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Hazel Park, Madison Heights

February 20, 2013

State of Cities Address celebrates progress

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — At the Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Cities Address Feb. 13, at Marinelli’s, a who’s who of officials from the two cities gathered to share their accomplishments last year, knowing progress has been difficult, given a decade of recession. 

Madison Heights
Madison Heights Mayor Edward Swanson said the city’s finances continue to be negatively impacted by dropping property values, and that the city is doing everything it can to create a balanced budget each year.

Part of this is qualifying for funds through Gov. Rick Snyder’s Economic Incentive Vitality Program, or EVIP, which replaced state statutory revenue sharing. To this end, the city created a performance dashboard and citizen’s guide to the city’s finances, and documented more than 75 existing and proposed service-sharing ventures and cost-saving employee compensation practices, such as last summer’s move to self-funding for employee medical and prescription benefits, saving $129,000 a year.

“In spite of the past downturn, we have much to be proud of as we continue to welcome residents, businesses and visitors to a vibrant and diverse community,” Swanson said.

The mayor noted the city is home to such industries as automotive manufacturing, defense, aerospace and medical devices. A variety of new businesses have set up in the city, expanded or renovated during 2012. The monthly E-Lounge, done in partnership with Biggby Coffee, invites guest speakers to share insights with aspiring entrepreneurs. And Quick Response (QR) codes were added to the Community Development Department so people can scan all forms, maps and applications to their smartphone.  

Pro-business efforts such as these were recognized by researchers at iLabs, through the University of Michigan Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research. 

The Madison Heights Southend Downtown Development Authority (DDA) successfully coordinated a “Made in Madison Heights” Art Challenge and Exhibit, as well as the 5th annual “Around the Globe in Madison Heights” Taste Festival, and assisted local businesses with right-of-way maintenance, sign grants and more.

Last year was the busiest road construction season in city history, including 11 Proposal R-2 residential roads, nine major road repair projects, Year 10 of the annual sidewalk replacement and gap program, and the federally-funded reconstruction of one residential street. More road projects are planned for 2013, including repaving seven R-2 residential roads, and reconstruction of John R from 11 Mile to Dartmouth, two years ahead of time, with 50 percent paid via an $855,000 federal road grant.

“As in the years past, the city is asking for your patience and cooperation during reconstruction,” Swanson said. “Business owners are encouraged to take time to inform their employees and customers of the construction progress.”

Three police officers retired in 2012, and three were hired and trained. The MHPD also hired and trained two police service aides, and trained six new field-training officers, two new detectives, two new background investigators and a new evidence technician.

In the Fire Department, Greg Lelito became the new fire chief in January 2012, and three new firefighters/paramedics were hired. The fire stations debt of $3.9 million was restructured to save the city more than $200,000, resulting in a lower millage levied for bond repayments.

The future of the newly-named Red Oaks Nature Center at Suarez Friendship Woods was secured, thanks to a 25-year lease agreement with Oakland County Parks, and many city traditions such as the Memorial Day Parade, the Nature Center Fall Open House, and the Tree Lighting and Holiday Display continued, thanks to private fundraising.

An e-book service was added to the library, and the city’s Historical Commission is working with Arcadia Press on a photo history book of Madison Heights.

The mayor gave special thanks to Madison Heights City Manager Jon Austin, who is retiring at the end of this month after 21 years of service, the longest in city history. Ben Myers, the current deputy city manager, will be his successor.

“As always, we strive to make Madison Heights a high-quality city where people want to live and businesses want to thrive,” Swanson said.

Hazel Park
Hazel Park Mayor Jack Lloyd was unable to attend the event, so Mayor Pro Tem Jan Parisi spoke in his place, marking the first time a woman has delivered Hazel Park’s State of the City Address.

“Throughout the past decade of financial hardship, Hazel Park has undertaken many steps to cope with the problems created by the economic downturn and Michigan’s broken system of municipal finance,” Parisi said.

She noted they’ve reduced the number of employees; repeatedly sought and received concessions in pay and benefits from their bargaining units; restructured departments and combined operations; and passed several millage increases, including a five-year 9.8-mill police and fire special assessment, in order to maintain essential services. 

“The national foreclosure crisis hit Hazel Park especially hard,” Parisi said. “Like so many other inner-ring suburban communities, Hazel Park has seen its tax revenues dramatically eroded by declining property values, while at the same time our residents have seen their net worth substantially reduced.”

Parisi then shifted gears to the volunteers of Hazel Park, whose contributions have improved the city’s quality of life at a time when the city is financially hurting. Last fall saw Hazel Park’s first annual Harvest Fest and Art Fair.

One co-sponsor was CityEdge Church, a relatively new addition to the community, which helped the library construct a patio and helped the recreation center paint its game room.

The Hazel Park Lions Club purchased a defibrillator for the Police department, which has already been used to save a life. In addition, they support the community through park maintenance, college scholarships, donations to community projects and more.

Hazel Park Neighborhood Enrichment was also cited for starting the city’s first community garden at Kennedy Park. They also maintain the landscape in front of City Hall, and purchased and planted trees in Scout Park. Recently, they sponsored a concrete chess table in honor of longtime volunteer Bev Hamby at the new art garden on John R. They also bought batting cages for Green Acres Park.

Volunteers keep the city safe, too, through the Mobile Communications Support Unit, auxiliary police officers, and the Community Watch program. In 2012, the city enjoyed the steepest one-year decline in crime in the history of Hazel Park, under the guidance of the new police chief, Martin Barner. The officers even accepted a 2.5 percent pay cut after making the previous 5 percent pay cut permanent.

Parisi praised the Department of Public Works and the Water Department, saying all city sewers were cleaned in a three-year cycle and the city passed an audit by the Department of Environmental Quality. Also, an LED lighting grant installed energy-efficient lighting in the city, and DPW Director Chris Duberg moved the city to a new phone provider, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars. Currently, he is managing the city’s transition to a new natural gas provider for additional savings.

And the Hazel Park Promise Zone, which provides college scholarships to Hazel Park High graduates, collected the $100,000 needed for the Sutar-Sutaruk-Meyer Foundation’s match grant, clinching it with a $50,000 gift from the Walmart Foundation.

Harmony Plaza, at Nine Mile and John R, is now nearly fully occupied. The Hazel Park Land Cure will possess foreclosed properties to improve the housing stock. And Hazel Park home prices have risen by more than 7 percent.

Reduced state support, the way Proposal A and the Headlee Amendment interact to reduce property tax revenues, and other factors hold back Hazel Park and other Michigan cities, Parisi said, but “Hazel Park keeps finding ways to not only survive, but thrive.

“In Hazel Park, we never stop looking for ways to improve,” she concluded. “We never give up on our city.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.