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Archive for January, 2011

State of the City Address

Friday, January 28th, 2011

State of the City
January 2011

It is a privilege to report to you on the state of affairs of this great city.  We have a community that is thriving, thanks to the continued commitment of our citizens, city employees, and elected officials. Even in these difficult economic times, we are seeing new investment by local businesses and housing value stabilization.  In this Address, I will review our current activities and outline our future priorities.

Saline is in a good financial position. Our long range financial plan shows a stable fund balance of approximately $2M or 20% over the next 5 years. While some funding remains at risk, such as state revenue sharing, we believe that property values in our community have stabilized. We have adjusted employee benefits to be comparable with the private sector and will be negotiating to have benefit parity for all labor groups. We have a viable plan to pay down our unfunded retirement liability over several years. The city has been able to maintain our millage rate through the diligent work of city employees, identifying opportunities for cost savings and revenue enhancement.

This year we completed our biannual citizen survey.  The results can be found on our website (cityofsaline.content-hub.net) under the city council section. I am delighted to report that the city received very positive ratings compared to the benchmarks. We are always looking for opportunities for improvement, and take your feedback very seriously.  We utilize the survey results for our annual goal setting process, which we have just completed.

The city council has had several work sessions to update our goals for next year in preparation for developing the budget. They will be formally adopted next council meeting and put on the city website. We have continued with the same overarching goals which focus on enhancing our ability to continue as a successful 21st century city. The goals are; a vibrant downtown, maintain financial stability, upgrade infrastructure, proactive economic development, enhance communication, build community spirit, promote and develop sustainable green initiatives, and enhance our quality of life.

Our downtown is the heart of our city, a place for residents and visitors to shop, eat and play. The city has been participating in the Michigan Main Street Program, learning about best practices and tools communities use to further enhance this crucial area of our community. We had a successful summer concert series, which will be continued  next year. A new initiative is being developed by community members for a winter concert series at The Stone Arch on South Ann Arbor Street. I know everyone is looking forward to the opening of Mangiamo’s by the Toaramina family this next month.  It will be a family Italian restaurant with a pizza oven, and of course their delicious ice cream will also be served. The unfinished development, Village Marketplace, continues to be a challenge to cleanup. We have a default judgement against the developer and are looking at options to improve the aesthetics of the parcel. Goals for this next year include expanding our beautification efforts, continue retail business attraction and identifying funding for a community pavilion.  Additionally, we will be working with the downtown stakeholders to develop an overlay district in the downtown. This will enable us to further improve the structural elements of the downtown through our zoning and site plan review process.

Maintaining financial stability is of vital importance to our city council and staff. We recognize the importance of thoughtful investment in the city and have great respect for the fact that we are using your tax dollars. Over the last decade we have made significant investments in capital projects and we are in positioned well for the future. We know that your decision to live and work in Saline is based on the value you get for your tax dollars. We do a broad brush five year financial document, so we can be responsive to trends that affect us in a timely manner, adjusting our projected expenditures accordingly.

Upgrading infrastructure is a continuous challenge for the city and is of vital importance to our quality of life and attractiveness as a community. Evaluating, programming, and implementing projects can be complex and costly. We are developing a Capital Improvements Program Report that will be available on our website when our budget process is complete in the spring. Last year we reconstructed Willis Road implementing the complete streets policy that we have developed. Our non-motorized plan is being implemented in segments, this year we are working with the library on a link between Maple Road and Harris Street. We installed the illuminated cross walk on Woodland Drive with assistance from grant money. We plan to identify a reliable funding stream for our transportation system as the current bond proceeds are rapidly disappearing.

Proactive economic development will include all commercial businesses in infrastructure planning and events. We currently work with the SACC as partners in the development of promotional events. We also work with AnnArbor SPARK, and the MEDC coordinating regular retention visits to our larger businesses. Additionally, we plan to develop a program that supports entrepreneurship by promoting business mentoring, acting as virtual incubator space. The relationships we develop with our local businesses are of utmost importance to our future, and we hope they consider the city a partner in our mutual success.

City council and staff are always looking for opportunities to improve communication.. We have invested in two websites, an operational government type, and an events & promotional type. We learned from the survey results that most of you get city information from our quarterly FYI, which goes out in the water bills.  However, the most timely information regarding city operations and activities will be found on our websites 24/7.

Civic engagement is crucial to the success of our community. Our multiple boards, commissions, and events, such as Summerfest & Celtic Festival, are run by volunteers. In this time of shrinking budgets we need you more than ever to get involved. Volunteering is a great way to give back and you can do it for a onetime event or multiple activities.  It is also a great way to make new friends and be part of something bigger than you. The city website has a volunteer page that allows you to contact the organizer for each event. Also we will be hosting a volunteer table at future public events, so come on out, meet some new folks, and contribute!

As a city, we have been identifying opportunities to promote and support sustainable practices addressing the wise use of our resources. We have had an energy audit completed and are implementing the suggestions for improvement. This next year our goals are to expand the recycling program to commercial areas and public events. Through the environmental commission we plan to expand educational offerings, such as rain barrel making, assisting citizens in their commitment to conservation. Additionally, we plan to identify opportunities for use of alternative energy programs that could be applicable to homes and businesses.

Our final strategic goal, one that is impacted by all of the above goals, is enhancing the quality of life. City council, employees and commissions are continually working on ideas that would provide a positive impact. Specifically, this year we plan to address blighted areas, access grant funding for cultural and recreational development, continue to develop tools to promote healthy living, and develop a cultural diversity initiative with community organizations. We opened the ice rink at Henne field in December and it is being well used. This fall we look forward to visitors from both our sister city programs, Lindenberg, Germany and Brecon, Wales. Host families are being recruited now if you would be interested in expanding your world to include other cultures.

Our council is looking forward to an exciting year ahead. We have two new council members, Dean Girbach and Linda TerHaar. They have been participating in our goal setting and bring a fresh perspective to this council. Additionally we have seasoned councilmembers, Pat Ivey, Glenn Law, Brian Marl, and David Rhoads. I look forward to working with this council because of our strong commitment to serving you.

In summary, your city government is working hard for you. We have an excellent quality of life, great schools, and a stable local economy due to community pride and participation. We hope to see you downtown this weekend at our 1st annual Winterfest. Thank you for your continued support, because of you, Saline is a great place to live, work, and play.

Former Village Market Place + Lofts Project Status

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

As you all are aware, there is a large hole near the west end of downtown Saline.  The hole is the result of a mixed use (retail and residential) development that would have been a very nice addition to downtown Saline, but fell victim to the economy being turned upside down in 2008; similar to thousands of projects around the nation.  First, some brief history of the Village Market Place + Lofts project.  The project received required City approvals in 2007 and began environmental clean-up efforts in early 2008 with installation of underground utilities beginning as well.  Unfortunately, the summer of 2008 saw the project developer lose bank financing for the project, which resulted in the construction activity coming to an abrupt halt.

The project’s original site plan approval expired in February 2009.  The developer, Mike Concannon, requested and received multiple extensions of the site plan approval, with the final extension expiring in February 2010.  The Saline Planning Commission voted unanimously in February 2010 to not extend the Village Market Place + Lofts site plan approval.  Additionally, the Saline City Council voted unanimously to revoke the project’s special land use permit in February 2010 after receiving a recommendation from the Saline Planning Commission to do the same.

During the multiple site plan extensions, Mr. Concannon claimed to be pursuing and actually to have secured new financing to complete the project.  Unfortunately, according to Mr. Concannon, the project was not able to actually take possession of the necessary financing.  Mr. Concannon also submitted a letter to the Saline Planning Commission with the last request for site plan extension that was not granted.  The letter blamed the banking institutions for not granting financing for the project’s business tenants.  Mr. Concannon wrote in his last letter that, “This action by the banks effectively kills the Project.”

City staff sent a letter dated April 8, 2010 to Mr. Concannen regarding the status of the Village Market Place + Lofts; specifically two items – general maintenance per the Saline Zoning Code and protection of the public health and welfare.  The general maintenance per the Saline Zoning Code included two items:  1) Mowing of grass/weeds to a height of seven inches or less and 2) Removing junk/debris from the property.  The protection of the public health and welfare included four items:  1) That the land be graded, filled and drained so that water problems do not negatively impact the public health, safety and welfare; 2) That the land be graded, filled and drained so that it can be maintained in an urban lawn-like manner and not attract or contribute to anything deleterious to the urban environment or its activities; 3) That the perimeter fencing be maintained in a safe and serviceable manner; and 4) That the cross-lot sanitary lead for 101 South Lewis Street be reconnected to the service line the developer installed under US-12, near the Lewis Street/US-12 intersection.  City staff included two deadlines in the April 8, 2010 letter.  The first deadline required Mr. Concannon to submit a remediation plan to address the above items by May 1, 2010 to be reviewed by City staff.  The second deadline required Mr. Concannon to complete the necessary site remediation improvements by July 1, 2010.  May 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010 both came and went without any reply from Mr. Concannon.

The Saline City Council voted unanimously at their July 12, 2010 regular City Council meeting to file a lawsuit against Mr. Concannon and partnerships.  City Attorney Allan Grossman filed a lawsuit as of July 29, 2010, against The Concannon Company, The Village Market Place + Lofts and SRV Ventures regarding the four parcels that make up the new defunct project.  The complaint filed by the City of Saline as of July includes two counts.  The first count claims the property is a nuisance per se – zoning use violations.  The second count includes failure to reimburse the City of Saline for installing a temporary sidewalk (along US-12).  There was not any response to the Court or the City by the defendants.  On November 5, 2010, City Attorney Grossman went before the Honorable Judge Timothy P. Connors requesting a default judgment against the defendants.  Judge Connors granted the default judgment in the City of Saline’s favor.

The next step is to determine how, if the City is able, to enforce the default judgment and make the defendants comply with the decision of the Court.  Additionally, the four property parcels in question are currently in the middle of being foreclosed upon by Washtenaw County due to unpaid property taxes.  The redemption period for the owners to pay off the back taxes will expire March 31, 2011.  The Washtenaw County Treasurer’s Office posted the properties in question with a “Notice of Show Cause Hearing and Judicial Foreclosure Hearing.”  The show cause hearing is scheduled for February 9, 2011 and the judicial foreclosure hearing is scheduled for February 23, 2011.  The properties in question will be auctioned off once the redemption period has expired.

As you all can see, the City of Saline has been and will continue to actively pursue a resolution to the issue of the “big hole” in downtown Saline.  Right, wrong or indifferent, the process is what the process is and it takes a significant amount of time to go through.  There are still some significant questions that will only be answered in time, such as will the current property owners redeem the property by paying the back taxes?  If not, who will end up owning the property and for how much?  And, how/when will the property be cleaned up and restored to a more acceptable level?  Please contact Todd Campbell, City Manager at 429-3148 or by e-mail at tcampbell@cityofsaline.content-hub.net with any questions/comments.