Mayor Coulter’s State of the City Address
(C. Proxmire, April 19, 2013)
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter gave his state of the City address on Thursday night at The Local Kitchen and Bar. Hosted by the Ferndale Area Chamber, this event brought people out to hear what’s going on around town. Coulter introduced new neighborhood programs, touted The Mayor’s Business Council, and explained some of the financial impediments facing the city.
Below is video of the speech, followed by the text:
Mayor Coulter’s State of the City Address, April 18, 2013
I’d also like to thank Jennifer, and all the people at the Ferndale Area Chamber who helped organized this event. The Chamber is vital to the success of Ferndale, as it has been for 76 years, and I appreciate all the wonderful things they do in our city.
I want to recognize my fellow members on the City Council; Scott Galloway, Mike Lennon, Melanie Piana and Dan Martin. It’s not easy to put five opinioned politicians together at one table and get results, but I can honestly say that as a group we have only one agenda, and that’s what’s best for the city, and for that reason I enjoy working with them every day.
I also want to thank the other elected officials who were recognized earlier. It’s a sign of their willingness to work together with us to solve problems, because the days when different units of government could do their own thing is long gone. We’re in this together, and they all get that.
Finally, I’d like to thank all the city staff who came today to meet with our Chamber members. I have to confess – it’s easy to look good when you have talented people working for you, and their willingness to be here is just further proof of their commitment.
I said last year that the old days of government being the solution to all our problems are long gone. We can’t afford it, and it didn’t always work, anyway. Only by working in collaboration together – with residents and community groups, with the private sector, and other units of government – will we tackle the increasingly difficult issues we face.
The main issue we have, of course, is the budget. It was projected that we’d face about a 1% decline in taxable value this year, which is the main source of our revenue. Instead, we were recently notified the actual decline was 6%. That shot a half million dollar hole into an already very tight budget.
Then, we were notified we would not be receiving the grant that has paid for four fire fighters the last two years. Finally, another important source of revenue for us is state government. Let’s just say Lansing has not exactly been kind to local cities like Ferndale – and they continue to balance their budget on our backs.
Fortunately, we’ve been planning for these things as best we can, and it’s why we have a healthy fund balance – our Rainy Day fund if you will – that can absorb some of these expenses – for now. And that’s only possible because the voters of Ferndale chose to support this city 2 years ago with a Headlee override that allowed us to have those funds.
But as I said, longer-term we need to work smarter and in closer partnership with others to maintain the services our residents want.
This past year has witnessed several important partnerships I’d like to briefly touch on, partnerships that highlight how we’re still strengthening Ferndale for the future by investing smarter today:
• For one thing, we’re working together with Judge Joe Longo and the folks at District Court, and we’re finally going to upgrade and modernize our dilapidated courthouse and police station. By next year, you’ll see renovated buildings that the community can be proud of, and best of all it won’t require a dime of taxpayer money because it has all been collected from traffic enforcement. I want to thank the judge for his leadership on bringing this project forward, and for partnering with us to include the police station in the plan. I guess I should thank the speeders, too.
• Also, we were already scheduled to fix underground utilities and repave West Nine Mile Road from Livernois to Pinecrest. But thanks to a partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation and our DDA, we were also able to secure additional grant funding to add important streetscaping and other improvements, too. When these projects are completed later this year, this stretch of West Nine Mile will look and feel like the rest of downtown, and hopefully attract the same kind of economic development, too.
• Another MDOT grant we received is going to help us reconfigure Livernois north from Eight Mile Road. We’ll reduce traffic lanes, add much-needed on-street parking and cross-walks and improve non-motorized options, all with the goal of bringing this corridor to life with galleries, shops and studios that complement the progress being made on Livernois south of Eight Mile in Detroit.
• Speaking of grants, I need to recognize someone who’s done more to bring grants and funds to Ferndale than anyone I can think of. The COPS grants for police, the SAFER grant for fire fighters, the grant that helped us redesign the intersection of Nine Mile and Woodward, and even funds for FernCare, to name a few. Congressman Sandy Levin has literally helped change the face of Ferndale, and I very much appreciate the partner we have at the federal level.
• Also, in partnership with the DDA we embarked on a new multi-space parking system for downtown Ferndale this past year. Oh, you didn’t think I was going to ignore parking, did you?! I know there are some who wouldn’t put parking on our list of successes, but I want to challenge you on that notion.
I admit, the roll-out of the new system didn’t go nearly as well as planned. We made mistakes, and we underestimated the difficulties. But let me also say this: first, I hope it showed residents of this town something about the people you have working for you. If you don’t take risks you’ll never make mistakes, but you won’t accomplish much, either. The goal isn’t to never make a mistake, it’s how you respond to them. How you listen to residents and then correct them, and I think that’s exactly what we’ve done.
To that end, I have to commend the city staff that worked around the clock to resolve these issues, including Joe Gacioch, Loyd Cureton, Roger Long and April Lynch.
And second, even though some folks are still getting used to the changes, we now have a better system that will meet the changing needs of our downtown – and help generate future revenue to increase parking – which we desperately need.
I want you to know we heard your concerns, and I truly value and appreciate all the feedback we got – good and bad – feedback that helped make the system that much better.
Finally, at last year’s address I announced the creation of the Mayor’s Business Council, an advisory group intended as a way for our local business executives, together with government officials and education leaders – to collaborate and identify strategies that will create an environment for businesses – and jobs – to flourish here.
Let me just briefly update you on the progress we’ve made. I’m happy to report that the Business Council, which has about 30 members, has met twice now and is already starting to pay dividends.
For one, these CEO’s now have direct input into city government and a continuous line of communication with our administration. Not only that, but we’re actually seeing real projects develop.
For instance, as a direct result of connections made at the Mayor’s Business Council, we attracted Blue Water Financial to our city, a financial investment firm which relocated to a blighted, functionally obsolete building. They invested over $500,000 in renovations to the building and relocated more than 30 high paying jobs to the community.
Since last year, we’ve seen a 35% increase in non-residential investment in Ferndale, investments that have helped lower business vacancy rates to their lowest level in years. And there’s more projects in the pipeline, so stay tuned.
Its results like these that have made the Mayor’s Business Council an important part of how we operate now. If there are any members of the Business Council here tonight could you raise your hand? Thanks for your help in building a stronger business community in Ferndale.
In fact, much of last year’s address focused on how we’re making Ferndale a friendlier place to do business of all kinds, attracting businesses, and the jobs and revenue they bring, is critical to growing our tax base, supporting our services, and attracting new residents and visitors to our city.
But tonight, I’d like to focus our attention on another important aspect of creating a healthy Ferndale. As I’ve said, our business sector is on the rebound, but they’re only one part of what makes a strong community. The foundation of what makes Ferndale work is safe, clean, walkable and thriving neighborhoods.
And recently, our foundation has shown some cracks.
A difficult housing market has meant more foreclosures and vacant homes, and less disposable income for residents to spend on property upgrades. As I’ve mentioned, it’s also meant less revenue that the city has to devote to this area. We’ve done the best we can, but we have to do better. Tonight I want to talk about two ways I think we can.
First, however, let me mention one area of this foundation where we continue to do exceptionally well.
Providing residents a safe community will always be our top priority.
It’s one reason public safety – including our police and fire departments, remains by far the largest part of our budget. And I think most residents would agree we’re getting great results for our money.
Our response times for fire and ambulance, for instance, continues to be among the best in the region. While the national standard is a response time of 8 minutes or less, our department currently responds to incidents in an average of 3 and a half minutes. They do a great job for us.
As for crime, in Ferndale last year we saw the continuation of a six year trend of reductions in nearly every category of Part 1 crimes as reported to the FBI. And, our partnership with the Ferndale Public Schools has both helped keep our schools safer and brought in additional revenue for the city, too. It’s another great partnership.
Together, this is a record of public safety achievement that’s impressive, and all the more so when you consider the budget challenges we’ve given both our Fire and Police Chiefs to help us address. They’ve done it in creative ways that have not impacted the excellent results our residents have come to expect from them, and I want to thank Police Chief Collins and Fire Chief Sullivan – and them men and women who work for them – for their outstanding service.
I know I speak for the entire Council when I say we will continue to work with them to do whatever we can to keep up staffing levels and reduce the impact of any future budget cuts.
Ok, in other areas that touch our neighborhoods, however, success has been more difficult lately. The appearance of some neighborhoods is not what it could be, and code violations and other complaints to the city are increasing. And make no mistake – appearance is important. Why? Because a clean neighborhood creates a perception of safety, and it also helps keep our housing values stable, too.
To that end, I’d like to recognize Matt Nowaczok, a resident who took it upon himself to organize a city-wide clean-up last year, and he’s doing it again next month. It’s that kind of community spirit that makes me so proud to live here.
But let’s talk about code enforcement for a minute, because I believe we have an opportunity to change how we do this work to get even better results for our neighborhoods.
Today’s system of code enforcement relies on inspectors randomly driving around the city looking for visible signs of blight – or reacting to complaints from residents. It’s worked o.k., but the haphazard and reactive nature of it makes follow up on complaints difficult and the results we receive less than ideal.
So tonight I’m announcing that I will be asking Council to approve a new, pro-active program that will concentrate code enforcement efforts on one neighborhood at a time – working with every home in that neighborhood to educate, notify and follow up to make sure we get visibly better results from our code enforcement efforts.
This new program, called “Ferndale Clean Sweep,” is designed after a similar
one in Warren that’s getting great results. But it’s not just a code
enforcement project – to make sure we have great neighborhoods, various departments in the city will be asked to work together to achieve the maximum impact we’re looking for.
Once a neighborhood has been identified for a Ferndale Clean Sweep, they’ll get lots of attention from the city for up to 30 days. In fact, even before the Ferndale Clean Sweep period begins, we’ll use various communications channels to let everyone know at least a week in advance that inspectors will be arriving in their neighborhood, giving them time to clean up their yards before the inspectors arrive.
During Ferndale Clean Sweep, we will then make door-to-door contact with every home in the area, letting them know about the program and the type of home maintenance and code enforcement issues we’re looking for, as well as information on things like rodent control, for instance. Some people will get written warnings, but everyone will then get ample time to address any issues before citations are actually written.
As we’re canvassing the neighborhood, we’ll also let the Police Department know of things like junk or unlicensed vehicles, or homes where suspicious activity may be occurring, for instance.
We’ll also be on the lookout for vacant homes and lots, and checking on commercial properties for blight violations for follow up by the appropriate departments. And, we can also have DPW crews driving our street cleaning vehicles in the target neighborhoods during sweeps week, too.
Finally, inspectors will follow up at the end of the Clean Sweep period to issue warning notices or violations. Most issues should be easily corrected, but some – like repairing a house or garage – may need more time and inspectors will be instructed to be flexible in working with those homeowners.
The bottom line to all this is – I believe Ferndale Clean Sweep can have a powerful impact on improving the appearance of our neighborhoods, while actually reducing the amount of code enforcement violations because we will proactively give residents a chance to solve these issues before they are ticketed. In fact, that’s one of my favorite features of the program…it focuses on working together in collaboration with residents, business owners and city departments – not simply writing citations and penalizing people.
At the end of a Ferndale Clean Sweep period, we’ll have an entire neighborhood that looks cleaner, where neighbors take greater pride in their blocks and where – hopefully – property values will also be enhanced. Then, we’ll start the program all over again in another neighborhood. By the end of one year, every neighborhood in the city, and every home, will have been touched by the program.
Derek Delecourt – our Director of Community and Economic Development – and I will be providing Council with more details soon on this new program designed to focus our efforts more clearly on our objective of sprucing up neighborhoods throughout the city.
But there’s also another way we can build stronger neighborhoods that I believe can have just as powerful an impact as the Ferndale Clean Sweep program. Because great neighborhoods don’t just look good, but they also include something else. They have great local parks – places where children of all ages can gather to play, exercise, enjoy a picnic or just take the dog for a walk.
Ferndale is home to 15 different neighborhood parks or recreation centers covering almost 90 acres of land, and while they are truly jewels in our city, recently they’ve looked more like unpolished jewels than the great gathering places they could be. That’s partly because, thanks to the tough economy that started in 2008, no other department in Ferndale has taken greater cuts as a percentage of their budget than the Recreation Department.
And, because this year’s budget isn’t looking any better, the bad news is the city still doesn’t have the funds to upgrade the parks like we’d like to. But I’m not willing to let that be an excuse for doing nothing about the obvious needs – and opportunities – we have to improve our parks.
Because there’s one thing we do have, and that’s smart, talented and engaged people in this community who agree with me that strong parks and recreation are important to the quality of life in our city. And just like with the Mayor’s Business Council, I’m going to ask them to help us do better.
So I’m excited to also announce tonight that I will be asking Council to approve the creation of a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Ferndale Parks. This energetic group of people, many of whom are here tonight and I will introduce in a moment, would be given a simple and clear mission – get input from the community on what features or programs they would like to see in our parks and make recommendations to Council.
Oh, and most importantly and most challenging – I will tell them not to assume the city can afford to pay extra for any of it. I said it was important, I didn’t say it was going to be easy.
But I also know there are other sources of funding – grants, public-private partnerships and corporate support, for example, that could be used to pay for some of these ideas.
The other thing the group will hear is that I’m impatient – I don’t want a one year study and a five-year plan for upgrades – so I will ask them to finish their work by the end of this year so Council can approve the ideas and we can begin to implement them by next Spring.
The city will also do what it can, of course, and this year we have already directed DPW and the Recreation Department to get the parks ready for a makeover. What I mean by that is – they will spend this summer painting, fixing broken things, trimming trees, removing unsafe structures and generally sprucing up what we have to make it more attractive and safer. And, to get them ready for some future improvements.
This new Blue Ribbon Task Force, if approved by Council, will be managed by Loyd Cureton, our Director of Public Works, and Jill Manchik, our Director of Recreation. But it really couldn’t work without the participation of a talented and great group of volunteers, and I’d like to introduce them now. They are:
• Jack Aronson, owner of Garden Fresh Gourmet
• Brett Tillander, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of South Oakland County
• Shaun Butler, Assistant Ferndale High School Principal and Athletic Director
• Jeannie Davis, President of the Ferndale Seniors Group and a Member of the Ferndale Parks & Rec Advisory Committee
• Cristin Spiller, Recreation Director for the City of Oak Park
• Greg Pawlicka, Past President of the Ferndale Community Foundation
• Scott Helmer, Managing Director of Corporate Finance and Real Estate Syndications for Comerica Bank
The group is small by design, but they have a big job. Although they represent many different areas, they will need help and I’m asking for input from our residents, too – so if you have ideas about what you’d like to see in our parks, stay tuned for more information on how you can offer them your thoughts. I don’t want to put any other limitations on these ideas, because I know the solutions to what our park needs are out there, and this group will help us find them.
If our neighborhoods are going to continue to be the foundation of our successful city, then I believe these two new strategies – the Ferndale Clean Sweeps program and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ferndale Parks – will help strengthen them – and, hopefully help encourage others to invest in them, too.
So let me wrap up tonight by saying, there’s no shortage of challenges facing our city. If it’s any comfort, we’re not alone. Cities across the country are facing the kinds of financial problems we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. And even though the current recovery has been slow to help Ferndale, I hope you’ve heard tonight that we’re not simply waiting around for better times to come.
We’re reinventing the way we deliver services, we’re partnering to make smart investments where we can and budgeting as conservatively as possible – all to make sure Ferndale not only survives today but thrives in the years ahead.
Of course, we have a secret weapon in Ferndale that other cities don’t have. At the risk of embarrassing her, I want to make sure you all know that our talented staff is led by a savvy and highly skilled City Manager – April Lynch – who is expert at steering this ship of state. Please make sure you introduce yourself to her if you haven’t already had the opportunity.
So I stand here tonight far more optimistic than pessimistic, because I truly believe the state of our city is getting stronger. Together, we’re creating a vibrant business community and great neighborhoods in Ferndale that will be attractive to businesses, families and other people for years to come.
I’m excited to be a part of it, and I’m thankful that you’re all a part of it, too.
Thank you very much.”