Niles leaders discuss pickleball courts, trail extension, spray pad
By DEBRA HAIGHT
Special to the Niles Daily Star
Spring is finally here, and with it comes lots of new projects in the City of Four Flags.
Niles City Council tackled several issues at its meeting Monday night, from approving new recreation and downtown development plans to hearing the audit report for the 2015 fiscal year and giving the go ahead during this year’s farmer’s market. Members also received an update on local pickleball plans.
The new parks and recreation plan approved Monday will serve as a blueprint for future projects during the next five years. It is also necessary to have in place for the city to apply for state grants for the acquisition or development of new parks.
The city will be applying for a grant this year to extend the downtown riverfront trail system to the west side of the river. A public hearing for the grant application will be hosted by the city’s parks board at 5 p.m. March 22, at the city fire station. The council will then formally vote to apply for the grant on March 28.
The trail extension project is expected to cost $500,000. The city is applying for $220,000 in state grants and will match it with $250,000 from private sources and $30,000 from its own funds. It would extend the riverfront trail that is on the east side of the river to the west side between the Main Street and Broadway bridges in the downtown area.
As for the new parks and recreation plan, it covers a variety of possible projects such as creating dog parks, a future spray park and pickleball courts at locations around the city.
Parks board chairwoman Cindy Cataldo reported to the council Monday on her board’s recommendation on one of those projects: the creation of pickleball courts. Cataldo said the parks board would like to see pickleball courts built at the Tyler Sports Complex on Lake Street.
The Tyler Sports Complex was established a year or so ago after Tyler Refrigeration closed down and the buildings were demolished. The complex currently has softball and baseball fields in place and has space for other activities such as the pickleball courts.
Cataldo said the parks board has estimated that it could cost as much as $70,000 to build six pickleball courts. She noted that other area communities are also talking about building pickleball courts and she doesn’t want to see Niles left behind.
“We hope it will bring more people to Niles,” she said.
Also Monday, council members approved the Niles PlacePlan which was developed over the last year by consultants from the Michigan Municipal League, Nederveld and Associates and Williams and Works who worked with city officials, business owners and interested citizens to develop the plan.
City residents will get the chance to hear more about the plan at a presentation April 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Niles Law Enforcement Complex, 1600 Silverbrook Ave. The focus of the plan was to offer suggestions on how to transform three underdeveloped city-owned properties near the downtown.
Council member Dan VandenHeede was the only council member to comment on the two plans.
“If we could do everything in there (both plans), it would be pretty amazing,” he said.
Also Monday, council members approved this year’s farmer’s market season. It will run on Thursdays from May 19 to Sept. 29 with hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day with added evening hours on the third Thursday of June, July and August.
The market will be back in its traditional location on the edge of the parking lot near the intersection of Main and Front Streets and traditional day. The market was located in the lower Lakeland Hospital parking lot on Fridays last year with the Main Street bridge work being done.
Lisa Croteau, director of the Downtown Development Authority said there might be an additional farmer’s market opportunity for local residents if the Niles YMCA follows through with plans to host a market on Saturday mornings at the Y on North Front Street.
Auditor Bill Tucker of Abraham & Gaffney, P.C. presented the city’s audit for the 2015 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. He said the city received a clean, unqualified opinion. The city’s general fund ended the year with a $30,508 surplus on $6.99 million in expenditures.
Revenue had been budgeted to be $5.55 million and ended up at $5.57 million. Expenditures had been budgeted to be $7.24 million and ended up being $6.99 million. With transfers in, primarily from the Utilities Department, the budget deficit ended up being a surplus.
Tucker said the general fund ended the year with a $2.49 million fund balance which is 35 percent of expenditures. He said that percentage is higher than last year when the fund balance was at 26 percent of expenditures. He said he advises municipalities and other public entities to have a fund balance that is at least 15 to 20 percent of expenditures.