By: Jesse Davis
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
An analyst hired to make a recommendation as to Swanton’s water and sewer rates praised the village’s efforts as something has hasn’t seen in his entire career.
Senior Rural Development Specialist Matthew Kline with the Rural Community Assistance Partnership based his determinations on industry best management practices regarding the total amount of funding held back for five key areas: operating expenses, contingencies, debt service reserve, predictive maintenance, and long-term debt reserves.
Based on his analysis, Swanton needed to hold a total of $445,550 for its water utility, and that its actual projected escrow was $475,000.
On the sewer side, the best practices amount was just under $660,000 and the village’s projected escrow was $611,000, nearly reaching the recommendation.
“You’re the only community I’ve ever managed, been elected to, and/or done a rate study that you achieve best practices. Period. End of story,” Kline said. “You should pat yourselves on the back. I’m telling you; I’ve never ever seen this.”
He pointed out that his organization only completes analysis reports for communities with a population under 10,000, so it was an appropriate comparison.
“I can only compliment the administration, the council, and your operators as to how you’ve managed your utility,” he said, adding that even though the sewer side did not exceed the best practices level, “No one gets this close.”
Kline went on to say that he has spoken with his supervisor about using Swanton as an example for all other communities of how things should be done in all reports they make moving forward.
Despite the high praise, the combination of inflation and two major projects (the ongoing separation of the village’s combined sewer/stormwater system and an upcoming major overhaul at the water resource recovery facility) meant that Kline still recommended significant increases to the village’s water and sewer rates over the next several years.
Initially, Kline used a worst-case scenario example that recommended increases of 15 percent in 2024 and 2025, 7.5 percent in 2026 and 2027, and then back to the village’s standard annual increase of 5 percent in 2028.
Village Administrator Shannon Shulters and Finance Director Holden Benfield were able to deliver good news, however, indicating that the total cost for the project at the WRRF would be on the lower end of the range Kline was using for his estimates.
As a result, Kline updated his recommendations over days following the meeting to 12 percent in 2024, 10 percent in 2025, 8.5 percent in 2026, 7.5 percent in 2027, and 5 percent in 2028.
Later in the meeting, the council voted to accept the WRRF project bid from Peterson Construction of Wapokoneta at a cost of just over $7.1 million.
Any actual changes to the rates will first come before the council for discussion and voting before being implemented, and no prospective date for such a change was yet given.
The council began discussion on and passed on first reading a proposal to ban commercial cultivation or sale of marijuana anywhere in the village.
According to Mayor Neil Toeppe, the idea behind the proposed ordinance is to ensure the village retains strong control over any developments in the industry.
He said it would protect the village’s interests while the state legislature develops its own regulations, and that the ordinance could be revisited at that point and loosened to a level the council finds appropriate.
Council member David Pilliod shared his concern that while the ordinance barred the activity, it did not lay out what the punishment would be for violation and whether that was civil or criminal.
He was also concerned by at least one inaccuracy in the ordinance, which stated voters had passed a constitutional amendment allowing recreational marijuana. The measure was not a constitutional amendment.
Other members, while interested in regulating the business, were concerned the outright ban could stifle the industry to the point it wouldn’t consider Swanton even if the local regulations were later relaxed.
Its eventual passage on its first reading was based on an agreement among the council members that the village would do more research into the effects of the industry in various comparable small communities in Michigan with regard to issues like crime rates and tax revenue before the ordinance’s next reading.
The measure will require two more readings before it can receive final approval.
Shulters reported the village will not be holding a Christmas tree lighting event this year due to operational and maintenance challenges based on the size of the tree, which is now roughly 70 feet tall.
She said a new option – likely a newer, smaller tree – would be found for next year and that the holiday 5K would also be brought back.
The council voted to repeal ordinance 2015-27, which had created a land reutilization program which was not only never used but the structure of which was never created.
The repeal of the program, which they also voted to make final on its first reading, allows the village to instead utilize the Fulton County Land Reutilization Corporation (also known as the Fulton County Land Bank).
The council designated Council Member Mike Disbrow as its representative to the Fulton County Emergency Management Agency for 2024, replacing Council Member Derek Kania, who represented the village during 2023.
The council approved a setback variance for a Kierra Lane property which was a foot closer than allowed by regulations.
Both Fire Chief Cuyler Kepler and Police Chief John Trejo reported their staffing is now nearly full and that retention issues have been brought under control, with their employees seeming happy and with no signs of any upcoming departures.
Whereas there had been past challenges in that area and with many communities across the state and country having similar troubles, the council congratulated both chiefs on their accomplishment.
The council ended the public portion of the meeting by going into executive session for the purpose of “Preparing for, conducting, or reviewing negotiating sessions with any private, for-profit investment fund for the purpose of selecting a program administrator and entering into an agreement under section 150.05 of the Revised Code.” No action was taken as a result of the executive session.
The next meeting of the Swanton Village Council will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.