Niles City Council discusses COVID-19 funding

NILES — On Monday evening, the Niles City Council met virtually for its second monthly meeting. With all city council members present, the Zoom platform was used to include the public as each council member resided in their own home.

The agenda included approving a request to schedule a public hearing at 5:55 p.m. on Monday, May 11. This request was made so that citizens may comment on a Proposed Substantial Amendment to the Program Year 2019 Community Development Block Grant Funds, allocating funds for COVID-19 related relief for community members.

The request was passed unanimously, and public comments will be invited to be heard about the CDBG funding.

A presentation following the regular city council meeting, with all members present, showed the plans to be considered at the next city council meeting on May 11.  The presentation by community development director Sanya Vitale outlined how the city is planning to use $220,057.  The funding includes $170,057 from the CDBG-COVID fund, and $50,000 left over from last year’s budget, for utility, housing and food assistance, with $20,057 set aside for administration as a part-time worker has been promoted to full-time to assist with city needs.

The utility assistance is proposed to ease the burden of utility payments for those with incomes adversely affected by COVID-19.

“For the housing assistance program, because that will be new, we are getting ready to prepare those types of housing guidelines,” Vitale said. “Generally speaking, you have to be a Niles resident in order to quality for our programs, that’s a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requirement. You have to be low income, and you have to be impacted by the COVID crisis.”

According to Vitale, the guidelines are being written currently for low-income residents who may qualify housing assistance.

Council member Gretchen Bertschy inquired to the state of city utilities. Shut offs due to lack of payment have been suspended in Michigan since Executive Order No. 2020-28 was handed down at the end of March.

“We are actually getting a better response than we thought we would,” said Ric Huff, city administrator. “Most utilities are experiencing 50 percent losses right now.”

The proposed fund allocations for the CDBG funds will be made accessible to the public by the city of Niles on Friday, May 1.

Council member John DiCostanzo expressed his continued frustration with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the city needs to take some immediate action to cut expenses,” DiCostanzo said. “We’re going to lose a significant amount of revenue. We need to look at what expenses and services can be cut to protect our budget and be able to balance our budget.”

Also Monday, the city council approved the emergency purchase of an additional election tabulator. The city of Niles was approved for a cost-sharing fund from the Michigan Bureau of Elections for municipalities that did not have Absent Voter Counting Boards. The tabulator will assist in processing absentee ballots. The cost-sharing granted to the city brings the tabulator’s cost from $5,295 down to $2,650, which will come from the city’s election supplies budget.

The city council meeting also approved the demolition of foreclosure property at 714 N. Fifth St.