By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR —The city is facing great challenges, according to its top elected official, but is poised to meet them.
In Mayor Cameron Priebe’s State of the City address Thursday, he said the economy is likely the greatest of those challenges.
Though housing values have fallen dramatically in the last three years, Priebe said, assessable taxable values — from which the city draws the bulk of its revenue — haven’t hit bottom yet.
“We typically lag about two years,” he said. “The downturn that’s already hit business will start hitting us about then.”
Priebe recalled comments that characterized his first speech after returning to mayor’s seat in 2005 as “angry.”
“I was angry,” he said. “Three years ago we were faced with a structural deficit. That’s just a fancy word for saying we were spending more money than we were bringing in every year.”
Much of that deficit was caused by wage and pension increases the city couldn’t afford, Priebe said, but thanks to some “hard decisions” by five City Council members he referred to as his team, Taylor now has a “pretty good” fund balance.
Its ability to maintain that is tied to the actual state of the city, which he said “depends on a bunch of things.”
“We in government, you homeowners, we everywhere, we need to sacrifice a bit,” Priebe said. “We all need to take a little less now, so that we don’t have to take a whole bunch less later.”
As leaders in doing that, he cited some “amazing help” from the city’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees unions and management union, which agreed to forgo salary increases for two years and take a 1 percent increase in the third year.
Priebe called out the police corporals’ and firefighters’ unions, however, for seeking compensation packages he believes are unrealistic in the current economic times. Comparing the 5.5 mills residents are assessed to meet police pensions to the 8.4 mills for the city’s general operating expenses, he said, “There’s something wrong with that system, and we have to fix that. We have to face the facts as they are.” The mayor cited rapidly rising health-care costs, facilities maintenance and “uncontrollable costs” for items like fuel and salt as other issues that officials must deal with in the budgeting process.
It wasn’t all gloom and doom, however, as Priebe pointed to some of what he believes have been bright spots over the past year.
Repaving of Goddard and Pardee roads, as well as several roads near Taylor School District buildings has been done, and the city has purchased 14 foreclosed houses for $1 with an eye toward reselling them, especially in “tipping point” neighborhoods. Improvements have been made to infrastructure in the city’s industrial parks, and more are planned.
The city also has added or about add new recreational park space in neighborhoods where it was lacking.
Priebe cited work on Inkster Road as one of the “ring roads” around Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport as a good step toward eventual development of the proposed Aerotropolis project, which he said could create 35,000 to 50,000 jobs over the next generation.
An addition to the Lakes of Taylor banquet facilities, where Priebe gave his speech, also is being planned in order to increase revenues. He said the addition would help accommodate increasing business from things like weddings and graduations, noting that $70,000 worth of bookings already have been made for the month of June.
The city’s future depends on the ability of its elected officials and employees to work with each other, as well as with its partners throughout the region, including Wayne County and surrounding communities, including Detroit.
“When they do well, Taylor does well,” Priebe said of the city’s neighbors.
Despite the scope of the challenges, he said, the city “truly does have a good future,” adding that he and the council “will do our best to represent your interests well.”