|State of the City Address|
2012 State of the City Speech
Distinguished members of the Westland City Council, Westland Board and Commission Members, elected and appointed officials, members of the Westland Business Community, friends and colleagues, and most importantly….The great citizens of Westland…Thank you – all of you- for joining me this evening and welcome to the friendliest place in our entire city….The Westland Friendship Center.
First, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the finest Senior Resource Director in the State of Michigan…Mrs. Barbara Marcum. Barb thank you and your entire staff for sharing your beautiful facility with us tonight and all of the volunteers here at the Friendship Center for helping prepare for tonight’s event and I apologize to our loyal members who have been inconvenienced the last couple of days as the room was being prepared. Perhaps Chef Tony’s incredible deserts that will be brought around following tonight’s speech will help make up for the disruption.
Secondly, Thank you to my good friend Mayor Brian Barnett for the great introduction and for being here tonight. You know, I don’t care what L Brooks Patterson says about him….Mayor Barnett and I met through the USCM and have forged a friendship that I think has been beneficial to both of our communities as we work on creative solutions to move our two city’s forward
I also want to thank my family for helping with this year’s state of the city. My son Luke, my deputy deputy Mayor, is at his Squirt hockey game tonight but as you could see… he is still keeping an eye on things over at City Hall and I think his two lovely sisters filled in quite admirably and I’m betting we are going to be seeing more of them in the future. And my beautiful wife Sherri, she still amazes me with her patience, her understanding, her confidence in me, her smile and her ability to help me find the right balance in being a husband, a father and your Mayor. Thanks Sherri and thank you too Luke, Lily and Payton…
Also thanks to the extremely talented Ashe Lewis and her incredible rendition of America the Beautiful. Ashe has a great role model at home in her mom Juanita and she has a great future ahead of her.
Also thanks to my friend Pastor Luke McClendon for his inspiring Invocation this evening and the Westland Police Department Honor Guard for their dedication and professionalism. Also a big thank you to my Deputy Mayor Jade Smith fro his hard work and dedication and to our own Miss Michigan and Channel 4 traffic reporter Ashlee Baracy for serving as our Mistress of Ceremonies here tonight.
Before we start tonight… I would like to take a few minutes to recognize one of Westland’s original businessmen and one of the long standing pillars of the community. His name is Mr. Sam Corrado. He and his lovely wife Gail are the owners of ActCent in and Around Town. It is a monthly shopping guide that comes to each and every house, not only in Westland, but the surrounding communities as well. Sam served on the Westland Summer Festival Committee for 25 years, he has a park in town named after him, and he was named Westland’s First Citizen in 1988. He once collected over 3000 pairs of shoes to send to a country that was stricken by disaster; he worked Westland Election Precincts for over 20years. And, there probably isn’t a nonprofit in town that Sam hasn’t helped in one way or another. The Westland Citizen’s simply recognize him as “Mr. Westland”. Sam I would like to take this opportunity to present you with a Key to the All American City and thank you for a lifetime of work promoting our proud city and our Business Community. Thank you Sam.
I stand before you tonight as the 8th Mayor of our great city and I am pleased to report to you that the State of our City, The All American City, is strong and it’s getting stronger…
Westland has met the challenge of perhaps one of the worst recessions in our state’s and nation’s history head on. When I first became Mayor in 2007 the City’s general fund budget was close to 60 million dollars. Today’s budget is closer to 54 million dollars. We are operating at 6 million dollars less each year and yet… we are still delivering the exceptional city services our residents expect and deserve. That’s 6 million less per year to deliver Police and Fire Services, 6 million less to keep our roads and sewers maintained, to service our parks, to pick up our trash and recycling containers and process city business each and every day.
Yet, we are getting stronger…That’s right….stronger and better
How is that possible? I credit two significant factors… First, my relationship with the Westland City Council. We realize that we often have differing opinions, but it is a testament to each council member that most of the plans, projects and agreements that we have passed this year, have been done very professionally with little dissent. That does not mean that we always agree or start from the same place… but rather it is a testament to our relationship and commitment that we seek to find common ground, look for shared viewpoints, and most importantly… work from the belief of what’s best for the City as a whole as we deliberate on moving our city forward in a positive manner. Your City Council is smart, they are experienced, and we have proven that by working together we can solve problems, even those that seem insurmountable. Cities that work are the cities that have positive working relationships between the Mayor’s office and the City Council…we have that here in Westland and I am proud of it. Ladies and Gentlemen your City Council is led by Council President Jim Godbout and Council President Pro-Tem Adam Hammons. Jim is a proven leader; the Community trusts him and respects him. He is a problem solver, a big picture guy and he has a strong business mind. Council President Pro-Tem Adam Hammons, who was the top vote getter in last year’s election, is smart, energetic and probably… a little more quiet then the Council President. But, the Community trusts his judgment, he is always well prepared and he has a remarkable future ahead of him. The other distinguished members of our City Council include: Dewey Reeves, Meriem Kadi, Mike Kehrer, Christine Bryant and Bill Johnson. They are all extremely passionate about our City and take their jobs as Council Members very seriously.
Secondly, are our incredible city employees. As the City’s budget has shrunk by 6 million dollars, so has the size of the City workforce. In 2007 the city had over 400 employees. Today we are at less than 280. And we are still getting the job done. Our Cuts have been fair and we have started at the top. Since 2008 I have cut my Department heads from 21 to 15 saving the city over 2.5 Million Dollars and we have eliminated 3 Deputy Director Positions that have saved an additional 1 million dollars over the same time period. All of our employees have made the necessary sacrifices to help us balance the budget. Every single employee group has given concessions. From my Administrative staff to the Police and Fire Departments, our AFSCME employees and our UAW Employees. The employees at the Westland 18th District Court and the William P Faust Library…. They have been asked to do more with less…and they have. They, along with me, know that it is a privilege to Work for the Citizens of Westland and we will never take it for granted. We know we are here to serve you.
Recently, I presented the Westland City Council with a two year balanced budget for the 2012/13 and 2013/14 budget years. The Charter only calls for a single year balanced budget, but as we continue to run the City more like a business, we will strive to make better business decisions and will continue to raise the bar and we will continue to implement multiyear budgets as we move the City forward. What I think was most rewarding about those budgets was what those projected budgets looked like… just a few short years ago. 3 years ago, in the midst of a crumbling economy, we held a strategic planning session with the City’s auditors and developed the City’s its first five year financial plan… and to be honest… it was bleak. With the continued drop in property tax values across the city, cuts in state shared revenue and rising operational costs, it was projected that the City would run out of money by budget year 2010/11. The budget years that we just balanced, had projected deficits of -$23 million and -$37million respectively. That was $60 million dollars in deficits. My two year balanced budget, that I will be sitting down with Council over the next 6 weeks to discuss has effectively eliminated those deficits and protected approximately 2.5 million dollars in budget surplus each year and does not propose any millage increases.
This budget will put more police and fire personnel on our streets and no current union employees will lose their jobs and the City effectively will meet all of the obligations and promises that were made to our unions when we asked them to come to the table, under contract, and make serious concessions. Several unions agreed to put off scheduled contractual raises. We received elimination of longevity pay along with concessions on wages, health care, pension costs, and retirement health care….We asked, they delivered…now the city is in the position to pay the raises our unions agreed to put off and we will pay them. A deal is a deal….
This budget also includes two innovative shared service agreements with the City Wayne. And, at this time, I want to recognize their Mayor, the honorable Al Haidous, and their City Manager Mr. Robert English.
I also want to thank the Wayne City Council for their leadership and support of these two historic agreements. Both of the agreements that I will lay out here tonight are good for both cities, will save both cities money and improve service to both cities without any additional costs.
The first agreement combines both city’s parks and recreation departments into one. Under this agreement, Westland residents will now be able to use, at the same resident rates as Wayne residents, the Wayne Community Center and all of its incredible amenities, which include an incredible indoor aquatic center that specializes in unforgettable birthday parties, an ice arena, a new fitness center, a cardio center, tons of programming, accessibility to all of their modern community rooms, and even a commercial kitchen which are all available to rent for parties and events.
When you combine Westland’s 18 parks and our portion of Hines Park and the Holliday Nature preserve with Wayne’s 19 parks, residents will have access to 40 parks with a combined 1500 acres of Parks and trails at their disposal with an endless supply of pavilions, playscapes and ball diamonds to fill your summer with outdoor fun. Westland and Wayne residents will have access to the largest parks network in southeast Michigan. This will be a major draw for future families as they look to purchase homes in our community and will add value to homes in both communities. This will be an incredible improvement for our residents, it basically doubles our City’s parks and recreation portfolio and will not cost our residents any additional money…In fact it will save our City money. With the closing of the Bailey Center and Utilizing the Wayne Community Center, Westland will save approximately $900k annually.
The second shared service with Wayne has the potential to save the City even more. Westland City Council recently approved an Intergovernmental agreement with the City of Wayne to share a Fire Chief in what will be the first step into merging our two full service, advanced life support Fire Departments into one sustainable Department. Currently Westland has 15 Firefighters on the road every day. Wayne has 6. Under this arrangement, both Cities will have access to 21 Fire Fighters every single day, providing our residents with enhanced life safety and improved protection of our property. This merger, also, will not cost taxpayers in either city any additional funding. Sharing Fire Chief Michael Reddy, will save the two cities over $250k annually and the savings only start there.
Once the two departments have merged, both communities will save considerable dollars by eliminating duplication of management, equipment and supplies and the potential consolidation of stations. The Cities can expect to save on future employee costs as well as new hires of the new department could be hired at lower rates, with lower healthcare and pension costs and without the retirement healthcare benefits that have handcuffed cities across the nation. This plan is supported by both the Westland and Wayne Fire Unions and is a win-win for all.
While it is important for our City to keep firefighters at appropriate levels everyday, it is equally important that we have more Police officers on the streets as well. My budget proposes instituting a new civilian program at the Westland Police Department where we will hire and train civilians to perform certain tasks that have been handled by our uniformed officers in the past. This new program which is supported by the Westland Police Unions will free up 4 police officers each day and will result in getting them out of the police station and out on the road, where we need them the most. The safety of our citizens continues to be our number one priority and that will not change.
As you can see, from a financial standpoint the city is making incredible progress cutting costs yet we continue to find innovative ways to improve service at the same time.
Now shifting gears, I also want to highlight the progress taking place all around our All American City...
I am extremely excited about our new Passport to a Healthy City campaign where we have partnered up with Saint Mary Mercy Hospital with in an effort to create a healthier community for Westland residents through nutrition, exercise and educational opportunities and unique programing. The overall health of a community plays a major role in cities vitality as healthier people statistically live longer, less stressful and happier lives. I am challenging all residents to join me and make a commitment to live a healthier lifestyle. CEO of St Mary’s-Mercy Dave Spivey is with us tonight… and if you look on your program tonight to will see a special QR code that if you scan it with your smart phones it will take you right to the Healthy City Campaign Website where you can keep track of all of the great healthy events going on around town and see a lineup of all the local businesses that will stamp your passport when you participate. This is a win for these businesses as well as your patronage will help the bottom line of these dedicated business’s that have picked the City of Westland to call home.
On the Economic front….Businesses are seeing, more than ever before, the potential In Westland. Last year’s 15 million dollar investment by Michigan based MJR Theatres in Westland has proven to be a game changer. While offering an incredible shot in the arm to Westland’s famous Shopping and Dining district, with a projected one million movie goers annually, it has opened the eyes of developers and investors alike and you will see several new project announcements later this year on the heels of this incredible project.
Another major project in 2011 was the opening of the new 13 Million Dollar Universal Learning academy on Joy Rd which opened the doors on it’s beautiful new school that took only 6 months, from the first shovel to final completion. ULA joined over 50 new businesses that opened their doors in Westland in 2011.
The City’s Economic Development team led by Director Lori Fodale and I will soon be one of only a handful of Michigan Cities heading to the 2012 RECON event to promote the City’s economic opportunities to developers, investors and franchisees. It was at this event that Canton Township landed IKEA just a few short years ago.
Another continued highlight of the City is our award winning curbside recycling program continues to divert over a million pounds of trash from the landfill each year and participation rates continue at close to 80 percent. This program has received national attention and similar programs have been launched in Chicago and Philadelphia following the success of our Program and that of our friends in Rochester Hills. Residents also have access now to additional recycling opportunities as the City now has collection boxes available across the city to recycle used clothes and shoes. Improvements are also being made to the drop off center next to the Westland DPS yard on Marquette. The drop off center has been converted to single stream recycling so residents no longer have to separate recyclables on site and soon residents using the drop off site will be able to get Recycle bank points as well. Electronic recycling is also available daily as at the drop off center. Mission Green Chairman Bruce Thompson reminds us that we are currently accepting anything electric that has a plug or a computer chip. We also are accepting used fuel, motor oil, steel and batteries. And what’s best of all…Every one of these recycling components are new revenue streams for the city.
Progress is being made on the roads of Westland as well. DPS Director Kevin Buford reports that the complete reconstruction of Glenwood Rd from Hannan to Venoy was completed last fall, in another joint project with the City of Wayne, and that work will begin soon on the resurfacing of Warren Road between Newburgh and Wayne Roads in the heart of Westland’s shop and Dine District.
Progress is still being made in the Norwayne subdivision, Westland’s oldest subdivision dating back 60 years to World War II. Westland has utilized approximately 2 million dollars in federal funds to acquire, remodel and demolish blighted properties in an effort to return this proud area of Westland to becoming a neighborhood of choice once again. I want to recognize a few individuals who are spearheading incredible projects within Norwayne. This small group is proving that it doesn’t’ take an army of people to make a significant difference. They are Hank Johnson a 40year resident of Norwayne who heads up the Norwayne Citizens Council and Pam Carter who oversees the Norwayne Community Garden that on property that was once a blighted house and was donated by the city. Pams motto at the garden is “growing food, relationships and hope” Chris Lambert, pastor of Eklaseia Church, who with his Life remodel project built a new single family home for a lucky family in only 7 days on Oscoda Court and Westland Community Development Director Joanne Campbell.
Of course I couldn’t talk about progress if I didn’t mention the progress of Westland’s jewel, Central City Park. I’m proud to say the remediation of the easterly 12 acres is just about complete and the grass on the new soccer fields is starting to grow. I look forward to a future ribbon cutting ceremony, officially opening the park and the new walking path. We will soon be moving on to the other planned improvements in Central City Park starting with the proposed Farmers Market pavilion and the City is working with the Westland Veterans to create a new Veterans Memorial in the vicinity of Friendship pond as well… And wait until you see the finishing touches we have planned for Tatton Park. We will soon tie all the amenities in Tatton Park together with Central City Park and the Concrete Jungle with new decorative fencing, pavilions, pedestrian bridges, walking paths and much, much more.
One of the major success stories of 2011 was the creation of the City of Westland’s New, totally hip, Blues, Brews and BBQ event. The fantastic event featured great music, mouthwatering BBQ, handcrafted beers and car aficionados from across southeast Michigan met to show off their hot rods in downtown Westland. Well, it’s about to get better…a lot better…This year the event will grow to two fun filled days (Sept 15-16) and there will be more great music, lots of cool handcrafted beers, The Areas Hottest BBQ and more hotrods then you’ve ever seen. To take it to a whole new level….Westland’s homegrown Country Music star Josh Gracin will be taking the stage on Saturday for a free 2hr concert. This will be Josh’s first performance in Westland, since his American Idol days and it is going to be a blast… I hope everyone will come out and join us for this wonderful event.
As we start to wrap up here tonight, I want to address two very important issues that have been the talk of our town as of late.
The first one is the condition of Westland City Hall. As most of you know the City Hall was built in the 1960’s, a time when Westland was just becoming a City… For at least the last 30years the City has been dealing with issues arising from a basement that was built 12 feet down into a 6foot water table. Since I became Mayor in 2007, I have had to close off the basement as it was no longer a functional or safe space for our employees or visitors, with the constant flooding. We have had to remediate significant mold issues and most of the drywall and ceiling tiles have had to be removed. We have an electric room on the eastern end of the building that is under water, as we speak tonight. Detroit’s Channel 4 recently spotlighted the poor conditions, which did nothing for the City’s image. We have battled air quality issues and had to recently settle with the State of Michigan on fines that were imposed upon us that resulted from employees filing complaints with MIOSHA. More recently, we learned that the concrete pillars that stabilize the exterior walls are cracking from a shifting foundation. There is also a dangerous sink hole on the eastern wall of City Hall that developed from years of snaking basement drains.
We can no longer put this problem off and we won’t… The Westland TIFA Board has proposed funding a project to build a new city hall on city owned property in the TIFA District behind the Westland Library. The City owns 9 acres behind the library and a 2 story 35,000-50,000 square foot building would need approximately 5 acres. If the project was to get started this year it would take approximately 2yrs to complete and move city operations. There have been some legitimate concerns from residents living adjacent to the site that their properties would be adversely affected and their quality of life would be diminished if the project were to move forward. Their concerns are important and I feel confident by working with the residents on the development of a proper site plan that those concerns can and will be addressed in a satisfactory manner. The proposed site, while no longer on the City’s major thoroughfare, Ford Rd, does have some very important advantages. The first being the ability to fund it without a millage request. The second is the proximity to the Westland Public library and the ability to share parking to keep the overall cost of the project down. The proposed project would cost somewhere between 10-13 million dollars and could be funded through dollars currently being collected in the TIFA District. Westland tax payers would not be asked to approve what otherwise would most likely be a 20-25 year millage to fund the project.
Let me repeat… If we build the much needed New City Hall on City Owned property behind the Library, we can pay for it, without asking residents to approve a millage. If, as some have suggested, it be built on its current site, the City would not have the ability to fund the project without asking for a millage. The Current Site, located in the DDA District, would not have the tax capture to pay the bond payments even if it were to be subsidized out of funds expected to be generated from refinancing Taylor Tower as some have proposed.
That brings us to the Bailey Center…In my proposed budget; I made the recommendation to close the 45 year-old Bailey Center, which over the last 5 years has lost over 4 million dollars… It is strictly a business decision… In these times the city can’t afford to make bad decisions with our valuable resources. The Bailey Center is extremely costly to maintain, is in need of repairs that hover in the six digits and more importantly, its amenities are obsolete, as much as we hate to admit it. It is incredible that the City has gotten 45 years out of this building. While from an engineering standpoint the building is still sound, its gym, and mostly unused walley ball and racquetball courts speak of an era of recreation from days gone by. The residents of Westland deserve better. We can’t realistically expect to attract new homebuyers and families to the city now or in the future with the Bailey Center as the hub of our recreation offerings, and try to imagine the facility in 10years. There is nothing wrong with that, nobody did anything wrong, but it’s the truth.
For years the Bailey Center’s primary use has been mostly for room rentals and programing like Zumba, karate, kickboxing and more. Every effort to move those popular classes to other City owned buildings, like the Friendship Center, will be made. Residents looking for room rentals will have access to all other city buildings as well as the modern rooms at the Wayne Community Center. We are working with the Wayne-Westland Community Schools to open their gyms up to the youth groups that have used the Bailey’s outdated gym and they have agreed to do so, at little or no cost. We believe that the School gyms that have all been updated over the last several years will be able to deliver a better experience for the youth of our city.
So, what do we do with the Bailey Center? First off, we can’t get angry…while we can agree it’s a sad time, and perhaps an end of an era….we shouldn’t get angry. This is an incredible opportunity... The new agreement with Wayne gives us a chance to deliver an upgrade, a significant upgrade, overnight to our residents at no cost and it will give us the time to re-evaluate our Parks and Recreation offerings and make an informed decision on what’s best to service our residents and attract future homebuyers to our city, and all the while, save approximately $900k a year.
For the short term, I believe the city should hang on to the Bailey Center as a backup in case the conditions at City Hall worsen before the New City Hall can be built. The City could…at a cost… temporarily move operations into the Bailey Center if needed. Long term, I believe that by taking the current city hall down along with the Bailey center and perhaps relocating fire station one, we have the opportunity to create something very unique on this special piece of property.
Let’s work together and get creative and build something that defines our city. It won’t be a strip mall or a drug store; it will be something that pays tribute to those founding fathers of Westland that designed this municipal campus when the seeds of a new city were being planted. They picked this spot for a reason and this project should build off of that. Let’s design something that captures the spirit of the rebirth of Central City Park and all of the planned improvements.
Perhaps it’s a new recreation center? Perhaps it’s a recreation center that houses a performing arts theatre to fill the cultural void in our town. Perhaps it’s an outdoor amphitheater or a water amenity that attracts residents and visitors alike. Perhaps it’s a community defining park like Kellogg Park in downtown Plymouth. There are an infinite amount of things that it could be and the only constraints will be our imaginations. We own the property and we can control our destiny as we rebuild our proud 45yr old city for the next 45 years. We have time to work through these exciting projects, because we have made some tough choices, we have worked hard to get our finances in order and we have always made decisions that were based on what is best for the community.
While I have shared our success stories with you…what I want to really emphasize to you is that we cannot stop. In order to help the city continue to grow to its maximum potential, to attract new investment and homebuyers, everyone needs to work together. Our community must continue to challenge ourselves to improve the overall quality of life for all of those who live and work in Westland today and we must continue to challenge ourselves to invest in our city for future generations.
I believe what we have here in Westland is something special. We have marketed our city as the All American City for the last five years and people have taken notice. We have continued to improve and have become a shining light in Southeast Michigan at a time when cities all around us are struggling to adapt to the new normal. We have downsized our city operations by over 6 million dollars to bring our expenses in line with our revenues. We have done so without asking for any millages. We have done so by running the city with good business principals and have continued to improve services at the same time.
While we still have a long way to go, even the most skeptical resident can feel a shift in our approach, attitude and atmosphere.
I believe our All American City is doing something very incredible….I believe our All American City is creating a blue print for….The New American City…
The New American city will be a city with an incredible stock of affordable housing, where you can buy a house for $40k all the way to $400k and have access to great schools and to continuing education and World class hospitals. It will be a city that offers great shopping and dining and miles of incredible parks and trails. The New American City will be environmentally friendly and offer easy recycling opportunities and it core will be clean, safe neighborhoods where people want to live and raise families. There will be available jobs and the reward of upward mobility as your family succeeds. There will be a beautiful Library, great Police and Fire Departments and a City that is alive and exciting and is always changing, always improving, one that takes chances, is not afraid to take risks and one that is always ready for the next challenge. One that is built around people…There is no other place in Michigan that you can get all of this for those prices but… WESTLAND.
That’s the New American City…..That’s our All American City!