Nearly a year after the City of Taylor worked its way out of the red and a state-mandated Deficit Elimination Plan a full year ahead of schedule, leaders have continued to move cautiously forward from a financial standpoint while accomplishing dozens and dozens of important goals that translate into improved services, more programs and better quality of life for residents.
FINANCES AND KEY GRANTS
The City’s general budget has gone from a multi-million deficit to an approximate $2M unassigned fund balance, or surplus, pending the current financial audit. To achieve true financial stability, the unassigned fund balance should equal 20 percent of operating expenditures – in Taylor’s case, about $6M. So there is still plenty of work to be done.
The due diligence of the current administration and the increased financial stability has resulted in improved bond ratings, reduced audit findings, an ability to refinance bond issues and a continued increase to the general fund. In early 2015, Standard & Poor’s upgraded the City’s outlook on tax-limited general obligation debt (along with the similar debt of the Taylor Business Association and Taylor Brownfield Development Authority) to "positive" and "BBB-." Those ratings helped translate to a refinancing that saved $8.1M in total through 2034 on those specific bonds.
Later, Moody’s upgraded the City’s outlook on $14.8M in bonds to Baa-, moving Taylor from "speculative" to "investment" grade. That difference improves the rating from a being judged to have speculative elements and considerable credit risk to a medium grade of moderate risk, and can often translate to new development.
Adding to the City’s new sense of financial stability were several grants and programs that should, over a period of time, help firm up key service programs and the community as a whole. For the third time in two years, Taylor was awarded a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency) grant, this time for $4.3M over two years to fund 15 full-time firefighters, guaranteeing a 36-man force. That plan – 36 firefighters plus three administrators – was first promoted by ex-Fire Chief Danny Reynolds and is now fully supported by new Chief Stephen Portis. Safety, stability and long-term financial sustainability were the driving forces behind the new plan. When the plan ends, the City of Taylor expects to be able to fully fund the entire department.
Taylor was no stranger to the SAFER grant process. Its original grant, fraught with controversy, was for approximately $8M in 2012; the City also received an extension of the original grant in July 2014.
While the SAFER grant will help sustain the fire department for the next two years, two other important grants also were awarded to the City in 2015: A $2M SAW grant and a $500,000 COPS grant.
The Stormwater Asset Management and Wastewater Grant (SAW) grant will enable the City to become proactive with its drainage programs vs. reactive in that area. The SAW grants are issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to cover costs to start a sanitary sewer system and storm sewer system evaluation study, consisting of sewer cleaning and televising; and the development of a comprehensive asset management plan and the completion of a Geographic Information System (GIS) for sanitary and storm sewer systems. The COPS (Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program) grant, still pending City Council approval, could enable the Police Department to hire four more police officers and enable it to focus them on high-crime areas in the community.
TAYLOR POLICE LEAD THE WAY
While sound financial actions and grant funds have helped solidify the City is many ways, the various departments that make up the local government were achieving huge individual successes, led by Police, Community Development, Department of Public Works (DPW) and Golf, Parks and Recreation.
The Taylor Police restarted a successful program that had been previously eliminated by assigning three full-time school resource officers to the Taylor School District. This enabled the department to also start a children’s Safety Town Program and a teenagers Youth Police Academy Program in the summer. While continuing to upgrade its fleet of vehicles and expand the up-and-coming Taylor on Watch program, the police set a pace to reconnect with the community in a big way.
"These types of programs are not PR tools," Police Chief Mary Sclabassi said. "They are ways of connecting with the community and establishing a basis of trust and support, in that in the event of an incident, we have that ongoing support and trust. Police can’t be everywhere, all of the time. We need the public’s eyes and ears."
No place has that been more evident than with the Taylor on Watch program. Started in 2014, it is an educational, anti-crime project that teaches important techniques, partnering and awareness. It morphed from large public forums in 2014 to an active and evolving Neighborhood Watch program in 2015, with smaller meetings scheduled all over the community through 2016.
Other improvements to the TPD included initiating a reverse 911 emergency call system; plans to renovate and secure the department’s main parking lot behind City Hall; instituting electronic traffic signs in neighborhoods with high traffic issues; adding "Simon," the second K9 unit donated by Atlas Oil; and assigning a motorcycle patrol on new vehicles. But likely the most important "improvement" was the fact that crime statistics continued to fall throughout 2015.
Through October 2015 (and analyzed on a year-over-year basis), total violent crimes were down 1.03 percent, including a drop of 3.57 percent in robberies and 33.33 percent in criminal sexual conduct cases. Property crimes were down 4.69 percent, including declines of 6.17 percent in burglaries and 12.87 percent in motor vehicle thefts. Drug crime was down 18.15 percent, including declines of 19.18 percent in violation of controlled substance act cases and 10.34 percent in drug equipment-related cases. Total crime in Taylor was down 4.93 percent through October 2015 over the statistics through October 2014.
DEVELOPMENT INCREASES INFLUENCE
The Community Development Department was extremely active in 2015. A new acquisition and rehabilitation program was formed through a unique partnership between the City of Taylor and Realty Transition LLC. The program enabled the City to claim large numbers of foreclosed homes from the Wayne County auction through funds provided by Realty Transition. The firm then maintains and rehabilitates those buildings, improving and bringing them up to code before the City transfers title to Realty Transition. Once that takes place, Realty Transition puts them up for sale on the open market. The program helps clean up the community and promotes home ownership.
The program is still too new to properly evaluate, but in this first round of properties, the City claimed 96 homes off the market as part of the partnership, and forecasts $80,000 in new building permit revenue (funds that have been traditionally lost during the county auction process). The plan is predicting $200,000 in eventual new tax revenue and another $100,000 in new administrative revenue. It reduces blight across the community. In addition, Realty Transition has also demolished several sites – another "hidden extra" that was part of the partnership.
Because Community Development is so active with federal grant funds, it also took an increased role with other demolitions, parks and recreation improvements, sidewalk installation, general housing rehabilitation, special site condominium rehab, U.S. Housing and Urban Development compliance and non-profit awards.
It funded the demolitions of homes on Cape Cod and Westpointe, as well as the former Fletcher School. It paid for staffing, new flooring, painting and new padding (in the gym) of the Taylor Recreation Center, as well as staffing and deck restoration at the Northwest Pool. About $15,000 in revenue was gleaned from the business co-op at the recreation center, and the department paid for fencing, playscape and signage at the new Zub Park.
Approximately $130,000 was used for the sidewalk project on Pardee Road between Northline and Superior, and 16 qualifying homeowners made essential repairs to their dwellings through community development funding. The Pinewood Condominium project, including substantial rehabilitation to the six units through a HOME grant, was completed. All the units were sold to qualifying applicants and the department plans to begin construction on another four-unit site on the same location. In fact, during this process, Taylor was awarded another $250,000 in HOME grants funds via a proposal to the Wayne County HOME consortia, essentially paving the way for the new four-unit complex.
Fish & Loaves Downriver Food Pantry, The Senior Alliance, Taylor Reading Corps and Taylor Teen Health Center each were awarded $5,000 grants from the department.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND ANIMAL CONTROL
Already an extremely busy division, the DPW was the hub of some of the most important infrastructure changes in 2015. Thanks to the inability of Lansing lawmakers to come up with a voter-friendly state-wide roads’ proposal in early 2015, the City stepped into the void and spent $2.4M in street improvements across the community. For the most part, the improvements came in two ways: (A) Concrete "cuts" that eliminated deteriorating portions of roadway and are much less costly than complete renovations; or (B) By ripping out the old and laying new asphalt.
Major concrete-cut projects were done on Racho Road between North Line and Eureka (a major feeder of Southland Center and Heritage Park traffic); Superior Boulevard between Telegraph and Racho (which feeds the Sportsplex, Sixth Grade Academy, Kennedy High School, new Heritage Park Senior Village and Southland Center); Pardee Road between Eureka and North line (another important Southland and Meijer feeder); and LeRoy Street between Beech Daly and Inkster (an important secondary road in the area that caters to high traffic volume). Other concrete-cut work dotted the City, but the individual projects were not as large as those previously mentioned.
Newcastle Street, west of Pardee bordering the North Central Little League baseball complex, was asphalted as part of the City program. Allen Road, between North Line and Goddard, was also renovated, as part of a Wayne County-Taylor-Southgate joint agreement.
County renovations to Eureka Road, between Racho and Allen, have been moved up to 2016 in preparation for the huge Trader’s Point development, anchored by Menards.
While all of this work continues, the Michigan Department of Transportation is also rehabilitating the vast sound barriers at Telegraph Road and I-94, thanks to a settlement after the initial work was done incorrectly. Those barriers should be finished sometime in early 2016.
Despite all of that roadwork, it marked only a portion of the DPW’s focus. While roadwork may have been "1A," the installation of new community-wide water meter technology was "1B." A new multi-million dollar digital system replaces the old archaic model. Throughout 2015, the Water Department replaced the old system with new electronic devices, which relay water usage at the location to towers in the City, which are instantaneously accessible by the department. This system has many advantages, from eliminating laborious in-person reads to immediate access of information. As the system is put in place, the result will be better, faster and more accurate water billing.
With 22,000 customers in the City, the installation was not without hiccups. Some users previously receiving "estimated" bills were hit with one-time billing adjustments in the form of higher costs, while others received credits because they had been overbilled. The City has been working through the difficulties, and suggests that anyone receiving an estimated bill or seeing a billing abnormality contact the City immediately at (734) 287-6550.
Other issues of note this year among the DPW/Water Department umbrella were: Two new street sweepers were purchased in November for the first time in many years; the City’s salt storage dome was reconstructed at the DPW yard; 125 dead trees and stumps were removed across the community this year; and the Water Department installed a new storm water drainage system in Papp Park, to eliminate standing water on fields and pathways.
(Note: Under the Parks Department, the City also restarted its previously dormant tree-planting program, using tens of thousands of dollars to plant trees in "public areas" around the community. Taylor has held the designation of Tree City USA for 23 years. As part of that designation, projects that build in the community are required to pay into a fund to replace trees. The program was rekindled in 2015. The areas have to be "public areas," so places like Little League sites and parks were focused upon.
Fifty-six new trees were planted around Northwest Pool and in Northwest Park, located on Van Born west of Beech Daly. Twenty-two went into the Taylor North Central Little League, located on Pardee Road north of Ecorse. Ten were planted in Taylor Northwest Little League, which is located in Papp Park on Wick Road. And four were planted in Taylor Northeast Little League, located on Wick between Pardee and Allen.
Seventy-six new trees were planted at the City’s largest park, Heritage Park. That included 46 atop the berm that stands between the soccer fields and the baseball diamonds. Thirty were planted in the Northline Road entrance.
More trees and landscaping are planned at part of this project around the Sheridan Center Open Air Pavilion, which will eventually be surrounded by an inline skating rink, splash pads and a new playscape.) The Taylor Animal Shelter also falls under the DPW, and it continued to make progress this year. It became a "no kill for adoptables" facility and partnered with the volunteers from Pound Pals of Taylor for needed support and rescue. From January through October 2015, the shelter took in 749 animals, 454 of which were adopted. One hundred eighteen were returned to their owners and 40 were given to rescues. One hundred thirty-seven – or a little over 13 monthly – were euthanized in that period of time. Animals deemed "unadoptable" by animal control officers may be too sick, injured or violent to be part of the mainstream public.
GOLF, PARKS AND MUCH MORE
Golf, Parks & Recreation remained one of the busiest departments in the City, and continued improvement across the board. It accepted a new fleet of 185 electric golf carts this spring, along with two new gasoline beverage carts and two new gasoline Ranger carts – in all, a $55000 investment in Taylor Golf.
Golf also launched "Golf Now," a new online program that includes 60,000 email blasts. The Lakes of Taylor added a new roof, siding and stain. Taylor Golf participated in the 2015 Detroit Golf Show at the Suburban Show Place. Golf paths were repaired and resurfaced, along with the parking lots.
The Taylor Sportsplex, Downriver’s largest hockey and indoor soccer facility, added a new ice plant controller for energy savings and reimbursement from DTE. Highlights at the TSX included a mixed martial arts’ fight card; TOHORS Roller Hockey National Tournament; and it secured the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association’s AAA state hockey tourney the 2016 to 2018 seasons. During 2015, the Detroit Red Wings and other NHL teams started practicing from time to time at the facility because of its proximity to Metropolitan Airport.
The Taylor Recreation Center, reopened in October 2014, continued to grow in memberships and programs as the facility steadily improved. The TRC added new flooring throughout and the gymnasium was completely renovated. Four units inside the Taylor Business Center (within the TRC) were leased, and the recreation center added a popular childcare program.
The William Ford Senior Activities Center saw its pavilion updated and WiFi added in the common area. The center, an extremely popular spot for the elderly, held 11 monthly parties, 17 game socials and went on over 75 day trips (the program also added two new SMART buses late in 2015 to help in this area). Highlights at the center included an event celebrating the Detroit Tigers home opener and a Michigan-Michigan Tailgate Party, sponsored by the City’s elected officials. The annual Senior Picnic, sponsored by The Lodge of Taylor, Howe Peterson Funeral Homes and Masco Corporation, was another well-attended success. Two new computer classes were offered and "Jackpot Bingo" (with prizes ranging from $25-$50) became a popular affair.
The Sheridan Center Open Air Pavilion continued its facelift throughout 2015. Landscaping and irrigation was added to the front of the building; the inline hockey rink was moved from Northwest Park to the back of the Sheridan Center in the fall; and the new splash pad and playscape located between the building and the Activities Building were under construction. The splash pad, made in a unique baseball design, will be dedicated to the late former mayor, Jeffrey Lamarand. The splash pad is tentatively scheduled for a spring 2016 opening.
Pond restoration was completed at the always popular Heritage Park Petting Farm, and nearby Coan Lake was restocked with fish. Bubblers donated by Angler’s Marine Prop ’N Sail helped oxygenize the water during the winter months.
Zub Park (north of Kinyon Elementary School) was totally updated and dedicated to former Mayor Donald Zub. Improvements continued at Northwest Pool, the only outdoor swimming pool in the City. After reopening in 2014, 2015 saw a tripling of attendance and the pool desk was resurfaced and stained in the fall.
While the top story surrounding the Fire Department involved the new SAFER grant and the stabilization of its workforce (previously mentioned), the department also was scheduled to accept delivery on a new fire truck in November; purchased a new thermal imager; and plans to open up the fourth-grade smoke house again, once some housekeeping is done, according to Chief Portis.
LIBRARY CHANGES HANDS
The Taylor Community Library in 2015 exited the Wayne County system and returned to the City of Taylor. As that somewhat lengthy procedure was taking place, the Wayne County Library for the Blind/Handicapped was also transferred to Taylor after previously being housed in Westland.
Other 2015 library accomplishments included participating in the Macy’s Reading is Fundamental Program and the Fish ’N Fun Ecology Center’s Rotary Reading Challenge, along with hosting another successful summer reading program. During this holiday season, the knitting groups of the Library for the Blind and the regular library accepted a large donation of yarn and knitted caps and scarves to be donated to the Penrickton Center for Blind Children and ChristNet.
23RD DISTRICT COURT
The court was one of only four Wayne County courts scoring above average in all categories of the 2014 Customer Service Survey administered through the State Court Administrative Office.
The Downriver Regional Driving While Intoxicated Treatment Court (formerly known as the 23rd District Drug Court) increased to full capacity during 2015. The Goodwill Garden at Heritage Park completed another successful year, with all produce donated to local food banks.
The community service program in the court expanded in 2015, with several community cleanups supervised by Judge Joseph Slaven and the overall program expanding to six weeks, year-round.
Improvement in the court’s website included greater public access to case information. Digital warrant accessibility increases public safety and decreases costs. With Vicky Bowman retiring in December after 34 years, Deanna Warunek becomes the new court administrator.
CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTER
Thanks to new click-through options, expansion and additional staff, telephone calls entering the CSC at City Hall now have an average wait time of less than five minutes. Other improvements in the department include increased internal communications through weekly conference calls; morale and teamwork projects; and training, and recorded calls for training purposes.
City Clerk Cindy Bower became a certified Michigan Municipal Clerk in 2015. The department connected with the Michigan’s Electronic Death Registry System for death records. It also hosted another successful Shred Day and supervised several cleanups of City cemeteries. And it implemented new Freedom of Information Act procedures and guidelines.
The department now has a counterfeit detector machine, and recently tested it on seized Drug Forfeiture funds. The machine will eliminate counterfeit money from coming through the department. A hidden plus: It can serve as a quick counting machine, and should help during heavy tax season, speeding up the process.