City establishes goals for next two years

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 20, 2016


GROSSE POINTE CITY — As they work on the budget and planning for future expenditures, officials in Grosse Pointe City are examining their priorities to determine what the most important projects, policies and purchases might be for the next two years.

Every two years, after a City Council election, the council prepares goals for the next two years. The mayor serves a two-year term, and the council members serve staggered four-year terms, so a portion of the council is up for election every two years.

Among the goals for 2016 and 2017, City Manager Peter Dame said, are looking closely at capital needs for public works and public services, including building needs; implementing streetscape and infrastructure improvements in the Fisher Road business district, in conjunction with renovations and expansion at Fresh Farms Market; creating a uniform commercial zoning plan for Mack Avenue, in keeping with the master plan; and continuing to address deteriorating roads through the road millage and improvement program. 

The City also has a general policy of maintaining a general fund balance of at least 20 percent of the general fund budget, but Dame said they might want to increase that amount, especially if they hope to raise the City’s credit rating.

Next year, the bond for the Village parking structure will be eligible for refinancing, he said.

“So, our credit agencies will be reviewing our credit rating at that time,” Dame said.

The City hopes to join Grosse Pointes Farms and Shores in achieving a AAA credit rating — the highest rating possible. The City currently has a bond rating of AA+, which is the second-highest rating possible. Better bond ratings mean better interest rates, among other benefits.

City Councilman John Stempfle said the City has already “done a lot” to address the rising cost of retiree health care, but he said this is an issue that they still need to explore. 

“Clearly, we have to continue doing that,” he said during a March 21 City Council meeting.

“One of our goals is to get the state of Michigan to increase revenue sharing or at least restore it,” City Councilman Andrew Turnbull said.

Dame agreed that revenue sharing has been an area of concern. Since 2002, he said, the City should have collected $1.7 million more than it has from the state.

City Councilman Christopher Walsh said officials need to remain “keenly aware of any opportunity for development in the Village,” and he also advocated for additional collaboration with neighboring communities, noting that the City and Grosse Pointe Park already share a public safety director in Stephen Poloni. 

Walsh said there might be other areas for collaboration, such as facilities for fire equipment storage and the Department of Public Works. In its current location on Maumee, the City has limited room for equipment for the DPW and the Public Safety Department. 

City Councilwoman Jean Weipert concurred. She also called for an additional push to get some sort of development going on the former proposed Sunrise property on St. Clair Road, adjacent to the Village. 

“It is a bit of an eyesore,” Weipert said of the property, which has stood vacant for years after a proposed senior housing development fell through during the recession. “Somehow (we need to) encourage something positive there.”

City leaders believe this is a good time to pursue avenues with regard to that parcel, given the boom the Village has experienced over the last couple of years, which have seen more than a dozen new businesses open.

“It’s really unbelievable, the growth and development we’ve had in the Village,” Weipert said. “There’s not a whole lot left to fill.”

Mayor Dale Scrace echoed the sentiments of several of his colleagues, saying that they might want to set up a work session to discuss the Sunrise property and additional public safety collaboration, most likely with the Park.

“(Poloni is) running both departments, so it’s even easier to take a look at that,” Scrace said.

Turnbull said the City needs to look at the DPW as well, which has experienced a lot of turnover in the last year or two with several retirements. He said they need to “make the City a place to attract and retain good talent.”

City Councilman Christopher Boettcher said collaborative efforts with public safety “have been quite successful,” and he feels the City should explore collaborations with neighbors in other areas, such as parks and recreation.

“What can neighboring communities bring to us?” he asked. “I think we shouldn’t stop (at one department). (We should) take advantage of working with one another in other areas.”

The council unanimously approved a lengthy list of goals at the March 21 meeting.

Although it isn’t  formally part of the council’s goals for the next two years, some City officials did raise questions about salting and snow removal, including sidewalks. Dame acknowledged that the City reduced its salting and plowing during the recession for financial reasons, and because salt “kills the streets” and is bad for the environment.

“We had the best snow removal anywhere,” Dame said of the past. “Our goal was dry pavement everywhere.” 

Now, Dame said they plow the streets and salt the intersections. For a while, he said, they weren’t clearing sidewalks on weekends, but now the City allows a public service supervisor to do it if leaving it would cause safety or other problems. Public Service Director Gary Huvaere said the City’s policy is to send out the plows for snow totals of 3 inches or greater.

“It’s costly to go back to where we were (before the service reduction),” Dame said.

Weipert suggested that the City could reach a compromise system that would improve on what’s being done now without returning to the dry pavement system of the past.