Provisional marijuana processing license, telecommuting policy approved

NILES — At the Niles City Council meeting on Monday evening, a discussion about benefits to the city proceeded, as another new company filed for its provisional medical marijuana facility Class A Adult Use Grow and Processing license.

The city also added an addendum to its city personnel manual to give more clarity to its telecommuting policy and pandemic response. Two new firefighters were also sworn into the Niles Fire Department at the meeting.

During the city council meeting, hosted both virtually and at the Niles Utilities Service Center, the council discussed and passed a provisional medical marijuana facility license for a Class A Adult use grow and processing license to Pachyderm Farms. The motion was passed with a six to one vote, with city council member Daniel VandenHeede not present, and Georgia Boggs voting “no.”

Prior to the discussion of the topic, council member Georgia Boggs motioned for a discussion about marijuana businesses in Niles and questioned marijuana businesses’ benefit to the community.

“How much revenue have we accumulated since we [brought in] marijuana [businesses]?” Boss asked.

City Administrator Ric Huff answered the benefit from the tax revenue has been zero.

“We do collection the application fees, which is a $5,000 fee to help offset the costs of inspections, the process of issuing licenses and the fire department’s inspections of the properties,” Huff said. “From a taxing standpoint, we won’t see any revenue for at least another two years.”

Council member John DiCostanzo said there had been different benefits to the community from marijuana businesses being allowed and coming to Niles.

“There other means of revenue,” DiCostanzo said. “The regular property taxes, and we have growth and employment in the community. We are selling more utilities. The total picture is not just the marijuana tax.”

According to Huff, marijuana-based businesses have brought about 155 new jobs to the Niles area. He expected that to grow by nearly another 100 by the end of next year.

“There is about $16.3 million in investments that is being made [in these businesses], and about $6 million that is pending,” Huff said.

Mayor Nick Shelton also commented on the discussion, stating that when Niles decided to be a community that allowed marijuana businesses, city leaders had wanted to do it the best way possible for the city.
I want to thank those who have businesses who want to invest in Niles,” Shelton said. “I think this has been terrific for our city so far, especially when the city reaches the point when we receive tax revenues. We are receiving a utility benefit. We are seeing jobs coming to the community and we are seeing properties that were underutilized now being used. I think this is a benefit to our community.”

The next item on the agenda included adding a telecommuting policy to the Niles city personnel manual.

“In previous years, there were very rare instances of employees telecommuting,” the agenda background item, which was prepared by Huff, said. “These instances were dealt with on a case by case basis. Early into this year’s pandemic employees were allowed to telecommute as necessary. As the second impact of the pandemic is taking place, Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services have made it clear that telecommuting should be priority unless the employee’s job cannot be completed in this fashion.”

Currently in effect, since Oct. 14, is a MiOSHA COVID-19 Emergency Rules that includes that “the employer shall create a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely.”

Council member DiCostanzo said he thought the addendum was important and necessary, but questioned the costs incurred by remote work, safety of information technology workers who he wondered if had to go to worker’s homes, and about data security.

Huff said the technology had been on the list to be upgraded, but had been moved up in urgency by the conditions of the pandemic. He said the city and IT departments had worked to be able to address IT issues remotely, and that their data security was not a concern at this time. The motion passed unanimously to add the plan to the city personnel manual.

Finally, during the meeting two firefighters were sworn into the Niles Fire Department. They were presented by Public Safety Officer Jim Millin, and Niles City Clerk Linda Casperson led them through the Oath of Office. By the end, Tyler Fisher and Evan Albers were sworn in as full-time firefighters for the Niles Fire Department.

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