Andrew Trzaska | February 1, 2011
- Fiscal Responsibility
These four points were distilled from the goal-setting planning session at Muskegon Heights City Hall Monday night, and will help set the agenda for the whole city government in the coming year.
In attendance at Monday’s session were City Manager Natasha Henderson, Mayor Darrell Paige, the City Council and department heads from all across the city government. Each department gave a progress report on their 2010 accomplishments and shared their goals for 2011 with the mayor and council.
Immediately after hearing these reports, the council joined the departments heads in a breakout group discussion about what the overall goals of the city would be and how they would be measured.
The first three goals are actually recurring goals from a planning session for 2009-2010. The last goal gained a place on the list in light of state and nationwide budget trimming.
Related concerns among the several groups led to the Marketing and Perception improvement goal. Councilwoman Kimberly Sims described this as “telling our own story”, not relying on other mediums or previous reputation to portray Muskegon Heights in an unfavorable light. She pointed out the odds stacked against the city in the past few decades of economic decline.
“Our whole community had to reinvent itself in the last thirty years. We lost all of our supporting industries… other cities would have gone into retainer status, but we’ve stayed afloat.”
Making the city more appealing to business and prospective homeowners was part of this first goal as well. Mayor Paige noted the affordability of housing in Muskegon Heights. He cited recent tax sales and the county land bank as ways for young people to break into the housing market or a place for those who were hit hard by the economic collapse to maintain a less expensive home.
“We have good housing stock… it needs to be known through realtors.”
Paige said that Muskegon Heights welcomes these types of homeowners, even if they only stay for only five to ten years before work or growing families may make them relocate.
The city’s infrastructure goal included both the city’s roads as an immediate focus but also the long-term goal of locating a train station in the city if rail service expands into the county.
Henderson and council members expressed that they would do everything possible to be proactive about any rail opportunities so if plans progress they are ahead of the game, and with their infrastructure improvements also work on courting national commercial business to the area.
Blight, the third recurring point on the list, gained different life at this year’s planning session. In previous years, the focus of the blight issue was tearing down dilapidated buildings. This year, in the words of Paige, that could not continue in the same way.
“It’s not good to demolish all of your housing stock”.
City Manager noted the successes of efforts to entice homeowners to stay and rehabilitate run-down houses instead of demolishing them, saying that no person who chose to pay the required $5,000 collateral deposit to keep and fix up their home ended up having their home demolished anyway.
From the city inspector’s 2010 report, the council noted the strong increase in rental properties and decrease in homeownership in the city in the past several years. Part of the new blight focus is to turn around this trend.
Lastly, the issue of fiscal responsibility was primarily brought up by Mayor Pro Tem William Watson, who suggested the city come up with ways to tackle their single greatest budget item: the police force.
Those at the meeting did not debate or take action on Watson’s idea, but the idea of increased attention to the city’s finances did stick. In fact, the department reports from 2010 noted increased expenditures in some areas like health care, but significant cost savings in others, like the police and fire departments, who both received numerous grants that allowed them to purchase major pieces of equipment for free.
At the end of Monday’s meeting, Henderson explained to the council that the repeat goals and focus on fiscal responsibility indicate that while the details of their objectives may have changed this year, but their big picture aims are steady.
“It shows the Mayor/Council has a consistent goal. You stay the course.”