City council members talk 2020 in Madison Heights

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 3, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS — It’s the start of a new year, and members of the Madison Heights City Council are eyeing what lies ahead.

Emily Rohrbach, who was elected to the council in November, said that people on the campaign trail often asked her about marijuana facilities, park updates and code enforcement.

“These continue to be high priorities going forward. … That means making fiscally responsible decisions now, while also not being gun-shy about exploring new opportunities for growth,” she said. “I want to see us update our outdated parks equipment, identify and establish usable parks space in the south end of the city, and plant more trees in our city.”

But her most immediate priority will be making sure there are substantial cleanup efforts at the site of Electro-Plating Services, the source of the hexavalent chromium that seeped onto Interstate 696 and poses an environmental health risk — although no current threat to drinking water.

“The issue on everyone’s lips right now is the EPS contamination, and I don’t see that changing until we get the cleanup done and the answers we all need,” Rohrbach said. “I believe that our new council group will approach this issue as a top priority. We will listen to concerns, explore options and demand answers.”

Second, she wants a city budget that addresses updates to city facilities and that prioritizes quality-of-life services in a bid to attract new residents.

“I am excited for the future of our city,” she concluded. “Every city has challenges that we face, but I believe we have the right people … to make big strides forward.”

For Councilman Mark Bliss, working with state and federal authorities to remediate the issue at Electro-Plating Services is a top concern.

“The city is in ongoing litigation, so that limits my comments; however, this issue is deeply personal to us on council as residents ourselves who are raising families here,” Bliss said. “We are focused on not just making sure the appropriate agencies clean the site, but also that this inspires reform that makes this issue the last of its kind.”

He said that another challenge in 2020 will be doubling down on fiscal responsibility following the passage of Proposal MH, which indefinitely increases the city’s general charter millage by 6 mills. Voters approved the measure by a less than 3% margin.  

“I was one of two ‘no’ votes on pushing the millage forward (the other being Robert Corbett), because I worried about how it would affect our seniors and those on a fixed income,” Bliss said. “That worry hasn’t gone away with the passing of the millage, so I will continue to focus on getting everything I can out of every single dollar in the budget, as well as focusing on leveraging as many grants and public/private partnerships as we can to improve our city without relying on our residents.”

He said that economic revitalization will be another goal in 2020. 2019 saw new developments such as BJ’s Wholesale Club, Cadillac Straits Brewery and Woodpile BBQ. Bliss wants to see more businesses move in, investing in the community with redevelopment.

Councilman David Soltis said he has two major concerns going into 2020: environmental health, as made evident by the pollution at Electro-Plating Services, and the city’s push for medical marijuana businesses.

“I feel the city needs to play a more proactive and transparent role with the chemical pollution that plagues certain parts of our city. The prior city leaders obviously were seriously mistaken by having an incinerator operational in our city (at the SOCRRA transfer station), especially next to a school, but we can make greater progress to impede future environmental contamination,” Soltis said.

“Another challenge is allowing the marijuana industry into our city,” he continued. “I feel it’s a mistake and I voted against it. We have uncounted home-based facilities unregulated by the city, so why would we need giant multimillion-dollar companies? I think our process on rewarding these companies was flawed, in my opinion, and transparency is critical for our residents.”

On a brighter note, “We have two newly elected council members (Rohrbach and Kymm Clark) and a new mayor pro tem, so I am looking forward to their contributions,” Soltis added.

The new mayor pro tem, Roslyn Grafstein, said the new year will be about the community trying to reach a consensus on the best way forward.

“I think the biggest challenge will be the pushback against change,” Grafstein said, referring to issues that have divided the community, such as medical marijuana. “We have a diverse population with different thoughts on what is important to the city, and we don’t want to make so many changes to the city that it becomes unrecognizable to the reasons people moved here.

“The other challenge I see is managing resident expectations, especially as it relates to funding. Like all cities in Michigan, even as our property values rise, until they are sold, the taxable value and corresponding tax revenues are capped while our expenses continue to grow,” Grafstein continued. “Until this is fixed at the state level, we need to look for alternative funding sources, so that our new residents are not burdened with high tax rates that may depress values and in turn lower taxable values as it happened a decade ago. By looking at one-time grants and donations for one-time items, we can use the existing infrastructure and budget to continue maintenance without adding to the budget.”

Fighting blight and crime, along with improving quality of life for residents, will continue to be a focus in 2020, she said. Civic Center Park has received a green infrastructure grant for almost $40,000 to install three rain gardens that will be attractive and reduce stormwater runoff. The city is also seeking private donations and grants to offset the costs of new tree plantings this spring. The city is also looking to continue improving the playgrounds. The updates to the citywide master plan and the parks and recreation master plan are also ongoing.

For Councilman Robert Corbett, 2020 will test the council’s fiscal responsibility.

“Last November, the voters of Madison Heights elected to invest in the community by raising the permanent millage. The trick for the City Council will be to leverage this financing in such a way to promote further private sector development, without experiencing the normal depressing effect that increased taxes normally instill,” Corbett said. “If the council simply goes back to the old, less efficient mode of providing city services, then further economic development will be stymied. I have great confidence that City Manager Melissa Marsh, working in conjunction with the City Council, will not allow it to happen.”

Corbett said he’s also determined to ensure that physically challenged children have access to an expanded and comprehensive recreation program throughout the city’s parks system, with equipment designed for universal accessibility. He also wants to see the library updated, both in terms of its physical infrastructure and its programming.

Overall, he said, “Madison Heights has great potential, and is experiencing a period of very favorable notice as a place to invest your business, establish your homestead and raise a family.”