Development, services highlight State of the City address

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 24, 2019

  Rochester Mayor Rob Ray delivers his annual State of the City address April 15.

Rochester Mayor Rob Ray delivers his annual State of the City address April 15.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ROCHESTER — Rochester residents, business owners and city officials gathered at the Royal Park Hotel April 15 for Mayor Rob Ray’s second State of the City address.

Doug Bills, the chaplain of the Rochester Fire Department, kicked off the evening with an invocation.

“Rochester is unique due to the balance between the minority and the majority. As residents, individually, we are all the minority in some respect — whether it be by ancestral heritage, religion, race, profession or any other way we may be considered different. As neighbors, however, we are the majority that is mindful (of) how we treat others, how we care for our community, and how we cherish the way of life that drew us here and kept us here,” Bills said. “We have much to be thankful for, and it’s a collective commitment by everyone that we continue to do so. As we all work together on behalf of the over 13,000 residents of our city, may we gain strength and sustenance from one another for reason and compassion.”

Ray had much to say about what makes the city special.

“It’s been said that the city of Rochester punches above its weight class. It’s true,” he said.

Rochester, according to Ray, fits a lot of “municipal muscle” within its 4 square miles, including its own Police and Fire departments offering emergency medical and advanced life support transportation services, a full-service Department of Public Works, a developed list of parks and natural settings, miles of passive trailways, and a vibrant and nationally recognized downtown.  

In terms of development, 2018 was strong for the city. Ray said property values are back to 2007 levels and have recovered faster than many surrounding communities. Homeowners, he added, are increasingly investing to improve their homes, while total construction project costs — which jumped from $83 million in 2017 to $200 million in 2018 — are adding to the city’s tax base.

“Rochester is a place where you want to invest,” he said.

While development is on the rise, Ray said city officials have been guiding the process by using the Sustainable Rochester development framework, which aims to ensure responsible and sustainable development decisions in the city by measuring six sustainability values: environmental health, mobility, fiscal strength, public services, strong neighborhoods and downtown viability.

“Those six development components allowed the city and its Planning Commission to get a sense of the look and feel of a project in the city before shovels touched dirt,” Ray said. “If anything, I think it’s heightened the game for development, because developers want to come in with an even better product.”

Over the next year, he said, city officials plan to focus on six main areas — including fund balance and reserve level policy, the multiyear annual budget, the capital improvement plan process, infrastructure, other post-employment benefits and pension funding, and the master plans for the city and the parks.

Ray noted that Rochester was named the third-safest city in Michigan for 2019, according to a report released by the National Council for Home Safety and Security. Last year, it ranked seventh on the list.

Ray credited the achievement to the city’s strong Police Department, which added a new explosives detection K-9 named Pearl this year.

“The calls for service have remained relatively consistent (over the years). However … crime is down across all categories, especially in the most serious of cases (violent crimes). That group of crime is down an astonishing 30 percent year over year,” he said.

Ray highlighted recent changes at the Rochester Fire Department, which transitioned to a hybrid staffing model this year. The move, he said, will reduce response times from up to 15 minutes to nine minutes or less, thanks in part to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s $2.4 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, which allowed the city to hire 15 full-time-equivalent firefighters. The grant will be paid out to the city over three years.

Ray also discussed the city’s new emergency preparedness campaign, ReadyRochester.org, and noted the work of a number of community involvement groups — including the Paw Patrol, the Citizen Police Academy and the Community Emergency Response Team — which he said all work to keep the city safe.

Ray celebrated the fact that Rochester — the first settlement in Oakland County — continues to preserve and protect its historical buildings via the Historical Commission’s plaque program and the opt-in option to become an actual historical district.

“We currently have six properties that have already become historic districts in town,” he said.

Rochester is home to a strong and historical downtown, according to Ray, who said it has boasted a 97 percent occupancy rate for the past six years.