Cell tower issue tabled

Published 11:09 pm Monday, January 24, 2011

There is no doubt the city of Niles is ready to sell the lease of the cell phone tower on Cherry Street, but debate over whether the Utilities Department should see more of the money from the sale has slowed the process.

The 160-foot tower is owned by U.S. Cellular Corp., which leases the property from the city. The lease nearly switched last year when the Niles City council voted 5-3 to sell the lease to Unison out of New York. But when Unison attorneys decided a “super majority” (six votes) of the council was necessary to make the sale official, the deal was nixed.

On Monday, the council considered a recommendation from City Administrator Terry Eull to sell the lease to AP Wireless LLC out of New York for $114,800 plus 75 percent of all future revenues. AP Wireless did not need a super majority vote to make the sale official.

The recommendation also included that all initial proceeds from the sale would go toward repairs at City Hall with any future revenues generated to go to the water division of the City Utilities Department. The water division currently receives the lease payments of about $1,135 a month.

The resolution didn’t pass, falling by a 4-3 vote with council members Tim Skalla, Betty Arndt, Dan VandenHeede and Pat Gallagher voting against it.

Before the vote, Bill Gallagher, who sits on the Utilities Board, urged council members to vote against the measure because it takes away from the water division, which he argued desperately needs to replace more than 20 miles of water mains.

“The main reason for all the water main breaks is the old age,” he said.

Gallagher also volunteered to help start a fundraising campaign to fund repairs to City Hall, so the council wouldn’t have to take the money from the sale of the lease.

Council members Skalla, Arndt and VandenHeede agreed, arguing the city council already takes enough money from utilities and puts it into the general fund.

“It’s gotten to the point that they (the Utilities Department) don’t have a chance to be generous, because we take it before they can offer it,” VandenHeede said.

Mayor Mike McCauslin and Eull argued the city will need the ability to take money from the utilities department to put in the general fund or it could mean the loss of many jobs at the city.

Eull said he expects a “severe cut in revenue sharing” from the state this year, so without the ability to move funds from utilities to the general fund, “massive layoffs” could result.

Near the end of the meeting, Skalla made a motion to accept Eull’s recommendation to sell the lease to AP Wireless with the stipulation that the city does not take any more money from the Utilities Department outside of the 7 percent it takes from electric revenue.

But before a vote could be made on the motion, council member Pat Gallagher made a motion to table the issue, which passed. Gallagher wanted more information about the future budget before making a decision on the issue.

Also on Monday, the council voted unanimously to post the job opening for city administrator internally. Eull will retire at the end of September.