Madison Heights adopts new approach to long-term planning

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 4, 2018

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Many sacrifices were made during the Great Recession, but the city of Madison Heights weathered the storm better than most, coming out of it with stronger credit ratings than when it started. Officials say this was thanks to long-term planning by the City Council and city staff. 

Now that approach is about to become even more nuanced. Before, the city only planned one budget year at a time. Now there will be a series of planning meetings focused on the future, developing plans that will play out over the next three, five or even 10 years. This will allow for a more real-time approach to complex issues like paying for the pensions of first responders.  

“We will start with a long-term visioning of the city in mid-September and use that discussion to create goals and direction for the upcoming budget year,” said Melissa Marsh, acting city manager. “I’m hopeful this will lead to multiyear budgeting as well. This sets a clear path for all of council and departments for the future, while also allowing the vision to mature and change.”

Marsh said every department and aspect of local government will be on the table, starting with where the city currently stands, as well as more distant challenges and opportunities. After the first meeting later this month, there will be a second one in early October. 

“Council has been agreeable to changing the goal-setting process, and staff is very enthusiastic about this new approach,” Marsh said. 

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett said the city’s unfunded liability — what it owes current and future retirees — is one major issue the meetings will work to address. 

“At some point, both the city of Madison Heights and the state of Michigan are going to have to come to grips with the issue of unfunded liability, both with respect to pension and health insurance for our retired first responders,” Corbett said. “The council has taken a wait-and-see approach over the last couple years, but at some point we’re going to have to address this issue. Hopefully, the state will be helpful rather than a hindrance in doing that, in terms of their expectations of the community and the plans we develop to address the deficit.”

Corbett said that a cautionary approach to municipal finance is important, since it’s never quite certain what the future holds.

“We’re in a very transient period with respect to the economy. While I think everyone believes in the short run things will go well and our revenues will be increasing, it shouldn’t be overlooked we’re well past the point for an economic or market correction period,” Corbett said. “The normal business cycle has ups and downs, but we haven’t had a down in over nine years now; this is the longest post-war economic expansion in the country’s history. And while that’s great, and while I don’t think anything is going to change tomorrow, the realism of the thing is we have to understand that eventually we’ll have a downturn, and there will be periods of more limited revenue for the community. And we need to anticipate that.”