Meeting on Monday, March 21, the Owosso City Council adopted a mobile food vending ordinance which will become effective April 11, addressed citizen and council comments on the water/sewer rate increase passed March 7 and approved utilizing low income household water assistance offered through Capital Area Community Services (CACS). Several other items were approved, as well.
A public hearing was held regarding the new mobile food vending ordinance. The city did not have an ordinance regulating mobile food vending. In a memorandum to council, city staff, OMS/DDA and Owosso Parks & Rec recommended the adoption. The ordinance is a stand-alone ordinance – not part of the city-zoning ordinance. Permits will be required except for in some circumstances such as festivals or approved street closures for events. The permits will be issued in six-month intervals. Food truck owners interested to coordinating with festivals would need to contact the festival organizers as that would fall under a different area of jurisdiction. The complete ordinance is available through Owosso City Hall. It can also be located within the city council packet available at www.ci.owosso.mi.us. The council approved the ordinance, which will become effective Monday, April 11.
In discussing the unanimously approved March 7 vote by city council to raise water and sewer rates beginning July 1 per a rate study through Baker Tilly, Owosso resident Elaine Wigle stated she thought the council had priorities mixed up, suggesting that other interconnecting city agencies should give up portions of budgeted revenue related to downtown flower purchases, the kayak launch and more. Owosso Mayor Chris Eveleth explained water and sewer systems are budgeted through enterprise funds, whereas many other projects are funded through the general fund and/or grants and it is not possible to intermingle those funds. As he previously shared in the March 7 meeting, he offered to Wigle he fully understands the increases are not small. He again shared his fear that if Owosso were to back off from tackling the failing water and sewer infrastructure, the state would step in – and state-controlled rates would likely be much higher.
Eveleth continued, stating the city could no longer put the work off. In explaining the 5-year water/sewer rate increase plan, he shared the increase for the first year will be 17.9 percent and the second year will be 10 percent. The following three years will each see a 3 percent increase. In the first meeting on the rate increase on March 7, Eveleth and others had factored the current inflation issue as a concern, demonstrating an understanding of the potential hardships of the increases on residents.
Council member Dan Law, who voted to approve the rate increase during the March 7 meeting, offered he regretted voting for the increase – saying he had not intended to do so. Law stated he was concerned about inflation, believing the increase will be “behavior altering.” He called for a special meeting to revisit the water/sewer rate plan, which was supported by council member Jerry Haber, but the motion failed.
Owosso City Manager Nathan Henne noted there are $7.3 million in water/sewer repairs required this coming year. If the repairs would be delayed, the city would lose $4.4 million in grant funding to assist with those necessary projects.
Connecting back to the water/sewer rate increase, one item adopted by council under items of business was in support of low-income household water assistance through Capital Area Community Services (CACS) and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). The city has entered into an agreement with CACS to participate in the program, hoping the funding will help low income individuals contend with the rate increase.
According to a city memorandum, the program will provide direct payment assistance for household water accounts “in arrears or disconnect status.” The federal funding through CACS and MDHHS will be available until Sept. 30, 2023 (unless depleted sooner). The program for $1.5 million will extend to residents in Shiawassee, Clinton and Ingham counties.
If residents qualify, they could be eligible for up to $650 per household per year for water and sewer costs.
Council members also approved setting a strategic planning meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 29.
The next regular council meeting will be Monday, April 4.