Mayor Michael Armitage’s State of the City address

 Given January 27, 2014

Council, Department Heads, guests, and fellow residents, it is an honor to sit here and serve this wonderful community as Mayor.  I am very grateful for the opportunity and I am appreciative of the great responsibility that has been place upon me with this position.

2014 has come in like a lion in many ways. Mother Nature was not about to let the City of Milan ease into a new administration, but rather she came at us with a vengeance.  I am happy to say, because of the hard work of city staff and contractors; we faced her challenge head on. Residents awoke the morning of January 6th to find streets plowed to the curb and most intersections free of snow accumulations.  As a team, we took a different approach to this storm and it worked.

Tonight there will be a common theme of teamwork and cooperation.  I believe that we need to look past political and geographic boundaries in an effort to find areas of common good that will better the community; after all, we are all in this together!  We battled the snow because we did it as a team, constantly communicating from before the storm, during the storm, and debriefing afterwards.  We took the feedback from residents and addressed concerns as they were presented.  We communicated with the community through Nixle and Facebook so people knew what was being done and what to expect.  Being that this is already the snowiest January on record, our budget did take a hit.  The January 5-6 snowfall cost the city nearly $21,000.  While we budget for snow removal, this year has exceeded our projections.  Because of that, we are already nearly $7,000 over budget for snow removal operations.  That being said, I believe that timely snow removal, including the removal of snow from the downtown district, is an essential service that must be done with a high level of quality.  It affects public safety and our economy.  I want to thank the Downtown Development Authority for recognizing that and allotting $500 towards this effort from their fund balance last week in order to help the city close the snow removal budget deficit.

Over the last seven years we have been in survival mode.  It has been very trying for everyone involved in our city government, but we have done one heck of a job!  This survival mode, however, can not continue indefinitely. You will see in our audit report some identified problems in process which are a direct result of understaffing our departments.  Additionally, you will see that our water and sewer funds are operating with insufficient fund balances, which is evident by the fact we do not have sufficient funds for capital items such as our much needed iron filters.  Contrary to the belief of some, this fund does not generate any sort of profit.  To be honest, we have kept rates lower than the professional recommendations in order to give the most relief to the users, which have led to the problem of a small “rainy day” fund.  We are paying fixed costs on an overbuilt system.  We need additional development in the city to bring on new users, which will in turn help the fund and bring rate relief across the board.

Let’s shift gears to the General Fund, which brings positive news.  Last year’s budget, after making our final amendments, had a projected fund balance, or “rainy day fund” of just under $900,000.  I am very happy to report that audit will show that the actual fund balance is just under $1.2 million, or nearly $300,000 more than projected.  One key to that is the Police Department budget, whose operating expenses came in approximately $65,000 under budget.  Thank you to Chief Scherlinck and the members of the department for their conscious spending.

I project that we will hit the bottom financially in the 2015-16 fiscal year.  This is a result of the complete absence of manufacturing at the Ford plant, as well as the uncertain future of personal property tax. We must act now to lessen the blow to our budget, which is why I am asking council for their support in creating a new economic development position within the city of Milan.  We must start being pro-active in attracting development and supporting our already established businesses.  This will increase our tax base, relieve tax and utility rate burden on our residents, and most importantly create jobs in our city.   One action we took last year in an effort to attract residential development was to cut the residential tap in fees in half.  That program has been successful with 13 new home permits having been received since council took that action, compared to 1 the year before.  Tonight I am asking council to agree to continue that program into the next fiscal year.

Moving forward, we must switch gears from survival mode into a process of planning and vision.  This doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods financially, but rather that we need to re-evaluate where we spend our time and limited resources.  In order to get ahead, we have to move beyond getting by day-to-day and foster creative visioning and planning for the future- that process has started.  Three weeks ago the city took a giant leap forward in improving communication and transparency with residents and visitors by creating a Facebook page.  I am thrilled to report the success of that endeavor.  In three weeks, 750 people have ‘liked’ the page.  Last week a single post got 18,000 views, 167 shares, and 394 ‘likes.’  Additionally, the City of Milan has recently applied for, or is in the process in applying for, $1.3 million in grants.  Over the last three weeks I have been in frequent, almost daily, communications with Lansing lobbying for funding for street projects.  Council has approved sustainability projects such as the DTE Energy LED streetlight conversion, which will save the city $14,000 annually in energy costs. Staff and I have met with the Monroe County Road Commission to brainstorm cost saving measures to pave Wabash Road past the city limits.  We have opened discussions with our neighbors, and are exploring partnerships with the school district as we work towards win-win solutions.

Tonight, you will consider a contract with MuniRent, a startup business looking to spur intergovernmental cooperation.  This is an excellent example of how we are embracing new ideas, and are setting ourselves up to be a regional leader in public policy practices.  We are the community to watch moving forward!

These changes can’t and shouldn’t all happen at once.  As I mentioned, we are working a skeleton staff and must be realistic in our expectations.  I am very confident in our team, however, and I know we will accomplish great things as a city.  Keeping our restrictions in mind, and having started the budget work already, I am asking that for FY 2015-16 council also adopts a five year budget plan to prepare for future needs, instead of operating in a year-to-year tunnel.  The first step in this will be executed before the end of this fiscal year when we develop an asset management plan to survey our streets, prioritize their repair needs, and identify maintenance techniques to prolong their useful life.

While it is easy to get caught up in the paper and numbers of city government, we cannot forget the most important element, which are people.  We have social problems in our community that cannot be ignored.  Customer service must be paramount in our execution of services.  We must be supportive and inclusive of our youth.  We must be proactive in drug enforcement as heroin is taking lives all around us.  This cannot be ignored.  The community spoke strongly in support of our senior citizens through passing a millage for services; we must be good stewards of those funds as we work closely with our partners, such as the Milan Seniors for Healthy Living, who provide a much needed service to those populations.  We must also be committed to public safety, which provides a safe community for families to raise their children.  We must address issues such as blight, which affects quality of life in our community and sets a tone for those thinking of moving or opening a business here.

I was asked by a resident of Ann Arbor recently why someone would want to move to Milan.  I started off listing the physical reasons such as our proximity to Ann Arbor and Toledo, rail access for business, highway access, great schools, and having utilities such as water and sewer.  While all of those reasons are great, I quickly realized that there was so much more that we may take for granted that others may so much desire- that is our community.  We are a city where we know our neighbors, and when one of them is in need we rise up to help them.  The generosity of our late community hero, Nina Pemberton, was even seen by people far removed from our community.  She gave everything to help those in need in our community, and she was able to do so by tapping into the generosity and support of the community around her.   It was because of hard working community members that desired to volunteer instead of taking a salary that she was able to provide so much to so many, stretching a dollar unlike anywhere around.

Last week, the colors of our community shined a bright green as we united around the Farmer family to mourn the loss of Mason.  A community came together in support of a little child and his family as he battled cancer.   The support was evident from his diagnosis to his passing and beyond.   Every corner of this community rallied around this family in a fashion so strong it is still hard to comprehend.  While nothing we do can bring him back, HE (at the age of 2.5) made a strong, lasting, and positive impact on this community.  Please join me in a moment of silence for Nina, Mason, and all of those from our community whom we have lost this last year.

Everyone, I ask you for one thing.  From now forward, let’s focus on the positives.  A negative attitude will lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure.  Focusing on what may have gone wrong in the past does not lead to building a strong foundation for the future.  When someone asks you why they should live or open a business in Milan, please go out of your way to tell them the good of our city and why we need them as part of our community.

We must support our local businesses so we can retain them.  We can’t complain about what Milan doesn’t have while not supporting what is here.  The attitude at city hall is and will be clear: We are open for business and development!  This is a new day, we have turned a new corner, and I look forward to working together with our community partners as we move Milan forward.

 

May God continue to bless our city!

 

 

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