By BETH ALTENA
The regular meeting of the Rockford City Council began with the City Manager’s Report the evening of Monday, April 8. According to Michael Young, the Rockford Chamber of Commerce is considering leasing the remaining 20-percent of the former court building at City Hall. The other 80 percent will soon be occupied by the Rockford Area Historical Society museum, relocating from the historic power building located at the Rogue River.
Young explained the terms proposed by the city are designed to encourage the Chamber to move in, with a lease of $500 monthly and the City picking up the tab for gas and electric. The Chamber would be responsible for IT, phone and insurance. A tentative lease start date would either be July 1 or July 15 should the Chamber Board approve the relocation from Byrne Drive, offices the Chamber has maintained since moving from the Welcome Center because of space constraints.
The city has agreed to a Wolverine Worldwide proposal to delay reconstruction of the former tannery site, which would include removing several inches of dirt from several places on the property in downtown Rockford. Young said the wait is a good idea given rainy spring weather forcasted. He said the last thing they want is to remove dirt and then have a bunch of rain, which would be “very messy.”
The bridge over Blakesslee Creek on River Street is part of a road construction project. Unfortunately, the city discovered sewer structure is built into the bridge, complicating the project and perhaps upping the cost to over $100,000, which Young called “bad news.”
The Rockford Police Department is the recipient of a $135,000 grant which will allow purchase of new video equipment on police cruisers, which is a necessary improvement as the original equipment is in need of replacement. Chief Jones noted that the matching amount for the grant is just ten percent.
One of two recent encroachments was unanimously rescinded. A propective homeowner who planned on purchasing two lots in a city development had requested an encroachment allowing a driveway over city pipes, but then failed to purchase the lots. Council unanimously approved the proposed retraction of the encroachment.
A resident interested in raising bees asked if any further progress had been made in considering her request and Young told her he had not yet had time to look into the idea. “Someday I hope to be as up to speed on bees as I am on chickens,” he stated.
Public comments included a string of residents on Elizabeth Street who opposed the addition of sidewalks as the city begins a reconstruction of the infrastructure and surfaces of Elizabeth and other downtown streets in need of improvements. One resident said thirty years ago her father spoke before city council opposing the building of the Ten Mile Bridge. She said her father taught her it is important to speak your thoughts and be respectful. “He also told me you can’t fight city hall,” she said.
Chief Dave Jones said the police department received a grant of $13,500 which will allow the department to upgrade the video equipment in the police cruisers. The grant requires a ten-percent match from the department. Jones said he was pretty happy to be able to upgrade the technology.
Young asked the council to unapproved an encroachment request that was granted several months ago for a resident who was proposing the purchase of two lots in a development and had been given permission to put a driveway over city right-of-way for sewer and water. The purchase of the lots never happened. Council voted to rescind the encroachment approval.
A resident interested in keeping bees in the city asked if any progress had been made on her request and Young told her that there was no ordinance yet covering bees. “Some day I hope to be as up to speed on bees as I am on chickens,” Young stated in reference to the City researching and eventually allowing chickens.
During public comment a resident of Main Street asked why sidewalks were not installed on the northern portion of that street when improvements and repaving took place recently. Young said the funding for that work was through a grant and was limited by the dollar amount. He said it wouldn’t surprise him if there were sidewalks there eventually as the council has been “very diligent” about adding sidewalks when possible. He also said the proximity of many “stately old trees” which would have to be removed is a factor in putting sidewalks in on that section of the street.
“We recently added sidewalks on Oak between Ten Mile and James and also on Ten Mile,” Young said. “It is an ongoing process.”
New business included approval of additional memory to the city computer server. Young said he remembers when he started the city had one gig of memory. “We were amazed how much memory we had and it would never run out,” he stated. The new memory give the city a 3.6 terabyte bundle, which is twelve three-hundred gigs. “There is room for 24 but we are getting twelve and have room to expand.”
The condominium subdivision of Sam’s Joint on Main Street was discussed as former owner is selling to the owners of Uccellos. The three-floor building is one parcel and the owners would like to sell the condominium units above as separate parcels. As part of a condominium an association will be formed spelling out details like shared space, including possible future use of the rooftop.
Finally, Chief Jones announced that the police department will be purchasing tasers. He said Rockford is currently the only department in Kent County that does not carry tasers. He said the financing is $15,671 which comes from asset forfeiture. Councilmember Jerry Coon asked the Chief how often he expected his officers to use the weapons and Jones said he hoped they never had to use them. “The idea behind the tazer is an area where you confront a person. There is time to talk to an aggressive person, and time to control a person.” He said tazers fill the need in between having a person responding to talking and a person who does not respond to talking and needs to be controlled.
“It is a tool put into our force continuum that is less than lethal,” he said. “It is a way to control someone short of stopping their life.” The funding, coming from sale of seized property, is “sort of like a grant from our friends on the other side of the law,” he said.
Young ended the evening’s discussion with an update on leases of water towers to cell phone companies. Both Sprint and AT&T are upgrading their equipment on the towers to meet the 4-G world. Units on the crown of Rockford water towers will be removed and replaced by units installed on the sides of the towers, which Young called “less obtrusive.” The upgrade comes at a $500 a month increase to the city for the leases. Young said the city does not count on the lease money as part of the budget because technology improvements could cause the cell companies to no longer need the units. “We often have the conversation, will this technology be replaced by satellites. The fact that they are investing in this equipment tells me these leases will be here awhile,” Young said.
Reporting on Board and Commission activity, Young said the Planning Commission is continuing work on the Parks and Recreation plan. He said on May 9 the commission hold a special meeting to consider a Jimmie John’s restaurant looking to move into the old UPS store at the end of the business mall at Ten Mile and Wolverine (Northland Drive). The restaurant would like to add a drive through to the location and traffic issues need to be considered. The Economic Development Corporation is waiting for nice weather to take pictures of Rockford for the business recruitment package under design. The Rockford Area Community Endowment will meet Tuesday, May 7 to induct new members of the Recognition Plaza.