Leaders look back — and forward

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 8, 2014


SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA — The Shelby-Utica News interviewed the leaders of Shelby Township and Utica to get their takes on their municipalities’ 2013 accomplishments and 2014 plans.

Shelby Township
Rick Stathakis, the supervisor of Shelby Township, said the township’s taxes and millages did not increase for the fifth straight year. He said the general fund has a surplus of $300,000 this year and a total surplus of $4.6 million since 2009.

Stathakis cited achievements in three main categories: quality of life, service and efficiency, and public safety.

Under quality of life, he said the township worked to find $177,000 for a trail project to connect Chief Gene Shepherd Park to the Macomb Orchard Trail; officials are set to open Chief Gene Shepherd Park in early spring; the Parks, Recreation and Maintenance Department expanded its programs; a monthly electronics recycling program benefits the township and local businesses; the Macomb Department of Roads (MDR) completed a six-month reconstruction of Auburn Road; the MDR resurfaced Van Dyke Avenue; the board approved the widening of Hayes Road between 21 Mile and 23 Mile roads; Shelby Manor had its grand reopening and is now at full capacity; the township hosted its inaugural Veterans Memorial 5k Run; and Macomb Township was removed as a viable option to address the 41-A District Court building’s needs.

Under service and efficiency, he said the township reformed its hiring process from 224 to 100 days; employees repurposed a space in the Township Hall for a fitness and wellness program; the Treasurer’s Office began taking online bill payments at the township website, www.shelbytwp.org; the Clerk’s Office surpassed previous revenue and saw a 400 percent increase in passports; the Supervisor’s Office saved $7,000 by replacing an administrative clerk with Deputy Supervisor Brad Bates; and Shelby Township joined MACRO.

Under public safety, he said Ford Motor Co. took full responsibility for the contamination at the Ford/Visteon property at 23 Mile and Mound roads; Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski was sworn in Jan. 19; Ray Ahonen became the chaplain for the Fire Department; the Police Department investigated the illegal sales of synthetic narcotics; and the police used a grant to install security cameras at local parks.

Stathakis said he was looking forward to economic development at the Cherry Creek Corporate Park, using the Macomb County Prime Properties Web tool to attract more industrial growth, and implementing a sidewalk-repair program.

The top 10 priorities for Shelby Township are to reform the police and fire pension system, resolve the court building issue, redevelop the Visteon property, address community center needs, address library building needs, continue sidewalk maintenance, implement economic development initiatives, fight neighborhood blight, share services with other communities, and investigate new revenue sources — specifically grants.

Jacqueline Noonan, the mayor of Utica, said that the city is still hanging on, despite losing more than a third of its revenues from declining property values and diminished revenue sharing from the state during the last decade.

Noonan said the city worked to maintain the promised federal grant, worth nearly $1.9 million, for a hike and bike trail, with a quarter belonging to Shelby Township, and will move forward to build in 2014.

The city also formalized its membership in the Macomb Area Coalition for Regional Opportunities (MACRO), of which it was a founding member, and Noonan was elected to a one-year term as president of the Michigan Municipal League Board of Trustees in October. She previously held the position of vice president.

She said that the city moved its assessing and tax records to its website, www.cityofutica.org, where interested parties can look up information on any parcel in the city. The city also selected Abraham and Gaffney P.C. as its new auditing firm in June.

The Parks and Recreation Committee engaged planner Stephen Cassin to initiate and update the city’s five-year plan with input from residents.

In February, Noonan said the Ice Spectacular was extremely successful. In March, the inaugural Lucky Leprechaun Race raised money for the city and charity. In June, the Riverwalk Festival brought in crowds with a classic car cruise and more. In October, the Zombie Fest took over downtown. The Utica Public Library had successful bake and used book sales during the year, but still needed to cut back its hours in 2014, she said.

As for personnel, she noted that long-serving City Attorney William McGrail retired after 42 years with the city, as did his wife, Clerk Cathy McGrail, who served 29 years with the city. In the summer, son James McGrail was appointed to the position of city attorney. Deputy Clerk Beth Ricketts assumed the position of clerk, and her prior position will remain vacant to save money. Police officer Douglas Julien retired after a distinguished career of 29 years, she said, and a replacement is not anticipated until mid-2014. Lastly, Jerry Owczarzak replaced Gary Moscone as building director in October after Moscone retired in August.

Noonan said the city negotiated its four labor agreements with its unions, and while the Fire Department’s agreement is ratified, she said she hopes to conclude the other three in early 2014 after six months of meetings.

In compliance with a state act and in an effort to save money, she said the city changed its health care plans for active and retired employees; the change involved a cost-sharing component for the first time in decades.

In 2014, Noonan said that the city will look at continued grant activity, upgrading and replacing its fleet of police cruisers, adding surveillance cameras to its parks, studying its sewer/water system in detail, enforcing property maintenance ordinances, adopting an updated Parks and Rec plan, upgrading employee training and continuing to revise and update its zoning ordinance.