DPW, parking highlight mayor’s State of the City address

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published April 14, 2015

 During the State of the City address April 9, Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter holds up a T-shirt as he talks about the August 2014 flooding that occurred in metro Detroit. The T-shirt, designed by Chris Gorski, references the flood and other disasters the city has faced in recent years.

During the State of the City address April 9, Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter holds up a T-shirt as he talks about the August 2014 flooding that occurred in metro Detroit. The T-shirt, designed by Chris Gorski, references the flood and other disasters the city has faced in recent years.

Photos by Donna Agusti

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FERNDALE — In opening the annual State of the City address April 9, Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter started with one simple question for all those in attendance — why do they work or live in Ferndale?

By outlining several cost-saving techniques implemented by numerous departments and talking about plans to continue to study parking in the downtown district, Coulter hoped to confirm for everyone that they made the right choice.

“You might say you’re in Ferndale because of its location, or maybe your work, family or friends brought you here, and perhaps you even grew up here,” Coulter said. “But for most of us, I think it’s more than that. We choose to live or work in Ferndale because it’s not just a city — it’s a community.”

The Department of Public Works was mentioned numerous times throughout Coulter’s speech, as he praised the department’s crews for their work during the month of February, which saw 26 inches of snow hit Ferndale and record-breaking cold temperatures cause frozen water lines, main breaks and road cleanup.

The August 2014 flood, which saw nearly 5 inches of rain hit Ferndale in less than two hours, was another example of the work of the DPW staff, and the city staff in general, Coulter said.

“We seem to get our share of natural disasters,” he said. “Ferndale was hit hard, with 65 percent of households affected (by the flood), and more than 600 claims were filed. The storm basically shut down City Hall, and all told, it sustained more than $700,000 worth of damage. The manager’s office, police, fire and DPW crews worked around the clock to assist residents and deal with the aftermath.

“It was a 300-year flood, and I don’t expect to be mayor when it happens again. But if it does, we are ready.”

Coulter mentioned recent changes that DPW Director Loyd Cureton has made to save the department and the city money. The DPW started hiring employees with specific skills, as well as training all employees, to save money on contractors.

Cureton said that in total, all the changes have allowed the DPW to save around $500,000 annually.

“The biggest change has been advanced and cross training amongst the crew, and targeted hiring when positions become available to do work we previously paid contractors to do,” Cureton said. “We have been able to do so much more than we have done in the past and proved we can respond quicker and more efficiently than contractors. In sidewalk repair programs, we are saving residents 30 percent directly, and we save approximately $170,000 a year with tree removal.”

During the address, Coulter mentioned cost savings by other departments, such as the Ferndale Fire Department, which has brought in more revenue by providing services to Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak Township. Chief Kevin Sullivan has trimmed $100,000 from defined benefit costs without affecting response times, Coulter said.

The Human Resources Department saved the city money by partnering with Royal Oak and Madison Heights to create the MiLife Health and Wellness Center, which provides free clinic appointments for full-time city employees and their dependants.

“The clinic opened in January, and there have already been more than 325 visits,” Coulter said. “The city is projecting a three-year savings of $108,000 and a cost avoidance of more than $470,000. It goes to show what a little bit of outside-the-box thinking and ingenuity can accomplish.”

Coulter pointed out that a Ferndale State of the City address wouldn’t be complete without talking about parking.

The city rolled out the Ferndale Park+ system over two years ago, and while the rollout was a bumpy road with long lines and increased rates, Coulter said city officials now consider the transition a success, as parking revenue is up $160,000 since 2012.

In 2014, the City Council looked at a parking structure plan developed by 3-60 LLC that would have brought parking structures and office space to two downtown parking lots, as well as lofts on one lot.

While council decided not to go with the project, Coulter said parking is still very much an issue that city officials are studying.

“We now have a much clearer, more detailed and realistic analysis of our actual parking needs, and a clearer understanding of the costs,” he said. “And frankly, we also have a much clearer perspective of the concerns and wishes of our residents and business owners. We’re still going to have to address parking and how our downtown grows and develops over time, so we still have hard choices to make.”

Ultimately, Coulter said he feels the state of the city is in a good spot.

“We’re not totally out of the woods yet from the Great Recession, and we’ll be challenged to keep costs down and be creative in how we deliver services,” he said. “But, all things considered, I’m very optimistic about our future, and the state of our city is strong.”

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