‘Firmly optimistic with a touch of reality’

City officials embrace positive outlook at State of the City address

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 23, 2013

 Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley speaks about the city’s ability to survive the difficult economy at the 2013 State of the City address at Eastpointe Manor Jan. 14.

Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley speaks about the city’s ability to survive the difficult economy at the 2013 State of the City address at Eastpointe Manor Jan. 14.

Photo by Sara Kandel

EASTPOINTE — Eastpointe officials spoke of difficult times but kept a positive outlook during the annual State of the City address Jan. 14.

Held at Eastpointe Manor, the event, which is presented by the Eastpointe-Roseville Chamber of Commerce, was attended by a few dozen dignitaries from the city, county and state, as well as local business owners. They gathered for a review of the past year and a forecast of the new one.

Mayor Suzanne Pixley started off a series of addresses by recapping the troubling economic situation that has encompassed the area throughout the past five years. She didn’t focus on the past for long, though, proudly proclaiming that “the City of Eastpointe has survived” and then moving on to explain how.

“We put together some really, really tight budgets along the way, and we really worked hard to live within our revenues,” Pixley said. “We’ve become very aggressive with water-bill collection, which, for all of the six years that I was on council, exceeded $2-$3 million of uncollected funds. We also adjusted our funds so that the water bills are 9 percent less than what they used to be.”

Listing additional ways the city has cut costs, Pixley spoke about reductions in staff and City Hall hours, union negotiations and collaborative efforts.

“We run a tight operation, but, at the same time, we have continued to offer all the same services to our residents and our businesses, and that’s why we, as a council, remain very optimistic and very positive,” she said.

The second half of her speech was dedicated to future goals, such as continuing to invest in infrastructure, and community and economic development.

“You are the solid pillars of this community,” Pixley said, addressing the business owners in the room. “We have businesses that have been here for more than 80-90 years. Most of our businesses have been here for over 50 years, but next year we will see some new businesses in the community.”

Pixley mentioned the coming openings of the new Legends diner, as well as a Tim Hortons on Nine Mile Road, a CVS on Kelly and Michigan First Credit Union on Gratiot.

“But one of the most interesting things that is going to happen in the near future is we are going to have a pickle- and beet-processing plant in Eastpointe,” Pixley said. “So folks, next year when you come to this dinner, you might have beets on your table.”

Before wrapping up the speech, Pixley paid tribute to businesses that have opened in Eastpointe in the past year and the community events that help define the city — the chili cook-off, Cruisin’ Gratiot, Music in the Plaza, the farmers market and the Art and Ice Festival.

All government institutions in the city were represented at the event. Judge Carl Gerds spoke on the 38th District Court, and Superintendent Joann Lelekatch spoke on East Detroit Public Schools.

With facts and figures in hand, Gerds had more positive news to report.

“Over that last two or three years, across the state, court filings have gone down by about 10 percent each year, but this year, filings in our court have gone up,” Gerds said. “We had about 19,698 new cases filed in our court. So we are holding our own. While many courts have suffered a decline in revenues, our revenues have stayed about the same, and over the past year, we have turned over to the city of Eastpointe — our funding unit — $2.1 million.”

Lelekatch shared news of an increase in enrollment and programs.

“It’s very interesting, because of the students that came in new to the district this year, 89 percent are new-resident students and 11 percent are School of Choice,” Lelekatch said. “They picked East Detroit because of the clean, friendly school environment, and because they were so impressed by the community.”

Attendees were grateful for all the positive news.

“What’s really encouraging to me is we’ve had a lot of bad news in Michigan for a number of years, and it’s really encouraging to hear that there is a little up-tick — and that’s that there is more revenue coming in, we are stabilizing and doing well,” said state Rep. Sarah Roberts, who was in attendance.

City Manager Steve Duchane referred to the portrayal of the city as positive, yet balanced.

“It was firmly optimistic, with a touch of reality thrown in,” Duchane said. “It’s a balance thing, and I think it was in balance and certainly showed all the elements, or sectors, doing what they need to do to make the best of these times that we are in.”

Duchane, who also spoke at the event, went on to say that,  despite the struggles all municipalities are facing, communities, like the community of Eastpointe, are thriving.

“Local government is in a state of crisis, but communities are not,” Duchane said. “Michigan and its communities have a future and have the dynamics and the talent to move ahead.”

“City governments, municipal governments, county governments and Michigan education, we have tremendous challenges. Tremendous challenges because the systems of the past are broke and need to be fixed, but our communities and our people are not broken. When we talk about restructuring Michigan for the future, it isn’t about the spirit of our communities or the people — it’s about the institutions.”