(City of Ferndale, April 18, 2017)
Ferndale, MI – Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter gave a State of the City Address Tuesday night addressing a room full of residents and members of the business community at the Rust Belt Market. Congressman Sandy Levin, State Representative Robert Wittenberg and members of City Council were among those that came to be part of the evening. The City held a reception to honor volunteers just prior to the speech. The speech was also streamed live on Facebook.
Here’s what the Mayor had to say:
This has been both a successful and a challenging year in our city. There’s no escaping the fact that last year’s national election didn’t turn out as the majority of Ferndale voters had hoped, and the result has been a level of apprehension and even fear that has further polarized our politics in this country.
But I’m also encouraged by how it’s also energized and activated people in a way I’ve never seen before. I had the opportunity to address several of the rallies and marches since the election and I’ve been most struck by how people have used this time to come together, and to recommit themselves to the shared values that brought us together in the first place.
More people are getting involved, politically but also within the city. People are empowered to speak up, to lead, and be heard, and to contribute their unique talents in a way they weren’t doing just a few months ago. And I can’t help but think – it’s such a Ferndale thing to do.
Our city has always been full of passionate people who care about this community and about each other, and who now recognize that perhaps we took all this for granted to some extent. The opportunity now is to harness this energy where it can do the most good. I’m not optimistic for progressive leadership from Washington, and Sandy I think you’d agree with me on that, but that just means there’s a unique role for local cities like Ferndale to step up and demonstrate what modern, sustainable, inclusive and successful government can look like.
That’s why I stand before you tonight grateful for the team of people working in Ferndale government, under the skillful leadership of our City Manager April Lynch, people that are working hard every day to make this city a model for others to follow.
I’m grateful for our police department, under the leadership of Chief Tim Collins. 2017 marks their first full year with the new community policing model. The idea behind this is simple enough: it’s about returning to the kind of policing many of us remember from our childhoods, when we ran into officers at local businesses, saw them at church, or said hi when we passed each other on the street.
We’re all aware of the news; we know about the issues that have occurred with some law enforcement departments across the country. And with these issues, an “us versus them” trend can develop between police departments and the communities they serve.
Your Ferndale Police Department recognized that the way to reverse this trend was by breaking down the walls. Our officers are now patrolling the downtown on foot. They’re working one-on-one with high school students through the Early College Program, and with residents through the new Citizen Police Academy.
Our community engagement officer, Sgt. Baron Brown, hosts Coffee with a Cop sessions and attends community meetings and events, getting to know residents and visitors and answer their questions. The goal is to show there’s no invisible line drawn in the sand separating one segment of our city from another–we’re all one community, and our police department is here to serve and protect every member of it.
A great example of a program that came from this new way of operating is something that’s directly helping people suffering from drug addiction—our new program called Hope Not Handcuffs. If you’re struggling with drug or even alcohol addiction, whether you are a Ferndale resident or not, you can walk into our police department and get help—no questions asked.
The goal is that, from the moment someone walks in and asks for help, it’s only a matter of hours—a day at the most—before that person is in a treatment facility. I’m happy to report that already, the department has helped 21 people receive addiction treatment – that’s 21 lives saved.
While we’re on the subject of public safety, I’m also grateful for our outstanding fire department. I’ve been asked many times, “when they’re not fighting fires, what do our firefighters do?” The answer, as Chief Sullivan will tell you, is: a lot.
In the past year, our fire department responded to more than 3,200 calls for service. And contrary to what you may think, it’s actually not usually because of fires. About 70% of our service calls are actually for medical emergencies. They’re called to homes, auto accidents, crime scenes, and even dangerous weather events. That’s because every member of the department is either a paramedic or EMT, which require significantly more training than the average first responder.
So, when our firefighters aren’t responding to emergency calls or fighting fires, they’re training. In the past year, fire staff spent hundreds of hours attending trainings, going through simulations, and learning the ins and outs of the equipment they use. They also take that knowledge and bring it back to the community by holding burn demonstrations, answering questions at events, and raising awareness for what they do. You can be sure that even when they’re not fighting fires, your Fire Department is working around the clock to keep this community safe.
The topic of weather events and service calls leads us to our Department of Public Works, and this month I’m particularly grateful for the way Loyd Cureton and his team helped us navigate Mother Nature’s fickle whims. Ferndale made it through last month’s wind storm—which power companies classified as the most damaging weather event in recent history—with significantly less impact than many other communities.
That’s largely because of DPW’s preventative tree maintenance program. Surveying and pruning trees doesn’t sound like the most exciting accomplishment, but we can see when severe weather like this hits how much of an impact it really makes. They also worked quickly with Police and Fire to respond to road blockages, hazardous electrical issues, and debris.
But DPW does a lot more than keeping us safe during severe weather. Their ten-year plan to repave and update roads and streets throughout the city has seen its first two major completions: East Nine Mile Road in 2015, and Hilton Road late last year. And, both were repaved and redesigned with pedestrians in mind as we remain committed to our Complete Streets strategy.
Last year, DPW also made great progress in our mission to convert Ferndale’s streetlights to LED. All 32 streetlights on Woodward were completed, with the lights on Nine Mile and in all public parking areas in process as we speak. This change is an important one both ecologically and financially. LED lights consume much less energy, which means a lot less money spent over time.
They’re also made without mercury or lead, which makes them a much safer, more environmentally friendly choice as well. Changing an entire city’s streetlights to LED is a big undertaking, but it’s a worthwhile one, and one that I’m proud to support.
PARKS & REC
We’re also seeing some exciting things happening in our Parks and Rec world. Many of you already know that our director of five years, Jill Manchik, has decided to leave Ferndale to spend time with her family. We’re sad to see her go, but also happy to announce our new director of Parks and Recreation, LaReina (La-Ree-Nuh) Wheeler. LaReina comes to us from the City of Detroit, and she brings tons of knowledge about recreation and community health and wellness.
And LaReina joins us at a great time. As you may know, our parks have been a big focus of mine since becoming mayor, an underutilized asset that can help make our neighborhoods stronger and our community healthier. Just this past year, we did a complete refurbishment of Fair Park, along the railroad, cleaning out old brush and add new trees, flowers, and shrubbery to the play equipment and walking trail.
We also opened the new Kayla White Memorial Playground at Harding Park. Kayla was a young woman who grew up in Ferndale and played at that park. Her family helped turn the tragedy of her death in a car accident into something special for the next generation of Harding Park kids, with new slides, swings, monkey bars, something called an “expression swing” that lets parents swing with their kids, a new walking path, and plenty of nods to penguins—Kayla’s favorite animal.
But we’re just getting started. Picture your park, the one in your neighborhood, or where you or your kids love to go on a nice day. What would you like to do there? Take your kids to a splash pad? Use free WiFi to work from your laptop? Go to concerts? Meditate in a butterfly garden? Under the leadership of our new director, and with the good work of the Parks & Rec Advisory Committee and our council liaison to that group Councilman Greg Pawlica, we’re moving quickly to start making the improvements voters approved with the parks bond in 2015.
COMMUNITY & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
On the subject of new directors, this past year we officially welcomed Jordan Twardy, formerly from the 8 Mile Boulevard Association, as the city’s new CED director last fall. He unfortunately couldn’t be here tonight, but I’d be surprised if most of you hadn’t met him already anyway. If you have questions about economic growth or development happening in the city, Jordan is always happy to answer questions.
Speaking of development—if you hadn’t noticed, we’ve got more than a few projects happening around town. Let’s just say it: Ferndale is an attractive place to be right now. We’ve always known it, and now everyone else seems to have caught on. People want to be here. They want to live here, and they want to do business here. As we speak, there are 13 new development projects either underway or expected to break ground in the upcoming year.
A significant portion of that is new housing stock—apartments and condos for different types of people and different incomes, including senior and affordable housing. It’s important to the future of our city that we offer various housing options at various price points, which is why this year we’ll develop an affordable housing policy that helps ensure the economic diversity of Ferndale. Because in the midst of all the growth and change, our goal on council is to grow in a responsible way that maintains Ferndale’s character and spirit.
I’m also proud of the success that our businesses continue to achieve. For a great example of a business that exemplifies Ferndale right now, look no further than Hodge’s Subaru. With the help of our team, they relocated last year into the former Ferndale Mazda building. This not only helped their business expand, but transformed an abandoned building and enhanced that section of the Woodward-Eight Mile corridor as well. We’re proud to have the Hodge’s team—and other business owners like them—here in Ferndale.
The City’s HR department may not be one you hear much about, but I’m grateful for the work Jenny Campos is doing to cultivate an educated, modern workforce.
First, if you happened to miss it, last year the City adopted a progressive new paid parental leave policy, providing up to 12 weeks paid time off for maternity, paternity, and adoption care.
The policy was initiated by Mayor Pro Tem Piana, and is one of the first policies of its kind in Michigan. To date, three employees have taken advantage of the program, with several more expected in the coming year. Providing benefits like this not only help the City hire and retain high-level staff, but also ensures that our practices promote work-life balance and gender equality.
I also recently learned that diversity in our government workforce has now reached 14%, up from 9.3% just four years ago and more closely reflecting our current population. With greater representation of people from different races, ethnicities, physical abilities, and sexual orientations comes a collaboration of unique voices and ideas that we need for our community to truly thrive.
I’ll end my departmental review with a topic that impacts us all in a big way, but that we don’t spend a lot of time talking about: technology. In the past year, Assistant City Manager Joe Gacioch and his technology team have been working to move City departments onto the cloud.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it means moving away from error-prone hardware, like servers, and toward online collaboration sites, like Google Drive or Microsoft Sharepoint.
What does this mean for you? Well, smarter and faster customer service, for one. If you’re filling out a permit or a form, for example, you can now submit everything online. You can pay your water bill online through the City’s website. And soon, with a mobile app called SeeClickFix, which should be launching later this summer, you’ll be able to report issues—anything from potholes to downed tree branches—right from your phone.
The goal with our technology is to lower costs while providing a better, faster user experience. I think we can all be grateful for that. Of course, if new technology isn’t your thing and you prefer calling or stopping in to City Hall—you’ll find customer service representatives in all departments who are happy to answer questions and provide personalized information.
Now, if I were to ask you one simple question—what do you love about Ferndale?—I suspect it would be easy for most of you to answer. I can say that with pretty fair certainty because I hear it from our residents and business owners all the time. We love the progressive-minded community and our many different kinds of neighbors. We love the uniqueness of our businesses and downtown. We love the “feel” and the character of Ferndale. We love that we can rely on our city to be clean and safe.
So now let me ask a different question: what do you love about Ferndale in five years? Or fifteen years? That one’s a lot tougher to answer. For us in government, there’s a constant balance between meeting the needs of today while putting into place what we’ll need to be successful in the future.
In the past year, we’ve done a lot of strategic planning to help us grow our community in a smart way. Now, people who know me understand that normally a two day strategic planning retreat is not my idea of a good time.
But I have to admit it was important in helping us recognize that every decision we make—every park we modernize, every business or housing development we approve, every technology advance we make—is all about meeting the needs of residents, businesses owners, and visitors right now, as well as many years into the future.
I’ve often said that when everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. So I want to briefly tell you about seven priority areas that we believe we must keep our eye on to make sure the Ferndale of tomorrow is as successful as it is today. If we do these seven things right, I’m convinced Ferndale’s future is in good shape.
The first area is Economic Prosperity. It’s been a focus of mine, and Council’s, that Ferndale be a business destination, a city that businesses want to be in and a place where they can be successful. One example of how we’re going to meet this need in the future is the creation of an innovation district in the area north of Nine Mile between Hilton Road and the railroad tracks, what you think of now as our industrial district.
It’s been seen for so long as mostly manufacturing, but the properties there are brimming with redevelopment potential, and we’re going to target that new potential with new and non-traditional businesses.
We’re also looking at the North Hilton business district and opportunities for further development there—new-business incentives, façade improvements, and more. Downtown gets a lot of attention, but the eastside business districts are also important. The time is right to invest and show them some love.
Our second priority will be Regional Partnerships. When you think about the word partnerships you probably don’t think of sewer systems… but interestingly enough, that’s one of the most important regional connections we can make. Because even though it’s not super sexy, where our wastewater ends up is important, and we’re going to be an active participant in making sure our region does it right.
Our third priority is on creating Healthy, Connected Neighborhoods. Let me ask you a question: when you think of a street or neighborhood that’s invested and connected, what does it look like?
I can tell you what it looks like to me: people of varying ages and from different backgrounds coming together as communities. To accomplish this, we need to prioritize diversity in housing options—single homes, multi-unit affordable apartments, and senior housing. We also need to design pedestrian-friendly streets and active parks. Whether you’re a 25-year-old young professional, part of a growing family, or retired, you should have a home you can afford, you should feel safe on our streets and sidewalks, and you should find amenities that suit you in our parks.
Our fourth area of concentration is everyone’s favorite subject: Accessible Transportation, including parking. I’ll admit, when I became mayor seven years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how much transportation—be it cars, or bikes or trains—affect our community.
But they do, and one important issue Council and I have heard much about from residents and business owners alike is more parking in our downtown. As we speak, plans are underway for a mixed use development located on West Troy at Allen Street. As much as the additional parking capacity will allow our downtown businesses to be successful in the future, we’re also aware of the short term pain caused by construction. That’s why I’m grateful to be working closely with our Downtown Development Authority on communications and temporary parking solutions so that downtown businesses are supported and prepared before construction starts – which should finally happen in the next year.
We’re also focusing on Supported Infrastructure. One important example of this is the effects of climate change, which are creating very real challenges for cities across the globe. The fact is we simply have to be better prepared for the changing weather patterns and its effect on our infrastructure. So we’ll take an important first step this year by updating our infrastructure standards to support these challenges—and make sure our physical assets meet modern “green” standards.
Our sixth priority is creating a Safe, Protected, Engaged Community. This one obviously has many components. To me, an engaged community is a knowledgeable and informed one. Two years ago, we hired our first-ever communications and community engagement director, Kara Sokol, with the goal of creating open dialogue between us and our citizens. The result has been a surge of new engagement; by sharing news and answering questions in ways that make sense for our residents, such as on digital media or in the Ferndale Forum, we’re now providing a level of connection and information-sharing we would never have been able to achieve before this position.
For Ferndale to be a safe and protected community, it also needs to be a place where everyone—regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or immigration status—feels welcome. That’s why we recently passed an official welcoming city policy. This was not just a toothless resolution —we actually rewrote policies to make it clear that everyone in Ferndale should feel comfortable calling 911, reporting a fire or a crime, or asking for city services. Staff will not ask about residency. They will not ask to see proof of citizenship. We are here to serve and protect all of our residents and visitors, without exception. Period.
And finally, we’ll be focusing on Organizational and Financial Excellence. The nuts-and-bolts of an organization are the unsexy pieces, the ones nobody thinks about—making sure billing issues are taken care of quickly, for example. Doesn’t sound super exciting as I stand here saying it, but for anyone who has ever paid a bill online—and I’m guessing that’s nearly everyone—you know that ease of use and getting issues sorted out quickly matters.
The voting process is another good example. If you’ve never really thought about this, then staff has done their jobs. It takes months of behind-the-scenes planning, mapping, mailing, and communicating to coordinate an election—even the small ones. So when you show up on election day and are able to vote without experiencing any major issues, you have our Organizational Excellence mission—and City Clerk Marne McGrath —to thank.
As we talk about everything we’ve accomplished, and all of the important things we have ahead of us, you could be thinking that this all sounds pretty expensive. But I want to assure you that Council’s and my number-one priority is to make sure that we’re operating with sound financial responsibility. We achieve our goals by streamlining resources, being efficient, and yes, making strategic investments where necessary.
Naturally, costs continue to rise, requests for service increase, and an outdated Michigan state policy keeps our revenues artificially low even as home values rise. And in spite of this all, I’m proud to say that in the seven years I have served as mayor of this city, our budget has remained steady. In fact, we’ve lowered tax rates two of the past three years. We’ve launched innovative new programs, met—and found ways to exceed—residents’ needs, and continued our momentum as a modern, progressive city on the rise. And we’ve done it all with an acute awareness of what it costs taxpayers for us to accomplish these goals.
All of this is why I’m so happy to announce tonight that—next Monday, Council and I will be approving a budget that reduces the tax rate in Ferndale once again. We voted to reduce the tax rate by 1 mill in 2015, we reduced it by another mill in 2016, and now we’ll be lowering it again by another full mill. We talk about millages, which is government budget lingo, so sometimes it’s like, “Okay, but what does that really MEAN?” So, for the average home and taxpayer in Ferndale, 1 mill is equal to about $70.
I’m not aware of many other cities or taxing authorities in our region that have navigated their ways through the financial issues we all face while still consistently lowering tax rates. It’s a credit to April Lynch and her team, as well as to Council, that we’ve been able to keep fiscal responsibility at the top of mind while continuing to offer outstanding programs and services. In my view it’s an extraordinary accomplishment, even if it’s become business as usual in Ferndale.
So if you can’ tell, I look to the upcoming year with great enthusiasm and optimism. It’s always satisfying to see what we, as a community, are able to accomplish. I continue to be honored to perform the job and responsibilities you’ve given me. Thank you all for being here tonight, and for the role you all play in the continued success of our wonderful city.
Learn more about the City of Ferndale at www.ferndalemi.gov.