Mayor: State of St. Clair Shores ‘strong’

New developments in works for south end of city

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 5, 2014

 Mayor Kip Walby gives his second State of the City address Feb. 27 at the Senior Activities Center.

Mayor Kip Walby gives his second State of the City address Feb. 27 at the Senior Activities Center.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — This year will see more development coming to St. Clair Shores, according to Mayor Kip Walby.

He announced during his 2014 State of the City Address that officials have been working with the owner of the Shores Theatre, as well as Emagine Entertainment, to “use the building that sits there today, try to make it historical, make it look like the way it looked in the ’40s.”

“It is not an easy task,” he continued. “We all know that we would really love to bring that theater back again.”

He also alluded to changes for the Chapoton Apartments.

“We believe we will have a development there by the end of 2014,” he said. “I’m excited to think that we may have that for the south end of the city.”

The Senior Activities Center, where the State of the City speech was held Feb. 27, will hopefully be able to begin an expansion project in the fall, as well, he said, with a committee beginning work to put out requests for proposals for complete designs for such a project.

“We need to do that expansion work on a state-of-the-art fitness (center), improve the café, improve the drop-off, get more rooms here,” he said.

Senior Center Director Sue Fickau said the membership is very appreciative of the mayor and City Council’s support.

“We couldn’t be happier. There’s a regeneration of life in here,” she said.

And with the hopeful completion of the 40th District Court by the end of March, as well as development continuing to bring Biggby Coffee and Subway to 11 Mile Road and Harper Avenue, and a medical complex continuing its expansion at 12 Mile Road and Little Mack Avenue, development is continuing in the city.

Walby highlighted the work of the city’s 245 employees in maintaining city services and working to “make St. Clair Shores a great community.”

“The financial health of St. Clair Shores is still very strong,” he said. “That does not mean that we don’t recognize that we have problems. When we do have a problem, we do try to address it.”

Walby pointed out that all city departments work daily to drive down costs and find new revenues and grants when they can. Projects like the new waste hauler, which will save the city $2 million over eight years, and various grants won by the Department of Public Works and Fire Department, help the city’s bottom line while still maintaining a high level of service, as do cost-saving measures like the City Clerk’s move to eliminate one polling precinct, which saved a couple thousand dollars.

He also highlighted Community Development and Inspection’s work on the tax foreclosed homes. The city purchased 27 pieces of property from the county last year through that program, and while Walby said he hopes that number will continue to decline, the program has revitalized many neighborhoods in the city.

“It’s very good for the neighborhoods,” he said. “We will continue to revitalize one home at a time, one neighborhood at a time. People do want to build here, and when they do build, those homes are sold quickly, and that’s because people want to live in the city.”

Walby said the City Clerk’s office and the Finance Department will be working in 2014 to update the city code of ordinances and to make the city budget more user-friendly and easier to read for more transparency for residents.

And more departments will join Parks and Recreation in giving residents ways to pay or order items online, he said, including the library, which is working to add online registration for events and expand its text notifications.

The economic challenges aren’t behind St. Clair Shores, Walby said, noting that, in its heyday, the city could bring in $17.6 million in property taxes annually. That number is now less than $14 million. And with retiree costs continuing to rise, “it is a tough road ahead.”

He stressed, however, that volunteers help create the community that is St. Clair Shores, with all the work that goes into activities, such as the Memorial Day Parade, fireworks and tree lighting ceremony. And in 2013, he said, more swimmers hit the city pool than ever before, as it hit a record for attendance.

Macomb County Commissioner Veronica Klinefelt, who represents District 3, said that is what sets the city apart from some other municipalities.

“The community involvement here is so much higher than what I see in other communities,” she said. “The residents here don’t just live in St. Clair Shores; they’re part of the community.”

The Parks and Recreation Department will be looking to expand its offerings, as well. Walby said they are exploring grants that could make a skate park a reality in the city or improve baseball offerings.

The department is also working to revamp the Lac Ste. Claire Harbor and to increase boater occupancy for the summer.

“We’re not spending millions of dollars, but we are going to do some work to try to improve it,” Walby said, by painting the seawall and replacing power pedestals for the boat wells.

The department is working with a new vendor at the golf course restaurant to renovate that facility, as well.

“It will be very successful — I just know it,” he said. “We have to continue to improve our assets, and that’s a great step in the right direction.”

Also in his speech, Walby highlighted the “busy” Police Department and said a priority for the year will be to find a new chief. Interim Chief Todd Woodcox, however, has begun working with the Department of Public Works to ticket more motorists who leave their vehicles in the road during snow emergencies and has begun working more closely with city administration.

One local resident said more tickets might send a better message.

“I think St. Clair Shores has created a nice, steady path. The Fire Department and Police Department are top-notch. They missed a lot of revenue by not issuing tickets for the stay off the road days,” said Jo Piazza. “All in all, I think it’s a well-run operation.”

Resident Dennis Oster agreed.

“Mayor Walby is a great visionary for our city,” he said after the speech. “He’s the perfect leader in these challenging times.”

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