Mayor Pacheco Hails Year of Solidarity and Progress in State of the City Address

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From Jane Pacheco, Chelsea Mayor

State of the City Address, February 1, 2024

“It is not what you look at that matters, it is what you see.” Henry David Thoreau

Last February I shared my first Mayor’s State of the City address and reflected on the challenges and accomplishments of 2022. It had been a year of tremendous change. Folks were still (and still are) adjusting to the new normal of a post pandemic world. Pent up passion for new projects, partnerships, and pathways exploded and everyone was eager to talk about big ideas. The fast pace and forward thinking were both exciting and overwhelming. A lot of figurative “balls” had been joyfully tossed in the air and many folks were still busy building skills and establishing relationships in new positions and within new collaborations.

2023 saw a bit of a settling in and a lot of hard work on behalf of hundreds of engaged staff and community members. Below are a few summary details from the past year, in the same order as last year’s accounting. As always, please feel free to reach out to me, staff, or other councilmembers for additional information.

Main Street Park

In July, City Council approved a final development agreement with Main Street Park Alliance (MSPA) that was instrumental in MSPA receiving a $1 million grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to address the environmental remediation on the site. City staff, environmental consultants, and Chelsea Parks and Recreation continues to work closely with the environmental and design teams as this new public park comes closer to fruition.

Community Center

The Community Center Task Force and a working group of stakeholders delivered a joint recommendation report to City Council, asking council to further pursue opportunities for fiscal partnership and collaboration related to a potential intergenerational community center at the Chelsea Wellness Center (redevelopment) and/or the Trinkle/Freer site. Continued meetings with the task force, 5 Healthy Towns, the City, and the Chelsea School District worked toward a coordinated effort to make community-wide recreation offerings more cohesive and easier to access. One tangible example included a collaborative summer, pilot teen-membership, sponsored by the City, and supported by 5H and CSD that included access to both school gyms and the Wellness Center.

Trail News

Chelsea received the Pure Michigan Trail Town designation from Michigan Department of Natural Resources in recognition of the City’s intent to “promote healthy lifestyles, conserve natural resources, and provide a catalyst for economic activity in local communities.” Additionally, the City Council approved the designation of TimberTown Park as the official trailhead of the Border-to-Border Trail and approved a memorandum of understanding for the City to work in conjunction with Washtenaw County Parks and Huron Waterloo Pathways Initiative, in a public-private partnership, to improve TimberTown Park. This exciting project, called TimberTown Reimagined, is well underway and will include improvements to the play structure, the Pathways to Renewal mosaic, and new pickleball courts.

Public Safety/Mental Health

The council-appointed Public Safety Strategic Planning Group (SPG) began working together in November 2022, when Chief Kazyak joined the Chelsea Police Department. The SPG met throughout 2023, with support from SMART (Southeast Michigan Criminal Justice Policy Research Project), a team of facilitators from Eastern Michigan University. The SPG met throughout the year and held several public engagement sessions to provide opportunities for community members to have input and receive updates on the strategic planning process, which is projected to be completed first quarter of 2024.

Chelsea Police Department and the SPG have also been represented in a larger key stakeholder group known as the “Roundtable Group” that came together in 2023 initially to discuss possible recommended uses for the rebate funds from the Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage. A truly collaborative investigation of community needs and potential gaps brought forth recommendations from the city representatives as well as other group members from the Chelsea School District and the Chelsea School Board, 5 Healthy Towns, Chelsea Hospital, Silver Maples, Chelsea Senior Center, and Chelsea District Library. The consensus recommendation centered around the possibility of a public-facing, shared community mental health coordinator.

Additional input was solicited from both Washtenaw County Community Mental Health and the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office to align the suggested position to work within the existing resource network. The proposal is to be further defined, but the intent is for council to allocate funds this next budget year.

City Administration

City Council welcomed Marty Colburn as our new City Manager in August, after a professional search and short interim period. Mr. Colburn brought over two dozen years of city management background in Michigan. He stepped right into an ambitious city plan with earned leadership skills and extensive experience. In November the city hosted a second annual employee and volunteer appreciation event at the historic Chelsea Train Depot to introduce Mr. Colburn to our community. The City received an “unmodified opinion” (the highest rating available) from Plante Moran, in the financial audit for the budget year ending June 30, 2023.

Infrastructure

2023 was a year of study for many of our departments.

  • Chelsea Light & Power, the city-owned electric company, conducted an electric rate study to evaluate the city’s electric budget, debt structure, rates, investments, capital improvement plan and operational costs.
  • Council approved a water systems capacity study. A collaboration between Chelsea and Sylvan Township, the study will also explore the feasibility of a possible interconnection.
  • The City received a grant to conduct a regional traffic study; assessing traffic in, around, and through our communities. Long discussed, this study will help our Planning Commission and Council with decision-making regarding future growth in our area.

Planning/Housing

The City Council hired planning consultant firm Carlisle Wortman Associates to assess organizational recommendations for the city’s planning department and manage day to day operations. Housing continues to be a pressing conversation in our community, with leaders from the business community and the school district sharing concerns regarding affordability.

Although several housing developments made their way through different stages of the planning process including Heritage Point, The Glen at Westchester, Lincoln Pointe, and the Rockwell condominiums, none are categorized as affordable.

Conversations regarding boundary agreements, including PA425, continued with city staff and township representatives. Regional conversations got a bit of focus, as well, when the former Chelsea Area Planning Team/Dexter Area Regional Team (CAPT/DART) changed its name and formalized its monthly issue agenda in 2023. The new name is Western Washtenaw Regional Advisory Group (WW-RAG) and the group is made up of representatives from all Western Washtenaw municipalities. The group uses one meeting per quarter to focus on housing, one meeting per quarter to target transportation, and the other meetings to discuss different regional issues and/or host county updates from commissioners and administration.

Economic Development

In April, the City held an Economic Development Town Hall at the Chelsea District Library. Predicated on conversations with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the Chamber of Commerce, and other community leaders, the town hall provided an outline of what resources our area has available to us and an opportunity for community members to share thoughts about what kinds of initiatives they’d like to encourage.

The City held a number of meetings with both Washtenaw County Administration and Washtenaw County judges to discuss the proposed closure of the Chelsea Court House and the timeline and structure of services of the newly proposed Western Washtenaw Service Center. In 2023 it became more apparent that almost everything ties into economic development in one way or another: housing, trails/parks, transportation, employment, utilities. Regional partners like Ann Arbor SPARK and Michigan Municipal League (MML) continue to advocate for regional conversations about these intersectional issues.

The City initiated and maintained more collaborative conversations in 2023 than ever before, to bring as many community stakeholders into the conversations as possible. This will continue to be an intentional focus into the future.

The year went by fast, although progress sometimes feels slow. I think we accomplished a lot of good things together. Continued gratitude to the staff who make things happen and the countless community volunteers, without whom, not nearly as much would happen. Here’s to a fruitful 2024!

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