Council’s Corner is a special feature of the Niles City
Newsletter and the Niles City Website.
This section will always feature thoughts, comments and remarks from your city representatives.
Going Local First
by Bruce Williams
4th Ward Council Member
In terms of the economy, it is my mission to communicate to the public the vital connection between the contributions of the locally owned independent businesses and the economic health of the community. Instinctively, we know that since local business owners live here, do their hiring here, operate their stores and offices here, contract out for ancillary services here, buy most of their supplies and products here, pay all their taxes here and spend their profits here; we also know that they contribute far more to our local economies than do chain stores or non-locally owned independent businesses. Although the economic benefits of "Going Local First" may be instinctively known, facts are helpful to support this instinctual knowledge. Several studies have quantified the connection between locally owned businesses and the health of the community.
The following pie chart makes it easier to understand the break-down of where the dollars you spend actually end up.
Source: "Local First West Michigan"
and "Civic Economics"
The difference in how much of $100 stayed in the local economy versus the non-local economy was due to four factors:
LOCAL PAYROLL - The locally owned businesses spent a larger share of their revenue on local labor, because they carried out all management functions on-site, rather than at a corporate headquarters.
PROCUREMENT - The local retailers spent more than twice as much buying goods and services from other local businesses. They banked locally, hired local accountants, attorneys, designers, and other professionals, advertised in local medias, and sourced
inventory from local businesses.
PROFITS - Because their owners live in the area, a larger portion of the local retailers' profits stayed within the local economy.
CHARITABLE GIVING - The local retailers donated more on average to local charities and community organizations than did chains.
Buying locally or "Going Local First" doesn't mean walling off the outside world. It does mean nurturing locally owned businesses that use local resources, employ local workers, and primarily serve local consumers. When purchases are made at locally owned rather than nationally owned businesses, the ripple of economic benefits that get sent through the community is called the "local premium." It is this local premium that keeps our community alive and well. I urge you all to consider Going Local First! Whenever you can, use your purchasing power locally first. . .
then watch our community grow!
by Daniel VandenHeede
Second Ward Council Member
For many years now I have been interested in how to live a "greener" lifestyle, and have pursued this avenue in my own household as well as looking at possibilities that our City could pursue. Going green means many things to different people, in this article I will focus on energy, alternative transportation, recycling, and buying local. I will show and give you examples of how this can be done at a personal level as well as at the community level. From my years of researching, practicing and educating people in green living one overriding theme has emerged,
is it cost effective? I will focus on green practices that are fairly easy to implement and can be cost effective.
First I would like to focus on energy. Anyone who pays the gas and electric bills can tell you that energy prices have been going through the roof in recent years. We are not immune from this in Niles as we have had to raise our electric, water and sewer rates several times in the past few years to keep up with our increasing costs for energy. Fortunately, this is an area that most people can make some fairly easy changes which will have a dramatic effect. I have cut my energy bill by over half in recent years (even with three teenagers in the house!) by doing a survey of our household usage and slowly changing our habits and equipment. When I moved into my house thirteen years ago I started switching over to compact fluorescent bulbs, and now nearly every fixture is using one. If you haven't tried using any of these lately, I highly recommend you give them a try; they have improved vastly over the years in both light quality and start up time. In addition to using about 1/3 the electricity as traditional bulbs they last much longer, in fact the two original ones I started with 13 years ago are still going! I
would caution to select CFLs with the energy star label as they seem to be a better quality and thus last longer.
Our family has added power strips to all our major electronics which we shut off when not in use to stop "standby" power losses which can add up to several hundred watts in a typical home. Other minor expenses that have paid for themselves many times over include a programmable thermostat, rain barrels for watering the garden, low flow showerheads and aerators, making sure to fix any plumbing leaks, low flush toilets, added insulation, and caulking and sealing every year to keep conditioned air inside the house. More major expenses, which we are happy with for the energy savings and other "green" aspects that may not be for everybody include energy star rated front loading washer and energy star rated dryer and freezer. If you need to replace appliances soon anyway, I recommend looking into these energy saving options. We have also experimented with solar energy and have installed solar space heating and solar hot water systems on our house; though the expense of these only makes sense (and cents!) once you have done all the energy efficiency things you can.
At the city government level, we have begun to replace bulbs with higher efficiency ones, started a process by which the council requests department heads to consider energy efficiency when recommending purchases instead of always looking at the lowest initial cost, and having the State Department of Energy come in and give us a free energy audit on all of our buildings. This energy audit has identified for us some of our biggest potential savings and has led us to the next step which we are progressing through right now, having a cost benefit analysis done so we can decide which projects will give us the most "bang for our buck". After this analysis is done we have the option of hiring a company to do selected energy improvements with a guarantee that the energy savings realized by the work will pay the payments on the bond.
Related to energy use is how we get around. One of my visions for Niles City government is to make us more pedestrian friendly so that it is easier and less dangerous for our citizens to get around by walking and biking. The trail project that our parks board has been planning is certainly part of this, but just as important is a way to get to the downtown and other areas of interest without having to get in the car. I would like to see a return of the sidewalk program that we had several years ago to improve our walks, improved crosswalks and eventually bike lanes or paths to access all parts of our city. Currently we have been working at reducing trip hazards on the sidewalks, planning trail extensions and
applying for grants to fund them, and we have added bike racks to downtown and park locations.
When cars are necessary to get around it pays to check out some energy efficient options available, especially with gas well over $3 dollars a gallon! Our family bought a hybrid car over two years ago (Toyota Prius) and have been getting nearly 50 miles per gallon, which at today's prices save us over $100 a month compared to our old car. At that rate it doesn't take long to make up the higher price of a hybrid. The city utility department recently purchased this
municipality’s first hybrid, a Ford Escape, which is used by a variety of employees for city business. If this proves to be a cost savings to the city (and thus the tax payers and rate payers) you can look for more Niles City hybrids on the streets.
Recycling is an Earth friendly activity that is hard to justify on a purely personal economic basis. In Niles your options for recycling are to pay extra to your trash service provider for curbside pickup (the city started requiring all trash services to at least offer the option several years ago), or drive your recyclables over to the landfill in Buchanan and sort them yourselves. Either option puts added costs and hassle on the homeowner who chooses to pursue them; which is why I have advocated for easier options from one or two centrally located recycling centers
within the city to prohibiting trash services from charging extra for recycling service.
Lastly, one of the more entertaining ways you can help the environment also helps our local economy; buying local. It is easy to see how taking the short drive (or walk, or bike ride) to our downtown can save gas money, but not many think of the environmental benefits. By burning less gas you are polluting less, but even more important many of the things you buy downtown are produced locally, saving the immense cost and environmental impact of shipping goods halfway around the world. This summer I encourage everyone to check out the French market downtown on Thursdays and Saturdays for many locally produced goods and farm fresh produce; and while you are there take a walk
downtown and check out some of our new shops, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
Volunteer in Your Community
by William Weimer
Third Ward Council Member
To begin my article I'd like to talk about a good friend who passed away recently. Mr. George May was 94 years old. He told me that he came
to Niles in 1933 by covered wagon. He had a wonderful record of volunteering for many different organizations.
George started out as a laborer and helped build the roads between Niles and Chicago. Eventually he settled down and began working in the
factory at Tyler's Refrigeration. After 40 years of devoted service to Tyler's he retired as a superintendent.
George was very active in volunteering throughout this community. He had a hand in or started many organizations around Barron Lake including a boy scout troop, he was the sole purchaser for the township for buying the property for Pepco Martin Park, he was a founding member of the Howard Township Fire Dept. and the Howard Township Little League. George was extremely active in his church; holding practically every position before he passed away including: Trustee, Deacon and Sunday School Superintendent. George participated in every "work day" that was held at church until well into his late 80s. Even though he couldn't do much physically, he would get a broom and sweep the sidewalk
or get a paint brush and do touch up painting or whatever was needed that he could do. George was a true volunteer.
George is a shining example for all of us and an inspiration to everyone who knew him. George reminded us all that we should volunteer to help our community grow. The South Bend Tribune printed a quote by Professor Steven A. Graham at the University of Indianapolis. The quote was in reference to how much volunteers affect our civic structure and our government and it reads, "The foundation of our democracy is a social contract between the government and the people. The government agrees to protect and promote the rights and interests of all of the people. The people in turn agree to support the government, not just by paying taxes, but also by participating in the civic culture. Without men and women volunteering to serve on school boards, town councils or planning commissions and without non-profit organizations that supplement the work of judicial, correctional, and social service agencies our democracy would not survive."
I had never heard the importance of volunteerism put that way before. But the quote is so very true. And at this time of very tight budgets or budget deficits at the state and local levels, we need all the volunteers we can get to help fill positions on boards and committees. The Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Board and many other civic committees need you. You may have a gift, the experience or knowledge that can be of benefit to our city. If you can, (we all can), make some contribution to your community simply by volunteering to assist in various avenues. You really need to find your niche with some form of volunteer effort that will help improve your own quality of life. I ask that you
please consider adding volunteerism to your "To Do" list.
There is a great need for extra hands in our community. There are organizations or agencies that have been formed for a specific need in our city. Mr. Tim Skalla, who sits on the Niles City Council, and his wife have formed a group called The Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery. Members of this group saw a need to help preserve the historical interests of our cemetery along with assisting with upgrades, maintenance and improvement of the cemetery. Mr. & Mrs. Skalla saw a need and apparently others have too since there have been over 30 people at each meeting to date.
The Niles City Council meetings that we have at the junior high school each year also brings to mind an incident regarding citizenship. A young man stood before us three or four years ago and asked us if we could possibly put in a skateboard park for the young folks to have something to do. We talked about this request and at that particular time we had some money that would become available, and by golly, by the next meeting at the junior high school the following year we were able to tell the kids that the skateboard park would be built. Many children enjoy using the skateboard park because one young man chose to speak up. Just think; if people would stand up and think about getting involved with their city, their government, and other avenues such as the Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and so many other worthy and essential organizations, how much better could we make our community? There are many groups in our community that need volunteers; people who care about
this community and about the upbringing of our young people.
There are just so, so many opportunities. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see more people pull away from the TV in the evening to attend a Planning Commission or Park Board meeting just to see if they like it and want to get involved with that particular board? Many boards have vacancies.
As we approach this summer season, please give some consideration to volunteering to help others and to help our community so that it is a better place to live. We need to all be like George May . . . . get involved and teach your children to be involved in the improvement of their
community. Thank you for your attention to these words. I look forward to addressing you again at another time.
by Patricia Gallagher
First Ward Council Member
Now that you are all grown up, what are some of your
memories as a child living in Niles? What memories will today’s
children have? Will those memories be similar to yours? Probably
Anyone can contribute to changing things in their
hometown and creating new memories for our children to look back on.
It took the efforts and the energy of several junior high students
to pressure the city fathers into building a skateboard park. It
probably took the efforts of many others with some grey in their
hair to push for free musical concerts in Riverfront Park.
Riverfront Park! Who could have imagined years ago
what beauty and fun lay hidden under years of neglect along the
river. The river had been a hiding place for trash, remember? Even
if you couldn’t see it instantly you could believe it was there. But
today, look at our wonderful Riverfront Park with it’s walking
paths, boat docks, play area for kids and especially the
Amphitheatre with free live concerts all through the summer.
Memories. There may still be someone in town who
remembers the Inter-urban, a self-propelled trolley like vehicle
that ran along Second Street here in Niles and traveled between
Benton Harbor and South Bend. Today we have Dial A Ride and the
Berrien Bus offering us ease of travel. And there is still a
passenger train, the Blue Water Line, which arrives and leaves our
historic Amtrak Depot and links Niles with Chicago, Detroit and Port
Huron. Remember the Fifth Street viaduct over the railroad tracks?
That was a thrill to drive in the winter time.
As you know, Niles lies in the St. Joseph River
Valley. I grew up in the Thornapple River Valley in a small
town known as Nashville, MI. When the noon train chugged into the
train station there it was greeted by a throng of kids. One time
even a circus train came through on its way to Grand Rapids. The
circus animals put on a show of sound that only they could make. It
was the buzz of the town for at least a week.
Nashville, unlike Niles, hasn’t changed very much.
The harness shop is long gone and so is the black smith. There was
some industry in town; the Lentz Table factory, a creamery, an
elevator where farmers took their grain and a mill where the water
wheel was an ongoing fascination, especially in the fall when the
apple crop was turned into cider. But overall, the look of Nashville
hasn’t changed much.
On the other hand, Niles has blossomed, faded and
again it is coming into full bloom. Downtown has a new “old” look
that you can see after the removal of the aluminum siding from the
buildings. Now that the original historical storefronts are unveiled
you can feel the change too. There has been so much improvement in
this city. Who knows what today’s children will remember as they
grow up and look fondly back at their hometown.
State of the City Address
by Michael T. McCauslin
Mayor of the City of Niles
City of Niles is looking to serve its citizens in a variety of ways.
However, how the city addresses the wants and
needs of the community largely depends on a very important factor —
"So much of it depends on what happens with the
State of Michigan," Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin said. "A lot of the
things we plan for and we want to do are certainly dependent on
funding we receive from the state."
That being said, the city council is still
looking for creative ways to improve the quality of life for Niles
In recent years, the city has accomplished a number of goals,
including the construction of the new fire station and the combined
law enforcement complex, the "Big Brown Take-down" — the removal of
the Kawneer siding from the downtown facades — the Streetscape
project and improvements to Riverfront Park to name a few.
McCauslin explained the city’s first duty is to provide required
services to Niles residents — police and fire protection, water,
sewer, street maintenance and plowing, etc. — followed by "quality
of life" services, such as improving and expanding parks.
"We have this core of basic services that we absolutely have to
provide," McCauslin said. "These are things that are important to
Since the primary services must be funded first and usually take
a large portion of the budget, funding for quality of life
improvements can be squeezed in, especially during times when the
state cuts back revenue sharing. Unfortunately, the coming years may
bring such cutbacks from Lansing.
"The news we have received so far out of Lansing is not great,"
McCauslin said. "It’s certainly not what we would hope for, but on
the other hand, it’s not unexpected."
In these tight budgetary times, the city is looking to
alternative sources of funding in order to provide more quality of
life improvements, such as through grants, loans and even the sale
of city property.
"The goal is to try to take advantage of grant money when we
can," Niles City Administrator Terry Eull said.
McCauslin said the city actively seeks grant money to fund
projects, such as the Streetscape project and the downtown
revitalization. However, he said the use of grant money can lead
some people to believe the city is only focusing on certain
"People see that we’re spending $100,000 or $200,000 on a
specific project … and they say ‘Our needs are greater in this
area,’" McCauslin said. "I don’t necessarily argue with that at all,
but we are really bound by the grant." He added the use of grant
money is dictated by the grant itself and cannot be diverted to
Although the city may be limited in how it can spend some of the
funding it receives, McCauslin said of the approximately $30 million
received for construction and other improvements in recent years,
only about $1 million of that total came from local taxes.
Large-scale improvements are typically paid for by use of bonds,
such as for the water system improvements and the sewer system
upgrades. These bonds are then usually passed on to the customers
through rate increases.
In 2007, the city council approved an $11.9 million sewer
system upgrade, which will entail a 67 percent increase in sewer
rates for city residents. However, this rate increase, McCauslin
said, will be spread out through the next decade.
"I think people in the community understand that you can’t remain
static," McCauslin said. "You’ve got to continue to make
improvements to the systems that you have to maintain them in good
The city is also looking to sell the Kawneer Building on Front
Street between the new Niles-Buchanan YMCA facility and the South
County Building, as well as the old public safety building located
on Third Street. McCauslin said the council is interested in using
the proceeds from the sale of the Kawneer Building to pay for
improvements at Niles City Hall.
McCauslin added the city is open to all proposals from buyers,
saying they have no particular type of business in mind to purchase
the Kawneer Building. He added, however, the city would like to see
some manner of housing development on the property where the public
safety building now stands in order to increase foot traffic
"Niles is really poised for some great things to happen in the
relatively near future," McCauslin said, adding the increased
private development is demonstrating the city is healthy. He also
pointed to the number of people — including people from Indiana —
who are coming to the downtown to visit Niles businesses, such as
the Wonderland movie theater.
Whether or not the state’s financial situation improves, the city
council still is looking at every opportunity to better Niles —
particularly through frugal spending.
"The city … has always been a very fiscally conservative
community," McCauslin said. "We don’t waste money. We squeeze every
penny out of a dollar." He credited the city’s staff for not only
keeping costs down, but for also finding ways to accomplish new
projects — like the Streetscape and the Hunter Ice Festival — while
having a limited budget.
"Our role [as a council] is to set policy and direction,"
McCauslin said. "[There are] a number of directives from the council
to the city staff to find ways to make the things we would like to
see or the things we would like to do [and] find ways to make them