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April 22, 2013

Ferndale mayor talks growth despite tight budget in State of the City

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Mayor Dave Coulter gives the State of the City Address April 18 at Local Kitchen and Bar in downtown Ferndale. Coulter talked about revitalizing communities and parks during his address.

FERNDALE — Mayor Dave Coulter didn’t try to hide the fact that Ferndale has seen better financial days during his 2013 State of the City address April 18 at Local Kitchen and Bar in downtown Ferndale.

In fact, Coulter basically led off with it after thanking his fellow elected officials.

“I said last year that the old days of government being the solution to all our problems are long gone — we can’t afford it,” he said to a crowd of around 100 people. “The main issue we have, of course, is the budget. It was projected that we’d face about a 1 percent decline in taxable revenue this year; instead, we were notified the actual decline was 6 percent.”

The budget deficit, which Coulter said is a big concern for most cities around the state, has hindered projects in the past year, but partnerships have helped important tasks remain on schedule.

By working with the district court and saving money from traffic enforcement, the city will be renovating the courthouse, as well as the police station, by next year. By working with the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority, the city has secured grants to add “important” streetscaping and other improvements to Nine Mile Road from Livernois to Pinecrest.

“When these projects are completed later this year, this stretch of West Nine Mile will look and feel like the rest of downtown and hopefully attract the same kind of economic development, too,” Coulter said.

Coulter discussed the much-debated new parking system in downtown Ferndale that debuted earlier this year and was the subject of numerous complaints due to the long lines and increased rates.

While the rollout didn’t go as planned, Coulter said the partnership with the DDA will pay off in the end and be an asset for the downtown area.

“If you don’t take risks, you’ll never make mistakes, but you won’t accomplish much, either,” he said. “Even though some folks are still getting used to the changes, we now have a better system that will meet the changing needs of our downtown and help generate future revenue to increase parking, which we desperately need.”

At last year’s State of the City address, Coulter announced the creation of the Mayor’s Business Council, an advisory group intended as a way for local business executives to collaborate with government officials and education leaders on developing business strategies.

In updating the public on the council, Coulter said the 30-member group was able to attract Blue Water Financial to Ferndale, a financial investment firm that invested $500,000 in renovations to buildings and relocated more than 30 jobs to the community. The council also helped the city see a 35 percent increase in non-residential investment that helped lower business vacancy rates.

“Much of last year’s address focused on how we’re making Ferndale a friendlier place to do business of all kinds,” Coulter said. “Attracting businesses, and the jobs and revenue they bring, is critical to growing our tax base, supporting our services and attracting new residents and visitors to our city.”

In this year’s address, however, Coulter said he wanted to focus on communities in Ferndale and he will be asking City Council to approve a new program that will focus on code enforcement on one neighborhood at a time.

The program would be called Ferndale Clean Sweep and would incorporate several city departments to help houses and communities bring everything up to code and improve appearances.

“The foundation of what makes Ferndale work is safe, clean, walkable and vibrant neighborhoods,” Coulter said. “I believe Ferndale Clean Sweep can have a powerful impact on improving the appearance of our neighborhoods while actually reducing the amount of code enforcement violations because we will proactively give residents a chance to solve these issues.

“At the end, we’ll have an entire neighborhood that looks cleaner, where neighbors take greater pride in their blocks and where, hopefully, property values will also be enhanced.”

Another aspect to go along with cleaner communities, Coulter said, is having great parks. The city has 15 parks or recreation centers covering almost 90 acres of land. However, since 2008, Coulter said the Recreation Department has taken the biggest percentage cut in the budget out of any of the departments.

Like the Ferndale Clean Sweep program, Coulter will be asking City Council to approve the creation of a Blue Ribbon Task Force for the Ferndale parks. The committee will work with input from the community and funding from grants and corporate sponsorship to help improve the local parks.

“I don’t want a one-year study and a five-year plan for upgrades, so I will ask them to finish their work by the end of the year so (City Council) can approve ideas and begin work,” Coulter said. “I don’t want to put any other limitations on these ideas because I know the solutions to what our parks need are out there, and this group will help us find them.”

Jennifer Roosenberg, executive director for the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce, said prior to Coulter speaking that he has done great things for Ferndale and she doesn’t expect anything different in the coming year.

“Dave has done a lot of amazing things for the city of Ferndale beyond just government,” Roosenberg said. “Under his leadership, the city has achieved and the community is strong.

“Good leaders guide along the path of change, not just drag kicking and screaming, and Dave has most definitely led us down a path of change.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.