Marketing plan, efficiency, cooperation are keys to city’s future
By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — A new marketing plan, making recreational facilities self-sufficient and reducing labor costs top the list of ways Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand is planning to attack the city’s structural deficit during the coming year, he said last week in his State of City Address.
Budget problems, workforce issues, declining property values and a high municipal tax rate are the major issues currently facing the city. “And in order to thrive,” he said, “we need to make changes fast.”
Speed is necessary because of a $10 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget for the current year is $60 million, he said, and about $50 million for the next 12 months.
To address the shortfalls, Lamarand called for sacrifice from everyone, saying wages must be reduced, benefits lowered and programs cut. All departments must work harder and smarter, he said.
“We cannot — and will not — exceed our means,” Lamarand said May 20 at City Hall. “Under no circumstances will I support spending more than what we have.”
Lamarand also referred to debates between him and the City Council that have marked his brief time as mayor, saying nearly all have dealt with city finances. Auditors have been telling officials for years, he said, that the city has a structural deficit — meaning it spends more than it takes in — and that “quick fixes” by past administrations involving sale of city property or writing additional traffic tickets no longer are viable.
Fixes started early
The mayor said the sacrifices needed to address the situation started at the top as soon as he took office in November, when he proposed to the city’s Compensation Commission that the mayor’s salary be reduced by 15 percent. The commission then proposed cuts of 10 percent for the City Council and 5 percent for the clerk and treasurer.
Next, he said, came replacements for managers and administrators with successors making tens of thousands less annually in many cases.
The administration also has been in discussion with city union representatives on wage and benefit reductions, as well as pension costs, en route to better serving taxpayers, who Lamarand referred to as “customers.”
Though some personnel moves may result in downsizing, he assured the crowd gathered Thursday night at City Hall and watching at the William D. Ford Senior Center and on cable television that public safety would continue to be the main service focus and that residents will be safe.
For years, Lamarand said, the city’s general fund was used to subsidize recreational facilities like the city’s golf courses, the Taylor Sportsplex and the community center. Rates have been lowered at Lakes of Taylor and Taylor Meadows recently in order to encourage more golfing, and a private management company has been hired to operate the Sportsplex at a profit in an effort that so far is “succeeding.”
The city’s new marketing plan will be implemented with a business loyalty strategy, which starts with helping existing businesses to prosper and grow, Lamarand said. That will including forming the new Taylor Growth Alliance, which will be designed to create a mutually beneficial partnership between the city and business to stimulate economic development.
The marketing plan also will include a “conquest strategy,” which will enlist alliance members’ help in advocating city business opportunities. It also will include online commercial real estate marketing of both city- and privately owned properties over commercial information exchanges.
Additionally, officials will create a digital marketing assets library available to growth alliance businesses, which will contain an online source of pictures, videos, copy and other materials that local businesses and city workers can access to produce marketing materials.
Other cost-saving measures are marked by continuing and expanding energy-efficiency efforts at city facilities and buildings, including making use of a $596,000 federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant to replace boilers at the Villages of Taylor that Lamarand said will recoup the investment within 5.8 years. Additionally, Lamarand said, a new “cool roof” at the Department of Public Works, parking lot lights around the city and lighting for the Sportsplex all are expected to add efficiency with quick payback forecasts.
Amid all of the austerity measures, Lamarand said, it also was important to find a way to reduce residents’ taxes. Earlier this month, he said, the City Council worked with the Tax Increment Finance Authority on a plan that will result in a “very slight reduction” of 0.17 mills. “Reducing taxes is a way to attract more homeowners and business owners to our community – and I applaud the TIFA board and the City Council for joining me in this effort,” Lamarand said.
The mayor also pointed to some positive development news, citing the recently announced $31 million surgical services expansion project at Oakwood Heritage Hospital for creation of an orthopedic center, as well as an announcement by Proto Manufacturing that it will locate in the city. The company makes X-ray diffraction systems and tubes for federal government customers.
Lamarand also noted that in April, the Heinz C. Prechter Educational and Performing Arts Center opened on the Downriver Campus of Wayne County Community College District.
Call for cooperation
Describing what some may call his “tumultuous relationship” with the council since he left that body to become mayor, Lamarand said, “I see it as the democratic process working itself out. We aren’t going to agree on everything, but for too long the relationship between councils and mayors has been too comfortable forgetting the needs of Taylor.
“And it could be argued that mayors have run the council in the past. I applaud this council and all elected (officials) for standing up on principle, but I also challenge this council to put aside personal interests and put Taylor’s interests first.
“I assure you that not a day goes by that we don’t talk about how to make Taylor a better place. We have elected officials who want Taylor to thrive.
“Despite having been left with this budget deficit and the continually growing financial liabilities that inhibits this city’s future — added to the economic uncertainties caused by this recession — we will continue to deliver the services you need, we will keep your city clean and maintained, and we will keep your streets safe.”