In his State of the City address, Saline Mayor Brian Marl highlighted the city's progress - both in the last year and in his eight years on city council.
Marl spoke of the progress made in economic development, citing the addition of Navvya, Emagine Theatre and several downtown businesses. He also said much progress was made on the hotel/Ace Hardware project. In 2017, the city made progress in renewing its housing stock. Marl said he expected progress at the Fairdene development on South Monroe Street and he pledged to work with the new owners of 147 W. Michigan Ave. to develop the long-vacant property.
Marl said the city's financial condition continues to approve. He said the city's bond rating has improved. The city is also making progress living up to its pension and health care obligations, Marl said.
He also spoke about impending challenges in 2018 - including the adoption of the non-discrimination ordinance, a review of the city's medical marijuana ordinance, work on the wastewater treatment odor issue, and developing consensus on a plan to tackle the city's infrastructure needs.
Below is the video of Marl's speech (recorded in two parts - the first segment was recorded after the council meeting) and the text.
City Council, City Manager Campbell, City Clerk Royal,
Distinguished guests, and my fellow citizens.
Let me begin tonight by expressing my gratitude to the citizens of Saline for providing me the privilege and honor of serving as your Mayor. It's hard to believe, but this will be my 11th State of the City address. I want to begin this address a little bit differently: By nature, I am not a very introspective person, or prone to reflection. But, I've recently been thinking about how far we have come as a city - and how much has changed since my tenure as a Council member began in January 2009. It's easy to live in the moment, and think only about where we are - but it's crucial to take time to look back and recall where we have been.
In January 2009, the City of Saline was experiencing the adverse effects of the Great Recession. Revenues were declining, our businesses were struggling, and as a community we were forced to forego or delay important projects. As a city, we took the very difficult step of eliminating positions in city government. While the impact was not as severe as it was on some neighboring communities, the anemic economy did impact Saline in innumerable ways.
It's worth noting that the Saline community has weathered storms and hardships in the past, and with some determination and fortitude, and a desire to work together, we pulled through - as is our custom.
Today, in January of 2018, Saline is on a trajectory to prosper, to continue to meet the needs of residents, and to address difficult and challenging issues.
Chief among those is odor abatement at the wastewater treatment plant. As I have stated in the past, the current frequency and level of noxious odors is not acceptable, and it has a direct impact on residents' quality of life. Accordingly, the city, working with Tetra-tech and Webster Environmental, has designed a plan from which we anticipate that approximately 99% of odors will be eliminated. Construction will begin later this year. In the meantime, when residents experience offensive odors that they believe are coming from the wastewater treatment plant, they are encouraged to promptly call Director Bob Scull at 734-944-2003. This has been an issue that has ebbed and flowed over the course of many decades. In the past, the city over-promised and under-delivered. Our good intentions were not always backed by firm science and data. I emphatically believe that we now have the analysis and background to properly resolve this critical matter.
Most of our residents and community stakeholders are aware that economic development and business attraction and retention is among the issues that I am most passionate about. I'm reminded of a statement that President Kennedy was quite fond of: as it relates to the economy, a rising tide lifts even the smallest boats. A truly strong, robust and diverse local economy benefits all of our residents. It provides jobs, supports city services, and adds amenities that increase the desirability of the Saline community.
Our efforts to support and incentivize economic development have resulted in a number of tangible gains in recent years: most notably, the Emagine movie theater, along with a number of other small businesses - particularly those within the heart of our downtown. Also, significant progress continues to be made on a standalone Ace Hardware and a Best Western Premier boutique hotel. And I look forward in the first half of 2018 to working with the new owners of 147 Michigan Avenue to finalize their development, which will make an important - and positive - contribution to our downtown.
The city will also continue to work with businesses and property owners on both our Western and Eastern borders to ensure their success and vitality.
The Community Recruitment and Retention Team, which is comprised of representatives from the Chamber, city government, schools, and Saline Main Street, continues to work with property owners and budding entrepreneurs. And, we extend an open invitation to anyone who would like to grow their business or create jobs in the City of Saline. We are eager to help you and assist you in any reasonable way.
Another important component of economic development is growing and diversifying our housing stock. We have been pleased to work with quality developers like Livonia Builders, Peters Building Company, Pulte Homes, 600 N. Maple LLC and the Lewis Klein Company. In fact, I am hopeful that the Planning Commission can approve final site plans for Lewis Klein's most recent project on North Maple Road sometime this month.
We're also pleased that there appears to be a path forward for the Fairdene development on Monroe Street - we are very close to having the blighted structure removed, and we will continue to assist the developer, Mr. Farrell, in every way we are able.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank our partners at Ann Arbor Spark, for their assistance in bringing Navya to the Saline community. The City is thrilled to have this innovative, progressive company join our already stellar industrial business community.
Finally, I do want to acknowledge two of our larger industrial businesses. MMI Engineering Solutions is very close to completing a rather large addition to their facility on Woodland Drive. And I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate Klingelnberg for their acquisition of the R&B / Sun Engineering Building in downtown Saline. They have already shared a vision for how they can improve and upgrade that facility - and I will continue to be a stout advocate for helping them to realize that vision.
There a number of other proposals in the works, and residents should expect to hear more in the coming months.
Needless to say, being good stewards of public resources is of paramount importance. Our residents are well aware that because of city government’s diligence, we have improved our bond rating. In recent years, Council has also adopted a fund balance policy, and we have renewed our focus on managing legacy costs. Specifically, we recently made changes to retiree health care – which resulted in significant cost savings while still providing our retirees with quality health insurance.
The community can rest assured that Council and city will continue to scrutinize and evaluate all programs and services in the hopes of improving efficiencies and identifying additional opportunities for cost savings.
In the previous calendar year, the city completed important infrastructure improvement projects on Old Creek Drive and Austin Road, a significant patching project on Bennett Street, as well as resurfacing of Parking Lot #4 in our downtown.
I want my colleagues to know, and I don’t want any ambiguity on this point, that as we consider our upcoming budget I will continue to be an advocate for increased staffing levels at our Department of Public Works, if we are able. Maintaining our infrastructure assets – our roads, sidewalks, water and sewer systems, etc. – is simply not possible without adequate staffing levels. As our financial position improves, I believe that one of our critical needs is more employees on the front lines.
Additionally, the city continues to make headway on improving our sidewalk inventory. The Southeast quadrant of our community was worked on this past year, and more territory will be added during the construction season of 2018. I encourage those property owners with deficient sidewalks to participate in this program – thus leveraging some cost savings.
Clearly, one of Saline’s most valued public assets is our recreation complex. While I regret that we need to spend roughly $1.5 million to repair and reconstruct the facility’s roof, I am pleased with the progress that is being made – and I know it will go a long way to ensure the long-term viability of the building. In fact, my first coffee hour of 2018 will be focused on this topic – and some of the recent changes to membership fees and amenities.
Ensuring that our public safety professionals have the resources they need to do their jobs safely will continue to be a priority of mine – and the city of Saline. In fact, City Council takes very seriously any issues involving the effectiveness and cohesion of our Police Department. In addition to two independent reviews of our Department, we also recently evaluated the benefits of a possible police advisory board. City Council has also advocated for updating and modernizing the Police Department’s internal policies, and we are pleased to have partnered with Lexipol to complete this important task. I want to take this opportunity to thank former Police Chief Larry Hrinik for his work on this – and more importantly, to wish him and his family well in his retirement. The city is thrilled to have Jerrod Hart on board as our new Police Chief. Chief Hart comes to the city with experience and a deep passion for public safety, and we know he will do great things for our Department, and for our city.
Due to the number of inquiries, changes in the regulatory framework and because of recent action taken by the federal government, in the next 6 months City Council will revisit and discuss our policy on medical marijuana - to determine whether it is still appropriate and prudent.
Another major issue the city continues to work on is revising Saline’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance. I take personal responsibility for the delay – in retrospect, the schedule that I initially established was far too ambitious. However, I do feel we’ve made progress, and the discussion has been improved considerably by public participation and input. The ordinance will be considered again at an upcoming Code and Ordinance Review Task Force meeting, and I am hopeful that Council has something to consider in the very near future. The genesis for that Task Force was to ensure that our codes and ordinances are up to date, but also that requirements are not too onerous on residents or business owners. As such, if individuals have suggestions on how the city could improve our ordinance and policies, they are encouraged to contact the Task Force or attend its meetings.
In the spirit of openness, I want to make the community aware that City Council will have a strategic planning session later this month. In addition to fine-tuning some of the goals and objectives we’ve set in recent years, I also hope to develop consensus on a shared vision for funding our infrastructure needs, as well as how we handle growth and annexation in the coming years.
I also want to announce that in addition to my regular coffee and conversation meetings, I will also establish office hours in which residents or small groups can discuss local matters with me in a more intimate setting. Please look for upcoming media releases and information online announcing my office hours schedule.
I’m mindful of the fact that there is not – nor should there be – a government solution to every problem. Some of the ills in our society can only be solved by people helping people – one-on-one human contact. This is one of the reasons I have been such a fierce advocate for volunteerism in our community. For those who are interested in serving causes greater than themselves, I encourage you to attend our upcoming Volunteer Fair, this Saturday, January 13th, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Rec Center. Finally, any time our residents have questions or concerns, we encourage you to connect with us on our website, social media, or the See-Click-Fix app.
It’s clear to me that this city has made significant, tangible progress in the past decade. While there is work that remains undone, so much has been initiated or accomplished. I say this not for your applause or congratulations, but because I ask for your commitment – and your help – in continuing our efforts. I also want to acknowledge and thank my Council colleagues for their commitment to our community:
Mayor Pro-Tem Linda TerHaar
I would also be re-missed if I didn’t acknowledge and thank our very talented and experienced team of City employees that provide world-class service to the Saline community on a daily basis.
Finally, I know that if we continue to work together – and stay focused on a shared vision that emphasizes the importance of economic development, investing in critical public services, while remaining open and accessible to the people we represent – our best days will be ahead of us.
God bless you,
And God bless the City of Saline.
Mayor Brian D. Marl