Niles City Council approves maintenance expenses, addresses concerns

NILES — Just hours after Michigan’s governor announced a stay at home order for the state that would take effect at midnight, the Niles City Council meeting convened in a different fashion than normal.

The regular Monday evening meeting was relocated to the Utilities Service Center building, where council members sat at their own tables to create a safer distance, and the audience members’ chairs were feet apart. A little chilly, the building sat with an ambulance parked inside. Two council members, Georgia Boggs and John DiCostanzo, donned face masks as precautionary measures, and Travis Timm attended the meeting remotely, with a microphone connecting him to the meeting, though his chair sat empty. The precautions were visible reminders that the COVID-19 pandemic had reached the state level.

The meeting proceeded as scheduled with attention to the agenda items.

City Administrator Ric Huff added an addendum to his report that would give the mayor the ability to declare a local emergency for more than seven days, if needed.

“At this moment in time, the staff does not feel that the emergency condition exists in our community yet,” Huff said.

“The request is to allow the mayor to declare a local emergency related to COVID-19, for a time period exceeding seven days and extending until the threat to the health and safety of the community ceases to exist,” reiterated Mayor Nick Shelton. The item was met with no discussion, and unanimously passed.

Council members were given their usual opportunity to give their own reports, and nearly all used the time to speak about the current events and their effects on the local community.

Council member Jessica Nelson used her report time to encourage Niles residents.

“This community is very strong as we have shown through the flood disaster and other times. We can come together when we need to, and I am glad to hear that it is not at a point where it is an emergency in our community,” Nelson said. “But if that need does arise, and we have to declare that, I know that we can work together. The impact of this pandemic is going to be, and is right now, a great challenge for all of our citizens and our businesses.”

She closed by reminding everyone “be smart and stay home.”

Council member Gretchen Bertschy reminded everyone to check their facts, especially when reading the news or social media posts, and to reach out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments for up to date, factual information.

“Please, before you go jumping on a crazy rumor, ask appropriately,” she said.

Council member Daniel VandenHeede echoed Bertschy’s sentiments of resisting the urge to share rumors and exaggerated posts.

“I think our fire marshall will tell you when you have a fire going, the first thing you do is you put the fire out, and then you look for the cause. Right?” VandenHeede said. “This is unprecedented for us, so everybody’s trying to find their way and do the best they can.”

In other news, the council members quickly passed all 12 items on the agenda, which included considerations for costs of vehicle maintenance and electronic door locks for Niles’ Dial A Ride Transportation, as well as considerations for approving costs of repairs and replacement of equipment at the Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Water Filtration Plant. Council members unanimously accepted and approved these measures.

The council also approved a ballot measure for the Aug. 4 election to include a $.50 millage for Niles Dial a Ride Transit. The millage would allocate $.50 per each tax-assessed $1,000 in property value to the service. Another item approved the purchase of 750 tons of bulk rock salt through MiDEAL for the next winter season.

Mayor Nick Shelton closed the meeting with comments about the community’s resilience.

“It’s during times of stress and struggle that one’s true character shows, and in the city of Niles, we are a resilient bunch,” he said. “I’m very proud of our community for taking care of each other during this difficult time, and I know we will continue to do that,” he said.