Council incumbents face off in candidate forum

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 18, 2015

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With a field of only four candidates for three spots, the choices for residents to pick city council members this November are few.

The St. Clair Shores Women’s Civic League attempted to give residents a peak into the views of the candidates at a Sept. 17 Town Hall Meeting spotlighting the choices for City Council.

Only the three incumbent council members, however, were present at the meeting, held in council chambers at City Hall. The fourth candidate, Peter Accica, a business agent organizer for Bricklayers Allied Craftworkers Local 2, could not be present for the candidate forum because of work obligations, according to debate moderator 40th District Court Judge Mark Fratarcangeli.

The three council members up for reelection — Ronald Frederick, Anthony Tiseo and Chris Vitale — answered questions from the Women’s Civic League and the small group of audience members about the city’s rainy day fund, future business development and how to attract more residents to the city and drive up property values.

With the first question posed to the candidates asking how they can balance the next budget without using the rainy day fund, the incumbents pointed out that with the prior years’ economic slump and slashed property tax revenue, there isn’t much that can be done without cutting services or asking residents to support another millage.

“Some of these expenses simply couldn’t be deferred any longer,” Vitale said. “There’s a structural problem in the way that the state provides to fund a city. We’re probably paying less in taxes now than we were paying before the real estate crash. That has left us with a pretty big funding shortage.

“I don’t think we’re going to recapture what we had in revenue in 2009 until 2024.”

Nevertheless, he said he would only support asking residents for a millage to boost revenue if city leaders and administration had done everything they can to maximize property tax dollars.

“We need to get property values up,” he said. “You have to have more competition to purchase these houses. Make St. Clair Shores at the top of everyone’s list for consideration when they decide to purchase a home.”

Frederick agreed.

“I’m looking to make sure the things we are doing are going to attract young families as well as keep our young families in St. Clair Shores,” he said. “Make sure we’re being competitive with all the cities around us so people will want to move here.”

Tiseo said some of that promotion is already starting with events like the Nautical Ride and the St. Clair Shores Farmers’ Market.

“We’ve got momentum from some young folks that have started some great events,” Tiseo said. “The Nautical Ride has brought 600 people here — they’re not all from St. Clair Shores. You’re showcasing your city every time you do that.”

The candidates said that one of St. Clair Shores’ biggest assets was its strengths as a walkable city and that they wanted to continue to attract businesses to develop along Harper Avenue and the rest of the city in a way that will keep that feeling.

Frederick repeatedly said that a hotel could be the answer to future economic development in the city and a way to keep momentum going, acting as a hub in attracting people into the city and keeping them here when they arrive for special events or activities.

“I’m going to commit myself, in this next four years, to get a hotel built in this town,” he said. “It’s well overdue and it’s needed.”

But Vitale said that getting a business to fill a space just to fill a space is not the answer if it isn’t the right fit for the city, and that, “if the business case is there for a hotel, private business will make the case for a hotel.”

He pointed out that the city already has a hotel off Nine Mile Road, the Shore Pointe Motor Lodge, and said that the city doesn’t need to “bend over backwards” to get another one that may not be filled during the months of the year when there are not fishing tournaments, festivals or parades.

In dealing with large businesses leaving the city, the candidates said they would like to see the space that will be left when Kroger on Harper Avenue moves west into a brand new building on 13 Mile Road in Roseville occupied by something unique.

“I think we should be looking at things like Trader Joe’s and those kind of boutique-style businesses that will be able to go in there,” Frederick said.

And Vitale pointed out that, if there aren’t any immediate plans for the space, the city could help facilitate something like moving the St. Clair Shores Farmers’ Market indoors to that space for the winter, to “show Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods that there is a demand for this type of space.”

When asked what they felt their biggest accomplishments were over the past four years, Tiseo said he was proud to work with the youth of the city to raise $38,000 to go out for a grant to get a skate park built at Kyte Monroe Memorial Park.

“There’s a group of kids that still do not have a place to go,” he said. “I think it’d be a great addition to the north end of the city.”

Vitale pointed to his “tenacious” work getting houses that were “causing a cancer in the neighborhood” torn down, and Frederick said council has worked as a team to get recreation programs and paving projects accomplished in the city.

“In the last eight years, it’s been a struggle for me as the lone wolf up here sometimes,” he said. “I’m going to need some help up here. We have done some great things up here.”

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