Shelby Township, Utica and Sterling Heights leaders fielded several rounds of questions to update the community about the current state of affairs Wednesday at for the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce's 24th annual Heritage Tri-Community Luncheon.
Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan, Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte and Shelby Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis presented their communities’ challenges and successes over the past year, and gave the audience a look into the future.
During an hour-long series of questions by moderator and Chairman of the SHRCCI, Jim Gianakopoulos, the leaders drove home their focus on sound government finances, increasing the public’s quality of life and “doing more with less.”
“What was the greatest accomplishment your community achieved in the past year?”
Stathakis said he’s extremely proud of the fact that Shelby, for the third straight year, has had a surplus—without having to raise taxes. He added that he believes 2012 will mark the fourth year of a surplus. Despite the decline in revenues, the public services in Shelby Township have not suffered, said Stathakis.
“Rock-solid finances—that’s where it begins and then we can do all the fun stuff and invest in first-class public safety, fire and police,” he said.
Noonan responded by saying “Utica weathered 2011 pretty well.” The main achievement for Noonan was improving the quality of life in the city by completing the , and continuing into Shelby Township in 2012.
Noonan also noted that the city has been able to leverage money from other sources by securing several federal and state grants.
“We feel energized and excited, and we have great things to look forward to,” she said.
What has been the biggest challenge for your city in 2012?
Nailing down a plan for the new police station, which is scheduled to open in April, said Stathakis.
When Stathakis took office in 2008, the township had plans drawn to build a 50,000 square foot structure that would hold the police department and a new courthouse. The estimated cost was more than $14 million.
The current administration scrapped the idea, and decided to build a 25,000-square foot police building for $4 million. However, the township remains in
Noonan said Utica’s biggest challenges will be coming up with funding to finish the northern portion of the hike and bike trail and funding 20 percent of 80/20 county split it will cost to
Noonan added that the city has challenged itself to keep new businesses coming in while tending to existing businesses’ needs with a small staff of only four full-time administrative employees.
How will you work together to share more services?
Last year, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill to give municipalities financial incentives to share more services.
“Macomb County has been in the service sharing businesses long before it became popular in Lansing,” said Noonan.
Noonan added that Utica and Shelby have been sharing services such as Parks and Recreations for years. This year, Utica is set to receive $400,000 for revenue sharing.
“I keep reminding Lansing that they have to give us credit for what we’ve always done,” Noonan added.
Last year Shelby Township and Rochester Hills signed a shared services deal, which in essence will allow the towns to call on the other for support in the Building Department on an “as needed basis.”
“It’s cashless. We just interchange people,” said Stathakis.
Why would businesses relocate to the area?
Through a Michigan tax exception, Shelby has helped create about 80 jobs in a 20 month period, said Stathakis.
in the fall, which helped create an additional 4 to 10 jobs in the next year.
“We’re getting a lot of the smaller businesses as well,” said Stathakis, adding that the full service police and fire department are a big draw for businesses to open in the safe and well-maintained township.
After hearing Notte and Stathakis answer the question, Noonan joked, “It’s so exciting to hear about Shelby and Sterling Heights. I almost want to move there.”
Noonan followed up by saying Utica is a 195-year-old city. “This old broad isn’t going anywhere.”
Noonan said Utica has great police and fire services, and has found a way to cut red tape for businesses that want to move to Utica.
“We are the best little city in Michigan,” she said.
In closing, Stathakis said his administration has remained true to their promises of not raising taxes and getting the Township’s finances in order without cutting services.
“I remain as determined today as day one. Teamwork has moved us along well and moved us forward,” he said.
Mayor Noonan said her priorities are the “Big Es:” education, examine, energize, enable, excellence and everyone.
“We are public servants. We serve everyone, whether it’s the traveler who passes through and has an accident. Everyone is our focus. We’ll continue to carry that burden as a challenge and opportunity to serve everyone in these still difficult times,” said Noonan.