By Ralph Echtinaw
City council voted unanimously Tuesday to enact an ordinance prohibiting the establishment of stores that deal in recreational or medical marijuana.
St. Louis resident Walter “Shady” Seyka, 69, provided the lone voice against the ordinance. At one point he passed out marijuana cigarettes to everyone on the dais except Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr.
“I will not touch that,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Melissa Allen. “Please do not leave it.”
“I’m just going to throw it in the wastepaper basket,” said Councilman Jerry Church. “You better take it with you.”
Mayor James Kelly threw his gift on the floor.
Seyka retrieved all the joints before he left.
“You allow alcohol establishments here,” Seyka said. “Alcohol has been killing people for years. Marijuana hasn’t killed anybody.”
Church told Seyka about three people who contacted him about the issue. “One woman says her husband has arthritis, and (marijuana) helps him a lot.” Another caller said her husband has cancer, and the marijuana “helped him tremendously. But by the same token, another person called me and said her grandson was under the influence of it and got in a terrible accident and killed some people. The council here is trying to do what’s best for the city. I’ve never used it. I don’t know what it’s all about. But you get started on it and you’ve gotta have something stronger.”
Seyka replied, saying “the gate leads both ways, (marijuana) helps people get off narcotics, too.”
Councilman Tom Reed had this to say: “We’re not stopping you from smoking marijuana. You can smoke it all you want to.”
“It’s helped me a lot,” Seyka said. “I haven’t had any narcotics in ten years.” Seyka told council about the time he was busted for pot. “They took my marijuana away, put me on probation, took my driver’s license for a year and made me go to drug counseling. The receptionist at drug counseling was dying of breast cancer. Chemotherapy was killing her. I looked her in the eye and said, ‘I can help you but I can’t.’ It broke my heart. I gave the probation office seven different narcotics. I said ‘Once you took my marijuana away I went to the doctor and this is what he gave me.’”
Allen thanked Seyka for his input: “I do appreciate you taking the time to come down and share your views.”
Retired St. Louis firefighter Ron Salladay was the sole citizen to speak in favor of the ordinance. “I’ve seen where we’ve had people that have got hooked on marijuana and stuff like that and went on to worse drugs,” he said. “I’ve been at a lot of medical scenes where people have overdosed and died. I just want to say I very much support not having anything like this in our city. I don’t know why on earth people voted for it, because all it does is lead to harder stuff. I don’t believe in alcohol either.”
Kelly noted that the law is unsettled when it comes to legal recreational marijuana. “We’ve gone to several seminars on this subject, and the more you listen the more confused you are,” he said.
Chief Ramereiz said that for the next four or five years no city that permits retail marijuana stores will see any tax revenue, which will go solely to state government.
Ramereiz went on to say that a lack of marijuana stores in St. Louis won’t prevent anyone who wants to use marijuana from getting it. “There’s an abundance of marijuana in this community,” he said. “You can’t drive around any city without smelling the odor of marijuana. To say it’s not easy to get is a false statement. It is easy to get because it’s everywhere.”
Ramereiz is opposed to the recreational use of marijuana but supports medical use. “For those who are using it personally, they just want to have it, I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. For those that have cancer, or a terminal disease, smoke all you want. I have no problem with that whatsoever.”
The ordinance takes effect on May 2 but can be rescinded at such time that the law is more settled and regulations governing the retail sale of marijuana have been written.
“There are no good rules in place because of that ballot initiative,” said Councilman George T. Kubin in March. “So we’ve been really skeptical. We should just opt out of it until better rules are in place. Maybe in the future the ordinance could be rescinded if it needs to be.”
Council voted to hire Wards Excavating of St. Louis to make sewer repairs on a line 12 feet below the parking spaces on the west side of North Mill Street near Main Street Pizza. The contract pays Wards Excavating up to $15,000.
Public Services Director Keith Risdon said review of sewer video revealed the fractured vitrified clay pipe in that location.
Video sewer surveillance also showed lines in need of repair on Saginaw and Bankston streets, but those will have to wait for the next fiscal year (beginning July 1), Risdon said. Wards Excavating estimated $15,000 will be required for those repairs.
Repair of all three sewer pipes was going to be done in the next fiscal year, but the sale of the 131 N. Mill Street building to Gemini Capital Management of Breckenridge and subsequent plans to renovate the upstairs for apartments led Risdon to recommend that the Mill Street sewer repair be done as soon as possible so as not to interfere with the apartment construction.
Another factor is DPW Superintendent Mark Abbott’s tentative plan to repave North Mill Street. “He is trying to set up a meeting with a local asphalt contractor to discuss the possibility of moving that work ahead into the current budget year,” Risdon explained via email. “If all the pieces come together, Mark would need to get that work completed by July 1. While this is all speculation at this point, Mark is working to see if he can make it happen. If we were to wait on this (sewer) repair until a decision was made as to whether it was feasible to get the paving done, we might not be able to get the repair done, or it might cost more due to accelerating the work around Ward’s construction schedule. We felt it was better to get the North Mill Street repair done so that it wouldn’t be an impediment to moving ahead with an overlay if possible.”
City Manager Kurt Giles told council that the cost to homeowners for recycling will likely increase by 65 cents per month for each of the city’s 1,160 recycling customers. “Republic Services will begin receiving these charges on April 22nd,” Giles said via email. “If Alma and St. Louis are both agreeable to this approach, I expect Republic will pass those charges along immediately. For the customers in St. Louis, I anticipate we will recommend rate adjustments in a resolution to be adopted for the upcoming fiscal year (starting July 1st).”
SEWER PUMP STATION
Council voted to pay the Spicer Group up to $72,000 to examine a troublesome sanitary sewer pump station that serves the state prison and recommend rehabilitation or replacement.
The prison pump station and screening building, constructed in 1998, has been a problem for almost as long as it has existed.
“The current pump station has been experiencing a number of problems over the years,” Risdon wrote in an email. “A large amount of grease and other material gets to the station from the prison facility. There is a bar screen…in the station to intercept debris that gets flushed so the material doesn’t clog the pumps. The screen has been an ongoing maintenance problem. The high amount of debris causes it to clog, resulting in backups. In the past, the city had every other screening bar removed in order to reduce the clogs which then resulted in more debris reaching the pumps, causing them to clog.
“Also, these pumps are not variable speed pumps, so when they come on, the wastewater treatment plant experiences a ‘slug’ flow of sewage which causes problems at the treatment plant. The equipment which clears the rack of the debris has been overheating and stopping, so we have had to manually reset the equipment numerous times.
“Now the electronics information system (SCADA) has failed and due to its age is no longer covered by any maintenance programs. This affects the monitoring and metering of the flows being sent to the wastewater treatment plant. We had a similar problem with the SCADA system at our Union Street Pump Station and had to install a new system. This will need to be done at the prison pump station.
“Because these issues are all coming to a head at this time, we felt that it was necessary to have the engineer look at the issues and make a recommendation to either rehab or rebuild. Due to the constraints of the current pump station facility, a rehab does not seem feasible.”
The Michigan Department of Corrections has reimbursed St. Louis for prison pump station expenses in the past, Risdon said.
Council voted to name Dawn D. McKay, 60, of Ithaca to the Housing Commission, which oversees 80 subsidized, low-income apartments near the water tower and off Euclid Street south of M46. McKay was a resident at one of these apartments from October 2014 to November 2018. She is currently employed by Clover Technologies of Ithaca. “I would like to serve and show my appreciation for the help that I was able to receive from the St. Louis Housing Commission!!” McKay wrote in her application. “Having previously been a voucher recipient and working person I think that a fresh set of eyes on the commission could help. I am a very positive, hard working and determined person.”
The Housing Commission’s funding comes from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. St. Louis has nothing more to do with it than appointing board members.
The Housing Commission also supervises a HUD Section Eight program that subsidizes the rent for low-income people who live in apartments, trailers and houses all around Gratiot County.
There are two open seats on city council this year, as Jerry Church and Melissa Allen have chosen not to seek reelection.
If you would like to get your name on the ballot you can pick up petitions at city hall. You will need 26 signatures of registered voters who live in the city on your petition to get on the ballot. However, City Clerk Mari Anne Ryder recommends getting 30 signatures to be safe, as some may turn out to live outside the city limits or not be registered voters.
The filing deadline is 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 23.
To date, six people have pulled petitions, Ryder said. These include Bill Leonard, 73, Don Dean, 70, and this reporter, 59. Only Leonard has turned his petitions in so far, Ryder said.
The position of mayor is on the ballot this year, too. Mayor James C. Kelly is running for re-election, so far unopposed.
Council members are paid $700 per year and $35 per meeting.