A banner year for Southgate
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
SOUTHGATE – Mayor Joseph Kuspa hailed the city’s positive business, financial and residential climate Jan. 31, during his first state of the city speech since 2020, held at Crystal Gardens Banquet Center.
Sponsored by the Southgate Rotary Club, with proceeds benefitting its student scholarship fund, the event spotlighted the Southgate Anderson Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps presenting the colors and vocalist Christine Steves singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”
After City Attorney Ed Zelenak employed his dry wit as master of ceremonies, Kuspa turned to more serious topics, discussing the city’s debt reduction, new city leadership, residential recreation programs and Police Department recruitment, as well as new technology assets, infrastructure projects and business expansion.
The mayor spoke of the city’s perseverance and determination during the pandemic.
“A consistent commitment to our core beliefs and responsibilities are for financial integrity, public safety, strong neighborhoods, a welcoming business environment and a continuation of our goal to rebuild our public spaces and infrastructure for this generation of Southgate residents and all of those who follow,” Kuspa said.
He said the city’s commitment to sound financial planning and implementation was validated in November by Plante Moran, the city’s independent auditing firm.
“We received the highest grade, the highest form of assurance for our 2021-22 financial transactions,” Kuspa said.
He said the city increased its fund balance by more than $400,000, reduced the city’s outstanding general debt obligation by $700,000 and maintained a 2022 balanced city budget.
Kuspa said when he became mayor in 2009, the city had a general debt obligation of $14 million, which is now down to $2.6 million, an 82 percent reduction since he took office. He said he hopes that by 2026 they will have eliminated the city’s outstanding debt.
He spoke of Finance Director and Assistant City Administrator Dave Angileri’s retirement after three decades, as well as the hiring of Doug Drysdale, who served as Riverview’s longtime city manager, to the Southgate position. Drysdale is a 28-year Southgate resident.
Kuspa spoke of the departure of City Administrator Dustin Lent and the hiring of Dan Marsh, a Southgate native, this summer.
The mayor mentioned the city’s new Downtown Development Authority Director Kaylee Mondrella, who is working toward the city acquiring State of Michigan Redevelopment Ready Community status, which will provide more resources and tools to attract and retain businesses.
He said Mondrella is also involved in enhancing current public events and creating new ones, with the goal of attracting more residents, businesses and visitors.
Kuspa said an adult Easter egg hunt in April, dubbed “Hoppy Hour,” will take place at the municipal golf course.
He said the city stronger fiscal status has allowed it to address the needs of its public safety personnel.
Kuspa said in 2022, the city made substantial investments in technology, training, equipment and collaboration.
He said the city obtained and administered a multi-city $461,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant, which will be used to purchase new safety equipment for Southgate and four other neighboring communities.
“This collaborative effort will keep our firefighters and those in the Downriver community area safer and better prepared to protect the residents they serve,” Kuspa said.
He said that last fall, the department added a $140,000 fully equipped ambulance-type rescue vehicle, the first vehicle of this type that Southgate has purchased, which provides a greater level of service during emergency medical service and fire calls.
In the past year, firefighters responded to more than 5,000 calls for service, most of which were EMS-related.
Kuspa said the department’s average response time is just over four minutes, which is half the eight-minute national response time.
He said the Police Department has also provided upgrades, innovative recruitment, advanced training and public outreach.
In the spring the Police Department implemented a feedback mechanism utilizing a QR code for surveying, with the goal of providing valuable feedback for future training.
The department has also expanded to provide 911 texting capability, which enhances emergency response when a voice call is not possible or could place the caller in danger.
Kuspa said the city also implemented Code Red, a cloud-based emergency alert system that provides fast, accurate and reliable information in the event of a community crisis, whether a weather event, missing child, a system failure or other safety-related situations. It can provide immediate emergency notifications and instructions to residents when needed.
He said constant officer training continues, with hundreds of hours of training in topics like de-escalation techniques, autism awareness, crisis intervention and mental health first aid.
Kuspa said the pandemic has increased the frequency of mental-health related calls, which are difficult situations to which police officers must respond. He said the city recently hired a mental health clinician to assist officers with mental health-related incidents.
He said the clinician provides followup services after an incident and helps connect residents with the resources they may need, with feedback already indicating the program’s success.
Kuspa said police officer retention and recruitment remains a priority. He said the police cadet program, implemented in 2019, has proven to be a valuable resource for the community by introducing the field of law enforcement to young people.
He said that in the past two years, three cadets have obtained their certifications and have become Southgate police officers.
Kuspa said a new police academy sponsorship program will be added to allow select candidates to receive compensation as a non-sworn officer while they are attending the police academy.
“Once they complete their education, their academy tuition will be covered by a state of Michigan grant and they will immediately become full-time officers of the Southgate Police Department,” he said, adding that they hope to obtain four new police officers as a result of the program.
Kuspa said the police vehicle dash cam system has been upgraded and can now be synchronized with officer body cams, and has increased clarity to capture license plates on moving vehicles, with increased data storage and retrieval.
“The recording of police situations provides universal transparency and increases officer and public safety by providing real-time video in the event of an emergency,” he said. “It can assist the department with any potential dispute resolutions.”
Kuspa said the Police Department will introduce drone technology this year, which will provide the ability to canvas large areas of the city quickly with amazing precision.
He said it will help find missing persons, apprehend criminals and perform surveillance. The onboard cameras have night vision capability and have extensive zooming capability, and all police officers will receive extensive training on drone use and deployment.
Kuspa said that next month the Police Department will become a State of Michigan law enforcement accredited agency, for which it has prepared for the past two years.
He said it represents the highest standards in policing and best practices, and on Feb. 6 the department will receive the designation, placing it in the top 10 percent of police departments in the state.
“Public safety is and will remain our primary responsibility, but public safety and the health of our city also relies on dependable roads and functional sewers,” Kuspa said.
He said the city’s infrastructure includes more than 65 miles of local roads and neighborhood streets and more than 60 miles of major roads, including Fort Street, Northline and Eureka, which include state and county roads.
Kuspa said more than 88 miles of water mains run under the roads, many of which are more than 70 years old.
“It is indeed an enormous task to manage and maintain these critical city assets,” he said, and commended the Department of Public Services team.
Kuspa also praised the city’s recreation programs, including its ice-skating program and the Southwinds Golf Course.
The mayor also said the city has experienced a “banner year for business growth,” especially with the Southgate Tower, Downriver’s tallest building and a former bank building, which is now in the pre-development phase of a $46 million investment.
Kuspa said the financing has been secured for the modern residential complex, which will be the largest in the city’s history.
A $5 million investment in a public park and a pedestrian walkway over Trenton Road to Kiwanis Park is also included. (To learn more about the project, go to downriversundaytimes.com/2023/01/13/southgate-to-create-park-pedestrian-bridge-at-tower-site-with-arpa-funds.)
Kuspa said the project has moved out of committee and will soon go before the Wayne County Commission for final approval.
“This extensive project has the potential to be transformational for our community,” he said. “Redeveloping this property into a state-of-the-art residential complex will restore this landmark building to productive use, attract more innovators and young entrepreneurs to our community and reinvigorate the southeast quadrant of our city.”