John Humphrey

John Humphrey during the Nov. 16 New Buffalo City Council Zoom meeting.

NEW BUFFALO — Shortly after three recently elected members were welcomed to the New Buffalo City Council on Monday, Nov. 16, one of them was chosen to be mayor.

Sworn in by Clerk Amy Filder at the start of the November regular meeting were Roger Lijewski (639 votes received in the Nov. 3 election), John Humphrey (452 votes) and Brian Flanagan (425). Also on the ballot were Karen Billingslea (369 votes), Mark Kroll (337) and Robert Spirito (277).

Lou O’Donnell IV then nominated Humphrey to be his successor as mayor (with Mark Robertson providing the second), and the vote was 5-0 in favor.

Lijewski was the choice as mayor pro tem.

At the end the meeting Humphrey said “This new City Council is a direct response of the will of a plurality of our public.”

“I know we all take these positions and these offices extremely seriously. I’m aware we’ve had our disagreements in the past, I think together we’ll work to find new compromise.”

Robertson and O’Donnell congratulated the council’s three new members.

“I feel like everyone here is professional enough to move forward and put everything behind us and do what’s in the best interest of the city,” O’Donnell said.

Joe Verlin of Gabridge & Company, PLC, delivered the city’s audit report, which he described as a “clean opinion on financial statements,” adding “this is the highest level of an opinion that we can provide.”

The audit report states that: At the close of the current fiscal year (June 30, 2020), the City’s governmental funds reported combined fund balances of $4,206,354, a decrease of $253,869 in comparison with the prior year. Approximately 46.5 percent of this amount ($1,872,953) is available for spending at the City’s discretion (unassigned fund balance). At the end of the current fiscal year, unassigned fund balance for the general fund was $1,872,953, or 66.3 percent of the general fund’s total expenditures and transfers out (Verlin later said this represents about eight months with of operating reserves).

The Government Finance Officers Association, in its best practices for Fund Balance Guidelines for the General Fund document, recommends that, at a minimum, unrestricted budgetary fund balance in their general fund shall be no less than two months of regular general fund operating revenues (or regular general fund operating expenditures). The City’s unassigned fund balance level is above this best practice benchmark as of year-end. Total fund balance of the general fund increased by $428,113 during the year for an ending total balance of $1,986,363.

Verlin said the city operated at a sustainable level in fiscal year 2020 with revenues exceeding expenditures. He said the $253,869 decrease in the fund balances was due to the expenditure of $1.2 million on paving projects and the Whittaker Street Bridge project which he said represent investments in the infrastructure that were reported as expenditures.

He also pointed out that the city’s sewer fund has been operating at a loss for multiple years while the water fund increased its cash inflow in the last fiscal year.

There also was discussion regarding issues related to a long-running billing dispute with the Galien River Sanitary District (which was finally settled in the city’s favor after a metering problem was discovered) and its lingering affects on the sewer fund.

Also on Nov. 16, a special meeting was set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, to discuss the proposed purchase of the Pleasure Isle Marina.

City Attorney Nick Curcio gave an overview of the situation, noting that the city has been discussing the possibility of purchasing a portion of the Pleasure Isle Marina property at 120 E Water St., which includes 26 boat slips and a two-unit condominium. It is being proposed that the city purchase the first-floor unit of the building from the William J. Deputy Foundation for $500,000 while also taking over the marina boat slip operation (the foundation would sell the second floor condo unit separately).

It was noted that the proposed purchase price of $500,000 represents a discount on the approximately $3 million market value of the marina, and the Foundation intends to claim a charitable donation tax benefit for selling the property (and is hoping to get that benefit for this year). The $500,000 purchase price would be paid in five annual installments, with the funds used to make the payments coming from boat slip leases.

Several council members said they had questions about the issue involving issues such as whether the purchase will work financially for the city and who will manage the property. Ultimately it was decided to hold the special meeting once attorneys have all the information on a proposed agreement ready.

In other Nov. 16 business, the City Council:

• Agreed to re-post the notice seeking applicants for the position of a Code Enforcement Officer with flexible hours at an hourly rate (20 to 40 hours a week based on seasonal requirements) and expanded duties and requirements (while keeping current applicants in the search).

“I think this position would pay for itself, especially with some of the things that are going on … between short-term rentals and various properties that have a lot of code issues,”Humphrey said.

• Agreed to continue the tradition of making a one-time payment to the city’s 29 full- and part-time employees at the beginning of the holiday season at a cost of $200 each.

• Appointed the following representatives from the council: Humphrey to the DDA; Robertson to the Cemetery Board (with Lijewski as the alternate); Flanagan on The Pokagon Fund Board; and Robertson to the LRSB Board (with Humphrey as alternate). A motion to re-appoint Pete Rahm to the DDA was tabled by a 3-2 vote with Humphrey, Lijewski and Flanagan voting yes.

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