Success, relevance top 2015 State of the City address

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published July 29, 2015


ROYAL OAK — Mayor Jim Ellison delivered the 2015 State of the City address last week, reflecting on success and relevance during a time of economic uncertainty.

Ellison spoke to a sold-out crowd at Bistro 82, telling about 90 attendees that what keeps Royal Oak a sought-ought community is its relevance.

“We need to keep Royal Oak relevant,” he said. “We need to keep Royal Oak ahead of the curve. We need to keep Royal Oak out in the forefront.”

Ellison outlined prior-year statistics about Royal Oak, including a 25 percent decrease in part A crimes — which include force or threat of force — in the past four years, as well as a booming real estate market.

The city has seen 131 new homes built in the past year —  76 so far this year — and it is on track to see 500 new homes built in the city in the past four years.

“Five hundred new homes in a land-locked suburban community is incredible,” Ellison said. “But it’s a testament to what brings people to Royal Oak, and we’re happy for it.”

The mayor spoke of the city being named on national lists as one of the best places to live; more than 6,000 runs executed by the Fire Department, including delivering a baby on Interstate 696; the crowdfunding for a smart park; numerous green and clean energy initiatives; the hard work and dedication of city staff, especially during the time of historic flooding; and the Royal Oak School district, whose high school and middle school were named as official International Baccalaureate World Schools.

“Under (the superintendent’s) leadership, student achievement continues to head in a good direction in Royal Oak,” Ellison said.

Royal Oak Public Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said strong schools and a strong community work hand in hand for residents.

“Not only those that have students attending the schools, but as a resident of Royal Oak, I know my property values are higher when there are great city services and great schools,” he said. “The city’s responsible for most of the city services that residents rely on, the school system is responsible for what is the heart and soul of services, which is education for the community, and so when we work together on all the services, it’s going to be a strong community.”

Ellison spoke highly of the downtown and the city’s ability to attract commercial and industrial properties.

“And our technology base continues to grow and expand,” Ellison said.

City Commissioner Jeremy Mahrle attended the July 21 event and agrees that relevance sets Royal Oak apart from similar, but less successful, communities.

“We talk about competitiveness, and that’s just not amongst businesses and restaurants within Royal Oak,” he said. “It’s about keeping Royal Oak competitive in the region.”

City Commissioner Sharlan Douglas said one of the revealing aspects of the recession was that home values did not dip in Royal Oak as much as in surrounding communities, and values rebounded faster.

“So our relevance directly pays off on our bottom line with residents and property taxes,” she said.

City Commissioner Patricia Paruch said that remaining relevant is the best way to continue to attract residents and businesses.

“A city is a living, breathing organism. It never stops. It never stops moving, and the goal is to keep it moving in a positive direction,” Paruch said. “You have to keep it relevant to people to keep that going.”

Future challenges for Royal Oak that Ellison outlined during his address included providing better customer service for residents and the statewide issues of Michigan roadways and municipal legacy costs.

“We are spending more than $16.9 million per year now to pay for services delivered years ago,” Ellison said. “That is $16.9 million that could be used to enhance our parks, fix our buildings, repair our roads, improve other services and perhaps even cut tax rates.”

The mayor said 33 percent of the city’s current personnel budget is paying for workers long retired.

Ellison said he understands there is still work to do, and he plans to communicate a message to Lansing: “Our local schools and our local cities need your help.”

“I have been mayor of this community now for 12 years, and I can’t think of a more satisfying purpose in my life.” Ellison said.