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 Farmington Hills City Council members, Mayor Vicki Barnett, City Clerk Pamela Smith, City Manager David Boyer and Assistant City Manager Gary Mekjian discussed the city’s goals for 2020 at a special meeting Jan. 11.

Farmington Hills City Council members, Mayor Vicki Barnett, City Clerk Pamela Smith, City Manager David Boyer and Assistant City Manager Gary Mekjian discussed the city’s goals for 2020 at a special meeting Jan. 11.

Photo provided by Autumn Elizabeth Hicks, Farmington Area Jaycees

Farmington Hills city officials meet to discuss 2020 goals

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published January 15, 2020

FARMINGTON HILLS — City officials and council members met Jan. 11 to discuss and prioritize the city’s goals moving into this year.

They narrowed a list of 14 topics down to six major topics they believe warrant further study and discussion.

City Council members will more closely look at the city’s growing deer population, recreational marijuana, municipal broadband, wage increases for city employees, a 2040 vision plan and renewable energy.

Other topics included autonomous vehicles, welcoming refugees, responding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the University of Farmington, and more.

They chose not to opt in as a welcoming city for refugees — because the city is already highly diverse and has current residents in need of assistance, they said — and not to respond or react further to ICE’s fake university.

“We’ve explored a lot of topics today,” Mayor Vicki Barnett said after the meeting. “Some we’ll move forward with, and others we’ve just jettisoned from further discussion.”


A growing deer population
The city’s growing deer population, which Barnett said is “quickly moving out of control,” has been an issue as of late.

City Manager David Boyer said some areas of the city are dealing with 100 or more deer per square mile.

The city previously prohibited community feeding and has conducted multiple aerial surveys to pinpoint hotspots where deer congregate. Roughly 70% of surveyed residents said the city needs to “do something, but don’t kill them.”

Residents in attendance advocated for putting up deer crossing signs, allowing bow hunting again — which ceased roughly five years ago — or putting out a call, which would provide a limited number of hunting licenses so the deer may be hunted in targeted areas.

In the long-term, council members discussed inviting Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources officials, and officials from neighboring communities, to discuss a regional approach to resolving the issue after an aerial survey in February. Barnett said the city is going to look into all options.


Recreational marijuana
Council members will continue to take a “wait and see” approach to recreational marijuana. Officials said they need more time to better understand the laws before enacting measures locally.

Council member Valerie Knol said she believed that studying what other cities are experiencing by opting in to allow recreational marijuana facilities in their borders would best suit Farmington Hills. It would also help the city avoid possible litigation.

Barnett agreed but said that, overall, because of the 10% excise tax associated, she would rather have the revenue from that tax stay within the community. Revenue generated from excise taxes go into a general fund and are paid out by the retailers. In Michigan, those funds are earmarked for specific projects — including schools and roads — but in general, the tax revenue from local facilities stays within the community.

More immediately, city officials will be looking at enacting local ordinances to protect homeowners from home-grow operations. The city has received a variety of complaints about them.

“We need to protect those residents while allowing other residents who want to do some growing to be able to do so safely, comfortably (and) without affecting their neighbor,” Barnett said.

Representatives of Care by Design Market, of Farmington, told city officials that they are available to help and educate them on the topic moving forward.


Municipal broadband
Conversations around municipal broadband internet access will continue as council members consider bids at their Jan. 27 meeting for a consultant who will explore the best avenue for implementing the service citywide.

The city of Farmington is a joint partner in the project. They have already approved the bid on their end.

The previous council members approved moving forward with the project in July last year, though officials said the project was halted briefly so new council members could be transitioned in.

The project would cost more than $20 million to put forth throughout the entire city. City officials said one of the consultant’s tasks will be to determine how to garner the funds needed. Two possible options being explored are a millage and investments from key stakeholders.


Looking ahead to 2040
The last vision plan created by the city was for 2020. Well, we’re here, and Barnett believes it’s time for city officials to look to the future once again.

With the city being 98% built out, council members plan to explore what may be necessary to improve new and re-development opportunities. They discussed making amendments to zoning ordinances that would allow developments to be built higher.

One resident, a member of the Economic Development Commission, said a business incubator currently in talks should help spur new business in the community.

Of primary concern is the city’s ability to recruit younger generations — millennials — to the city. Council member Samantha Steckloff said that age group is heavily attracted to thriving school districts and affordable housing. She said Farmington Hills needs to focus on improving its school district to get the job done.


Renewable energy
City officials plan to look at the city’s current ordinances to ensure they don’t inhibit residents from taking steps to be more green and use renewable energy sources at their home if they chose.


Wage increases
The most heavily debated topic of the day was wage increases for city employees. Several residents and council members voiced their opinion against an increase. Others said the issue is too partisan to discuss.

Barnett disagreed, saying it is an economic and a diversity issue.

“Looking at our wage rates and our minimum wage, and whether it’s drawing the workforce talent we want, that’s going to be a longer-term study, as you can tell from all the back and forth around the topic,” she said after the meeting.

Currently, the city staffs 350 part-time or seasonal employees throughout the year. Boyer said that, when there’s  trouble filling jobs, the city increases the wages offered, which has generally filled the open spots.

He said raising the minimum wages paid would include part-time and full-time employees.

Knol believes the market should determine the city’s wage rates. She also said workers, many of whom are high school or college students, gain career-related benefits from their jobs.

Steckloff said the council needs to take a creative approach, recommending they look into offering work-study opportunities and saying that federal funding may be available to help offset increased costs from higher wages.

Barnett, in an attempt to settle the crowd, said the council as a whole is “responsible” and won’t enact anything that isn’t financially feasible.