Sterling eyes facilities plan, new DPW proposal

Fiscal plans depend on millage renewal

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 6, 2018

File photo

After years of discussing placemaking initiatives to drive up people’s interest in Sterling Heights, city officials are now talking about plans to update or rebuild existing city buildings to make them into better places to work and serve.

During a Jan. 23 strategic planning meeting, proposals to upgrade municipal facilities were listed among plans that city officials are considering.

“While there have been many successes over the past 50 years, the city’s facilities have aged and need significant upgrading,” City Manager Mark Vanderpool said. 

Assistant City Manager Jeff Bahorski explained that city facilities are critical to providing services for residents and businesses. He blamed the buildings’ aging and lack of sufficient upkeep to deferred maintenance between 2009 and 2013 as a result of that period’s ailing economy. 

“After now nearly 10 years, it should come as no surprise that the city’s facilities are continuing to age and are failing at an alarming rate,” Bahorski said. “The fact that many of our facilities were at an advanced age when the Great Recession hit means that major building components are far beyond their useful, expected life.”

In response, the city hired Troy-based Integrated Design Solutions to assess four city buildings: City Hall, the Police Department, the 41-A District Court and the Sterling Heights Public Library. The company examined those buildings to check for deficiencies, suggest actions and predict repair costs. It made no case for replacing those four buildings.

According to Sterling Heights Facilities Maintenance Manager Jared Beaudoin, the study concluded that those buildings collectively need a total of around $17 million in upgrades. That includes around $4.8 million for heating and cooling improvements, $2.8 million for furniture and storage solutions, $2.6 million in structural improvements, $1.5 million for electrical upgrades, $1.25 million for lighting, $950,000 for roofing, $950,000 for alarms, $850,000 for plumbing, $800,000 for elevators and $500,000 for flooring. 

City officials discussed the Department of Public Works building separately because their idea is to eventually build a new building.

“The DPW ... building is over 40 years of age and, by today’s standards, anything but state of the art, and (it’s) unable to meet the needs of today’s larger equipment, specialized services … and the like,” Vanderpool said. “We need to provide our DPW employees (with) a state-of-the-art facility if we expect them to continue their high level of performance providing excellent services.” 

According to Public Works Director Michael Moore, the DPW building at 7200 18 Mile Road was built in 1976 and is about 70,000 square feet. Lack of room, electrical issues, water leaks and cracked masonry are a few of the complaints that Moore had about the current edifice. 

The city is looking at a consulting firm called Effective Management Decisions to meet with city stakeholders over plans to build a new DPW building. Moore estimated that a new DPW building would cost $20 million or more, but it would allow the ability to park more equipment inside, as well as improving logistics, security and employee morale.

As part of a broader presentation about fiscal issues, Finance and Budget Director Jennifer Varney said earlier in the meeting that the city’s five-year financial plan prioritizes spending toward roads, equipment, technology, vehicles, worker salaries and retirement obligations, economic development, and placemaking.

Two proposed capital improvement bonds were also mentioned to fund the facility-related projects.

One proposed 20-year, $20 million facilities improvement bond would improve City Hall, the Police Department, the library and the courthouse, as well as fund improvements to the Fire Department and information technology, Varney said.

A second proposed 20-year, $20 million bond would go toward constructing a new DPW building, she added.

Varney said the city’s overall debt would nevertheless remain low, peaking in 2019 at 24 percent of the city’s estimated $500 million legal debt limit and decreasing each year afterward. The city also expects to keep adding to its fund balance each year, leveling off in 2022 and also reaching a fund balance goal of 25 percent of expenditures, she said.

Varney added that the fiscal plan would not require a tax increase, though she said the plans depend on a voter-approved 2019 renewal of the Safe Streets Millage.

“I would, however, like to emphasize that the renewal of the Safe Streets Millage is critical to the success of this plan,” she said.

“If the Safe Streets Millage is not renewed … it would result in a $7 (million)-$8 million loss to the fund balance annually that would require deep cuts to public safety, and as well, (an) over $3 million reduction in our neighborhood roads program.”

After the presentations, several City Council members were enthusiastic about a new DPW building.

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko said facility improvements are needed, and she praised Moore for his presentation calling for a new DPW building.

“You had me at ‘built in 1976,’” she said. “You know your department from the bottom up because that’s where you started.” 

Councilman Nate Shannon said he is sold on the DPW proposal, and he urged the city to “get it done.” Councilwoman Deanna Koski asked how quickly the city could get started on the DPW building, and Vanderpool said the consulting process would probably take about six to eight months, with work beginning to ramp up in a little over a year. 

“Make it the right size, Mike,” Koski told Moore. “Make sure that you put all the trucks over on one side and the workers in the center and the restrooms and the kitchen, and you can even put … maybe a couple cots in there, when they have to work their 48 hours.”

Mayor Michael Taylor echoed the other council members’ enthusiasm, commenting that the improvements discussed this year at the planning session are not flashy but of great substance. 

“I’m confident, as this entire council is confident, that over the next three years we are going to see all those improvements made to the City Hall and the library and the Police Department,” he said.

“We’re going to see a new DPW building built. We’re not going to raise taxes to do it, because we have good people who lead the way and show us that we can do it.”

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