Niles City Council denies Ring Lardner marker replacement due to price tag

NILES — A historical marker will not be getting city funding, following a Monday vote.

The Niles City Council denied a consideration five to two to approve the purchase and installation of the historical marker that previously sat in front of the Ring Lardner house in Niles. The council also approved moving forward with utilities expenditures write-offs on uncollectable accounts, as well as approved a grant to put a new roof on a township resident’s home.

Council members Jessica Nelson and Georgia Boggs were the only two council members voting in favor to replace the historical marker at the proposed price of $3,480, plus installation fees, on Monday evening. Five voted against, with council member Charlie McAfee absent from the meeting.

The historical marker that sat outside of 519 Bond St., the Ring Lardner home, was damaged in microburst storms the Niles area experienced in late August. According to Niles City Administrator Ric Huff’s report, the Michigan History Center does not fund replacements of historical markers. The marker originally sat on city property, rather than the homeowner’s property, so the expense has been allocated to the city.

“I have some concerns about this expenditure, being that the homeowners are unwilling to have it on their property and be responsible for it,” council member John DiCostanzo said. “I’m not sure that the city needs to take responsibility for this.”

DiCostanzo said Lardner was a notable author from a wealthy family in Niles. He questioned the benefits the city reaped from having the marker in place, and proposed marking it with a less expensive historical marker.

“I would think at this point in time, just putting a simple historical marker and a [QR] code where you can access the information from a website would be sufficient,” DiCostanzo said.

He also expressed concern about Bond Street being treelined, and the sign potentially needing replaced again in the near future.

Mayor Nick Shelton echoed some of DiCostanzo’s concerns in comments, but could not vote on the matter.

“It seems we have a few of these markers around the city,” Shelton said. “There’s one in front of Chapin Mansion, Ferry Street Resource Center and the Dodge brothers home. They still stand, and they’ve been up for years and years. I think there’s something to having these historical markers displayed, but I sort of echo council member DiCostanzo that this seems like a heavy price tag for something like this.”

Earlier in the meeting, the council approved the Niles utilities write-off report for 2020. The loss of $22,626 to the electric, water and wastewater divisions will continue to be attempted to be collected by debt collection agencies, but the city’s collection efforts themselves will cease at this time.

“Over the year, the city of Niles utilities [department] has customer accounts that are uncollectable,” Huff’s report said. “In recent years, city staff have made great strides in the collection and utility bill assistance processes. Past years have experienced uncollectable totals exceeding $40,000.”

This year’s uncollectable total was lessened due to utility assistance related to COVID-19, and “the staff’s persistent collection activities.”

Huff said these account holders will not be able to activate future service until the debt is cleared.

The city council also approved the use of Help for Homes funds to install a new roof for a resident in the 2000 block of E. Main St. in Niles township. The funds are available to be used outside of the city for residents. The grant came from the Michigan Gateway Foundation, and the Help for Homes project seeks to maintain the quality of a home to keep residents in their homes, according to the report prepared by Sanya Vitale, Niles community development director.

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