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City announces new neighborhood division

Launch date set for May 1

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 2, 2011

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In an effort to eliminate blight and encourage property upkeep, the city plans to launch a new municipal division concentrating on conditions in local neighborhoods.

Known as the Neighborhood Services Division, or NSD, the group — which falls under the auspices of the City Development Department —will be tasked with implementing a new program called SHINE, short for the Sterling Heights Initiative for Neighborhood Excellence.

The main impetus behind the program is feedback from residents who fear that recession-spurred stress on neighborhoods is “undermining community pride,” said City Manager Mark Vanderpool.

“These residents are legitimately concerned that the neighborhoods where they have lived and raised their families have fundamentally changed and are looking to the city for assurance that this is a temporary, correctable condition,” he said. “We believe it is.”

The NSD announcement came Jan. 25, during council’s annual Strategic Planning session, which gives a glimpse of projects and objectives in what Vanderpool called a “prelude” to the next fiscal year’s budget presentation and adoption.

The meeting addressed how the theme “Investing in Our Future” applied to neighborhoods, economic development and infrastructure.

According to Vanderpool, the NSD will shift the city’s emphasis from a complaint-based system to one with a greater level of engagement. The division’s personnel “will interact with property owners in a far more comprehensive manner, which is not always possible through our traditional code enforcement program,” he said.

Staffers will collaborate with existing municipal entities, including code enforcement, police and the Community Relations Department, as well external groups, such as homeowner and condominium associations, and Neighborhood Watch programs, said Vanderpool.

Partnering with service clubs, charitable organizations, churches, etc., they’ll establish a corps of volunteers available to help residents lacking the physical or financial means to tackle property maintenance, he said.

They’ll meet with new residents and arrange “homeowner symposiums” to outline city requirements; develop informational brochures and maintain a SHINE webpage; and organize neighborhood cleanup weeks.

They’ll also be responsible for ensuring proper care of public spaces, including the more than 200 neighborhood courtyard islands.

The NSD will encompass one supervisor and three full-time “neighborhood liaisons,” reallocated from elsewhere in the city ranks, who will be joined by an unspecified number of part-time employees.

Administrators are still determining where the full-time staffers will come from in the existing organizational structure, but it will be finalized in time for the 2011-12 budget submittal, said Vanderpool.

On the part-time end, the city will seek grants for hiring multilingual liaisons who can assist in areas dominated by recent immigrants, where language might be a barrier, he said. Partnerships with schools to help cover the liaison costs may also be possible, he added.

Regardless of the source, “we will not hire the part-time employees until the grant funding is secured, and the positions will be discontinued once the grant funding expires,” he said. “There will be no added costs with this new program.”

NSD’s projected implementation date is May 1. It will go hand in hand with efforts to streamline traditional code enforcement.

City Planner Don Mende, speaking as the interim city development director, said changes to the city’s code violation policy are under consideration. They include truncating the period between notification and corrective action; assessing steeper fees for repeat offenders; eliminating time extensions; and scheduling additional Ordinance Board of Appeals meetings during peak seasonal times.

According to Mende, the city anticipates conducting nearly 27,000 code enforcement inspections in 2010-11, compared to 23,366, 17,096 and 12,074 in 2009-10, 2008-09 and 2007-08, respectively.
While voluntary compliance following a code complaint has increased, so have OBA-directed cleanups, for which the city brings in a contractor to correct the issues and bills the homeowner for the work, according to provided data.

Mayor Pro Tem Joseph Romano said City Council members have been meeting with neighborhood groups to discuss blight and other property maintenance problems.

“Hearing some of the experiences and trials that they have within their neighborhoods … what happens at 14 and Schoenherr is happening at 19 and Hayes; it’s happening at 16 Mile and Ryan,” he said. “It’s very common within the neighborhoods. Everybody has a similar problem. It’s just that everybody hasn’t voiced it together.

“The SHINE program’s going to help us all out,” he added. “Just be patient with it. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a little time.”

Continuing under the neighborhood component of “Investing in Our Future,” Community Relations Director Steve Guitar outlined increasing efforts to solicit civic volunteers. He urged interested residents to visit the Sterling Heights Volunteer Corps page at www. sterling-heights.net or call Community Relations at (586) 446-2489.

The economic development portion highlighted forward progress on the new Macomb-Oakland University INCubator building, off of 18 Mile, and a partnership with The MORE Program, which has developed electronic means for businesses to diagnose their weaknesses and connect them with available local resources to remedy the deficiencies.

Department of Public Works Director Sal Conigliaro handled the infrastructure segment, providing a grim report on the status of the city’s roadways.

Valued at more than $200 million, the road system is among the city’s largest assets. Yet, “future projected revenues are insufficient to maintain pavement conditions at their current levels,” he said, adding that the state must find a more equitable manner of distributing road funds. “With falling revenues, the road maintenance service levels are projected to worsen very quickly over the next 10 years.”

In response, the city must support legislation that “addresses long-term funding needs” and ensures Michigan receives its fair share of federal funding, he said. The city also must allocate funds based on traffic volume and hold local meetings to develop strategies for addressing road needs, he said.

 

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