NEW BUFFALO—The New Buffalo City Council at its July 15 regular meeting approved first readings of two ordinances. The votes begin the process of reorganizing three longtime city panels.

Ordinance 242 passed its first hurdle, passing by a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Pro-Tem Elizabeth Ennis voting no, to combine the reportedly dormant Park Board with the more active Harbor Commission.

Ordinance 243 calls for reducing the Planning Commission to five members — a panel that in recent years had as many as nine members, before being reduced to seven. That ordinance saw a 5-0 vote for its first reading.

While the second and final readings of both ordinances are expected to take place at next month’s regular meeting, this reorganization is borne of an apparent decline in public interest in serving in city government.

“We have a park board, but it does not meet,” City Manager David Richards noted during the “new business” part of the July 15 meeting, in explaining why that board’s merger with the Harbor Commission is being sought.

“What strikes me about this is that we’re closing in, rather than opening up, for citizen participation,” Ennis remarked, lamenting what appears to be dwindling local participation in civic affairs. She also underscored the need to “seek out people in this community who seem to have opinions about a lot of things, but they don’t seem to want to step up . . .”

Ennis wondered if there’s enough publicity to alert people to volunteer openings on city panels. “Maybe there’s something more we should be doing,” she said.

As for the Planning Commission, it went from nine to seven members two years ago and two planner’s terms have expired, Richards told the Council, whose members attributed the contemplated Planning Commission changes to the same perceived lack of public interest.

In another matter, the City Council granted Tri-County Head Start — the federally-funded children’s education program for infants to age 5 that began in 1972 — a special use permit to set up another of its facilities at the former St. Mary of the Lake School at 704 W. Merchant Street.

Under the permit, Head Start will employ six people at the New Buffalo facility, which will operate Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The City Council approved the new facility on a recommendation from the Planning Commission from a July 9 public hearing, at which no public comment was received.

Richards said this is a non-budgeted item that constitutes no costs to the city. Chanda Hillman, executive director of the Tri-County Head Start office, based in Paw Paw, told Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV that the facility will serve children from within and outside New Buffalo.

Hillman added that Head Start provides a “curriculum-based program” and is not “just a child care center.” She also said it includes kids in foster care, those defined as “homeless” and those within government-defined “poverty” guidelines.

In another matter, resident Sharon Goldman, accompanied by her husband, Neil, addressed the council during public comment about deteriorating sections of pavement on Marquette Drive a few hundred feet beyond the beach where the lakefront residential area starts.

Just after the meeting adjourned, she explained that she feels the city has “washed its hands” of regulating the maintenance of Marquette Drive. So, she is pressing for city intervention to ensure that the street’s surface is repaired. She showed photos of the asphalt wearing off the street’s concrete foundation, with that concrete splitting and becoming significantly disfigured.

During public comment, she read from Article 3, Section 3-23 of the city’s zoning ordinance as follows: “The City determines that it is in the best interest of the public health, safety and welfare to regulate the construction, improvement, extension, relocation, and use of private streets. These provisions have been enacted to assure that private streets . . . will be designed and constructed with width, surface and grade to assure safe passage and maneuverability of private vehicles, police, fire. ambulance and other safety vehicles.”

Goldman told O’Donnell that the affected homes are in the “600 block” of Marquette Drive within city limits and that the drive evidently doesn’t enter New Buffalo Township until it reaches the “Riviera” section, from which she concluded that, in her view, the city needs to take action.

Notably, the ordinance also stipulates, “All costs for maintenance and repair of the private street shall be the responsibility of the property owners or any property owners’ association served by the private street.”

“What you’re asking from us is to enforce the ordinance?” O’Donnell asked.

“That’s correct . . .” Mrs. Goldman replied.

“For anybody walking on that street, it’s dangerous,” she added, which O’Donnell acknowledged. Mrs. Goldman later said she’s concerned about bicyclists’ safety as well.

Also on July 15, the council voted 5-0 to spend $484,060 for the Mechanic Street Water Replacement project. The lower bidder was Woodruff & Sons Inc. of Michigan City.

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