Budget shows signs of progress

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — It was no surprise that city officials were able to again approve a balanced budget, but City Administrator Brandon Fournier said the projected spreadsheet for 2014-15 revealed something that hadn’t been seen for a while: a slight increase in local property values.

“It’s the first time in six years,” Fournier said of the upward trend. Home market values in the city improved by 6 percent from last year, which after taking into account inflation, health care costs and other factors still resulted in a 1.6 percent increase in property values.

“It’s an absolute move in the right direction,” Fournier said. “We’ve come off the bottom somewhat. Property values are rebounding.”

City officials hope to carefully continue that trend, including approval of a tax increase — a .078-mill levy that will cost the average homeowner about $3 annually — that will go toward the city’s parks and recreation offerings.

“One area of our community that’s probably been neglected is our parks system,” Fournier said.

The levy will generate about $46,000 annually that Fournier said will be reinvested in having two dedicated parks staff members for the summer and also for the purchase of playscapes and landscaping.

“It’s a substantially small portion of our budget,” Fournier said. “It’s a quality of life issue. We put some people together in a room to ask how we can provide better services.”

Approved under Act 359, the millage language was drafted in the 1920s and, Fournier said, has at times been applied to purposes other than recreation.

“It can be used for almost anything,” Fournier said. “And local authorities have done this to shore up budgets in times of crisis.”

Southgate hasn’t had to take such drastic steps, Fournier said. Union concessions, federal and state grants and other avenues have trimmed expenses and sought revenues during times when other Downriver communities have operated with deficit budgets. In spite of the recent recession the city has managed to trim its debt by nearly half, and still invest in infrastructure improvements.

“This year we’re looking at between $4 million and $6 million in road repairs,” Fournier said. “Through stability you’re allowed to do some forward planning.”

Optimism — especially financial — remains cautious, Fournier said, but most all signs indicate that the worst of the economic storm has passed.

“We see the recovery in the state and, to an extent, the private sector,” Fournier said. “Things have improved. We’ve been able to present a (balanced) budget each year, and are now able to look toward the future.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)