By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK – The city received an early Christmas present of sorts Dec. 22, with gubernatorial confirmation that its financial “emergency” had come to an end.
Emergency Manager Brad Coulter’s departure was confirmed Dec. 22 by Gov. Rick Snyder, who accepted Coulter’s resignation. Terry Stanton, communications director for the Michigan Department of Treasury which administered the financial oversight of the city, said the city will begin its return to local control.
“The emergency has been addressed,” Stanton said, a finding reported by Coulter Dec. 21 and confirmed by Snyder the following day.
“From our perspective it really looked like everyone in Lincoln Park locked arms and pulled together. The transition to local control is under way. It’s a good day for the city, residents and businesses of Lincoln Park.”
—Terry Stanton, communications director for the Michigan Department of Treasury
Snyder was to appoint a Regional Transition Authority advisory panel for the next phase of receivership, but Stanton said that panel will be far less of a presence than Coulter had been since being appointed emergency manager in 2014.
“I’m really happy with the way things have turned out,” Coulter said. “The city has stabilized.”
Although there were challenges along the way – failed millage requests to add revenue and difficult negotiations with employee unions – Coulter said the period of state oversight was largely positive.
Cooperative efforts resulted in the city’s first positive fund balance in years; retiree and pension systems remain under-funded but are on track without expectation of additional layoffs or cuts; and progress has been made in attracting downtown business development.
“Everyone worked together to come up with something to start returning the city to solvency,” Coulter said. “It’s been a team effort, which is what it needs to be.”
Stanton said the transitional advisory board would meet monthly to review the city’s budget, but that local officials – joined by recently appointed City Manager Matt Coppler – are well positioned to continue in a positive direction en route to full autonomy.
“There have been cases where it’s been a struggle,” Stanton said of state oversight of municipal budgets. Notably, he said, Lincoln Park’s departure marks the last of Michigan cities – including Allen Park and Detroit – that had fallen under state management. “From our perspective it really looked like everyone in Lincoln Park locked arms and pulled together. The transition to local control is under way. It’s a good day for the city, residents and businesses of Lincoln Park.”
Coulter said that as the city continues its first non-deficit budget in years, all expectations are for continued improvements. Volunteerism, new residents and improving property values all indicate that the worst is over and better days await.
“My job was to make fixes that will stay fixed when I leave,” Coulter said. “There’s work still to do, but the city is above water and can only grow from here.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)