|State of the City Address|
2013 State of the City Speech
Distinguished members of the Westland City Council, Elected and Appointed Officials, dedicated members of the Westland Boards and Commissions, hardworking City Employees, members of Westland's thriving Business Community, Friends in the Media and most importantly; The Great Citizens of Westland . . .
We sit here tonight in a theatre fit for the stars. Welcome . . . to the incredible . . . Westland MJR Grand Cinema!
Thanks to CEO Mike Michalik and his entire MJR team including VP of Operations Dennis Redmer, who is with us here tonight, for hosting this year's State of the City Address. This amazing $15 Million Dollar project was truly a game changer for the City of Westland. Not only did this theatre improve the landscape and nightlife of Westland's famous Shop and Dine District but it spurred new growth, jobs and reinvestment and, I believe, helped stabilize the entire local business community. We applaud MJR for realizing the unlimited potential in Westland and our community. Thank you again...
It is now my distinct honor to bring to you the 2013 State of City Address . . .
I stand before you tonight as a proud Mayor at a very transformational time in our proud city's history. Westland was founded in 1966 and will turn 50 in only three short years, and I truly believe that the future of Westland has never been brighter.
Westland has navigated the rough waters of the recent national recession. There are some that say, we have navigated those waters quicker and/or better than most.
Ford Motor Co Chairman Bill Ford was recently quoted saying he admired that as a city, Westland has faced reality and rather than trying to turn back the clock and hope for better things, they have met the challenges head on.
Detroit Free Press business writer Tom Walsh characterized Westland as a paragon of smart, sensible local government.
Well, in Westland we are humble, and while we will take those compliments, we know it hasn't been easy and we know we still have a ways to go.
But, I can tell you we have come a long way - a very long way. If you remember, it was only a few short years ago, 2009 to be exact, that our auditors told us that with rising costs and plummeting revenues that the city would run out of money and start running at huge deficits in budget year 2010/11.
As a matter of fact, the current year 2012/13 budget and 2013/14 budgets showed projected deficits of 23 Million and 37 Million, respectively. Well, I'm proud to tell you that by rolling up our sleeves and going to work with The City Council and every employee union in the city, and after a lot of sweat and tears, we currently balanced both of those budgets and set up a 5 Million Dollar Rainy day fund, as well.
As an added bonus the City received word today that our annual audit is finishing up and that Rainy Day Fund is now up to 5.5 Million Dollars.
We have 125 less employees today, then when I became Mayor in 2007. We have worked with our unions to downsize City operations to meet current revenue with very little cuts to City Services. We have done so without labor strife, and reallocated our assets to better handle resident's demands and we have retrained our workforce in an effort to do more with less.
And it has made a difference. We are leaner and more efficient, and our bottom line is improving every day. I believe that the sacrifices were shared and we started at the top.
And there were sacrifices . . . we asked our employees to take pay freezes, we asked our employees to start paying towards their pensions, we asked employees to start contributing towards their health care - to the tune of approximately 20%, we asked for and received pension reform, and we have begun to eliminate costly retirement healthcare while asking them to get the work done with less employees . . . and they did, . . .
In the case of our public safety unions, they made these concessions while under contract . . . Now that's team work!
I believe we were able to achieve these money saving concessions because, like I said earlier, we started at the top. Starting with myself, my Department Heads and I took the same concessions, and in most cases we took them first. I cut my appointed staff from 18-12 and was able to save the city close to a million dollars a year. Six appointments at the top resulted in a million dollars a year savings . . . If we are asking our employees to do more with less, I believe that management should too.
Would the members of the Westland City Council, led by Council President Jim Godbout and Council President Pro-Tem Adam Hammons please stand up...
Would all of our Union representatives and city employees please stand as well.
We also looked for ways to give Westland residents better service at a lower cost through several shared service agreements with surrounding Cities. This is a model that Governor Rick Snyder is pushing and the state is offering financial incentives to pursue.
In a short period of time, we qualified for all of those financial incentives and Westland has quickly become the regional leader in seeking and implementing several successful innovative partnerships.
The shared service that Westland gets the most press on is our Wayne-Westland Fire Department merger. Fire Chief Mike Reddy has successfully managed the combined Fire Department for about a year now and we have recently begun to share this model with other communities. The first to replicate our model were the Cities of Dearborn and Melvindale.
Just sharing the Chief alone has saved our two communities approximately $250k in the first year alone and the savings will only continue.
Discussions are currently under way with the Cities of Inkster and Garden City to join as well. I'm going to circle back and tell you why this is important to the future of Westland in just a few minutes.
Besides our successful Fire Merger with Wayne, we also merged the Wayne and Westland Parks and Recreation Departments which resulted in a win/win for both Cities. For Westland, we closed the doors on an antiquated Recreation Center that was losing close to a million dollars a year. For Wayne, their "Incredible Community Center" was able to pick up much needed revenue as Westland residents were quick to utilize their recreational offerings.
Earlier this year, Westland also began delivering Emergency 911 Dispatch services for the Cities of Wayne, Inkster and Garden City, a move that has saved all four of our communities significant dollars while also allowing us to share the cost of technical upgrades to keep us on the cutting edge.
In another cost saving-saving move, the City of Westland has been sharing employees in the Water Department and Mapping Departments with Canton Township for the last several years as well.
I can tell you that Westland's innovation and success is being recognized, and Westland, as the State's 10th largest city truly has become a regional player on all important issues.
So, earlier I spoke about this being a transformational time in our City, and I want to explain what I meant by that.
As our All American City closes in on its 50th anniversary, the time has come to start to position our city for the next 50 years.
I think we really have to be honest with ourselves. The City has been managing decline for quite some time. Decline of our City Buildings, decline of our infrastructure, and decline of what makes our City livable and attractive to commercial investment and homebuyers alike.
Because of the hard work and sacrifices we have all made, we have been able to bring our expenses in line with today's revenues; and because we are operating the City more like a business, Westland is now in position to start reinvesting into long neglected priorities and these strategic investments will truly be transformational as we position Westland to remain competitive for future commercial investment and tomorrow's homebuyers.
When I say long neglected, nothing fits that statement more than the current City Hall. Our Proud City Hall which was erected very quickly when the founding fathers created the city, has been fighting the elements of a high water table for over 40 years. Our soggy, damp, cramped, moldy undersized city hall may have lost its fight with Mother Nature decades ago, but that is about to change.
In 2013 the City of Westland purchased a 64,000 sq. ft. vacant commercial building on Warren Rd using tax capture in the City's TIFA District to begin the repurposing of the building into a new modern, energy efficient City Hall that will bring most of the City's departments under one roof for the first time. It will also be much more reflective of the stature of the city and the pride of our residents.
Work on this 10 Million dollar project has already commenced and we look forward to opening the doors sometime in the fall of 2014.
The City also purchased the vacant Service Merchandise Building, a structure that has been an eye sore in the Shop and Dine District for a decade.
TIFA funds were used once again and the City of Westland will break ground in the spring of 2014 on a new $3 million dollar State of the Art Fire Station to replace the outdated firehouse on Ford Rd and Carlson.
The incredible new station will bear the name of Westland's first Fire Chief Ralph Savini . . . Chief Savini served from 1962-1979 and is survived by his lovely wife Joanne, who is with us here tonight . . .
Please join me in recognizing Ms. Savini on this special occasion . . .
The Westland TIFA will also fund road and park improvements to Central City Parkway between Ford and Warren Roads. Plans are still being developed for this $3.5 Million dollar project that will create a more walkable, pedestrian friendly area with incredible natural landscaping that will also tie nicely into the newly constructed Veterans Memorial Garden of Westland, located behind the Westland Library.
The Westland Downtown Development Authority has also broken ground on the final improvements to the just remediated Central City Park and adjacent Tattan Park.
The project will feature an incredible multi- use building that will house the All American Farmers Market and it will also serve as home to countless city and civic events.
As part of this project, Tattan Park will become the new home for the Performing Arts Pavilion that was previously located behind the Library and families are going to love the new outdoor bathrooms and concession stand.
Improvements also include new pavilions and pedestrian bridges, walkways and improved parking to name just a few.
Once completed it will be the feature park in Westland and with the planned improvements to the popular H20 Zone there will be nothing like it anywhere.
While you always want to be cautious when taking on additional debt, the timing is right and the city is in position to capitalize on low interest rates and labor costs.
With the City's rising bond rating, stable finances and improving property values, the timing is perfect to get the most for our tax dollars.
And remember, these projects, which represent nearly $20 million dollars in capital improvement investments, will not require any millages to fund. Tax capture in the Westland TIFA and DDA will cover the bond payments 100%.
And there is more . . .
The City also has also made investments in The Mike Modano Ice Arena this year with new a new LED lighting project that was funded out of the city's energy efficiency fund that will save considerable dollars on the arena's electricity bill and we also installed a much needed Cart Path at the Westland Municipal Golf Course with grant dollars and repaved the Walking Path at the Westland Friendship Center using federal funds.
Taylor Towers, which is a senior housing asset of the City, received nearly 2 million dollars' worth of upgrades this year with a new roof, all new windows and 2 new elevators.
Funds for this project came from operational funds generated by the Towers.
Moving into 2014 . . . in an effort to further stabilize the City's sound financial footing, Westland will close on a refinance of the Taylor Towers Building netting the City close to $10 Million Dollars. Those funds will be used to capitalize a new City Wide Capital Improvement Fund being created to help fund future City improvements.
Let's not forget Westland's Finest. The Westland police Department is rolling out 20 new next generation Patrol cars as we speak and plans are in the works to invest into much needed upgrades at the Westland Police Station.
City Council also just approved a long needed 3.5 Million dollar 3 year plan to upgrade the City's water and Sewer infrastructure that will be funded out of the Water and Sewer Fund.
In a joint project with Wayne County and the Michigan Department of Transportation, you will also see the addition of a long needed left hand turn lane at one of the City's most dangerous intersections, Newburgh and Cherry Hill. Wouldn't you agree, this was long overdue?
As you can see there are a lot of incredibly exciting projects taking place and coming soon . . . and best of all . . . none - and let me repeat - none of those projects I mentioned will require millages or extra tax dollars…
One of the city's goals has been to take these public investments, especially those in the Shop and Dine District, and leverage them to attract private investment.
I mentioned earlier how MJR's $15 Million dollar investment was a game changer for Westland, and it really was.
Following on the heels of MJR's project we saw new investment all throughout the surrounding area. Large corporations like McDonalds reinvested in their Warren Rd Site, and soon Tim Horton's broke ground as well and several of our surrounding restaurants soon expanded to handle the over flow crowds of close to 800,000 annual movie goers.
Following on the heels of MJR, Westland announced its $16.5 million dollar investment into the district with our City Hall and Fire Station Projects and announced plans to improve the walkability of the area.
Soon Westland Shopping Center stepped up to the plate and reinvested in their facility with new signage and new attractive modern entrances.
The Westland Char House opened their doors, and Applebee's renovated their entire building inside and out and was soon followed by Red Lobster's extensive exterior renovations.
We also saw hundreds of thousands of vacant commercial square footage become occupied and there was none bigger than Dynamic Diagnostics which purchased the vacant Sam's Club building and moved their medical and laboratory supply business World Headquarters into the 106,000 square foot building bringing not only diversity to the district but also jobs!
The incredible transformation of the site has been a major boost to our economic development efforts.
Their CEO Cory Brimhall and his wife Mariaza are here with us tonight . . .
Let's give them a round of applause . . .
It's been proved time and time again that private investment will follow smart public investment, and we are just getting started.
We will soon be launching our annual Shop and Dine Campaign as we move into the Holiday Season.
This annual campaign is a commitment from the city to our retail business community and we encourage everyone to shop Westland this holiday season.
Let's take a look at this year’s TV commercial starring our mistress of ceremonies….Ashlee Baracy
I want to talk for a minute about the Norwayne Community . . .
In my very 1st state of the City I made a commitment that the city was going to start reinvesting into the communities oldest neighborhood.
Westland started by investing early on in a road project to reconstruct Dorsey Avenue and we didn't stop there.
Over 2 million dollars in Federal Neighborhood Stabilization dollars have been used to acquire, rehab, demolish and construct homes throughout the historic neighborhood.
We have worked to lighten the density and create more green space and have funded programs to encourage home ownership and property improvements.
The City also plans to refurbish the closed Jefferson Barnes Elementary School in 2014 with the intentions to replace the 50 year old Dorsey Center. We have plans in place to partner with several area nonprofit service providers to address the need head on.
The City's investment and commitment has been matched organically by several residential groups formed from dedicated homeowners who have taken to the streets of Norwayne to create a safer, cleaner neighborhood of choice.
I think we are all excited that the momentum continues to gather steam. Norwayne officially received Historic Designation by the State of Michigan and the recent ribbon cutting of the New Liberator Park.
I would like to recognize the work of long time Westland resident Henry Johnson, who is here with us tonight, and his team from the Norwayne Citizens Council and Brenda Hubbard and her volunteers from the Norwayne Neighborhood Watch program for their tireless efforts over the past year . . . Let’s give them a round of applause.
Since serving as your Mayor, I have worked hard to try and create a greener more sustainable Westland for future generations and one of my first initiatives was launching Westland Mission Green.
I couldn't be more proud of our residents as we launched our award winning curbside recycling program in 2008 and we have never looked back.
Here we are in 2013 and we have one of the nation's highest participation rates at close to 80%. Westland residents are recycling over a million pounds of trash each month!
We have since expanded our recycling opportunities and now are recycling electronics, household appliances, oils, antifreeze, steel and batteries at our Recycling Center on Marquette.
The Recycling Center received a much needed facelift on Earth day and we are still recycling clothing in the big blue bins located throughout the City. The thing to remember is that all of these items we are recycling are new revenue streams for the City that help keep the program funded.
Another big part of mission green has been our Community Garden. A private/public partnership with DTE and Gleaners.
The Westland community Garden has become one of the state's top producing gardens generating over 18,000 lbs. of fresh produce in the last two years alone. This produce feeds families in need in Westland and all throughout Southeast Michigan.
We also pledged to become a healthier City and My Passport to A Healthy City Campaign reached new heights this year when we partnered with St Mary Mercy Hospital and Westland Pastor, and NBC's Biggest loser Finalist Buddy Shuh to kick off our 12 week Buddy Up fitness program that had over 400 participants who met weekly to exercise and learn more about creating a healthier lifestyle.
I'm proud to announce tonight that Buddy is with us in the audience and we will be kicking off Buddy Up 2.0 in January and you can register today on the Passport to a Healthy City website.
I've asked you to join me as we became a greener, more sustainable city and you did in overwhelming numbers. I then asked you to help me create a healthier city and once again, you took the challenge . . .
So tonight I'm going to the well one more time. I had an amazing opportunity to join a small group of the nation's mayors to meet the Dalai Lama. We listened closely to his call for us to return to our communities and start a brush fire of compassion. I'm asking you tonight to help me create Michigan's 1st Compassionate City.
A compassionate city is a city where our residents are kind to each other and show tolerance for our neighbors and are accepting of our differences.
Compassion is something that doesn't cost anything or isn't above our reach. It is something that is in all of us and is probably the most integral part of the fabric of what makes Westland the All American City.
I have asked my most compassionate Dept. head Barbara Marcum, our incredible Senior Resource Director, to head up this new initiative. If you know Barbara, then you know she already has plenty of great ideas on how we can all become more compassionate.
I'm also pleased to announce this evening that our home on the internet, the city's website, is getting completely rebuilt from the ground up.
You can test drive a few of the new pages tonight by visiting PREVIEW.CITYOFWESTLAND.COM.
Our goal with this new site is to let you, our residents and business owners, do business with us 24hrs a day.
Our site is being designed to be compatible not only with your computer and laptops at home and work, but with your mobile phones and tablets too.
I understand how busy life is and the value of being able to skip the lines at the counters. This is why our new site will make it easier than ever before to schedule appointments, track requests and securely make payments any time, any day, from any device you may have.
If you visit PREVIEW.CITYOFWESTLAND.COM, you will also be able to get a sneak peak of one of our newest public safety apps online.
We will be launching an interactive and nearly real-time crime mapping utility. With this online app you will be able to see what's happening in your neighborhood and elsewhere.
Our police officers are already using a version of this tool to help predict where crime and trouble may occur in our city. Now you and your neighbors will be able to keep a watchful eye on your neighborhood too from the comfort and safety of your homes.
As we wrap up here tonight, I want to say how proud I am of our City and for how far we have come in the last few years.
Westland is not just another City in Michigan. Throughout our entire history, we have strived to set ourselves apart.
We have continually reached for our future with confidence and set upon ourselves strict goals and higher standards that have in turn set the standard for how other cities should operate.
I know that the City of Westland still has its challenges. While we have made great progress on stabilizing the city's finances and have begun to reinvest in our infrastructure needs, we still have challenges that we must face head on.
One of our challenges, like most cities across the nation, will be tackling our long term pension and retirement health care obligations.
I will ask the City Council to join with me in a strategic planning series to strategize on how best to handle this concern. I believe that our proposed Fire Authority will play a major role in that strategy.
The City will also begin to plan strategic investments to strengthen our neighborhoods and begin to plan on how to best reinvest into the city's network of roads and sidewalks.
We have an ambitious agenda ahead of us again this year. I assure you, we will pursue it with the same fiscal discipline that has helped us to weather the recession better than most cities.
We will continue to balance our budgets and be good stewards of your hard earned tax dollars.
We have accomplished much - but we have more to do. The state of our City is stronger than ever - but it can be stronger still.
I get asked all the time "How have you been able to do what you have done in Westland?" Let me tell you. The reality is . . . what we have done in Westland can be done at all levels of government across the country . . . .
Together, we will continue to build our future, and we will not rest - not for one second - until we have fulfilled the promise and possibility for our great city for every single resident.
Thank you and God bless the City of Westland.