Inside the Newsroom

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Muckler delivers strong State of the City address

I've had to sit through a number of State of the City addresses in my time, but I can honestly say I haven't heard one better than the address Milan Mayor Kym Muckler gave at the council meeting Monday night.

It was broad in scope, celebrated the positive things taking place in Milan, but didn't shy away from painting a pretty clear picture of the financial challenges the city faces.

Even after laying out the grim financial facts, Muckler managed to touch on a litany of events, volunteers, and bright spots that should have left most listeners uplifted and more confident about the future.

Read what she had to say for yourself and let me know what you think:

"Fellow citizens of Milan,

Tonight it is my honor to inform you of the state of our city. Although it has been a short two months since Election Day, I have been very busy getting up to speed on the issues now facing us, and as well as future challenges.

First of all, I am confident in the administrative staff and department heads that have seen us through a financially difficult time. Our city administrator, clerk treasurer, building and zoning official, police chief and parks and rec director are quality people, who stepped up their efforts to maintain our services, despite dramatic cuts in personnel and departmental budgets. I’ve reappointed them all.

Secondly, the most urgent test facing our city is our financial picture. You’ve all just heard the report from our auditor. It is certain that our budget will require vigilant stewardship.

Last year, the downturn in the housing market resulted in tap-in fees of approximately $50,000 instead of a projected $750,000. The projected amount was to be used to offset the annual $1 million payment towards the $13.7 million dollar Waste Water Treatment Expansion bond. This situation meant that our last council was put in the position of making some very tough budget decisions totaling some $600,000 dollars in cuts to make up for that difference.

Last March, Automotive Components Holdings, LLC, also known as ACH, submitted a challenge to their 2006 real and personal property tax bill. They requested an 84 percent reduction in their assessed valuation. We offered to reduce the real property assessment in return for ACH dropping the assessment challenge on their personal property tax. While they have not officially rejected our proposal, they continue to challenge the assessment. If the state should rule in ACH’s favor, it could mean a decrease of as much as $900,000 in revenue per year. This would devastate our already strained budget. We, as your elected leadership, have pledged to vigorously defend our assessments.

We are currently reviewing several options and strategies for minimizing the city’s financial risk.

Many of the cuts made last year made a positive effect on our finances this year. While this year’s budget will be a challenge for us, the news isn’t all bad. According to our audit, the city did experience some gain. The city realized an increase in the reserve balance, or rainy day fund of more than $212,000 dollars, which increased the city’s fund balance to just under $300,000. This growth translates to a fund balance reserve of 5.4 percent. This is up from 1.5 percent from last year.

While this is good news---it should be tempered with some caution. Remember, we made several ONE-TIME cuts to make this happen. Our auditor recommends we maintain between 20 and 25 percent of our general fund in reserve to cover any future emergencies or unforeseen contingencies. We are constantly reviewing our budget tokeep our costs down while maintaining services.

While the financial crisis is not over, our recovery is in sight. We have many challenges facing us in the coming months to stabilize our finances.

As a council we’ve reviewed the goals and objectives of the last council and reprioritized some of them. We all agree that the city must continue to focus on diversifying its tax base, attracting more investment here.

Gains toward this goal have been achieved, despite the state’s recession. We regularly experience interest from business and industry to open doors here in Milan. We will continue to focus on recruitment for investment here. This focus on economic development is starting to pay off. Very soon, we will welcome a nearly 22,000 square foot medical facility, Integrated Health Associates to Milan. This new venture will represent upward of $1.75 million in taxable value to our city.

In addition, trucking organization, Martin Transportation Systems, Inc is renovating the former Autolign building. This new business is expected to bring some 125 jobs to Milan.

Also, Bay Logistics, a sister company to Martin Transportation, is expected to make some 50 local job openings this year.

We continue to aggressively pursue industrial, commercial and business investment in Milan. We have established contacts with state and local economic development organizations. We stay in constant communication for leads of new investors that would be a good fit here. Our city is now on the radar screen.

Last week, the department heads and I started work on a “continuity” plan for our city, to enhance our current emergency management plan. We’ve also started a review of current city practices and procedures and are looking for ways to improve and enhance our services and public safety.

Moreover, I’m taking advantage of learning opportunities offered by the Michigan Municipal League for elected officials as well as the Institute for Local Government.

Next month, our city administrator and I will attend a Community Economic Adjustment Program to learn about potential funding resources to support our community’s recovery in response to the state’s economic situation.

We strive to continually learn and research ways to make Milan more environmentally responsible. This week, the city administrator and I, will attend an information seminar on Planning for Green Communities.

There are countless ways to solve problems, but only if you know what your options are---we are always looking for and exploring new options and possibilities.

Also, we will continue to take advantage of grant and aid opportunities to offset costs for infrastructure repair, through state and federal grants.

Our city administrator recently identified several projects for which we may apply for more than $3 million dollars in grants for several road improvement projects, including Wabash Street, sections of Plank Road, the Plank Road Bridge, and resurfacing of County, Tolan and North streets.

Moreover, we are looking at using environmentally responsible techniques for these road improvements, which recycles our existing asphalt. This procedure is also more cost effective than other processes.

Although there are many tests and challenges ahead, we will address them each one by one.
Despite the dismal economic projections of the experts we see on the nightly news—I believe we can take control of our own destiny, right here in Milan, by empowering our most valuable asset—our residents.

You and I are the stakeholders of our city—-we can make a real difference here, by shopping locally and spending our dollars here, in Milan’s businesses, restaurants, services, and locally owned industries. This should be our first priority.

In addition, we should encourage visitors to come here for great events like our Community Fair, fireworks, parades, and parks and recreation programs. Many of these events are run solely by volunteers at no cost to the city. Volunteers organize many of our youth sports, including baseball, soccer and most recently flag-football.

We have a great school system. Our Milan Public Library provides not only state-of-the-art resources for our community, but wonderful children’s programs and quiet leisure time for our residents and greater community.

We are a community minded citizenry. Our volunteer opportunities benefit our quality of life.
These events strengthen our sense of connection to one another, and they revitalize our economy.

Events include a weekly car show, hosted by the local car enthusiast club, the Backstreet Cruizers. This year the Backstreet Cruizers in cooperation with the Milan Area Chamber of Commerce organized our Christmas Parade. In addition, our Downtown Development Authority organized several exciting events, including Discover Milan, Downtown Trick-or-Treat, to promote our downtown and draw interest and vitality to our Main Street. The Moving Milan Forward group, which started as a coffee clutch has several exciting projects and ideas for improving our city’s parks along the lake and throughout town. Our Historical Society hosts some fascinating programs highlighting our own unique history here. The Milan Area Chamber of Commerce is extremely active in helping draw interest and business people to Milan on a regular basis. The Milan Chamber recently hosted an informative event that highlighted the benefits of “Thinking Local First,” that supports the premise of shopping and buying local. Many of these events were held at no cost to the taxpayers, and would not be possible without the people willing to volunteer. I hope to encourage more of that kind of commitment.

I’d also like to mention and commend the volunteers who serve on the Milan Police Reserve. This group of individuals volunteers their own time to keeping the peace in our community, at no cost to the tax payers. The reserve officers report for duty without any pay.

The on-call Milan Area Fire Department firefighters are another elite group of individuals who deserve our acknowledgement and gratitude. In Milan, the volunteer fire fighters are a source of both community and family pride, spanning some three generations in some families. We are committed to continuing this tradition of on-call firefighters long into our future.

This kind of involvement and commitment to the City of Milan helps us stay connected to one another. A tight knit community attracts more people interested in doing good things for our community—be it opening a business or becoming a new resident—both are investments in our city’s future. As your Mayor, I pledge to continue to provide the quality of life that we all have come to expect while keeping our costs and taxes down. If you have any comments or concerns—I want to hear from you. I am available to talk or meet with you to hear what you have to say and to answer your questions.

Remember: We are Milan. We are the stakeholders.

Thank you.

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