By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE — An underlying message in Mayor Joseph Kuspa’s State of the City address last week was cooperation.
Teamwork, Kuspa said, resulted in a city that restructured itself, avoided a financial crisis and — for the first time in five years — reported an increase in property values.
The State of the City address, sponsored by the Southgate Rotary Club — with proceeds benefiting the Rotary’s scholarship fund for local high school students — was held Wednesday at the Southgate Holiday Inn. In recent years Kuspa has said that the city was poised for a renaissance, with expectations that public and private investment could usher in a new era.
Last week, Kuspa reported that the rebirth has begun. Better still, the city had “faced the abyss” of financial ruin that has plagued more than a few Michigan municipalities, and emerged victorious.
“The hopes and aspirations of the future have been generated by the work and foresight of the past,” Kuspa said.
Last year was a pivotal one in city history, he said, a common story throughout the state that was felt strongest in southeast Michigan.
“Over the past five years local governments have been caught in a tailspin,” Kuspa said.
Shrinking revenues, increased employee and health care costs, new taxes and fees resulted in a recipe for disaster.
“As we look around the Downriver area and throughout our state, more and more local communities are nearing financial collapse,” Kuspa said.
Allen Park was subjected to emergency financial management; Lincoln Park may face a similar decision.
“We are all sitting on the edge of a financial abyss,” Kuspa said. “Some of us closer to that edge than others. This is an unprecedented financial quagmire that is not restricted by geographic boundaries.”
Kuspa said city officials and managers several years ago began a process that went further than cutting costs and was instead a “restructuring” of city budgets.
“In short, we’ve been redefining the role local government plays in our lives,” Kuspa said.
Teamwork, he said, was applied both internally — with city managers, staff and employee unions reaching agreements designed to reduce costs — and through partnerships with private businesses that brought millions of invested dollars to town.
That Southgate is more attractive to businesses and residents was evident in, for the first time since 2009, a 6 percent increase in property values.
“This is not simply a market rebound,” Kuspa said, “but the most pronounced example of our collective commitment to our taxpayers. Residents and businesses are continuing to locate in Southgate.”
Kuspa cited the Echo Park subdivision, a development near city hall that had stalled for years before completion of a dozen homes last year, and also the Green Anchors Program funded by a $500,000 federal grant that retrofitted three foreclosed homes with state-of-the-art “green” technology.
Public and private investment, Kuspa said, included $5 million in infrastructure upgrades and road projects expected for 2014 to include an expansion of Brest Road, paid for by Community Development Block Grant funds that will run from Allen Road east to the site of AJM Packaging.
Municipal investments also benefitted from grant funds, including last year’s $250,000 Assistance to Firefighters grant that resulted in a new, state-of-the-art fire truck that arrived in January. Kuspa said Fire Chief Doug Gildner and staff solicited more than $5 million worth of grants for equipment and improved fire safety.
“Bringing together the objectives of both public policy and private investment has proven to be a formula for success in Southgate,” Kuspa said. “In 2014 we have a great opportunity to establish a lasting legacy as we look out onto our community and see an open canvas, a canvas we stand prepared to embellish with our spirit and innovation.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])