State of the City address highlights Southgate’s ‘Renaissance’

Photo by James Mitchell

Survival in the city
Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa said in his State of the City address that the city avoided some of the financial struggles suffered by Michigan’s cities and towns, and needs to continue finding cost-saving strategies to begin a civic Renaissance.

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — The financial viability of Southgate — as described in the mayoral State of the City address — has been the result of work and planning, not luck.

City Council President Karen George introduced Mayor Joseph Kuspa at Wednesday’s luncheon and said that, while all too many southeast Michigan towns struggled, laid off staff or reduced services, “Southgate survived” by a combination of quality employees, grant funds, cost-saving measures including use of clean energy, going paperless at City Hall and cooperative efforts such as this spring’s merging of school and city administration under one roof.

In more specific terms, Kuspa said at the Holiday Inn Banquet Center, 17201 Northline Rd., credit for the city’s ability to weather recent economic storms is owed to many, and it didn’t happen overnight.

“The foundation for growth and stability has been laid,” Kuspa said. “Ensuring that the city of Southgate will not be a victim of the economic crisis, but a benefactor of the new economy.”

The seeds were planted early in Kuspa’s tenure. During his first term in office, the city brought in $1.4 million worth of state, federal and county grants, funds that helped the city avoid the layoffs and service reductions so common in Downriver communities. Another $3 million in grants have been secured since.

“These additional resources have truly provided the opportunity to invest in our future and enhance our tax base,” Kuspa said. “Another important component of a true urban Renaissance.”

The ‘New Beginning’ theme was consistent throughout Kuspa’s address, a luncheon affair sponsored by the Rotary Club of Southgate with proceeds benefitting the group’s scholarship fund. Kuspa reviewed decisions made by city officials in recent years to be proactive in making budget cuts that spared jobs — more than $2 million shaved from the city budget during Kuspa’s first two years in office. Those steps allow a new era to begin.

“Our formula for success … has allowed Southgate to cautiously usher in a municipal Renaissance,” Kuspa said. “A Renaissance fueled by innovation and supported by unity.”

Not all of the news was promising, and a complete economic recovery will take time. For the third consecutive year, Southgate’s budget will need trimming in order to balance. Rather than letting the dire situation prove crippling, Kuspa uses it as a call to arms.

“This financial shock should have edged our city towards a breaking point,” Kuspa said. “Instead it has served as a rallying post for us to come together for the benefit of the people we serve. Our fiscal challenges have demanded courage, which has lead to innovative and creative new ways of providing public services.”

Kuspa applauded the city’s Fire and Police departments for finding ways to bring grant dollars to town and avoid losing first responders from the staff. Last spring, Fire Chief Doug Gildner obtained a $1 million federal grant which allowed the hiring of five new firefighters over a two-year period.

Likewise, the fire and police departments joined in the Downriver Central Dispatch, better connecting them with neighboring towns and decreasing operational costs. Within the municipal complex, an internal lighting grant brought energy efficiency to the buildings that resulted in additional savings.

Similar efficiencies will soon be available to residents, the mayor said.

“The next phase in our energy reduction strategy will include savings opportunities for residential neighborhoods,” Kuspa said. Southgate is one of 12 communities selected to participate in Michigan’s BetterBuildings program, a grant worth more than $1 million to offer energy savings audits and programs for homeowners.

“This will provide even more Southgate homeowners with the opportunity to reduce their energy costs,” Kuspa said. Details on the program are expected to be announced soon.

Kuspa said that the combination of investments and cost-saving measures continue: Road projects including highway upgrades and the ambitious Fort Street reconstruction lay the foundation for bringing new businesses to town; City Hall will streamline operations this spring and welcome the administrative staff of Southgate Community Schools to share the space.

That consolidation provides savings for both entities, an estimated $125,000 annually for the city.

“Our success as a city will require courage to take bold measures,” Kuspa concluded. “Our success as a great city will require us to work within our means and build taxpayer value through shared services and reasoned joint ventures. Our success as a great city will require each and every one of us to work together to the benefit of all.”

Things may never be quite the same as before, Kuspa and city leaders throughout Downriver admit, but the seeds are planted for a new era to begin.

“The old standards and ways of doing business have indeed passed away,” Kuspa said. “We will never return to the way things were just a few short years ago. However, there is real hope and opportunity for those who embrace this new reality and work to reinvent local government. For those that respond proactively, it will be a true Renaissance fueled by necessity, but enhanced by education, innovation, investment, technology and a continued spirit of cooperation.”