Matakas: City can overcome ‘chaos’

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Mayor William Matakas gives his first State of the City address Wednesday in the city’s council chambers.

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK– In his first State of the City address, Mayor William Matakas focused on solutions to the city’s financial problems, not on blame for them.

“We need to get past the attitude that others created our problems,” he said. “We must trust one another and go forward working together to resolve them.”

During the approximately 20-minute address, Matakas outlined the “chaos of the past four years,” due largely to the failure of the city-owned studio property on Southfield, for which the city must subsidize $2.6 million per year, as well as a $9.3 million drop in property taxes.

Matakas remained hopeful about the property, for which he said the city is receiving more serious inquiries, and about the city’s overall financial picture. The question, Matakas said, is how soon changes could be seen.

Though Matakas said the Southfield property — currently at a $1 million operating deficit and requiring a $1.6 million subsidy this year — is seeing more interest and the city is in negotiations with current tenants to expand their spaces, unloading the property may take additional funds that the city cannot easily afford.

A pending sale of six of the 104 acres to Elia Properties for which its option to buy expires in April, will use two of the nine splits to the property allowed under Michigan’s Land Control Act, and will require the city to petition to classify the property as a Planned Unit Development to acquire more splits at an estimated cost of $50,000 to $70,000, Matakas said.

But the news is not all bad. Matakas outlined the area’s new businesses as signs of progress, including Game Play and L.A. Fitness.

“Unfortunately, the few new businesses we have gained do not rescue us from our debts,” he said.

Further complicating financial matters for the city are the expiration of the yearly $400,000 impact fee Fairlane Green had paid to the city and a $420,000 settlement owed to Ford Motor Co. in a Michigan Tax Tribunal Case.

To save money, the city has switched dispatch services to Wyandotte’s Central Dispatch, closed city hall on Fridays and cut its staff to bare bones and is reviewing retiree health care costs, currently costing $3.5 million a year, and negotiating with Police and Fire unions, from whom they have asked for 10 percent wage cuts and insurance cost concessions.

But Matakas placed emphasis on the importance of a $4 mill May millage to keep the city afloat and avoid an emergency financial manager.

“If we are going to stabilize our infrastructure, our housing market and our business retention and development, we simply need more money,” he said.

During the speech, which also included a question-and-answer segment, he also stressed the importance of shared sacrifices to help overcome the city’s financial issues.

“We have lots of faults to repair within our city and the time has come for this administration, the employees and the residents to work together to resolve our issues,” he said. “Only then does the city of Allen Park have a chance to restore its vitality and become a place where people, young and old, desire to live, work and play.”

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Mayor Bill Matkas (left) talks with City Administrator John Zech after the State of the City address Wednesday.