Royal OakJuly 25, 2012
State of the City addresses millage request
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
Like any good State of the City address, Mayor Jim Ellison’s touched on the troubles of the past, the potential for the present and the needs for the future.
Among a group of more than 60 local dignitaries July 24 at Emagine Theatre, Ellison spoke for 30 minutes on the struggles Royal Oak has gone through and what has been done to get by.
“We too have felt the effects of falling wages and rising unemployment,” Ellison said. “Thanks to tough decisions from our City Commission, City Manager Don Johnson, our department heads and the various bargaining units, our prognosis has been better than any of our neighbors.”
However, Ellison acknowledged those same necessary decisions have left the city government too lean and slightly less capable than preferred. Hence the recently proposed 3.975-mill public safety millage that will appear on the November ballot.
“There is no more fat to trim, and without additional revenue, the strides Royal Oak has made relative to the rest of the area will quickly fall away,” Ellison said. “This is better like diesel is better for the environment than gasoline, not like how Taste Love Cupcakes are better than all others. And we know that because the Food Network told us so.”
Ellison noted that Royal Oak remains in the top 10 percent of Standard & Poor’s of any government entity, but good financial management cannot do much without proper funding.
“It is an immutable fact of the universe that one can only do less with less,” Ellison said. “Without the monies raised through passage of this millage, the city will not be able to function effectively.”
Praising the work many departments and officials, such as the Fire Department’s Cary Thompson, have done to secure grants to pay for necessary upgrades and equipment, Ellison said the staffing levels are simply not what they used to be despite new houses again being built.
“In the last four years, I’ve seen the Police Department lose nearly 40 percent of its staff,” Ellison said. “It is important to note that, if the millage is passed and the police department is brought up to recommended staffing levels, it will still be far leaner and more streamlined than five, much less 10, years ago.”
He noted that the number of new home permits issued is up from 29 in all of 2011 to 63 through the first seven months of 2012.
Additionally, parking and tax revenue from downtown businesses pays for 22 of Royal Oak’s 66 police officers, which Ellison said should deter critics from accusing the downtown of not paying their fair share.
“That the downtown is able to provide such a large portion of the police budget is representative of the relative growth and prosperity of our unique scene. Investment proposals are hip, chic and boutique,” Ellison said.
Citing developments at the Farmers Market, as well as newer establishments like 526 Main/Tequila Blue and Emagine Theatre, Ellison said Royal Oak has a unique feel to it that has helped the city weather the economic storm of the past four years and will mix with passionate residents to keep the city moving forward. Local recreation and nonprofit programs have also given the city a boost, while its two senior centers entertain 100,000 visitors annually.
However, he acknowledged what could happen to several services, and major regional events, if the millage does not pass in November.
“Many services we have had to cut are gone for good,” Ellison said. “Without money to re-up our safety infrastructure, we won’t be able to afford the manpower to support (Arts, Beats & Eats) or many others that help draw people to our fine city and convince other investors to consider adding their strength to our own.
“We cannot go back, we can only go forward or fall by the wayside. You can’t use chicken soup to treat a gunshot and just pretend it’s a head cold. Stronger medicine is called for. It’s time for us to really improve our prognosis.”
Ellison capped his speech by reading a letter from an 8-year-old resident named Max who is doing what he can to help clean up trash on the street in his neighborhood. Ellison said Max is the type of resident the city needs, those helping out in any small way possible for the overall betterment of the community.
“I think the mayor had an interesting speech,” said longtime resident and Rotary President Barbara Wheeler. “I thought it was all encouraging.”
For more information on the Rotary Club of Royal Oak, which hosted the event, swing by a meeting at noon Tuesdays at the Boys and Girls Club of South Oakland County, 1545 E. Lincoln, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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