Saline Mayor Brian Marl Delivers State of the City Address


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

Here is his speech:

My friends, good evening.

City Council, City Manager O’Toole, Clerk Royal, Judge Frushour, distinguished guests, and my fellow Salinians. 

It is a distinct honor to provide the citizens of Saline with my twelfth annual State of the City address.

As I have articulated previously, this past year, and these last six months, have been both challenging and productive – we continue to endure burgeoning inflation, labor & material shortages, there are increased burdens on our business community, and as I expressed in my most recent op-ed, a growing mistrust of government.

But believe me, I know that progressive, forward-thinking leaders do not become demoralized or disheartened – I’ve said it before, I look at hard times and say this too shall pass.

I’ve never been more optimistic or hopeful – I am confident that the 2024 calendar year will be one of progress and productivity.

Transitioning first to economic development – I’m keenly aware that all communities have reputations, but to be very clear, Saline will never have the ignominious distinction of being hostile to business or private sector investment.

Our businesses enrich our quality of life, offer jobs and amenities, and their tax dollars fund many of the vital government programs we all rely on.

As I shared in late summer and fall, business retention visits began in 2023 – our City will ultimately complete a comprehensive business database, and thus have a more holistic understanding of current enterprises and their individual needs. This will undoubtably help with assisting our local economy and aid with attraction efforts.

Clearly, we have far too many vacant storefronts in our downtown and in various commercial districts. Partnering with local landlords and our Community Recruitment/Retention Team (CRRT), we will work aggressively to identify entrepreneurs & desired businesses, and connect them with the resources necessary to ensure their success and longevity.

In the ensuing months, our CRRT will also be evaluating & exploring the creation of a social district in the core of our downtown – a proposal will be presented to City Council for review in the second quarter of 2024.

Saline continues its forward momentum on expansion & diversification of our housing stock – in fact, this spring, we are looking forward to the development of 207 Monroe Street, thereby adding some new and obtainable housing options to our City’s south central corridor.

As most are aware, the City recently adopted our revised master plan – objectively, this is perhaps the best, most inclusive master plan in our City’s history. Ergo, we will be moving forward with policy updates to improve our development practices – we’ll also be looking to modify ordinances to encourage more types of commercial development.

Now on to infrastructure and our capital assets - I’ve expressed this before, but it certainly bears repeating - based on our strong track-record over the past several years, it should be crystal clear to all City residents and business owners – the days of infrastructure delays and deferrals are over. The City, and Council more specifically, will continue to act boldly and invest robustly in our municipal streets, sidewalks, and water/sewer systems. 

In 2023, we completed several large & impactful infrastructure projects within our municipal boundaries – resurfacing Clark Street, enlargement of our east-belt sewer line and repaving of North Maple Road, along with a section of Old Creek Drive. Our thoughtful and shrewd oversight of these projects resulted in rather significant cost savings, thereby allowing us to install/repair large sections of municipal sidewalk and plan for additional pedestrian safety improvements.

Further, as discussed at a December work meeting, our City Engineer, along with other key personnel are working diligently to revise the existing capital improvement plan into an asset management-based transportation improvement plan. Asset management programs include tools and techniques to evaluate risk and to prioritize capital and O&M decisions. I’ve said this before, but it’s critically important, knowing our system and organizing the data is the first and most critical step in any infrastructure asset management approach. Ultimately, proper asset management tools will shift decision making from reactive to proactive, and thereby improve infrastructure quality throughout our City.

We expect to begin implementation of said plan later this year – adoption of this approach will include the targeting of several local streets for resurfacing projects. A more comprehensive list is expected to be provided in the latter half of February 2024.

As we mentioned previously, recent investments in our water infrastructure, (specifically, at our plant off Saline-Waterworks Road) have already yielded significant results, i.e., a substantial decrease in water discoloration complaints. By way of example, the City received only 12 formal complaints in the past two months. As always if residents experience water discoloration issues, they are encouraged to use our new citizen reporting tool on our website to report any concerns. Please rest assured, the City will continue to use this reporting tool to properly direct resources and maintain these improvements. 

Also, the City will continue our valve assessment/rehabilitation initiative, knowing of course, that this project has a direct and unambiguous impact on water quality/clarity. Additionally, due to the significance of these issues, DPW, and the City’s PR department, will continue to produce our recurring newsletter – each of these newsletters contains substantive messaging on both water quality and other timely issues.

Transitioning to our wastewater treatment facility, (WWTP) - improvements to the WWTP are finally underway, having kicked off this past October. Work will continue through the winter, with heavy construction ramping up this spring and summer. The project will span three construction seasons and is expected to be completed by June 2026. Residents can sign up to receive construction updates through our ClearGov website. Also, we were very fortunate to receive $5 million in state appropriations due to the diligent efforts of our local state legislators. Rest assured; we will continue to advocate for additional funds in the ensuing years.

As many are aware, the City’s water treatment/wastewater treatment ad-hoc advisory group, continues to meet bi-monthly, to provide advice and review of projects and initiatives relating to these vital services.

Finally, the City continues to make progress on a West Michigan Avenue sidewalk, we’ll be working tirelessly to secure easements and additional funding.

Last, staff expects to complete design and bidding on the Saline River Valley Trail, formerly known as the Saline Riverwalk, in the spring of 2024. This of course, is very exciting. Once complete, this pathway will span the length of Millpond Park, connecting Bennett Street with Michigan Avenue and Mills.

Transitioning again, to City finances and financial stewardship – It goes without saying, City leadership will continue to cautiously & strategically manage our public funds.

As has been widely reported, all members of the 2023 City Council, co-signed letters to our county, state, and federal officials requesting funding for three critical project areas. In order of importance, our WWTP rehabilitation, second, stabilization/modernization of our municipally-owned Rec Center, and third, the creation of additional parking and added accessibility in our downtown. All of these initiatives will have a profound benefit to our community. We hope for traction with these requests in the coming months, and will do our very best to keep residents abreast of our progress or any community support which may be required.

The City’s S&P global rating has been upgraded from AA to AA+ - this is a notable increase. This upgrade reflects the City’s successful recovery from the pandemic, showcasing both our expanded tax base and solidifying our position as a stable and reliable investment for all stakeholders.

The City has revised its investment policies and procedures – this new approach is supported by appropriate monitoring of cash flow and other prudent utilization practices. The implementation of these new protocols resulted in a significant increase of nearly $700,000 during the first half of the 2023 fiscal year. Although the financials for December are still being finalized, the city expects the investment income for the entire calendar year of 2023 to exceed $1.2 million.

Further, the City recently completed its annual audit for fiscal year 2023 – for the very first time, we received a perfect opinion for our auditing firm. For those interested, the audit can be found on the City’s website.

Utility billing is transitioning our billing cycles to align with the calendar year. Consequently, there will be a delay in receiving invoices until the end of January.

If residents or business owners have additional questions or concerns, they may direct all inquiries to the City Treasurer’s Office.

In the weeks and months ahead, City staff will continue to pursue opportunities to fund new investments at our Recreation Center, specifically, improvements to the aquatics center to add more family-friendly water features. In the meantime, we strongly encourage residents and other community stakeholders to tour the facility and consider a personal or family membership. Leading an active and healthy lifestyle will prove beneficial in innumerable ways.

Last, the City is pleased to announce that our OPEB fund for retiree healthcare liability is now 100% funded. The City also participates in an agent-employer defined pension plan for all employees hired before 2008. This plan is administered by the Municipal Employee Retirement System, (MERS). While this fund is currently at a stable level, staff and Council are committed to growing our funding status to 70% over the next few years.

As I have stated for more than a decade now, our first responders can rest easy knowing that our community’s elected officials will continue to provide them the resources they need to effectively serve and protect the residents of our area.

In the latter half of 2023, the City made the decision to consolidate police dispatch services into Washtenaw County Metro Dispatch. The appropriate individuals have been working diligently to ensure a smooth and successful transition. For the public’s edification, this change is expected to occur on April 2, 2024.

Maintaining adequate staffing levels within our police department is of paramount importance. As such, the Saline PD continues to offer scholarships & sponsorships to accredited police academies. Regardless of your background or education level, if you’re interested in employment opportunities within our outstanding public safety agency, please visit our website or contact Police Chief Radzik or Deputy Chief Hartwig respectively.

Last, let me message on openness, communication and operational efficiencies – City Council is eager to receive and review the final report from our Healthcare Improvement Taskforce, which is expected by the end of March. It is increasingly likely that this group will be recommissioned with a much broader focus on community wellness, including, healthcare services, domestic violence prevention, and the malignancies of addiction/substance abuse.

Additionally, government officials must always look for improved efficiencies – City government, more specifically, should continue to explore restructurings and reorganizations to improve operations and better meet the needs of the residents we represent. In this vein, pertaining to our Code Review Committee, I’d like to explore some changes, i.e., creating a policy committee at the Council level. Also, the establishment of finance committee could assist with budgeting and other financial priorities. While more due diligence needs to be done, I believe that at this juncture, bifurcating these responsibilities may prove advantageous.

As previously discussed, our charter review committee, under the leadership of City Manager O’Toole, has completed their work, and made a number of thoughtful, common-sense recommendations. The recommended amendments would update & modernize our charter, while improving organizational efficiency.

Of course, changes to our municipal charter must be approved by the electorate - as charter amendments are formally proposed, educational material will be distributed, and public town halls/forums will be scheduled.

As always, we continue to encourage citizens to explore our City website and social media pages, and please, share your thoughts and suggestions with our IT Director and/or PR Generalist.

Also, consider signing up for our new electronic newsletter, updates through ClearGov, and feel free to review all public documents and agendas at documents on demand. We hope more residents will use our online reporting tool, and if your HOA or condo association has not subscribed to our neighborhood updates, please connect with Sarah Massey directly.

Let me end by acknowledging the years of service and the innumerable contributions made by my City Council colleagues – Mayor Pro-tem Janet Dillon, members, Jack Ceo, Dean Girbach and Nicole Rice.

We also welcome our newest members, Chuck Lesch and Jenn Harmount – both individuals have strong track-records of service to our community. I have no doubt that their experience and perspective will enrich City Council. Last, we thank our former members James Dell’Orco & Kevin Camero-Sulak for years of service, and wish them and their families the very best in all their future endeavors. Also, we have a phenomenal City staff – we are indeed blessed. On behalf of the entire Council, we thank each of you. Our community would not be the world-class City it is without your dedication and contributions.

My friends, in conclusion, please rest assured, this community will continue to experience hardships and challenges, but our renewed focus on core services, investing in our infrastructure, strengthening our local economy, while pursuing best practices for organizational efficiency, will undoubtedly improve our quality of life. I’ve said it before, Saline is a very special place, and it’s worth fighting for.

Let me end tonight with this – I’m a great believer, if you’re going to lead a country, state, a city, or any organization, you’ve got to be an optimist – not a cockeyed optimist, but a realistic one. Someone who believes that through hard work and action, positive things can indeed get done.

I hope to help create a culture of positivity here in Saline – one where Salinians focus on our strengths and attributes and on creating both positive & affirming change. Let us not be distracted by personalities or petty grievances – let us move forward united, believing that with determination, and a little bit of hope, our best days are yet to come -

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

More News from Saline
I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified