Dearborn Heights Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wendy Fichter (left) speaks with Mayor Daniel Paletko prior to the annual State of the City address Jan. 10 at Warren Valley Golf and Banquet Center. During the address, Paletko spoke about the influx of businesses and thanked voters for passing the Headlee Amendment override proposal.
By DANIEL HERATY
HEIGHTS – Mayor Daniel Paletko said the State Legislature did little to help the city deal with its financial issues.
During the annual State of the City address Jan. 10, held at Warren Valley Golf and Banquet Center, 26116 Warren Ave., and attended by an estimated 125 people, he called the city’s financial difficulties a “perfect storm” and placed some of the blame on state lawmakers.
“The (2009 $787 billion) federal stimulus package … provided some relief to state and local governments,” he said. “However the efforts proved inadequate for the circumstances and the relief was short-lived.”
While national employment and financial levels have seen some growth, Paletko said local economies continue to struggle. Despite an influx of businesses, a $200,000 decrease in funding for a community development block grant program and a decline in property values – a projected 7 percent on top of 10 percent lost in 2011– dominated issues affecting the city, he said.
Paletko said despite the hardships, the voter-approved Headlee Amendment override did much to help offset further financial issues. He said without the override, which provided a three-mill tax increase and is expected to raise about $3.4 million for the general fund, the city faced severe cuts, including reductions in Fire and Police department staff.
“Words cannot express how grateful I am to our voters,who voiced their collective opinion that the continuation of our basic services and our quality of life is still a high priority in this city,” Paletko said.
He said even with the override, the city still faces challenges and the millage raise is only a portion of the savings needed to continue operating within a balanced budget. He said since he took office, the city has enacted cost-cutting measures, including a 10 percent pay reduction for city employees, consolidation of city-owned buildings, early-out retirement programs for city employees and a higher health care deductible with greater co-pays aimed at keeping insurance premiums to manageable levels.
“(The financial hardships) forced all of us to really look at the way we’ve been doing business,” Paletko said. “Everyone at every level must accept responsibility for providing top-quality service at the lowest cost possible.”
Paletko said unemployment levels in the city have dropped to 8.5 percent, their lowest levels since 2008, with many of the jobs coming from small businesses. He called the influx of about 100 small businesses, including a new Tim Hortons, 7205 Telegraph Road and a Bigby’s Coffee, 23902 Ford Road, the “lifeblood that keeps the city moving.”
Reaction to the address was positive.
David Zaletski, manager of St. Hedwig Cemetery, said he was optimistic that things are beginning to turn around. He said having new small businesses is the core to any community.
Basima Farhat, marketing director for Garden City-based Banners Nationwide, agreed, saying despite budget concerns, the mayor’s speech was encouraging. She said she would have liked to hear Paletko talk more about the city’s future, but was pleased with the overall message.
“We have to come together and make sure we sustain ourselves,” she said. “When you feel better, you go out and do better.”
(Daniel Heraty can be reached at [email protected])