State of the City
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.