One thing that I have learned in elected office is that every issue comes across your desk, whether you want to deal with it or not. Those issues warrant a response, regardless of my priorities, and it's why I feel it's important to share my thoughts on some of them in our community. Have an idea or want to talk about a particular issue? Feel free to share with me using the contact page or visiting with me at a constituent coffee hour listed on the home page.
While my top priorities have revolved around fixing the roads, spurring economic development, and creating a better connected government, I will always work to earnestly offer solutions on anything council considers.
Improving Our Roads and Bridges
Fixing our roads continues to be at the top of my priority list for city council. I recognize that whatever our progress in recent years, it's still not enough. We need a focus on roads because they help support strong property values, are safer for our residents, and help avoid costly auto repairs.
We have made strides over the last four years in repairing the worst streets in the city, implementing an annual engineering assessment and grading of each street, and bringing systems on line to better manage assets & data. What's more, I proposed and successfully implemented a citywide road study to firmly get a handle on specific road conditions, lifespans, costs, and forecasts. The goal - to ensure money is being spent where it is needed most and to better plan construction and interventions to extend road life. This all has helped position the city to make decisions more thoughtfully than at any other time. But of equal importance, the pieces were put in place to create a long term plan to deal with our roads.
That plan - the Roadway Future Fund Initiative - will be on the ballot this November. It is a multi series bond proposal, generating $30,000,000 dedicated to fixing roads and bridges. The money is borrowed and spent over time in alignment with the results of our road study, matching needs with resources and ensuring we don't tear up what doesn't need to be. I brought forward this proposal and believe it's the right thing to do by taxpayers who rightfully demand better roads. It's apparent that the little we receive from state revenue share - about $600,000/year after seasonal needs - will never be enough to address the scale of our needs. The plan will ensure we can resurface or reconstruct the worst streets in the city within the first bond draw, continue fixing streets as they deteriorate, and create space in our budget so that maintenance funding is used to keep good roads in better condition longer. The city will be sharing the plan outline and frequently asked questions on the city website, in addition to hosting virtually accessible town halls in September to discuss. The estimated millage rate would be 2.6 mils on your homes taxable value, which is different than your cash value.
The choice on the bond proposal is ultimately yours. If approved, I'll make sure responsible stewardship and accountability for those taxpayer dollars are the first priority. And I will work to keep the plan on track and working as intended. If rejected by voters, I'll keep on it to find a solution that we can all get behind.
Spurring Economic Development
Encouraging development and the growth of business is good for our city & taxpayers alike. It's why I believe the city should always take a competitive approach to economic development and be focused on changing the climate here in New Baltimore. It has been a priority for me on council and will remain so for the next four years.
As a member of council, I served on the subcommittee assigned to negotiate the sale and development of the Washington and Front corner downtown. I spearheaded the effort to maintain dialogue with the chosen developer and worked with the mayor and other members to craft an agreement to bring to the table. Council has approved the deal and will be moving forward on selling the vacant lots for development. A bit about that:
This deal is a two phase purchase and development. That means land will be bought and sold as they go, performance and completion of phase 1 will mean they’ve earned the right to phase 2. That’s important because it serves to protect the city’s interest in actually seeing the project done, not just to have the property sold. The agreement looks to bring a three story, mixed-use development to downtown, including sorely needed parking, commercial space, and equally vital residential space right to the heart of our city. Further, the phase two proposal looks to include an anchor restaurant, additional residential space, and rooftop space overlooking beautiful Lake St. Clair.
Looking ahead, New Baltimore must now do the work to help shepherd this project to completion. We must maintain accountability for what’s been agreed to, and we do that through focus and cooperation. We must work to help our partners keep the project on track, navigate approvals, and ensure this project looks, feels, and is at home in our city. I believe council is committed to doing just that.
I’ve worked with Peak 3 as part of the subcommittee tasked with ironing out the agreement. They’ve stuck with the city while we’ve wrestled for years to find a way to make this work for New Baltimore. They’re local investors, not some corporate developer. They need this investment to work for the sake of their own families and that’s a big part of what makes them special in my eyes. I believe them to be committed and sincere in their desire to invest and be part of our community.
In addition to that work, I have advocated for and delivered on changes in city ordinance and policy to pursue Redevelopment Ready Certification through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Certification means the City has modernized its policies surrounding building & development and brought standards in line with commonly accepted practice statewide. In making these changes, we are changing the culture and removing antiquated barriers that cost us time, money, and opportunity, in addition to making things much less confusing. Final certification makes the city eligible for resources from this state agency to help us grow.
Finally, I serve as liaison to Local Development Finance Authority. The taxing entity is designed to make investments in the designated area, our industrial park. While there I have advocated for the release of development dollars to be used in expanding buildable footprint of the industrial park, seeking to create more opportunity for development and investment in our community.
A Better Connected Government
You deserve a representative that is accessible and listens to you, even if we don't always agree. As a member of council, I have always made myself available to residents and sought to keep an open line of communication. Whether that is hosting coffee hours for constituents, maintaining a presence online on Facebook and through my website, or freely giving time to hear you out, it's part of who I am. I welcome your ideas and input, and am happy to help solve problems brought to my attention by our residents.
But being open is just part of what we need. It is apparent to most that the city could benefit from enhanced communications and it's what I intend to keep pushing for. I'll work to introduce improvements to our web presence, and pursue greater use of social media. More importantly, I am backing the creation of a city mobile app to serve as a one stop shop for city business. Systems are available on market that would allow residents to report issues and track progress towards resolution, and to receive important updates from city hall. I believe this tech help us create transparency and additionally helps the city to organize and follow through every single time. Technology can help us improve service to our residents and we should be using it to the greatest extent possible.
Keeping Our Community Safe
New Baltimore consistently ranks as one of the safest communities in our state. Our police enjoy the support and trust of our community because they've earned it. I'll continue to support their community oriented approach and look to supply them with the equipment and training they need to do their jobs.
When it comes to our fire department, we know that greater support is needed. From aging equipment to staffing challenges, council support for our fire department is needed more than ever to maintain the current level of service. It is why I will be voting for funding for additional staff and look to support any plans that enhance the medical services they provide and our community needs. This November, a 1 mil fire millage has been placed on the ballot for residents to consider. The millage would help fund operations and equipment on an ongoing basis. While each resident will have to make their own choice, I personally will be voting yes and would encourage others to do the same.
Supporting Arts & Culture In Our Community
At the mayor’s initiation the City Council approved the creation of an Arts & Culture Commission in 2020. The group is charged with integrating more visual, musical, and performing arts into our downtown and community at large. I am proud to serve as a liaison to this dedicated group of volunteers and fully support their mission, resourcing them as needed, and hope to help them with backing and ideas. The group is already exploring many exciting possibilities to bring even more vibrancy to our community.
As part of the city’s development effort downtown, creating space for mural work has already been included in the Washington & Front development agreement, and I look forward to helping that become a placemaking reality for our community. The group will bring together more arts focused events, activities, and hopefully attractions in the years to come!
(More to come!)