Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Talk Living Wages For Staff, Relief Measures For Businesses

By Beth Milligan | April 6, 2020

Traverse City commissioners will discuss several proposals tonight (Monday) that could offer relief to certain businesses and city employees during the pandemic, including establishing a “living wage” for city employees and subcontractors, extending the deadline by which medical marijuana retail dispensaries must open or lose their permits, and delaying lease payments owed by several downtown businesses.

Commissioner Ashlea Walter has requested the board discuss establishing a living wage for all city employees of at least $15 per hour effective January 1, 2021.  The minimum wage in Michigan is $9.65 per hour. Commissioners had previously discussed the idea of raising all city staff to a certain payment level – most employees are already at a $15 or higher level, according to administration, with the exception of some temporary and seasonal workers – and were set to discuss the idea as part of this spring’s budget planning process. But Walter requested the item be discussed tonight ahead of budget talks, and is also suggesting the proposal go beyond city staff to include employees of any companies that contract with the city.

“We talk a lot about our affordable housing challenges, and have taken some action to address this...but the other important component over which we have some control related to our local economy and quality of life for our community is with wages and the opportunity we have to support our community’s basic needs including shelter, clothing, and food,” Walter wrote in a memo to commissioners. “Although we are not allowed by the state of Michigan to enact a living wage requirement across the city, we can create a policy to ensure that the City of Traverse City compensates its own workers and city contractors with whom we engage, at least a living wage of $15/hour.”

Walter’s proposal would direct staff to present a fiscal impact analysis of adopting a living wage resolution no later than May 4. Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe says she is supportive of discussing a living wage and was anticipating having those conversations as part of the budget discussion. She believes there is the “political will” among commissioners to approve such a measure in the 2020-21 budget. However, Shamroe is skeptical about Walter’s proposal to extend the resolution to include all city contractors, saying it could severely impact bids on city projects.

“Most private businesses do not want to open their books to the public, and that is what we would be asking them to do,” Shamroe says. “They would have the option to just not bid. We are not Ann Arbor, and are not surrounded by contractors competing for our work. Adding this could very well result in no bids (for city projects).” Shamroe adds she’s also concerned about heaping “additional work on our already overworked staff” by adding wage requirement stipulations and review processes to all city contracts. Commissioners tonight will have the option to either take action immediately on Walter’s resolution or carry discussions over into budget hearings, which are typically held throughout May, with a final budget approved in early June.

Commissioners tonight will also consider adopting a resolution extending the May 6 deadline by which 13 medical marijuana dispensaries are required to open their doors or lose their city permits. Two of the dispensaries have already opened – Highly Cannaco on Munson Avenue and The Cured Leaf on Garfield Avenue – but the remaining 11 are in various stages of construction, permitting, or preparation for opening. According to City Clerk Benjamin Marentette, it appeared that as of March 24 at least three of those applicants were going to miss the May 6 deadline; with the pandemic limiting construction and permitting processes, he anticipates even more openings could be delayed. Commissioners will consider extending the deadline to August 6, provided a company’s delayed opening is caused by factors “truly outside of the applicant’s control.”

Also related to marijuana, commissioners will consider approving a measure tonight that would forbid any new medical marijuana dispensary permits from being issued after May 5. The move could reduce the total number of medical marijuana facilities in the city. If any of the 13 permit holders fail to meet the extended August 6 deadline for opening, their permit would essentially disappear rather than being passed on to the next person on the lottery list. That could shrink the total pool size in the city – an issue that’s become a concern for commissioners after legal battles have emerged in Michigan over the right of medical dispensaries to co-locate with recreational dispensaries. Limiting the number of medical dispensaries could therefore limit the number of recreational dispensaries allowed in the city. Commissioners are still working on finalizing the rules for recreational dispensaries, including how many will be allowed within city limits. The board will consider passing a resolution tonight extending the existing ban on recreational retail stores through June 30 until they can finalize those rules.

Finally, commissioners will consider approving a recommendation from Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) CEO Jean Derenzy to offer lease relief to several downtown tenants in city-owned buildings. Those include Brew (whose lease is $3,074 per month), Votruba ($2,703 per month), Great Lakes Bath and Body Works ($4,534 per month), Scalawags ($1,530 per month), Crooked Tree Arts Center ($3,275 per month), and Grand Traverse Rock and Mineral Club ($100 per month). Rent to the city from each of the tenants is typically due the first of each month, with the exception of Crooked Tree and the GT Rock and Mineral Club in the Carnegie building (those tenants pay quarterly). Derenzy is recommending moving April and May rents to the end of the tenants’ leases, allowing them to “more easily open once the executive order is lifted and provide an opportunity to make payments over a longer period of time.”

“Each tenant has always paid on time and proven to be excellent tenants, helping to maintain and care for the building and filling once-empty space with vibrant businesses,” Derenzy wrote in a memo to commissioners. “Under these unprecedented times, local governments, private companies, and nonprofit organizations must come together.” Derenzy added that other downtown businesses are having similar discussions with landlords to try and survive the pandemic. “I have had several conversations with property owners throughout downtown, and have been heartened to hear how many are working with their tenants to temporarily relieve or suspend rent obligations,” she wrote.

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