Good evening City Council, City Manager Campbell, City Clerk Royal, Distinguished guests, and my fellow citizens.
I’m honored to be here before you this evening.
Let me begin tonight by taking a moment to express my gratitude to those who retired from city government in the last year. Too often, it is only those in leadership who receive recognition. But, as everyone here knows, it is our staff who complete 90 percent of what needs to be done, to make our city government work, and we are indebted to them for their contributions.
As you all know, and as I’ve said many times, Saline is a very special place. But, like communities across the state and in our region, in recent years our city has experienced some major hardships and challenges.
However, in the past year, I believe that strong, bold steps have been taken to improve our strategic position, and Saline is stronger and better off than we were just 12 short months ago.
This City Council continues to be forward-thinking, and members understand the value of having a vision for the future. We’ve already had two retreats, and are in the process of finalizing our goals and objectives for the next fiscal year.
I’m proud of what we’ve come up with together. But, it’s important to note that once the goals document is completed, there is still much to be done.
Our goals cannot be realized through government alone; we need the engagement of individuals from all areas of our community to move forward effectively.
Truly prosperous, successful cities provide exceptional public safety – and Saline continues to reaffirm the importance of police, fire and emergency services.
We are fortunate to have an outstanding police department, whose talented professionals work tirelessly to protect our citizens.
The Saline Area Fire Department is a great example of collaborative efforts at their best. Our department provides fire services for the city, combined with Lodi, Saline and York Townships. I’m honored to serve as Board Chair, as the Department is beginning work on a 10-year plan to improve employee compensation, while also planning for the future in responsible ways.
One area our community needs to work on is the growing problem of substance abuse and addiction. Tonight, I am asking Council to authorize the creation of a new task force, charged with ensuring better cohesion among the various entities working against substance abuse in our community. Those struggling with addiction should get the help they deserve, because every life has great purpose and value. Although addiction is certainly not unique to Saline, we cannot simply accept it as inevitable. We must be proactive, and tireless, in working to help those who are struggling, and those at risk.
Saline Open For Business
So often in my role as Mayor, I am approached by entrepreneurs and developers who are interested in opening a new business within our city, or relocating to Saline. This is an exciting time for our community – in a very real way, Saline is open for business.
In response, city government has become more strategic in the way we work with businesses. This year, we had a roundtable and summit with many of Saline’s larger businesses. In addition, for the first time in the city’s history, we held a similar event to tailored to the needs of smaller businesses. The small business forum was warmly received, and we will continue to hold those in the future.
The city recently created the Business Ambassador position, and Kathy Corfman has done an excellent job so far in serving as the point person for those in our business community with questions or problems that city government can assist with.
We continue to aggressively market all city-owned vacant parcels by employing a professional commercial realtor. Getting those properties in use, and on the tax rolls, will help our community in countless ways.
Another task force that Council will consider tonight would be charged with reviewing codes and ordinances that are no longer relevant or necessary. The goal here is to ensure that city government can work more effectively without onerous or overly restrictive policies. All residents will have an opportunity to weigh in, and I’m counting on our business community to be vocal so that the changes make sense.
At my urging, our economic development boards commissioned a subcommittee consisting of board members, city staff, and business leaders, to update development plans for our industrial parks, as well as improve Saline’s promotional materials for prospective business owners. The group is also looking at a number of strategies ways to support small or new businesses in our city. One exciting possibility is the installation of free WiFi available in certain portions of the city – it’s something we’ve only just started discussing, but certainly something that could help Saline’s businesses thrive.
In order to be effective, city government must think creatively, and adapt: today, a community’s infrastructure might include WiFi, where 15 years ago, the term didn’t exist.
This past year, the city completed two successful infrastructure projects: one in the heart of our industrial park on Woodland Drive, and the other on Saline River Drive. Feedback from residents has been very positive.
This year, I look forward to coming to a consensus with my City Council colleagues and other interested parties about the best ways to move forward to fund infrastructure projects in the future. Existing resources will soon be depleted, and we must find sustainable ways to invest in our infrastructure.
Budget & Labor Contracts
As I’ve said in the past, I’m proud that Saline’s current budget is balanced, and it invests in the areas our citizens value most. In a small but profound way, it is beginning to grow our fund balance. With a nominal mill increase, our budget is based on real data, and doesn’t seek to delay the inevitable or rely on faulty numbers or baseless conjecture.
In this upcoming budget, we will continue to scrutinize every area for cost-savings and improved efficiencies. I’m confident that we will be able to identify at least a few areas for improvement without reducing services for our citizens.
During the last year, the city significantly changed the way we conduct labor contract negotiations. More than ever before, Council was involved and engaged in providing direction and strategic advice to our new labor counsel. I’m so proud to say that our labor counsel and staff did an excellent job – these are the best contracts in decades, representing true compromise and cooperation. Thank you so much to our employees for stepping up to the plate, and understanding that sacrifices needed to be made to improve the city’s financial health.
Rec Center Sustainability, New Park and Rec on the Go
This past year, the city resurrected the Rec Center Sustainability Task Force, which made a series of recommendations to Council that were unanimously approved. These changes seek to boost membership, so that the Rec Center can become more self-sustaining and thrive without large General Fund contributions. The Rec Center is now offering reduced memberships to anyone residing within the school district (not just the city or Pittsfield Township), as well as expanded hours, all-inclusive memberships that include most classes, and new payment plans. This time of year, most everyone makes goals to be healthier and fit – I encourage everyone to check out our Rec Center, there are some great things happening there.
Another exciting development is that Saline is beginning work to add a new park using existing city property, which will include walking trails that celebrate our community’s history.
A personal goal of mine is to restart the popular Rec on the Go program. Until it was discontinued a few years ago for funding reasons, the program was a collaborative effort of multiple local organizations allowing kids to participate in recreation, arts, and reading activities during the summer. It was fantastic for kids whose families may have limited options during the summer months, and it’s a rare example of a program with nominal costs but a huge benefit. I’m asking each of you to work with me to help reestablish Rec on the Go.
Open, Responsive and Accessible Government
In our efforts to remain open and accessible, city government continues to utilize technology to engage with residents. We continue to find ways to improve our website, and encourage people to sign up for the Saline Scene weekly email updates. We also recently launched the free “SeeClickFix” app, to help residents more easily report information to city government. And, I’m meeting later this week with a company interested in helping city government engage and connect with residents in new and better ways.
We must continue to find ways to encourage community members to participate in their government and stay engaged. To that end, we are doing our best to offer opportunities to new, different people to serve on boards and commissions, as well as special task forces. If someone is willing to give of their time and talent, we should do everything possible to help them get involved.
This year, the city held two town hall meetings on tax issues, and we have produced an informational brochure about recent budgetary changes – that brochure is still available at City Hall. I’ve had a public dinner and discussion event, and two public coffee hours, and I look forward to continuing both.
During the last year, many issues and problems have been addressed – although certainly not all. There is still much work to be done. But, city leaders understand the purpose of prioritizing, and the value of articulating a clear, succinct vision for the future.
Engaging Citizens, Businesses, Churches and Organizations
I truly believe that government – in particular, local government – has the ability to do good things in people’s lives. We provide a number of services that enhance the quality of life for our residents. But, our community’s greatness is not defined by government; it is defined by our people, and their willingness to be involved in our ecumenical community, in business, in non-profit or service organizations. To that end, I encourage all of my fellow residents to continue to be engaged, even in small ways, to make our community a better place.
None of this progress would have possible without the hard work and talents of my Council colleagues Mayor Pro-Tem Linda TerHaar, Lee Bourgoin, Dean Girbach, David Rhoads, Jim Roth. And we welcome back to Council, Terri Sibo. I know that she will lend a new and enriching perspective to our process. I want to take a moment to thank outgoing Council Member Jim Peters for his hard work and dedication.
I am eager to continue working with City Council, city staff and all residents to move Saline forward.
Understanding the character and conviction of our people, and the determination of city government, I still believe that Saline’s best days are ahead of us.
May God bless you,
and may God bless Saline.
-- Mayor Brian D. Marl