As previously reported in the Post, one of the purposes of the Jan. 22 Saline City Council meeting was to set a public hearing for Emagine Theater’s application for a liquor license. An unusual aspect of this application is that they are seeking a “resort license.”
To reduce their tax burden, the theater managers had applied for and received designation as a Commercial Rehabilitation District. Within such districts, businesses are allowed to apply for an on-premises resort liquor license.
Council member Dean Girbach was concerned “because this is new to the city and because it’s unique.” He asked if other theaters or related businesses in Michigan had applied for such a license. Only a limited number are granted per year by Michigan Liquor Control Board. One requirement is that the business must “directly benefit tourism or visitors.”
Council member Janet Dillon wondered what would happen if the theater’s application was not granted. Mayor Brian Marl said he thought serving alcoholic beverages was central to the Emagine business model, but he noted that at their other theaters they had a record of “a very controlled environment.”
Clerk Terri Royal said she would find out if Emagine or other businesses had used this mechanism before to provide a precedent for the Saline application. She would also inquire about the potential consequences of a failed application.
Although the application must be approved by the Liquor Control Board, the city must also approve. Council will take up the issue again with a public hearing at the February 6, City Council Meeting.
Council Approves Retirement Benefit Change
Council also discussed making available a new 457 Deferred Compensation Plan to City employees. This is a mechanism whereby employees make biweekly contributions from their paycheck to save for retirement.
Previously employees obtained insurance benefits through Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) but if they wanted a 457 plan they had to get it through another company, either ICMA-RC or Nationwide. The new plan makes it available through MERS.
Council member Christen Mitchell asked how employees had responded to the proposed change. Treasurer Micki Jo Bennett said that they preferred only having to deal with one company.
Jack Ceo recused himself from voting because, as a retired city employee, he could be affected by the change. The rest of the Council voted unanimously to approve the new option.
In December, Council met with representatives of Carlisle/Wortman Associates, Washtenaw County Building Department officials and representatives from two neighboring townships to discuss how to handle the city’s Building and Engineering Department needs. The discussion was precipitated by the loss of two city officials through retirement and a job change.
The big question was whether the city should continue to provide building inspection and code enforcement services mostly in-house as it has in the past or if it should contract out some or all of the work to another agency. Mayor Marl had hoped that on this date, Council could come to a consensus on how to proceed.
The mayor’s expectations were not realized. As each council member expressed their own view of the situation it was apparent that opinions were all over the map.
Linda TerHaar indicated significant uncertainty, but favored a hybrid model in which multiple agencies may participate. She emphasized customer service. Dillon agreed that the amount of information to consider was a bit overwhelming, but she thought cost was a critical factor and that they should be cautious in their assumptions about customer service.
“To give people what we think they want as far as window service may not actually be what they want,” Dillon said.
Ceo agreed with TerHaar that customer service was paramount and said that that is best accomplished by keeping the services in-house. Girbach liked a hybrid model in which the county plays a central role. He also emphasized that “we need to get this moving.”
Heidi McClelland thought much more discussion was needed but she indicated that she favored a hybrid model involving the county and in-house staff. Mitchell agreed with Ceo that an in-house program would be best, because it would provide the best customer service.
Marl preferred a system in which Carlisle/Wortman Associates played a central role. He was frustrated with the disparate viewpoints.
The mayor proposed the issue be added to a work meeting scheduled for Feb. 6. To accommodate the extra discussion item, the meeting would start at 6 p.m.
Council members discussed additional information they would like to review before that time. They also decided to inform the potential outside contractors of the coming discussion.
Marl would like a decision by the Feb. 13 Council meeting.