Madison Heights sets priorities in strategic planning process

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published February 8, 2023


MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights City Council recently concluded its latest round of long-term strategic planning, defining goals for the next five years.

The city has held such meetings each year since the fall of 2018. Back then, the city was experiencing significant issues with staffing, infrastructure maintenance and delivery of core services.

The process allowed the city to plan farther ahead. Proposal MH resulted from it, shoring up the city’s police and fire services. It also led to the renovations now underway at City Hall and the library at Civic Center Plaza, as well as the construction of a new Active Adult Center between them, and renovations at Fire Station 2.

City Manager Melissa Marsh said the city’s finances are solid thanks to a strong tax base and financial reserves available to address any emergencies. Her team has been forecasting an upcoming “mild recession,” and prepared for it by holding off on recurring expenses such as new staff in the 2024 fiscal year. However, the current inflationary economy presents its own challenges, increasing costs not only for residents but city operations as well.

During the strategic planning process, the council members were presented with categories such as public safety, infrastructure and capital assets, quality-of-life services, financial security and efficient city services, economic development, and environmental sustainability. Each member of council was asked to rank them in terms of priority.

According to Mayor Roslyn Grafstein, public safety was top priority for the council overall while environmental sustainability ranked last. This prompted Marsh to ask if environmental sustainability should be taken off the list, but Grafstein responded that it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.

“Safety, for me, is No. 1, since it doesn’t matter what parks and amenities we have if people don’t feel safe,” the mayor said. “But with everything we’re doing, we should still be able to incorporate environmental sustainability by, for example, looking at having more energy-efficient vehicles in the fleet, and still be planting trees and putting in gardens. All of these things for the environment need to be factored into all the other priorities.

“Trees increase quality of life. Most environmental things do. Making the city more walkable and friendly to get around without motorized travel also improves the environment. All of these things can go hand in hand (with other city efforts),” Grafstein said.

She noted that the city is wrapping up its work at Civic Center Plaza. City Hall has reopened and final touches are being made. The newly renovated library is expected to reopen this spring, and the new Active Adult Center should be completed and opened by late summer or fall. As for the original Active Adult Center, the city is in the process of selling it. Any sale will come with the stipulation that the old building remains open until the new building is completed.

The mayor also said the city continues to seek new uses for properties that are neglected or underutilized. She said she often hears from interested developers, but the problem is that the owners of the properties are often not interested in selling.

City Councilman Mark Bliss said that one change he suggested was the city paying for staff and police officers at events such as Juneteenth or Trail Tunes. Those costs have previously been covered by the private fundraising efforts of citizen volunteers.

“When you think about it, the volunteers who are residents of the city are raising funds to pay for staff who they’re already paying for with their taxes,” Bliss said. “These events are official events by city boards, so they should be included under standard city operations.

“I view it very similarly to the nature center some years back,” he continued. “It was a big deal to me that they were charging for parking at the nature center that we own; our taxpayers were effectively paying Oakland County to park in a building that their tax dollars bought. That was a giant problem for me, but after three years we were able to get the county to change that. This is very similar to that, in my opinion.”

He said that the city helping to shoulder the costs will also boost morale for volunteers.

“We want Madison Heights to be a conduit for volunteerism. We want to make it as easy for them as possible. Charging them for donations to pay for city staff is not the way to do that,” he said. “The reason we did it before was because the city didn’t want a giant amount of cost created by the citizen boards — the overtime cost (for police, fire and DPS) comes out of the general fund, so if larger (events) were not planned well, you would run into challenges with budgeting and union contracts. But now we have enough data from the events we run to know acceptable levels of staffing, so we can plan in ways that we couldn’t before.”

Bliss said the strategic planning process has been a boon for the city, leading to decisions such as setting aside money each year for future investments in amenities at the parks. This way, when there are grant opportunities that require a matching contribution from the city, the city can jump on those opportunities without needing to amend the budget. He said it may take a while to realize the full potential of the process, but he’s confident it will be worth it in the end.

“We’re not looking at things just for the urgency of today. We’re planning for a future that may be well after our time, but it’s our job to set it in motion today. Otherwise we leave future councils at a major disadvantage,” Bliss said. “Progress takes an insane amount of time and strategy. You don’t just walk into change. It takes an enormous amount of restraint and leadership for us to collectively put aside money now for things we may not see anytime soon.”