Mayor Gretchen Driskell’s State of the City Address was given at the year’s first City Council meeting, Jan. 7, 2008. The Saline Reporter is proud to bring it here to our blog for your reading pleasure. It’s good stuff. We’re very fortunate to have a dedicated (not to mention eloquent) Mayor at our helm.
Happy New Year!
It is a great honor to have the opportunity to report on our current state of affairs. Since my last address there have been substantial changes in our community. These are exciting times for this community, a time of great potential. Saline was nominated, for the second time in three years, to Money magazine’s Top 100 Best Places to Live, last August. In this address, I plan to share with you the reasons why we will continue to be a great place, not just to live, but also to work, and to play.
The city is in a sound position financially. Your elected leadership and city staff have been working diligently to keep costs down, by slowing down capital projects, benefits savings, and not replacing open positions. The general fund has an undesignated fund balance of $2.5M (30%) that we have purposefully been building to prepare for the potential closure of our largest business, Automotive Component Holdings formerly known as Visteon or Ford. In November the community was delighted to receive the news that Johnson Controls, a dynamic and reputable company, has entered into a memorandum of understanding with ACH to work towards an agreement to purchase this business. While the sale is still pending, this is a major step toward resolution on the outcome of this business, which accounts for over 9% of our property tax base.
The city also continues to recruit and retain additional businesses to further develop our over 300 acres of business parks. We recognize the importance of a diverse set of businesses in our economy and are diligently pursuing any opportunities for new and expanding business in this slow economy. In fact, Saline has been very fortunate to have new business and business expansions in the past several years. I believe this is due to our “pro business” attitude, a reputation documented in Ann Arbor’s Business Review magazine. A financial goal of the city is to have close to half of our tax revenue stream come from nonresidential revenue, thereby keeping the millage rate low, relative to the level of services.
The city infrastructure is in excellent condition. Our current physical plant is in the best condition in decades. Due to multiple capital improvement projects over the last ten years we have replaced or renovated all of our facilities, with the exception of our wastewater treatment plant which is underway at this time. We are currently in discussion with Saline Township regarding expansion of the City on the western boundary. This is due in part to the Consent Judgement between Biltmore and the Township, and their desire to utilize our existing water and sewer infrastructure. We look forward to a partnership with the Township that will be beneficial for all parties, continuing the relationship we have built over the years.
Because our community is an ideal place to live and raise a family, with excellent schools and quality of life, we will continue to have development pressures. The key to successful growth is the ability to work with the community and grow in a manner that maintains our excellent attributes: great schools, green spaces, safe and vibrant places, and most importantly, a sense of community.
What is it that facilitates a sense of community here in Saline? First and foremost it is the ability to participate in the community, an opportunity to connect beyond the four walls that surround us most frequently.
As residents, we have multiple opportunities to participate. I hope your first priority is shopping locally. Our small businesses are fragile and need your support. Additionally, many local businesses are owned or operated by our neighbors. I know the reconstruction of Michigan Avenue on the east side of town this summer was very difficult for the business along the road, so please get back in those shops. And there are new businesses, like Signature Grille, Cadence Cycle, Maureen’s Design and Emmetts, that have opened in 2007, braving these difficult economic times to bring you their excellent products.
Another opportunity to develop your connection to Saline is by volunteering in organizations or at events that take place in our community. The Saline Celtic Festival is adding several major new venues, the Master World Championships athletic games & a Scottish Dance Competition to name just a few. The festival is volunteer run and a lot of fun to work on. The Downtown Merchants Association is always looking for help with their events. Of course the city has several commissions that give our residents an opportunity to participate in the development of city goals and policy regarding parks, the environment, and other areas of interest. The city website is developing a volunteer link that our residents can utilize to find an area that you might like to participate in. Please look for updates at www.saline-city.org.
Finally, a sense of community is developed by attending the activities that a community offers. Since my last report there have been many opportunities. Downtown events including Summerfest, Harvest of the Arts, the holiday parade and the Christkindlmarket were bigger and better than last year. The historical society coordinates the volunteers that keep our museums open every Saturday and develops special events like Harvest Day and Christmas at the Farm. In addition, the first ever holiday homes tour, held on South Ann Arbor Street, was a huge success. Thanks go to Terri Sibo-Koenig and Calesta Harrison for chairing this excellent showcase of our newest historic district.
We hope that you will take advantage of the opportunities in this new year to join in community activities. Whether that means walking the new labyrinth by the community garden, attending the next downtown event on Feb 7th, taking a class at the 212 Arts Center or participating in the adult volleyball league at the Rec Complex, it is your choice. But do choose to participate and continue to build a strong community here in Saline.
The other vital component in building a sense of community is the outreach that community organizations, including local government, does with its community members. How well do we listen to the needs and concerns of our residents and businesses regarding our services and activities? How much do you know about how local government works and what challenges or opportunities lay ahead for our community?
This year we will be addressing our long range planning through several processes. This month our commissions, staff, and the city council will be developing goals and objectives in their area of expertise. The city does a five year financial estimate that gives us a general sense of the direction we are heading. We will be updating our capital improvements document to incorporate the recommendations of the commissions, staff and any public input we receive.
Additionally, we will be doing another community survey, to give you a chance to give us feedback on potential projects and our quality of service. The city will also be preparing a document that will be accessible on our website that will outline our long range strategies, including capital projects, and what we will be accomplishing specifically in the next fiscal year.
I have had the great privilege of serving as the acting city manager for several months. What I learned during this time reinforced what I already believed. This community is extremely fortunate to have a highly dedicated cadre of employees that truly believe in providing the best service to our customers. It has been such a great experience working with our city staff on a daily basis. I think most of us take for granted our high level of services, ranging from quickly plowed streets to our safe neighborhoods. Our new city manager will recognize the caliber of our employees when he steps into his office. We are excited to be negotiating an offer because he recognizes that our major asset is our people, not only our employees but our residents and our business partners.
This is a principle that your city council also espouses. We are fortunate to have a very experienced council this year. Pat Little, Alicia Ping, Glenn Law, Kathy Roth and David Rhoads offer a wealth of experience and commitment to public service. Our newest councilmember Pat Ivey will be a great addition to our council. We have all worked together to bring new leadership to the city management position and it is clear that we all hold the same values in regard to our community.
So, as you can see, the future is bright for this community. Certainly these are trying times for our region and our country. However, due to the support of our citizens and our businesses, due to dedicated city employees and thoughtful elected leadership, Saline is well positioned to move successfully into the future.