At a recent long-term strategy meeting, city officials in Madison Heights began to consider the idea of relocating the Active Adult Center, pictured here, to the Civic Center Complex, by the library and City Hall.

At a recent long-term strategy meeting, city officials in Madison Heights began to consider the idea of relocating the Active Adult Center, pictured here, to the Civic Center Complex, by the library and City Hall.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Madison Heights officials look ahead at long-term strategy meeting

Staff researches feasibility of relocating Active Adult Center to Civic Center Complex

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 18, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS — City officials in Madison Heights say that the city’s new long-term strategic planning process has proven to be a success, with many goals having been fulfilled.

At a meeting Dec. 7, officials took stock of the progress made so far and began considering other areas of focus for the community.

“(The process) has focused the city’s spending and efforts on the city’s significant issues to make real progress in only two years,” Madison Heights City Manager Melissa Marsh said via email. “In 2018 we started a new focused strategic plan to guide our activities and investment into the future. This was to make sure that we were focusing our efforts on programs and projects that were important to our residents — and that when money is tight, we are spending in the areas where it matters most.”

Progress made
The City Council identified five areas of focus in that original meeting: public safety, infrastructure/capital assets, quality of life, economic development, and financial sustainability and efficient city services.

It was this process that led to heavy investment in personnel, capital assets and infrastructure at the Police and Fire Departments, as well as the ballot millage proposal, Proposal MH, which was aimed at supporting both public safety and improving quality of life.

Marsh noted how in recent years the city has replaced the leaking roof at the Police Department and established a regular replacement program for vehicles, as well as increasing staff  there from 57 to 66, building a new gun range, implementing new in-car cameras and body cameras for increased transparency and accountability, and beginning work on updating the radio system to comply with the Oakland County master system.

In the Fire Department, the city has increased staffing from 28 to 33, started a feasibility study on the building maintenance needs at Fire Station No. 2, and added new emergency rescue vehicles.

“It’s great for council and the city’s department heads to have genuine conversations about the challenges they face and have discussions about how we can solve them,” Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss said in an email. “One big example of this is public safety, which has been our top area of focus throughout our goals and strategic planning sessions, and the budget has reflected that. Moving from $13 million annually in 2013 to nearly $18 million in 2020 has resulted in the additions of new personnel and technology that make our city safer. This is especially powerful knowing that we did not levy the full millage increase this year given the pandemic.”

Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein said she appreciates the new process.

“When I first came onto council in 2017, our goal-settings process wasn’t very defined. I remember being asked to rank goals without being given the total budget or an idea how different goals would interact with each other. Now, the strategic planning process is more efficient and provides a much clearer picture of how we envision the city,” Grafstein said in an email. “By stepping back and taking a long-term planning view instead of working only on immediate concerns, we are able to construct a more comprehensive plan.”

Looking forward
At the Dec. 7 meeting, one major topic that came up was the feasibility of selling the Active Adult Center, at 29448 John R Road, to be replaced with a new facility between City Hall and the library in the Civic Center Complex, on 13 Mile Road, west of John R Road. The move would place the recreational facility a bit closer to emergency services and potentially streamline operations and costs by allowing the three buildings to share more resources.

The mayor said she is in favor of the move, as is the Active Adult Center’s board, but the concept is still in the earliest stages of discussion.

Bliss said he sees potential in the idea.

“It would give us potential energy and resource saving, free up a property that could be developed and give the city some additional tax revenue. More importantly, though, it could provide improved services for our seniors, major enhancements to our library, and new shared spaces that will help to inspire cross-collaboration of programs,” Bliss said. “We still have to do a cost-savings analysis to make sure that the strategy could work for us financially, but it’s a great concept that already has the support of our citizen boards.”

Grafstein noted that another topic that came up was event sponsorship. The city’s traditional Memorial Day Parade and Pre-Fourth of July Festival in the Park were cancelled due to COVID-19, but the city was still able to host a successful, modified drive-through Holiday Tree Lighting.

“Going forward, the city is not expected to be in a position to make a financial contribution, which means we will be relying on private individual and corporate sponsors to fund the roughly $30,000 needed for these three traditional events,” Grafstein said.

She pointed to the inaugural Trail Tunes and the second annual Pumpkin Walk, both arranged by the Madison Heights Arts Board, as examples of successful events in 2020 that cost less than $10,000 and were funded solely with donations. She also said that the city’s new commission on human rights is looking to host cultural events next year celebrating the Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo and Juneteenth.

“As we are a city of diverse cultures, I expect they will also be looking at events to celebrate the holidays of our neighbors who are of Jewish, Muslim and other faiths,” Grafstein said.

Note of caution
Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett, the most veteran member of the council, urged a certain degree of restraint in spending, given the uncertain nature of the times. The Dec. 7 meeting opened with a review of the city’s financial outlook, as informed by a Plante Moran audit. Corbett characterized the city’s situation as a “somewhat foggy financial environment.”

“Although our revenues are pretty set for the next 18 months, clearly certain unknowns plague the financial horizon we are attempting to discern,” Corbett said in an email. “Will foreclosures rise significantly in the new year if the current moratorium on evictions is lifted? If so, what will be the effect on property values, and therefore tax revenues to the city going forward? And will or won’t the federal government come through with assistance to local governments for revenue shortfalls attributed to programming and activities, which had to be cancelled due to the pandemic?”

He noted that newer members of council in recent years were elected on platforms that called for rejuvenating services and quality-of-life programming, but uncertainty in the city’s finances has limited many of the more ambitious initiatives.

“Plus, there’s an obvious limit to what the city can do when lockdown orders to varying degrees of severity have kept people at home,” Corbett added. “In this year’s planning session, staff pivoted smartly to look inward to the short term and advance consideration of capital improvement projects, which have been languishing, gaining importance over time.”

With regards to possibly relocating the Active Adult Center near City Hall and the library, the city will need to consider the costs of repairing and upgrading the three facilities separately versus consolidating those efforts in a shared campus, he said.  

“Even if we put money strictly into roofs, flooring and electrical upgrades at the library and senior center, are those buildings still adequate to meet the changing and expanding needs of our residents? Over the new few months, staff will be chasing down a list of necessary repair costs and evaluating relative cost/benefit analysis on behalf of the council,” Corbett said.

“The only thing I would caution my council colleagues is to be very careful about spending a great deal of the taxpayers’ money before we have a clearer picture of the short- and mid-term economic future,” he concluded. “I’ve been through this before, more than once, in both public and business decision-making. I’ve learned some hard lessons, and been lucky to work with a disciplined and talented team of public servants. Sometimes the hardest thing in governmental service is to keep your finger off the ‘spend’ button until you have a 360(-degree) view of the future.”