VIDEO: Saline Mayor Brian Marl Delivers the State of the City Address

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Saline Mayor Brian Marl delivered the semiannual State of the City address at Monday's council meeting.

Below are the video and text of the speech. Join The Saline Post for a live video interview with Marl at 1 p.m., Wednesday, on The Saline Post's Facebook Page. You can ask questions (type them in as the video plays) during the interview or send them in advance to tran@thesalinepost.com.

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Good evening.

City Council, City Manager O’Toole, Clerk Royal, distinguished guests, and my fellow Salinians –

It is an honor to provide my annual state-of-the-city address, my seventeenth since assuming the Office of Mayor in January 2013.

My friends, never in my wildest dreams did I image a year like 2020 – our world ravaged by a global health pandemic, countless sick and dying, numerous businesses shuttered, far too many of our friends and neighbors out of work – millions living in fear, pessimistic and fearful about their future –

Now, as I have stated before, clearly, these are challenging and unprecedented times - but I will not be discouraged. More importantly, our City will not be deterred from the work at hand – strengthening our community, making it more economically vibrant, and welcoming to all who wish to live or work in the Saline area.

Uncertain times call for strong and steady leadership, and that is precisely what my colleagues and I will continue to provide -

A vibrant, diverse local economy is grounded by strong, stable businesses, and the true backbone has to be small businesses. Our private sector not only provides jobs, services and amenities, but also the revenue required to provide the critical services our residents rely on.

In 2021 and moving forward, our business operators and entrepreneurs face a daunting new set of challenges, with changing health and safety restrictions related to the pandemic and an uncertain economy. Now, more than ever, we must do what we can to support our local businesses - some of which are struggling to adapt, and re-adapt, while continuing to conduct business in the Saline area and serve Saline community residents.

Working in collaboration with Saline Mainstreet, I was pleased that City Council approved a recovery zone in the heart of our downtown, allowing our local shops and restaurants the opportunity to expand outdoor seating and amenities during the summer months and early fall. This initiative improved the vitality of our downtown; in fact, I see it as something we should consider in future years, even after the pandemic has passed.

The Community Recruitment and Retention Team, comprised of representatives from the City, Mainstreet, the Chamber, and Saline Area Schools has been meeting on a biweekly basis to organize an online business forum for this coming Thursday, January 7th. This event is open to all businesses in the Saline community, and will feature a facilitated discussion, with a primary focus on identifying resources that exist regionally and nationally to assist businesses during these precarious economic times. A number of important groups will be participating, including: the Small Businesses Technology Development Center, Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, Ann Arbor SPARK, Southwest Consortium, and the Small Business Association of Michigan. For more information, to RSVP or retrieve the Zoom link, please contact my office.

Additionally, as I mentioned this past summer, as soon as we are safely able to do so, the City will organize and film an economic development PSA and will host our 3rd job fair event, entitled, Find Your Future in Saline - the City remains committed to sharing timely information with our local entrepreneurs and will continued to promote the Saline community as a great place to do business.

As I've stated before, during challenging times it's essential that we find new and innovative ways to support our business community – in this vein, I am hopeful that the City will consider reestablishing the Economic Development Trust Fund, thereby providing grants and micro-loans to those who wish to create jobs or establish an enterprise in our City.

As I expressed numerous times, our City's long-term sustainability is predicated on a policy referred to as "Smart Growth," thoughtful, strategic expansion of our housing stock, business diversification, and the promotion of place and connectivity. This will grow our tax base, increase our utility customers, and attract additional jobs and services that will improve and enhance our residents’ quality of life.

I'm proud of our efforts in support of a number of new housing projects in recent years. We have numerous projects that will likely break ground in 2021, and staff and Council will continue to move aggressively to sell and develop our remaining municipal lots – with a number of promising leads, I’m hopeful that some will bear fruit in the ensuing months -

Affordable housing will also remain a priority, so that our community continues to be home to people and families from all walks of life. Specifically, my office will continue to work with the leadership of Evangelical Homes of Michigan, EHM Senior Solutions, on the design and financing of a second Millpond Manor – a facility that is desperately needed in the Saline community.

Transitioning now to infrastructure, City Council and staff have held numerous meetings this past year to discuss the future of wastewater services. As such, the City is very close to developing consensus on the matter – in fact, I expect to establish consensus with my colleagues before the end of this month.

Further, at the suggestion of City Manager O’Toole, and in anticipation of additional work and the integration of new technology at our WWTP, on January 11th, I will be asking City Council to establish an ad-hoc committee to provide oversight of plant operations, which will meet weekly and report frequently to Council and the general public.

Also, as mentioned this past summer, staff and legal counsel continue to work diligently to resolve an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) with the State of Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

This previous construction season, the City completed a number of resurfacing projects, including two initiatives we had hoped to complete in 2019, but due to a lack of bids, were ultimately completed this summer. Those streets are Keveling Drive and Riveroaks Boulevard. The City also completed projects on Mills Road, Woodland Drive, Nichols, Watson, and Whittier Court, along with two separate projects on North Maple Road.

The City is committed to investing robustly in our infrastructure, specifically, our local and major streets. I anticipate that the construction season of 2021 will be as eventful and impactful as 2020. Three projects we had hoped to complete last year must remain top priorities moving forward: Highland Drive, Hillcrest Drive, and Lawson Street.

Additionally, in 2021, the City will continue to make progress on the completion of our comprehensive sidewalk program. As many residents are aware, this initiative has been extremely successful, and has already resolved the vast majority of sidewalk deficiencies that exist citywide.

Also, pertaining to sidewalks, it’s time the City assumed responsibility and oversight for the construction of the Huntington Woods connecting sidewalk. The residents of our City’s south/central corridor have waited long enough. The time for dithering is over; I hope my colleagues will support my efforts, and help make this project a reality in 2021 -

In January 2020, I was delighted to announce that the City had received a $40,000 grant from the Washtenaw County Connecting Communities program to evaluate the feasibility of a non-motorized pathway, a river walk, spanning the length of Millpond Park and allowing us to leverage our greatest natural asset: the Saline River and our Mill Pond. This initiative will take several years to complete, but in receiving this grant the City has taken an important first step. Next, we will begin working on design and engineering and will aggressively compete for dollars to construct said pathway in the ensuing years.

In 2019, and again in January 2020, the City hosted three visioning sessions for our Rec Center. The sessions were well attended, and we received excellent feedback from community residents and Rec Center patrons. This past summer, City Council received a subsequent report and analysis from our Parks & Recreation Department. In light of this, and the operational changes that were required due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe it is prudent and appropriate to once again establish a Rec Center Sustainability Taskforce. The taskforce should be charged with evaluating this vital public service and should recommend to Council ways in which the Center can be improved and strengthened in the ensuing years.

As I state every year, our first responders can rest assured that we will provide them the resources they need to effectively serve and protect the residents of Saline. Both the Saline Police and Fire Departments are well managed, under the leadership of Chief Hart and Chief Hoeft, respectively. I am very pleased that the Saline Police Department added another full-time officer and reinstated the Deputy Chief position, along with a part-time Detective. These positions add a great deal of value to the department, and to the Saline community.

On behalf of City Council, and the City of Saline, I’d like to again welcome Officer Brian Wright, Detective Bill Stanford, and Deputy Chief Marlene Radzik to our organization. We appreciate your service, and we know that we can expect great things from each of you in the future -

This past July, City Council approved the creation of a Risk Mitigation Working Group to review all operations and divisions of City government to reduce risk and liability. Under the leadership of Saline resident Laurie Champion and Mayor Pro-tem Dean Girbach, the group has made tremendous progress in recent months, and will be submitting their final report to Council before the end of the first quarter 2021. I’ll be emphatic: this initiative was extremely worthwhile, and will ultimately benefit our City in innumerable ways

City Council continues to be good stewards of public resources. Our constituents can rest easy, knowing we exercise the same fiscal prudence and strategic thinking that has been utilized this past decade. Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize the City’s infrastructure and legacy costs, specifically: retiree health care and pensions. In fact, I’m proud that as recently as last month, the City made another sizable contribution towards our pension liability.

The Code Review Task Force continues to meet and is close to finalizing the necessary ordinances and policies to permit regulated medical marijuana establishments in our community. Again, as mentioned last year, I hope we can transition Code Review and the Oakwood Cemetery Task Force into permanent City boards or committees – allowing them to meet more frequently and effectively deal with pertinent City business.

Also, our changing demographics, coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has brought to bear the desperate need for additional medical/health care services in the Saline community. Our residents’ quality of life is directly linked to accessible, quality healthcare amenities – As such, before the end of the first quarter 2021, I will be launching an initiative to address this significant deficiency in our community –

It pleases me greatly that City Council has adopted resolutions, established protocols for annual trainings, and approved the creation of a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Taskforce, DEI – these initiatives will go a long way in assisting in our ongoing efforts to create a more inclusive community – one where all our citizens feel safe, valued, and respected. On behalf of the Saline community, thank you to all of those who have stepped forward and contributed to these initiatives.

As many are aware, these past six months were a time of transition here at the City of Saline. Firstly, I must acknowledge and thank the members of our Transition Team, who have provided direction and continuity subsequent to the departure of former City Manager Todd Campbell. I also want to thank our City Manager Search Committee, and the Walsh Group, for spearheading a successful interview process, which collimated in the hiring of our new City Manager, Colleen O’Toole. Ms. O’Toole comes to us from the City of Durand, she also has significant private sector experience. Her background, and strong command of municipal issues will strengthen our City, and will undoubtedly improve and enhance our organization.

Additionally, I want to acknowledge our Community Development Director, Assistant City Manager, and former Interim City Manager, Mike Greene, for his service these past six months – he really did an exceptional job. I also strongly support his appointment as Interim DPW Director – working with Deputy Director Bennett, I know these gentlemen can effectively manage and guide our Department of Public Works until a permanent Director can be hired.

In conclusion, on January 6th, I will be participating in a live-stream interview with The Saline Post. I’ll be discussing this address and responding to questions and concerns from Saline residents. If you’d like to participate, please log on to The Saline Post this Wednesday at 1 p.m. – if you are unavailable, but would like to ask questions or share ideas, you are encouraged to email the editor, Tran Longmore, in advance of this week’s interview –

Also, my next Mayoral coffee hour will be held on Friday, February 5th, beginning at 8:30 a.m. A number of issues will be covered, but the primary focus will be infrastructure, specifically wastewater services in the Saline community. Additional details will follow.

The City would also like to extend an invitation to all our residents and business owners to attend our annual strategic planning open house, scheduled for February 3rd. More information, including a community survey is forthcoming – please look for updates and announcements online and on social media

For the foreseeable future, I will continue my weekly video updates, please watch for those on Facebook. Please know that the City will continue to proactively communicate and solicit feedback from the people we represent. Also, in the spirit of improving communication, I have confirmed with our IT Director, Mr. Shonk, that our City’s website will undergo a complete overhaul in the next six months. Our website will become more advanced and accessible, and will feature a new and improved app for reporting complaints and engaging with staff -

Let me end by acknowledging the years of service and the contributions made by my City Council colleagues – Mayor Pro-tem Dean Girbach, members Janet Dillon, Jack Ceo, James Dell’Orco, and Kevin Camero-Sulak. I’d also like to welcome our newest member, Dawn Krause, and I know that her energy and passion will be a welcome addition to City Council.

Also, sincerest thanks to our very dedicated and talented staff, who care deeply for this community, and provide exceptional service to our residents on a daily basis. On behalf of Council, we thank each of you - our community would not be the world-class City it is without your commitment and contributions.

Finally, throughout this national crisis, the effects of the global pandemic have been devastating. But as I'm fond of saying, Salinians always do their part, and I've been impressed by the vigilance, creativity, and generosity of our residents and business owners.

Let there be no doubt, City leaders will continue to lead Saline forward, based on our strong community values of taking care of one another, especially the disenfranchised and most vulnerable. We have a vision – a focus on improving the lives of our residents, economic development, investing in vital public services, and pursuing best practices for organizational efficiency. In the end, however, the City’s best asset is our people – I’ve said it before, Saline is special because of the character and commitment of our residents, and that’s never more apparent than in crisis. Great challenges remain, but greater things lay ahead of us. I continue to believe that our best days are yet to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless Saline.

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