.  The question then arises a little bit about, have we made an appointment early?  They can be brought on as a deputy, but they aren't appointed as clerk or the treasurer until the 9th."

"Do they have to be city residents in order for us to make them deputies?" asked Councilperson Emily Stack-Davis.  "That was the contention that was held at a previous council meeting."

"There was a time," Lovinger said, "when positions like police chief, city manager, and city attorney were required to be residents of the city.  By state statute, that was changed.  I think the residency requirements apply to councilmembers and the mayor."

"So we can deputize a non-resident?" Stack-Davis asked again.

"I haven't looked specifically at that question," Lovinger admitted.

"We were told we couldn't in previous meetings," Stack-Davis explained.

"I don't know the answer to that question," Lovinger reiterated.  "I'm not going to tell you the answer when I don't have it."

Councilperson Stockford clarified, "Since the positions will be appointed, I'm assuming that residency requirements are no longer valid, because we've been told time and time again of issues where people who are not residents of the city, that if it's a paid position, that we can't -- because of equal opportunity, I think -- we can't make residency in the city a requirement of any paid position."

Lovinger added, "I think the distinction was, when the city clerk and the city treasurer were elected, they had to be residents because of the three-year residency requirement.  In the case of council, I believe you have to be three-year residents and you have to live in your ward for six months.  When they become appointed positions, then those residency requirements no longer apply."

Toward the end of discussion, Councilperson Stockford wanted clarification that this proposed timeline was only for the city clerk position, as Mayor Sessions intends to appoint current City Treasurer Julie Beeker to that position.  Lovinger interjected that the appointments should both be made at the same time so as to take advantage of the same timeline, resulting in the appointments being made at the proper time on November 9thCouncilperson Stack-Davis disagreed, noting that the charter amendment doesn't give a timeline requirement, but that she consents to the timeline for public relations purposes.

With that settled, the city council voted for the timeline for the city clerk and city treasurer appointments separately, both passing 7-1.  Councilperson Adam Stockford cast the dissenting votes on both of those motions.

Sudden Announcement of Center City Project Raises Questions

The council took up a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) ordinance for the Center City Senior Apartments project, the first time that any aspect of the project has come before the city's governing body.  Excel Realty Group of Beachwood, OH -- noted in the agenda item as the same group working on the renovation of the former Kiddie Brush and Toy factory building, now called Heritage Lane in downtown Jonesville -- is the developer who proposed the project to the city.

The plans call for a new three-story apartment building at 8 S. Manning St. on the site of the current Smokers Club, which would be demolished for this project, as well as a one-story building across the alley on the site of the current parking lot at 15 S. West St.  Parking for both buildings will be accessed from the alley, with the parking for 8 S. Manning providing 34 perpendicular spaces (including 4 handicapped spaces) on the west side of the lot, and the parking for 15 S. West providing an additional 8 diagonal spaces on the south side of that lot.

The proposed development would be funded by federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and is specifically designated for low income persons or families.  As such, the project requires a PILOT plan to be approved by the city.  The negotiated rate for this ordinance is 10%, which Zoning Administrator Alan Beeker noted in the agenda item is consistent with other senior housing projects in the community.

Cambria Township resident Jeff King used the opening public comment session to raise some questions about the project.

"I'm sure many of you have heard me rant about command economies and why government shouldn't be up here deciding who wins and who loses.  But that's the way it is.  I'm a little bit concerned that, in a city with so much vacant property and vacant lots, that somebody has to lose for somebody to win.  I don't think that's necessary."

"I went by the Smokers store," King said.  "It looks like a viable store.  They have groceries, cigarettes.  I talked to the shopkeeper there.  He's not very enthused about this."

King addressed the project's requirement for a PILOT accommodation, connecting that to ultimate approval of the project itself.

"It looks to me like you're offering some kind of concession from the city, which means you're in a negotiating position.  In other words, you can negotiate the best deal for the city residents.  Not for these owners, but for the city residents."

"It just seems to me like, if you're going to be venture capitalists up here, if you're gonna operate a command economy, let's do the best we can with return on investments for the citizens.  And I hope I'm wrong; maybe I'm wrong about that."

King said his concerns were personal, as well, as he had moved his 90-year-old mother here across the state from Holland.

"We couldn't find any independent living [housing] for her, and the reason why is because she makes too much money.  She makes about $28,000 per year.  My father was a World War II vet, they saved all their life, and we went by the [Hillsdale Place] high rise, and she made too much money."

"To me, that's insulting," King continued.  "I don't have any issue with people that live there, but to be discriminated against bothers me.  And I see the same kind of language with this facility, that it's just for low-income.  And if you have any ability, if you're giving them any kind of handout -- by handout, I mean any kind of favors -- I'd like to see you open it up to people, that they'd not be discriminated against, that anyone that's old or that meets the qualifications could actually live there."

"Like I said, I hope I'm wrong, and I hope they clarify," he concluded.

Later in the meeting, Economic Development Director Mary Wolfram was invited to the podium, and in her comments, she said she agreed with King "one hundred percent."

"Nothing's keeping [unrestricted senior housing] out, we would love them to be here.  We need someone to come in here and say, 'yep, we want to build one.'"

King clarified his question to relate specifically to the Center City project, and Wolfram deferred on that topic to the developer.

During his time at the podium, Excel Realty Group owner Peter Jobson was asked by Councilperson Stockford to address King's concerns about "picking winners."

"As I understand it," Jobson said, "there's been some back-and-forth, and someone asked the clerk that works in the Smokers Club whether or not there was a purchase and sale agreement, and I can assure you there is one.  I think the clerk, basically, did not really want to comment, and the clerk is not the owner of the property; the property is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Suwais -- husband and wife -- and they are older; I would guess somewhere in their sixties.  So the gentlemen who I think answered -- or perhaps didn't answer, I don't know what sort of conversation took place -- is not the owner of the property."

King told Hillsdale News Now that the person he had talked to was the business owner and partner of the Suwaises, not the store clerk.

King also later brought to light the transfer process of a liquor license from Broad Street Downtown Market, who relinquished the license to focus on their other offerings, to the Smokers Club, who had intended to begin liquor sales in the near future.  That process, which began on August 11th of this year, was completed as of September 21st.

In her introductory comments, Wolfram acknowledged that this project has thus far mostly been negotiated out of public sight, but told the council that she knows the exact date that Jobson called her.

"I was taking the call in the lobby of the hospital in Indianapolis where my granddaughter was born on April 2nd, 2014, so I happen to kind of have the beginning of the process in my head.  So though it is new to you, it is not new, generally, to city personnel who have had to assess the project."

She added that Jobson has been "very forthcoming" throughout the project.

"I have quite a few e-mails where I have asked questions of him and gotten answers and information.  I spent quite a bit of time on the different web sites looking at his work in other places.  If any of you have ever been to the Jackson Armory -- it's off of Cooper St. in Jackson -- Excel Realty did that.  Mr. Jobson doesn't know this, but I actually asked about Excel Realty of other developers that I know -- [developers] that are in this tax credit business, even -- and got good reports.  So we've kinda done our homework."

Jobson confirmed that Excel has significant experience developing property in the state, having developed some 20 projects in the last 15 years, with a mix of family housing and senior housing.  The latter, he said, is his personal favorite, because "senior housing is very stable and there's a tremendous need for it."

"We would be developing this through tax credits, and what the tax credits enable is, they enable the rents to be very reasonable.  There is an income limit in terms of how much a person can make.  That income limit is somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000.  That's the height, and then a resident will have to demonstrate a certain amount of income; typically in the $18,000 to $20,000 a year range in order to demonstrate that they can afford the rent, because this is not a Section 8 type of program."

"What these tax credits do," he continued, "is allow for first-class, top-of-the-line, beautiful real estate to be developed as housing, and the tax credits, in effect, pay for a large portion of the project expense.  Tax credits are issued by the federal government in Washington, D.C., and every state receives housing tax credits based on its population.  The program began in 1987 and it continues through this day.  It's been one of the most successful programs that the federal government has created; a lot of times they'll point to it as one of their success stories.  It created a lot of housing, and it creates a lot of housing in Michigan."

Jobson went on to explain the PILOT ordinance.

"In this case, this PILOT would be set at a 10% level, and the development would generate some $16,000 a year; that's the estimate of tax revenue.  The tax revenue would be split among the various political jurisdictions that share the real property tax revenue in the same way that real property taxes are shared.  So it's really pretty much the same.  And that would actually be an increase compared with what the Smokers Club property is currently paying, which I understand to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 a year."

He added that the PILOT is required by the LIHTC process, saying "the development won't get developed without it."  He also concluded by saying that the city has been moving at a "rapid rate" and has done a "tremendous job" in the process.

Asked by Councilperson Bruce Sharp about the income limit, Jobson clarified that the typical residential makeup of a project like Center City is 60-75% female, usually widows, who are on a fixed income but are capable of bringing in the income he mentioned.  Rents would range from about $300 for single-bedroom units to $600 for two-bedroom unites.  He added that residents will be subject to credit and background checks, and again noted that sufficient income would be necessary.

Jobson also mentioned that the project includes a library, a fitness center and a community room for social activities, and is maintenance-free.  He confirmed that the PILOT program and agreement for residency requirements lasts 45 years, and that a similar PILOT program is being used for the Heritage Lane project.

Councilperson Emily Stack-Davis raised some questions about what appeared to be a lack of restrictive language in the paperwork.

"I represent Ward 3, and we have the interesting mix in our community that we already have a high-rise building; we actually have two [apartment buildings], and the high-rise building used to be only seniors, and it was a very sweet facility.  And then they had to allow low-income families to come in there, and now we have the [situation] in Ward 3 of, all hours of the day, morning, early morning, there are lots of people out there walking back-and-forth [across Carleton Rd.]"

"There's nothing in this," she said, "that makes it a senior [facility] forever.  You're calling it a senior center, but that's not really the mix.  You're going to be held legally responsible to invite in anyone who falls within this income bracket, correct?"

"No," Jobson replied, "it would be a senior property."

"How do you manage this?" Stack-Davis asked, citing Section 3, point E of the ordinance as given in the meeting agenda.  "Because right here, it says -- and maybe I'm misunderstanding something -- it says 'low income persons and families' can move into the apartment, right?"

"Is there something that prohibits people of a certain age from qualifying to move in?  Is there a chance that anybody who qualifies, of any age, could move in if their income is within a certain range?"

"No," Jobson said, "we've restricted it to 'senior,' and 'senior' is a well-defined category in the tax credit allocation process.  The building that you're referring to [Hillsdale Place] I'm sure was very likely built somewhere between '74 and '82, is my guess.  It is probably a Section 8 property, the tower.  Again, this program is a housing tax credit program, and the agency that monitors and oversees these developments in the State of Michigan is the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and there is a specific category for senior housing."

"It's purpose-built housing," he continued.  "Within MSHDA's categories, there is a 'senior' component.  You basically check a box in your application if you want it to be 'senior' and identify it as 'senior,' and it stays 'senior.'  The development is regulated by a regulatory agreement, which is basically an agreement which essentially regulates the property and says that you've got to rent to people at these income levels.  It's recorded against the deed, and MSHDA oversees something around 55,000 units.  So yes, we can restrict it to 'senior.'"

"So you can restrict it to 'senior,'" Stack-Davis said, "and yet you said you can't really put an age limit on."

"No, we can put an age limit on," Jobson reiterated.

City Manager David Mackie spoke up to clarify.

"The tax credit program that we're talking about here; you can restrict it to seniors, and by the developer selecting the senior category, this property will have to be restricted to seniors for the period of time of 45 years, otherwise the investors and the developer will lose their tax credits.  So if they were to put a family in there; one, the regulatory agency would catch that; two, they would end up having to pay penalties.  So they're very strongly encouraged to abide by the regulatory agreement."

"These are the types of projects I used to do myself," Mackie said, "the tax credit projects and senior projects for much the same reasons as Peter has indicated; because of the stable environment, the stable tenants."

"I think many would be surprised that, when you start looking at those who actually lease these properties, the way that their income is calculated, it's not an asset calculation; [it's not that] if you have $300,000 in assets, you don't qualify.  They actually figure out what that asset generates in annual income, so you will find in these properties that people who you would historically think wouldn't qualify to live there actually can.  Like farmers' wives who might be widows that still have land; I've had them move in.  All under the same guidelines that this project will be under."

"One important thing that I'd just like to mention," Mackie added, "is just the cycle that this helps create.  We're talking about 40 units.  A housing study was actually done that was tied to this project -- it completed in August -- which has to go to MSHDA in order for them to consider approving the project.  Based on their review, it does indicate that there is a need for the 40 units of senior housing in Hillsdale."

"But the more important thing to me is, and probably the city at large, is not only giving folks 55 and older a good place to live or move to, but also, it frees up their homes.  So it could potentially mean 40 homes in the area which would be freed up for young families, for working-class folks, to purchase and move into.  So it has kind of a ripple effect throughout the economy of the city."

Councilperson Sharp tacked on to that line of thought.

"If you're paying attention, over in Coldwater, pretty soon, they're gonna be building this big slaughterhouse thing, and it's gonna employ 800 people.  Their concern is housing; where are we gonna put these people, the workers; where are they gonna live?  And obviously there's going to be a ripple effect coming this way, too.  So with this possible project here, it is going to open up some homes here to be sold."

"Right now," he added, "the market's getting really tight on houses.  You talk to contractors, they're busy fixing homes up.  There are a lot of homes in the city still falling into blight, empty, but they're looking at buying them now and fixing them up, because there's a demand for housing.  And if this thing in Coldwater takes off, there is gonna be a big demand around all this area, around all three counties."

"I'm gettin' up there," said Sharp.  "Some day, I'm tired of shovelin' snow, doing all that stuff, might be something someday down the road I might be interested in, also."

Councilperson Stack-Davis asked if the project required any investment from the city to reconstruct the alley.

"We don't anticipate any investment by the city in this project," Mackie answered.  He added that this is a competitive process between municipalities, so being awarded the project is an exclusive boon for the city.

The PILOT ordinance passed 7-1 with the lone dissenting vote coming from Councilperson Stack-Davis.

BPU To Sell Equipment After Little Use

An item included in the meeting's agenda was the repair of Generators #5 and #6 at the Lake Baw Beese power generation plant, but due to the absence of Interim Board of Public Utilities Director Nate Rusk, City Manager Mackie recommended that the issue be tabled until the next regular meeting so that Rusk could explain the details of the project.  The council agreed and did so by voice vote.

Switching to the BPU's other big project, a second agenda item prepared by Rusk recommended that the council approve the sale of the utility's wastewater sludge injection and hauling equipment in order to raise funds for an emergency generator for the treatment plant, which currently lacks any full-scale backup generation capacity.  Rusk explained in the agenda item that a contractor currently handles all sludge removal.

The following items would be sold:

  • A Volvo field gymmy sludge injector, purchased in 2012 for $227,941
  • A Sterling semi-tractor, purchased in 2007 for $50,000
  • A sludge tanker trailer, purchased in 1977 for $18,500

Rusk estimates that the sale of this equipment will raise roughly half of the funds necessary for the purchase of a generator that will power the entire wastewater treatment plant.

Mackie recommended that the council approve the sale, saying that the equipment is in good shape, and it would be prudent to sell it while it can still fetch a reasonable return.

Councilperson Adam Stockford agreed that using the sale to raise funds for a generator was a great idea, but asked why the city is hiring contractors to do the job if the BPU owns the equipment to do it themselves.

Mackie answered: "To do the service that we get done with a private contractor -- with their equipment, which is much larger -- we, actually, as a city, would have to employ one person pretty much all year round.  The equipment we have, being smaller, we would haul our sludge; it would pretty much take one employee.  That's all they would do; their permanent job is hauling sludge, where the contractor comes in with much bigger pieces of equipment and gets it done very quickly.  So looking at the cost benefit of having an employee and this expensive equipment, it makes financial sense to continue to contract it out."

Councilperson Bruce Sharp pointed out the cost of the field gymmy.

"$227,941.  That would seem very extremely spent back in 2012.  Now it's 2015, and now we want to dump this stuff and sell it and recover whatever we can recover on it.  That's a terrible thought process, to waste that money, to spend that kind of money three years ago, and now you want to unload it.  That's poor planning on whoever did this."

"I believe we used this for maybe one year and then contracted it out," Mackie added to Sharp's sentiment.  "So it's been sitting there pretty much since we purchased that particular piece of equipment."

The vote to approve the sale was unanimous.

EDC Streamlines Abatement Procedures

Analysts from the Michigan Economic Developers Association have certified the city's industrial park as a Manufacturing and Technology Park, and Hillsdale Economic Development Director Mary Wolfram recommended, based on their suggestions, that the council take several steps to make the city more business-friendly, mostly along the lines of eliminating superfluous paperwork.  Wolfram, in the agenda item, lists four key changes:

  1. Eliminate filing fees for Neighborhood Enterprise Zone building applications since there is no requirement for public hearings in regard to those applications, and the city's two Neighborhood Enterprise Zones (NEZ) -- and any others the city may choose to establish in the future -- encourage home renovations and new home building.   Wolfram also suggests reducing fees for all other tax abatements to $300 to match the Zoning Board of Appeals fee for an appeal, which is enough money to cover notification and publication requirements as well as staff costs.
  2. Eliminate scoring for Commercial Rehabilitation Exemptions (CRE) and establish a standard length of 10 years for those exemptions.  Despite these changes, review of the applications by the Economic Development Corporation will still be required.
  3. Eliminate scoring for both Industrial Facilities Tax (IFT) and Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) applications, but as with CRE applications, continue application reviews by the EDC.  Wolfram recommends in the agenda item that such abatements be limited to 10 years for investments up to $500,000.  For larger investments, she suggests an additional year for each additional $100,000 over the $500,000 mark until the limit mandated by state law, which is currently a period of 12 years.
  4. Similar to the IFT and OPRA plan, continue a uniform 10-year abatement period for NEZ exemption recipients, but add the $500,000 investment mark and add a year for every $100,000 in investments over that mark until the limit mandated by state law.  That limit is currently 15 years.

Addressing the council from the podium, Wolfram said the city hasn't charged these fees for very long, and most of these changes were suggested by the MEDA team when they visited to certify the industrial park.  She said that, locally, the city's EDC board wanted to eliminate all fees, but hard costs involved in each process would make such a change financially impossible.  However, she noted that this would make the fees more consistent between the different types of applications, which was especially necessary due to the city's recent addition of a second Neighborhood Enterprise Zone, for which there was no standard application process set by the city.

The council voted unanimously to approve the changes.

Other Business

A public hearing was held early in the meeting for the Commercial Rehabilitation Exemption ordinance application in the name of the Roger Lee Boyd Family Trust, otherwise known as the Market House renovation project.  The CRE would grant a tax abatement for the building at 210 W. Carleton Rd. for a period of 10 years, expiring on December 30th, 2025; the maximum length of time for such an abatement allowed by state law.

Assessor Kim Thomas recommended in the agenda item that the construction completion date set on the application be stated in the council resolution as December 30th, 2017, as city policy mandates that the required completion date be one year later than the anticipated completion date given on the application, allowing for any reasonable delays in the project.

According to the information in the agenda, the property lies within Commercial Rehabilitation District #2009-1, which the City Council created in May of 2009.  The current property value as estimated by the assessor, including over 7 acres of land with frontage along M-99, is approximately $1.995 Million.  The building was constructed in 1972 and has operated as a supermarket ever since.  Market House, Inc. faces no delinquent taxes and is not currently party to litigation pending against the city.  The estimated cost of the renovation project is $2.9 Million.

Manager Mike Phillips took the podium to speak on behalf of the store's owner, Brett Boyd.

"Brett wished to have me convey that he apologized; one of his daughter's sporting events went a little later than anticipated, but he wanted me to relate that we greatly appreciate the partnership that we've had with the Hillsdale community.  We definitely hope to continue that partnership and hope to retain the 55 employees that we currently have, and hope to add maybe 20 or so employees to that list."

Economic Development Director Mary Wolfram also voiced her support.

The council passed the ordinance unanimously.

The council voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing for a tax abatement for Marvo Properties, LLC under the Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act for Stock's Mill, which Marvo now owns.  The property at 115 E. Bacon St. is located within an OPRA district the city created in July of 2013 and is in a condition that Eceonomic Development Director Mary Wolfram calls "severely blighted" with "broken windows and damaged fascia."  This particular exemption would allow for a $751,000 project to restore the building itself and the grain silos.

That public hearing will take place at the council's regular meeting on October 5th, 2015 at 7:00 PM.

Stephen and Lisa Otterbein have applied for a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone certificate to build a new home at 15 Foxtail Ln. in the Three Meadows subdivision, which is concurrent with the city's original Neighborhood Enterprise Zone, NEZ #1.  The home would be built by February of 2016, and the Otterbeins plan to occupy it as their primary residence.  The council approved that application unanimously.

The council unanimously approved the appointment of Mike Harner to a vacant seat on the Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA) board.  That term ends in July of 2016.

City Manager Mackie had nothing prepared for his report session, but Councilperson Emily Stack-Davis asked if there could be some flexibility in the scheduling of brush collection in city, as she cited the numerous times that leaves have fallen after brush collection has already taken place.  Mackie said he didn't have any details at the moment, but the issue is on his list of concerns.

In the final public comment session, Dennis Wainscott, write-in candidate for city council in Ward 1, spoke about a housing commission meeting that he had recently attended.

"I'd seen a resident over there that was written up because he could not use the toilet in his own apartment.  He couldn't get a hold of maintenance to help him, so he made a phone call to the number that was there.  At the time that happened [at the meeting], he turned around and got a little boisterous with the person that was there on the other end of the phone, because the gentleman could not use his bathroom.  He went 20 hours without a bathroom.  In return, the housing [facility] had locked up all the public doors, so he couldn't use the public bathroom.  All he asked was for them to take the writing off of his record, and we [saw] how abusive this could be to other seniors."

"If we're going to be getting them new housing," Wainscott said, "we need to watch out for our senior citizens.  If you're gonna have a maintenance man, have a maintenance man that's gonna be on call 24 hours a day or a helper.  Don't turn around and let our senior citizens be forgotten because you're home with your family watching TV or doing what you're doing."

"These gentlemen and women up there that are having these problems [need] somebody to depend on.  They depend on younger folks.  I'm a senior citizen, I depend on you, I depend on people around me, and I hope that we, as councilpeople, we would turn around and be dependable and be able to watch over our people, too.  So if we're gonna get new housing in, let's make sure that it meets the [needs of the] citizens that we are taking their money from and tax money; whatever it is that they're putting back into the community, so that they, in turn, will have something to look forward to."

Jeff King, in addition to clarifying that he's not against the Center City project, followed up with the view that council engaged in discrimination through their approval of that project by way of fixing the market so that private enterprise cannot solve the problem.

King also addressed the issue of empty seats on the Airport Advisory Committee, which he sits on.  He suggested that Councilperson Stockford be appointed to the board temporarily until permanent appointments can be made.

Don Hernandez took the time to raise his concerns about the Center City project, asking council to make sure this wouldn't become a "drug den."  He also asked about a lack of an elevator in the plan shown to the council at the meeting, a lack of green space, and what will be done about flooding on Manning St. near the project site.

Addressing Hernandez's concerns in the council comment period, Councilperson Sharp noted that the council has no details on the development beyond what was seen at the meeting and in the agenda packet.

"All we've seen is the architectural drawings.  We don't know anything else about it as far as landscape or anything else, the flooding.  That's not our expertise.  That's not the council's job.  We just go on what we are given.  And right now, it looks like a good plan.  We could be wrong down the road.  Who knows?  But the state's going to be involved, the city will be involved."

"We're gonna make sure it's not like the nine-story apartment complex behind us over here that is no longer a senior center or anything.  It's out of control; it has been at times.  I used to be on the fire department; I know all the tenants in there and all the things we had going on.  I'm sure there's probably plans for an elevator there; I don't know for sure, I haven't seen the plans.  I'm sure if you're going to put a senior thing in, an elevator would be a requirement.  That's a simple-- that's a no-brainer to me."

Sharp also commented on the Smokers Club being forced out in the project.

"If you look downtown how many empty buildings we have, empty buildings that could be filled with the possibility of that person moving there.  I'm not recommending the smoker thing move there, but the possibility is there."

Sharp also brought up a case of the city charter getting in the way of council elections.

"I did have somebeody running for Ward 2 as a write-in candidate, but under the city charter, it states that they have to be a resident of the City of Hillsdale for three years, which makes them [ineligible] to do the job.  They've lived here for two years, and they can't run because of that.  I feel that is wrong."

"It's discouraging to have somebody that wanted to run," he continued, "but since they haven't been a resident of the City of Hillsdale for three years, they cannot run.  I think that's just wrong; it's just making it harder for us to get people to run, and it's frustrating.  I spent a lot of time a lot of time with this person, getting this person to run, and now they can't.  I don't know what we're gonna do.  That is very frustrating."

Councilperson Stockford responded to Jeff King's suggestion for Airport Advisory Board appointment.

"I would be amenable to serving on the airport committee.  I would much rather-- if a councilperson's going to be placed on the committee, I'd rather it be someone else, but if you absolutely need somebody to be on the committee, then I would be willing to serve on that board."

Stockford also questioned if there was some sort of problem with the appointment process, and City Manager Mackie replied that he's looking into it.

"Winter is coming," said Councilperson Emily Stack-Davis, and after noting the pop culture reference, she asked the city manager if there was anything the city could do to at least temporarily fill in potholes in Ward 1 ahead of the snow.  Mackie said that a long-term fix is being discussed, but he will research a temporary fix for the next meeting.

Stack-Davis also noted that there are many meetings of the city government's various boards and committees, and stated a desire to see them use the council chamber with its recording and sound systems more often for the benefit of keeping the public informed.  Mackie said that he's discussed the idea briefly with with members of those various bodies, and he believed there is some hesitance to meet in the chamber, but he would attempt to make a push toward that goal.

Councilperson Brian Watkins added that the setting changes the tone of meetings.

"When I started on a commission, we did meet up here, and we got a lot more accomplished a lot more comfortably downstairs."

For a point of reference, Watkins asked how many Operations and Governance Committee meetings were held in the chamber during the city manager search.

"It depended on whether this room was available or not," Stack-Davis replied.  "It certainly would have been more helpful for everyone."

As that conversation slowed to a close, the council members sat further and further back in their chairs.  Knowing this, Councilperson Sharp asked the gallery, "Can you all hear us back there?"

The resounding answer from the gallery was "no."

"We've gotta work on this," Sharp told his fellow legislators.  "I mean, I'm constantly getting complaints about it.  People-- the public wants to be involved, but they can't hear us!  We can hear each other, but they can't hear us, and there are a lot of things they're getting misinformation on.  It's not about the [air conditioner] fan, you have got to fix this problem, and you have got to fix it now.  This has been going on too long with the P.A. system.  I want the audience to be involved; I want them to hear what we're saying."

Jeff King interjected from the gallery, indicating a distance with his hands, "Emily was about this far from the mic--" he shortened this distance "--you're about this far from the mic."

"Sorry, y'all!" Stack-Davis enunciated clearly into her microphone.

"The point is," Sharp continued, "I want to make sure people can hear us.  We're working on that, I understand."

"To answer that question," Mackie said, "we do have five speakers back there, but when you sit back here like this," he sat back in his chair, "they can't hear you.  So we're talking about getting microphones that clip to you right here," he indicated his lapel, "so that you can move more freely--" he leaned into his microphone "--so it sound like this in the back."

"I bet no one ever has a problem hearing me," Councilperson Stockford joked.  "I know I'm loud."

"Please," Sharp asked of the audience, "just raise your hand if you can't hear us.  We'll see the hand flying and say, okay, we gotta pay attention.  'Cause they're here for a reason.  We appreciate people coming to council meeting, too.  We want you to be involved, and you should be.  Because that's why we're here.  We represent you guys."

He turned back to the council.  "That's who we serve.  And it's frustrating when they say that can't hear us.  You hear it constantly."

The next regular meeting of the city council is Monday night, October 5th at 7:00 PM.

Correction: In regard to the Smokers Club liquor license, the article had previously stated that the process was canceled as of September 21st.  The process was not canceled, it had completed on that date.  We have corrected the error.