Mayor: City avoided ‘financial storm’

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Mayor Joseph Peterson delivers his first State of the City address.

Improvements, cuts in spending, subject of first
State of City address

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Despite a struggling economy, City Council members have made improvements and cut spending, Mayor Joseph Peterson said Tuesday during his inaugural State of the City Address.

Wearing a suit and tie from Wyandotte-based Chelsea Menswear and Tuxedos, Peterson addressed council members and residents for approximately 30 minutes. The speech was the first of its kind in more than 30 years and was meant to bring the public up to speed with the progress made in the last year and to comply with the city’s commitment to transparency, Peterson said.

“Quite frankly, this State of the City address is also intended for you to hold me accountable for what I hope to accomplish,” Peterson told the crowd.

One of the most important accomplishments of the council in the last year was anticipating and reacting to the “financial storm” that hit the country, Peterson said.

“Our city is not facing a financial crisis like some communities are because you, the citizens, have elected a City Council that has served us all very, very well,” Peterson said.

The city’s revenue dropped $900,000 during Peterson’s first year, beginning in May 2009, and a budget adopted in September of that year anticipated using $350,00 from the city’s general fund, or “rainy day,” fund along with projected revenue shortfalls for the next five years. Peterson and city officials made changes to the budget that the council adopted in January, eliminating the use of the rainy day fund in the current fiscal year and $4.7 million of projected expenditures over the next five years.

To combat the remaining projected $1.5 million cumulative shortfall for the next two years, the city consolidated services, froze wages and reduced staff levels and benefits.

Another accomplishment was adopting the city’s strategic plan for 2010 through 2015, the first such strategic plan in the city’s history.

“The strategic plan will be the guiding light that will help your elected officials make better decisions, embarking upon a direction recommended and supported by you, the citizens,” Peterson said.

Another priority in the past year was neighborhood improvement. The city spent $1.4 million, $344,000 of which was grant funds, to improve 3.8 miles of city roads. It also invested $2.5 million to remove blighted and vacant housing. Through $8 million in funding from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the city also hopes to build more than 100 homes.

The commercial district is also on the list for potential improvements, Peterson said. The area of Biddle and Ford Avenue will see redevelopment of the former Templin property into a 22,000 square foot medical office building and the demolishing of the city’s old police and court building. Future development is planned for the site.

Private developers also plan to invest in the city, including a new Social Security building and a new Tim Hortons/Coldstone Creamery and expansion by BASF Corp.

“We want it to be noted by all private developers that the city of Wyandotte is open for business,” Peterson said.

Sustainable energy is also a priority, he said. Municipal Services recently launched a geothermal utility and is evaluating hydro-energy wind energy, solar power, and and bio fuels and alternative fuels. With $3.8 million in federal funding, the city hopes to implement improvements to energy efficiency, including energy audits for residents to find ways to lower energy costs.

Moving forward, Peterson said he hopes to focus on the downtown area, as well as the city’s other “faces,” including Fort Street, Eureka Road, Ford Avenue, and Oak Street, in the hopes that improving them will lure visitors to the city’s shops, bars and restaurants.

Another makeover needs to occur in the City Hall building itself, which is outdated, Peterson said.

Peterson took no questions after the speech, but invited residents to ask questions about his address at the next Coffee and Conversation With the Mayor, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Jan. 21.