Mayor Lamarand's State of the City Address is on line

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Mayor Jeffrey P. Lamarand
State of the City Address 2010
Taylor, Michigan

May 20, 2010

Good evening. I would like to thank everyone for being here tonight. State of the City addresses are an interesting way of communicating – and perhaps there is no more important need in our city’s history than the present to communicate with our residents.

With that in mind, I decided to hold my address in the City Council Chambers here at City Hall. The chambers have built-in camera equipment that can be operated in the building and for the first time we are broadcasting the speech live by cable television. We will rebroadcast the speech at various times throughout the week and you will be able to view it on our city website, City Of Taylor.com. And we can show it at satellite locations, like we are tonight to interested residents at the Ford Senior Center, Lakes of Taylor and Taylor Meadows.

I also want to assure you that in our city’s current economic condition, no city funds are being spent on the State of the City Address, thanks to the generosity of several businesses that offered to offset all of the costs. Thank you to: McKinley Properties, Wade Trim, Century 21 Americal, Keck Real Estate and Schreiber Construction for your support this evening.

I am pleased that many dignitaries were able to join us for tonight’s speech. Since this is about the city, let me first thank our city clerk and treasurer, the City Council and our judges from the 23rd District Court for joining us. I know you agree that collectively we all want to do whatever it takes to keep Taylor moving forward.

It inspires me to see that other elected officials – people who care about the well being of Taylor and its people – are here as well. Thank you to the members of the Taylor Board of Education and those representing local, county, state and federal offices. Your support of our city and your partnerships with us are so important.

Let me introduce a few other special people who, not only make major contributions to our city behind the scenes, but also many sacrifices on behalf of the needs of our city… My lovely wife, Mishelle, our beautiful daughter Jillian, and other members of my family.

My State of the City Address may be a bit later in the season than similar speeches by other mayors, but I needed time to embrace the challenges of my first six months in office. What I discovered would make many people cringe: One, we have budget problems. Two, we have workforce issues. Three, we have declining property values. Four, our city’s tax rate is too high. And five, in order to thrive, we need to make changes fast.

If you have come to City Council meetings or watched them on TV the last six months, you are very familiar with some of the folks sitting up here with me. We have debated a number of issues – nearly all of them dealing with Taylor’s finances. Make no mistake: our great city is like many other municipalities across Michigan, we have been left with a pile of debt and we are in need of a long ladder to climb out of this huge deficit hole.

And it's not new, auditors from the firm Plante-Moran have been telling us for well over a decade that the city has been operating in a structural deficit. That is, we have continually spent more than we took in. In the past, Taylor administrators have done what they felt they needed to do to balance the budget: They sold city property to developers... They sold cell towers to companies that had been paying an annual rental fee to the city... And they depended on revenues generated by our ticket detail…  They did what they needed to do to balance the books.

Well, there are no quick fixes left, no more land or cell towers to sell. Writing tickets is no way to balance a budget and is no way to run a city. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The fact is, this community has been run beyond our means for too long. As a councilman, I voted against the proposed budget each of my four years. At a time when property values have been going down and year-after-year less revenue has been coming back to Taylor from the state of Michigan, past administrations wouldn't change their spending habits. And now our budget and finance people tell us we have been left with a 10 million dollar deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget for our current year is 60 million dollars. The budget for the next 12 months is about 50 million dollars. We have inherited a mess. Any way you look at it, that’s one huge financial oil spill. It’s that simple.

And yet, the solution is somewhat complex and I need your help. The state requires that we operate on a balanced budget. Reducing a city budget by 10 million dollars means EVERYONE must sacrifice. Wages have to be reduced. Benefits have to be lowered. Programs have to be cut. All departments must work harder and smarter. We cannot – and will not – exceed our means. Under no circumstance will I support spending more than what we have.

When I ran for this office last year, I campaigned for a new direction in city government. Now that I’m here, that direction must be “back to basics” and together we can get this done. Our city government must focus on the taxpayer, the basic needs and the basic services. Essential services such as public safety and rubbish pickup and street and parks maintenance will come first because they should come first. The new direction is customer-focused. We must all agree that the taxpayer is our customer. The new direction says we can provide improved and high-quality service without raising prices – and we MUST lower taxes for our property owners. Let me repeat that: We MUST lower takes for our property owners. Period.

The sacrifices start at the top. As the new Mayor, I went to the Compensation Commission and told commissioners that the Mayor’s salary is too high. I recommended the Mayor take a 15-percent paycut. Some of them were stunned since the Mayor’s salary had increased or at least stayed the same for decades. But they agreed and they also proposed cuts to the City Council wages by 10 percent and the clerk and treasurer 5 percent. That is starting at the top.

The next step was to tackle the salaries and benefits of some of the top appointees in the city administration. Too many managers were making too much money. I brought in new, qualified department heads who make substantially less than their predecessors – in most cases, tens of thousands of dollars less. I consolidated some positions and eliminated others while looking at providing services and cost containment. The new appointees also agreed to reduced benefits, they will not receive a pension and they have no ties to retiree health care plans.

While we’re facing a 10 million dollar deficit this year. The fact is this is a long-term problem. The city needs help from all of its employee groups. Again, the taxpayer is our customer. The need to make staff reductions are tied to our negotiations. We are in negotiations with the unions and have had some real serious talks. All union presidents were invited to attend tonight’s address. I want to publicly thank them for their participation in this process and publicly state what we're emphasizing to them: the only way for our city to thrive is for our employee groups to work with us collaboratively to solve these problems.

We must get a better handle on wages and benefits. Again, the taxpayer is our customer. On the street where I grew up, a neighbor worked 30 years in a steel mill. When he retired he had a well-earned pension, then the mill went bankrupt and  he lost his pension. But every year, he still pays his taxes. What’s fair for him... and the many others who have faced the same situation.

We must come up with new ways to control pension costs. Much like pension costs in the auto industry, public employee pension obligations are the ticking time bomb for municipal, state and federal governments. Nationally, public employee salaries and benefits now exceed those of the private sector by 50 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We need progress in this area. And it is vital that the employees be part of the solution.

When you have to cut 10 million dollars from a budget, there has to be downsizing. But rest assured, public safety remains our most important public service. Despite any necessary cuts, our citizens will be safe. The city will still be protected. The men and women of the Taylor police and fire departments are well trained, have state-of-the-art equipment and do an outstanding job each and every day. Please join me in thanking Police Chief Dale Tamsen and new Fire Chief Steve Portis for the leadership roles they play in our community.

Part of the new culture in our city is to have our facilities pay for themselves. For many years, Taylor has used general fund subsidies for the golf courses, the Taylor Sportsplex and even the Community Center before that. We want our two great golf courses, Lakes of Taylor and Taylor Meadows, to stand on their own and maybe even contribute to the general fund. At the same time, we have lowered golf rates to encourage more people to play. We want the Sportsplex to pay for itself. We worked with Rink Management, the company that runs the facility, to make sure they have a viable operation. That is succeeding. We are especially proud to have Belle Tire’s nationally ranked hockey program call Taylor home.

Part of the new direction is to reduce taxes. We are going to be as creative as we possibly can in doing so. In the last couple months, I proposed to City Council that there was a way to reduce taxes: by working with our Tax Increment Finance Authority. And on Tuesday night, the City Council agreed. The result is a very slight reduction of .17 mills. Reducing taxes is a way to attract more homeowners and business owners to our community – and I applaud the TIFA Board and the City Council for joining me in this effort.

When a city is faced with a multi-million dollar deficit, some programs must be cut. There's no way around it. But, be assured that many City of Taylor traditions will be with us into the future. While changing the way we do business, we certainly want to retain some of the best things about our community.

A few years ago, Governor Granholm called Taylor “The Baseball Capital of Michigan.” The success of our community’s four Little Leagues is unmatched in this region. Thank you to the many managers, coaches and team parents who assist with this process. And thank you to the hard-working employees and volunteers who maintain our ball diamonds.

The Junior League World Series, which attracts the top teams of teen-age baseball players to Taylor, will celebrate its 30th year in August. Please join me in thanking the only person who has served as volunteer director of the series since it began in 1980: Mr. Greg Bzura.

This past weekend, we remembered our many military heroes in Taylor during our veterans memorial service. We added another name to the Korean War monument in the Veterans Memorial Garden and we saluted the members of our military, both past and present.

This weekend, we will walk the path around Coan Lake in Heritage Park during the annual Relay for Life, which has grown into one of the largest events in the City of Taylor. If you get a chance, pay a visit to the park and help raise funds for the American Cancer Society.

Our Parks and Recreation staff is working smarter. They combined two great events – the Art in the Park Festival and the Family Fall Fest – into an autumn event that should attract a larger crowd. If you check out Taylor Info and our website, you will see we continue to offer dozens of events each season for families. And thank you to the sponsors who come to the table year after year to show their support for our community.

Last year we began a new tradition – the Taylor Farmers Market – which attracted thousands of people interested in purchasing fresh produce and other goods from Michigan farmers. The Farmers Market is scheduled to open again in June – moving to Fridays. Thank you to Judge Salomone and his group of volunteers for bringing the market to Taylor.

Soon, we hope the Farmers Market will be able to take advantage of a revamped Sheridan Community Center with open air features. The projected exorbitant costs to maintain and repair the warn-out facility – particularly the boiler system -- caused us to explore other options with the center, but should lead to many more years of functional use and enjoyment, without the costs.

In this tough business climate, it is critical for the city to take an aggressive stance with regard to economic development. In fact, we are committed to and are proceeding with a proactive approach to reviving our local economy. Specifically, we are in the final stages of our marketing plan development. In an unprecedented initiative, we are applying world-class marketing and brand management processes and principles to municipal economic development.

The Marketing Plan starts with customer understanding and segmenting the market – the most critical element of all. Based on this information we decided whom we will target with our marketing efforts. Next comes positioning, which captures the essence of why Taylor is relevant to the chosen target and how it is different than its competition. We then nail down our strategies and tactics with regard to products and services we offer and how we will distribute, promote and price them. And of course, we will measure everything we do to ensure our marketing investments get sufficient return.

This is the way the best marketing companies in the world think about marketing – it’s a process, not just advertising and PR.  One can never can learn enough about one’s customers!!!

Our primary overall strategy is a Business Loyalty Strategy.  That is, we will work to serve and embrace our current businesses, doing our best to help them prosper and grow. We call it the Taylor Growth Alliance and it’s designed to do one thing: create a mutually beneficial partnership between the city and businesses to stimulate economic development in our community. We think there’s a lot of potential here.

Our secondary overall strategy is to attract new businesses. In private sector terms, this is called a Conquest Strategy. It will be accomplished via two approaches:

First, the Taylor Growth Alliance. The idea here is to create a partnership with current Taylor business owners where, over time, they become advocates of the city’s business opportunities, and thus help us attract new businesses, mainly via word-    of-mouth, which is now turbocharged by internet-based social media. This is a tried and true strategy used by several successful marketers like Harley-Davidson with its HOG strategy.

The second approach is Online, CRE (or Commercial Real Estate) Marketing. This will entail outstanding creative materials representing both Taylor city-owned and privately-held commercial real estate for sale in the city, and getting the information to potential buyers and lessees through online commercial information exchanges, like CoStar, LoopNet, Showcase.com, and the like. This is the least costly, the most efficient and most effective way to reach the somewhat elusive targets of brokers, investors, business owners and operators, agents, lenders, and so on.

There are numerous strategies and tactics that spring from these overall strategies; these are just a few: An all-new Taylor Economic Development Portal, fashioned in the image of world-class economic development portals like Fairfax County, Virginia, which will have features important to business people; plus, it will include a way to access Taylor residents’ resumes, sort of like a Monster.com for Taylor people.

Another is to grow Taylor’s capability to have best-in-class economic development knowledge to help businesses thrive, including: Unsurpassed federal, state, county and city tax incentive knowledge; the most accurate and accessible commercial real estate database; capital and financing sources; business counseling, support and training organizations and easily accessible infrastructure information.

A third tactic is a Digital Marketing Assets Library that will be available to Growth Alliance businesses; this will be an online house full of digital pictures, videos, copy and the like that local businesses and city workers can access to produce marketing materials.

As you can see, I’m excited about these possibilities, and I’m confident that we can execute this plan. We know these techniques work. They’ve been proven in the private sector. Economic development experts are searching for the link between marketing and economic development. We have it here and we will have a competitive advantage in the battle to grow our local economy.

Your city government is communicating with residents in several new ways. The use of technology starts with our new economic development website that is in the works and continues with options that allow us to deliver better quality service more efficiently and at a lower cost.

One of my first goals in office was to make our city website more user friendly – and we have done that. The revamped site allows us to be more transparent. For example, you can see the entire city budget online. If you missed a council meeting, you can watch it on the city website, which is another alternative to watching it on cable TV. The city also has turned to social networking to help spread the word about important projects or family events. If you are a Facebook user, you can now be a fan of the City of Taylor and receive updates throughout the week. And we even have Dave tweeting. Another goal is to implement technological advancements in our Building and Safety Department that will put the building inspection and permit process online and make things easier for both builders and their customers.

As much as I’m a huge believer in technology’s ability to improve efficiency, I also believe in doing my part to save the earth. Taylor has a long history of green initiatives. We were the first Metro Detroit community to supplement its fleet with alternative fuel vehicles and had a great partnership with Ford Motor Company, which studied Taylor’s use of these trucks and cars. We have been Tree City USA for two decades now and we even have a wind turbine and solar energy panels that not only help pay the energy bills at the Heritage Park Petting Farm but also are used as an educational tool. We plan to continue on with those great initiatives and even expand on them. Overall, our intent is to reduce the city’s energy consumption and associated costs, and to reduce greenhouse gases. We have a multi-faceted strategy in place, from energy audits focusing on efficiency and sustainability to basic things like shutting down computers and printers at night, efficient space planning, water conservation, using more efficient CFL bulbs, recycling and more. Plus, we will take advantage of available grants and incentives, like those from DTE, wherever possible. For example, Taylor is the recipient of a Federal Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant of $596,000. With this grant, we will be replacing old, inefficient boilers at the Villages of Taylor with new high efficiency units. We project that the payback will be fast: about 5.8 years, which is terrific. That grant is also helping to pay for a new “Cool Roof” at the DPW, parking lot lights around the city, and lighting for the Sportsplex – all adding to energy efficiency with quick payback forecasts.

A month or so ago, The Detroit Free Press announced a list of Michigan Green Leaders. There were 350 nominees. The judging was based on achievements and passion and persistence in making Michigan a cleaner, greener place to live.
I’m proud that Taylor was one of only two cities in the entire state to be mentioned. Not bad!

I also want to point out the green efforts of one of our local companies, Johnson Matthey Testing, which stepped up on Arbor Day and donated trees for planting at both Blair Moody Elementary School and West Middle School. And they have pledged to continue to donate trees for years to come. That’s only the latest effort in a long line of green initiatives at Johnson Matthey – which could serve as an example for what can be done by businesses throughout the city. Last year, the company saved 100 trees by recycling paper and cardboard and reducing the use of paper. They recycle plastic and scrap metal, have reduced energy consumption and reduce items that go into landfills. Employees there are making a difference every day.

Speaking of recycling, one of the things I campaigned for was a return to curbside recycling. My goal is to bring forward a plan for City Council approval that will make it easy and worthwhile for Taylor residents to recycle. It will be part of an overall new program that will be more affordable and expand services.

Recent months brought some exciting news to Taylor.

In April, the Heinz C. Prechter Educational and Performing Arts Center opened its doors on the Downriver Campus of Wayne County Community    College District in Taylor. The beautiful 800-plus seat facility has already hosted a Clint Black concert and the Mid-States Regional Dance America Festival, sponsored by our very own Ballet Americana. The festival attracted dancers and their entourages from 13 states. The Prechter Center will host many of our local organizations. With enrollment at the college skyrocketing to meet the needs of new college students and people interested in changing careers, pride at WC3 may be at an all-time high. Thank you, Wayne County Community College District, for your continued commitment to Taylor.

The company that managed construction at the Prechter Center is Taylor’s own J.S. Vig Co., which continues to receive awards for its green construction efforts. Last year, Vig received a Greening Downriver Award from the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber. And within the last month, Crain’s 25th Anniversary Issue recognized J.S. Vig as one of the 25 most innovative companies to watch in the future, taking honors in the construction and real estate industry category. The new Prechter Center is a sustainable building with an energy efficient heating and cooling system and an automated lighting system. Some of the materials used in the project were sourced locally with a lower carbon footprint.

We just received great news from the Taylor Board of Education. The Taylor School District successfully sold 15 million dollars in energy bonds at a very favorable rate that will allow the district to make many needed repairs to buildings while saving money on energy costs. The repairs will include doors, windows, boilers and other items. The federal government will pay nearly $8 million in the interest costs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The schools’ cost for interest on the bonds is just $800,000 over the next 17 years. This is an exciting project for the Taylor schools and I thank the Board of Education and Superintendent Beth Iverson for contributing to a greener Taylor.

By the way, this may be a good time to talk about your city and school district working together. The leadership of the Taylor Schools, which have deficit issues of their own, agreed to work with the city through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to demolish three schools that are old and beyond repair. The Neighborhood Stabilization Program allows us to spend federal funds to purchase abandoned homes in qualified neighborhoods, tear down those that are not worth saving and participate in projects that fall under the guidelines of the program. Pending an amendment to the original $2.5 million award, the demolition of the schools as well as expanding the use of funds to more targeted area neighborhoods will take place. Thank you to Congressman John Dingell and his staff for helping us fund the stabilization of our neighborhoods and being great friends of Taylor.

Earlier today – actually just before the start of my address – Oakwood Heritage Hospital broke ground on a $31 million surgical services expansion project intended to create an orthopedic center of excellence for Oakwood Healthcare. At the heart of the three-year project will be a specialized bone and joint center to accommodate thousands of patients over the next 20 years who will require knee or hip implant surgeries. The expansion complements two new residency programs at Oakwood Heritage in orthopedic surgery and physical medicine and rehabilitation sponsored by the Wayne State University School of Medicine. In late March, Heritage unveiled the Medical Education headquarters to support the two residency programs. Kelly Smith, the chief operating officer at Heritage, said that during the next three years, the two programs will train 20 orthopedic and 12 physical medicine residents. The moves mark some major investments in the Taylor hospital. I thank Kelly Smith for the great news.

Just last week, we were on hand for the official opening of SRG Global’s 46,000-square-foot Advanced Development Center on Delta Drive right here in Taylor. SRG is one of the world’s leading providers of advanced, high-value coatings on plastics for the automotive, commercial trucking and household appliance industries. The Taylor site allows SRG to develop the next generation of coatings for plastics in a manufacturing setting, thereby speeding development, testing and time to market. It also means new jobs in Taylor. The facility features state-of-the-art laboratories, a chrome plating line and four injection molding presses to create parts for coating and testing. This is the type of news we love to hear in Taylor.

This is Ken Stocker and he wants to re-open the Star Taylor Theatre. We’re finalizing the details on what will be a new independent movie house operating along the Eureka Corridor. Mr. Stocker plans to open the theater in June under a new name. His marketing plan is community based. He’ll be refurbishing the facility. And it will provide additional jobs for our area. We think this is great news for the City of Taylor.

Want more good news? Proto Manufacturing is an international, high-tech firm that will be setting up shop in Taylor in the coming months. Out of this facility, Proto will manufacture x-ray diffraction systems and x-ray tubes for sale to its customers, like NASA and the Defense Department, and for use in connection with its stress measurement and consulting activities. Simply put, Proto makes and uses x-ray machines that can see internal structural weaknesses in bridges, metals, and just about anything. And the market for this is growing worldwide. With an expected $5.3 million capital investment over five years, Proto forecasts it will create 46 high-tech jobs in Taylor over the five-year period beginning in 2011. Part of our negotiation with Proto is that the firm will give its best effort to hire qualified Taylor residents, encourage new employees that don’t live in Taylor to relocate here, they’ll work with Taylor’s public schools regarding math and science program sponsorship opportunities and help promote our great city. City officials worked closely with Mike Brauss, the President of Proto, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Wayne County to put together a package of tax-related incentives to make this deal work. Mr. Brauss, who had opportunities to put this facility in other states, is a terrific guy and we’re really lucky to have his company in our community. The Proto Manufacturing story is a good example of how we’re working each and every day to reduce government barriers and increase our competitiveness to attract new business… We will take this resolution to the June 1st City Council session for final approval.

We’re meeting with property owners and management people daily because we are committed to filling vacant buildings and attracting new growth. Why? Because the taxpayer is our customer and we have a commitment to lower taxes. We want more people in Taylor paying less taxes. Before I close I'd like to acknowledge the hard-working and dedicated city employees who take great pride in serving our community. And the countless community volunteers who give of their time to serve on boards and commissions or give of their time through youth, civic and fraternal groups, churches and charities. These are the people who we rely on to keep this city great!  Who really keep us going.

So, as I close, I'm sure many people may have noticed what may be called a tumultuous relationship between the council and the administration during these early months. But, I see it as the democratic process working itself out. We aren't going to agree on everything, but for too long the relationship between councils and mayors have been too comfortable forgetting the needs of Taylor. And it could be argued that mayors have run the council in the past. I applaud this council and all electeds standing up on principle, but I also challenge this council to put aside personal interests and put Taylor's interests first. Let me repeat: we MUST put TAYLOR'S INTERESTS – FIRST! Because, the taxpayer is our customer and our boss.

I assure you that not a day goes by that we don’t talk about how to make Taylor a better place. We have elected officials who want Taylor to thrive. Despite having been left with this budget deficit and the continually growing financial liabilities that inhibits this city's future, added to the economic uncertainties caused by this recession, we will continue to deliver the services you need, we will keep your city clean and maintained, and we will keep your streets safe. I pledge that we will continue to squeeze wasteful practices out of city operations. It is important that we all do it together. We all have common goals. We all want great services. Join me, and commit to lowering taxes. And together we will work to keep Taylor a great place… and to ensure our city will thrive in the future.

Thank you.