MOUNT CLEMENS — During her State of the City address at Oakland University’s Anton/Frankel Center in the heart of downtown Nov. 2, Mayor Barb Dempsey said she’s optimistic about the city’s future, and she’s certain its strength will remain intact.
“While a cloud of uncertainty looms over us and our country, I stand here today to remind you of our resilience,” she said to a packed room of residents, business owners, and local and regional politicians.
“Throughout our Mount Clemens history, we have been faced with many peaks and valleys,” Dempsey said. “I think we have hit the valley and we are ready to peak again. The city is working on many important projects and partnerships, and we have a very positive outlook on the things that are happening in Mount Clemens.”
Since Dempsey’s last State of the City address nearly two years ago, Mount Clemens, with a 2011 population of 16,330, has continually felt the economic pinch, as have neighboring communities, and the mayor said it is no secret that one of the main issues locally is the loss of taxable value.
In her words:
“In the last three years, the city’s taxable value has been reduced by 24 percent, which has had a collective effect of a $2.6 million loss to the general fund. Although, for taxpayers, it is a relief to the pocketbook, it unfortunately hurts the city’s coffers.
“Also, since I last spoke to you, approximately two years ago, the State of Michigan voted to remove the statutory portion of the revenue sharing and passed Public Act 63, which put into place the Economic Vitality Incentive Program — referred to as the EVIP. The city must submit information to the state in three categories, in order to qualify for funding. The city has complied with all three categories and last fiscal year received $479,000, the maximum amount of funding allowed by the state. While we are grateful to have received this funding, it is a far cry from the $700,000 we used to receive annually.
“In addition, I would like to remind everyone that the personal property tax discussion is still up in the air in Lansing. If this bill is passed without any type of replacement tax, it would have a significant impact on all local government agencies — it would be absolutely devastating to our budget because it would equate to an additional $800,000 loss each year.”
Audit and budget
“Moving forward to the current budget, which only totals $8.9 million our auditors are projecting a $477,000 budget deficit, mainly due to the decrease in property taxes and continued reduction of state revenue sharing.
“On a positive note, I am happy to report that the city ended the 2012 fiscal year by adding $355,000 to the general fund, putting the fund balance at approximately $4.1 million. Unfortunately, to achieve this, the city lost four employees in the street department, one in the fire department, the (Macomb County) Sheriff’s Office contract is down one patrol officer during the day shift and we sold a piece of property for $420,000. This was another difficult decision. Selling property is a one-time deal and we have now lost a fixed asset.
“So even though our fund balance sounds stable, according to the city auditors, if we continue down this path without any upswing in property values, no new tax increases, and no additional revenue sources, the city will suffer six-digit losses or greater in the next four years, and will fully deplete the fund balance by 2017.”
Dempsey reassured residents that the loss in revenue has not resulted in a loss in city services.
“Aside from minor changes, you are essentially receiving the same core services, only now you are paying less. You continue to receive police and fire protection, continue to have your garbage picked up, continue to be provided with top quality water, continue to have your streets plowed and maintained, continue to have your neighborhoods and parks kept clean, continue to be provided with community bus transportation, and continue to have complaints resolved in a timely and fair manner. Some services may be a bit slower, but not by much.
“Due to the plummeting property tax values, the city took in $1.3 million less in the last tax year than we did just three years ago. From a business standpoint, a company cannot keep selling its services for less and less and expect to be sustainable.”
What’s been done
“Overall, something has to give. Preservation of our residents’ quality of life was non-negotiable in the past; however, further reductions will directly impact and compromise the quality and quantity of the services residents and businesses receive.
“One of the main ways the city has responded to the economic downturn has been through reduction of staff and employee concessions. Staffing levels are at a minimum, due to layoffs, retirements or attrition. In the last 13 years, full-time employees have been reduced from close to 160 in 1999 to fewer than 70 today. In total, the city currently employs 81 individuals, with only 18 of those working out of City Hall.
“By now it is common knowledge that we have had to close our Recreation Department and disband the Mount Clemens Police Department, due to financial constraints. Since those closures, other key positions have been privatized and include the city engineer, city manager and assessor, as well as the entire building inspection division of community development. The elimination of benefits and decrease in payments associated with these decisions has saved the city considerably.
“Our union and non-union employees have had their wages frozen or reduced, and those who are insured through the city’s health insurance have seen their share of premium contributions increase. Department heads have not seen their wages increase in seven of the last nine years, and considering they have taken a 5 percent salary reduction going on three years, they are currently earning close to what they did a decade ago.
Dempsey said there have also been changes to health insurance contributions, and city firefighters changed the way in which overtime was calculated for general alarms and they lowered the shift minimum by one employee. In addition, the voters elected to eliminate primary elections for city commission and the mayor, which is saving the city between $12,000 and $15,000 every two years.
“It speaks volumes to the city employees and the administration, who have all worked harder with fewer resources so that residents have been minimally affected by the downturn in the economy.”
What’s happening now and what’s to come
“The city will also be able to pursue additional grant funding through the State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources after the commission approved a parks and recreation sub area plan earlier this year. By having this plan in place with the state, we will be eligible for grant funds in order to continue to provide parks and recreation activities.
“Exciting changes are happening and the downtown is on the brink of an upswing. For example, retailers such as Max and Ollie’s, Che Cosa, Gabriel’s Vacuum, Chaos Salon and The Box Theater have all moved to larger spaces.
“The Used on New bookstore has expanded their offering and their retail space. New establishments have opened, outside developers have secured properties, and renovations are underway. We have recently welcomed The Mitt, Subway, and Eye Wyre Software Solutions. Maya’s Deli has changed owners. Looking forward to opening soon is Three Blind Mice. Renovations have begun at 77 South Main, known as The Bank building, and future development opportunities await as the former Emerald Theatre and The Hayloft sites are up for sale. Also, Partners in Architecture have continued to rehab the old Fire Station on Market.
“The city’s future rests in the hands of our young people. It is our responsibility to cultivate their talents, their dreams and their skills. Another prospect currently under way is the Hands On Children’s Museum, which will present children with concepts such as math, science, fitness and history through interactive exhibits.”
Dempsey also spoke of the Clinton River, which she says is one of the city’s most underutilized assets.
“Our County Executive Mark Hackel has been instrumental in fostering a cooperative environment with local community and business leaders in order to develop this asset. Termed the ‘New Blue Economy,’ business opportunities and therefore revenue opportunities are created where natural resources exist, with the end goal to realize an economic benefit while protecting, restoring and utilizing our water resources. Earlier this year, Mount Clemens was honored to be selected by the Michigan Canoe Racing Association as the site of the Clinton River Canoe Classic race to be held next June.
“You may have recently heard that the organizers of the Stars and Stripes Festival, which has been held in downtown Mount Clemens since its inception, have decided to relocate the event to Freedom Hill. We wish them well and thank them for the last six years for bringing people to Mount Clemens and showcasing our city in a positive light. The city and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) are excited to look into the possibility to bring a new entity to town. At this time, the DDA is continuing to secure financing so that the annual fireworks display will still go on.
“We have surely suffered losses during these challenging economic times; however, we are seeing positive signs of a recovery. When one door closes, another opens. The administration will keep working with our DDA, the school district, outside agencies and surrounding communities in order to create innovative partnerships that will hopefully benefit the residents and the city.
“The old adage ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is truly applicable here. Let’s keep the movement and momentum going. After all, I have said it before and I will say it again — we are all in this together. “