Mayors highlight cities’ accomplishments, progress

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Photo by Robert Ankrapp
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. (left) speaks to attendees during the Dearborn Area Chamber Business Builder Luncheon Jan. 15 at the Warren Valley Golf and Banquet Center, as Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko prepares to answer audience questions.

By SHERRI KOLADE
Times-Herald Newspapers

Dearborn and Dearborn Heights mayors said they are looking forward to a positive future for their cities in 2013.

During a Dearborn Area Chamber Business Builder Luncheon Jan. 15 at the Warren Valley Golf and Banquet Center, 26116 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko spoke to business leaders and city and state officials about the accomplishments and future aspirations of their cities.

Economic recovery, shared services and financial planning were a few topics discussed in their speeches.

O’Reilly described his city’s achievements, which included the creation of a task force in 2010 to establish a five-year plan for the city.

The task force, formed with 30 members, represents nearly all aspects of Dearborn, he said.

The “comprehensive and detailed” plan took almost 10 months to carry out, O’Reilly said.

“We are trying to model a lot of the business practices,” he said. “We have been working on personnel costs, trying to get a handle on that. That has gone very well.”

O’Reilly said this year he told union employees to make a 10 percent reduction in personnel costs.

“I didn’t dictate how it would happen,” O’Reilly said. “I said, ‘Anything is on the table, anything you bring forward.’”

O’Reilly said the 10 percent reduction, along with other cost-cutting methods, will help the city.

“It does get us to where we need to be,” he said. “We have to be responsible. We have to not spend money that we do not have.”

O’Reilly said as a sign of improvement more properties have become occupied throughout the city.

“We’ve had a banner year for re-occupancies of property,” O’Reilly said, “which has been great.”

Partnerships between municipalities and businesses also are a positive thing, he said.

“I am involved with the schools very heavily because I believe the future of everything is tied to how we educate our children,” O’Reilly said. “We’ve got some really innovative, dynamic things going on there too.”

Paletko said his city is a typical American city, although the others have a small number of large businesses in their community.

“Our makeup is primarily residential,” Paletko said. “(Our) unique businesses consist of small and midsize retail, private practices, service organizations and a small number of manufacturing facilities.”

Paletko said despite a lack of large businesses, Dearborn Heights enjoys “a vibrant and diverse business community (that) provides the economic lifeblood of our city.”

Paletko said in the past, Dearborn Heights took a hard financial hit, which continues to challenge the city’s ability to maintain services for residents and business owners.

But city officials streamlined business practices, cut costs and have shared services with neighboring cities to eliminate redundancy, he said.

All full-time employees agreed to have a healthcare plan with higher deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance over the past year, he said.

The city’s police and police command unions agreed to forego holiday pay and longevity benefits for two years; the fire union agreed to a 10 percent salary concession for two years.

Other union employees agreed to a shorter work week, which equals a 10 percent reduction in salary, Paletko said.

“In addition, throughout the city positions have been decreased and more work is being done with (fewer) people,” Paletko said. “I’m very grateful (to employees) for those sacrifices.”

Paletko said he is “looking forward to 2013 and beyond.”

“We once again have a level of optimism that we have not enjoyed for some time,” Paletko said. “We are seeing signs of recovery, which I am happy to report, are filtering into the local level in the form of real benefits.”

Businesses are also experiencing an economic boost.

In 2012, the city processed 62 permits for new and existing businesses, Paletko said.

“Dearborn Heights continues to be an attractive location,” Paletko said. “If you live in this area, why do you need to go outside of Dearborn or Dearborn Heights to shop?”

A new development in the city includes a new water main replacement technique called sewer pipe bursting.”

The technique has a 100-year life expectancy and is less expensive and invasive than the conventional replacement and less restoration work is needed, Paletko said. The city expects to replace nearly a mile of water mains in the future.

Road restoration plans are also underway to remove old asphalt surfaces and replace them with sturdier asphalt.

Paletko discussed a number of Dearborn Heights Police Department collaborations with area crime, investigations and crisis units and teams. The Dearborn Heights Fire Department also shares services with other agencies.

Plans to continue or increase mutual aid and collaborations are going to happen, Paletko said.

Near the end of the program, attendees asked the mayors questions during a question-and-answer segment.

One attendee asked O’Reilly about the progress of the Intermodal Passenger Rail Station, slated to open this year on Michigan Avenue between Southfield and Brady.

O’Reilly said a task force has been created to seek opinions from residents about transit-oriented development.

“We want to relocate the current Amtrak station because it hasn’t been working even before the money was available,” O’Reilly said. “(We are) working to move it to where it needs to be, as a new interest to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.”

O’Reilly added that the station will have a boarding and de-boarding area on both sides of the rails, which will give direct access to the nationally known tourist attraction hub.

Paletko said he is concerned about the level of crime that comes over the boundaries from Detroit to Dearborn Heights.

Paletko also said he spoke with Gov. Rick Snyder’s top representatives and told them they need to do something about Detroit.

O’Reilly said if Detroit goes down, other cities do too.

“I think so goes Detroit, so goes Wayne County, so goes Wayne County, so goes the metropolitan area,” O’Reilly said. “When you go outside of Michigan, people think of our whole area as Detroit. They are not going to change that. So what they perceive Detroit, they are going to perceive (that) is related to who we are.”

O’Reilly said all the talk about attracting businesses and investment is irrelevant if Detroit and other cities can’t present well enough because the issue is real.

“If we think we can hide here and pretend that it won’t affect us that is just folly,” O’Reilly said. “It is time we all get serious about Detroit because it is critical to all of us … we are working on it. We are engaged.”

(Sherri Kolade can be reached at skolade@bewickpublications.com.)

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