Saline Mayor delivers his State of the City Address

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Saline Mayor Brian Marl during the State of the City Address. photo is a screenshot from Saline Video YouTube channel

Saline Mayor Brian Marl delivered the State of the City Address at the July 11 city council meeting.

Here it is:

Good evening.

City Council, City Manager O’Toole, Clerk Royal, distinguished guests, and my fellow Salinians –

It is an honor to provide the citizens of Saline with my mid-year State of the City address.

As I articulated in January, this past year, and these last six months, have been both challenging and unprecedented – we’ve endured the lingering effects of a global health pandemic – subsequent disruptions to supply chains, increased labor shortages, and burgeoning inflation.

But I’m not demoralized or disheartened – I look at hard times and say this too shall pass –

Despite the challenges and hardships, 2022 will continue to be a year of progress and productivity.

Now, I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating - based on our strong track-record over the past several years, it should be crystal clear to all City residents and business owners – the days of infrastructure delays and deferrals are over. The City, and Council more specifically, will continue to act boldly and invest robustly in our municipal streets, sidewalks, and water/sewer systems.

As such, let me begin tonight with infrastructure – In the ensuing months, our City will invest heavily in our municipal assets, and residents can expect to hear more about specific projects at some forthcoming town hall events. Additionally, our website now features dedicated project pages for all current and pending infrastructure projects – it’s a great resource to get information about project statuses and timelines.

Further, recent investments in our water infrastructure have already yielded significant results, i.e., a substantial decrease in water discoloration complaints. By way of example, the City received 62 discoloration complaints via our survey tool in May 2022 and just 3 in June 2022. As always if residents experience water discoloration issues, they are encouraged to use the survey tool on our website to report any concerns. Please rest assured, the City will continue to use this reporting tool to properly direct resources and maintain these improvements.

Also, the City will continue our valve assessment/rehabilitation initiative, knowing of course, that this project has a direct and unambiguous impact on water quality/clarity. Additionally, due to the significance of these issues, DPW, and the City’s PR department, will continue to produce our recurring newsletter – each of these newsletters contains substantive messaging on both water quality and other timely issues.

Separately, the City’s meter change out program is underway, educational materials will be released soon to help residents better understand the process and how the online tool can help improve communications with the City.

Additionally, as many are aware, the City’s water treatment/wastewater treatment ad-hoc advisory group, continues to meet bi-weekly, to provide advice and review of projects and initiatives relating to these vital services.

And speaking of our wastewater treatment facility, our plant’s rehabilitation project is currently in the process of being scored by the state for revolving fund financing. Further, we expect to know later this fall about our ability to qualify for a low interest rate loan. Subsequent to this, we will move forward expeditiously with bidding and construction of said project.

Further, as referenced in January, our City Engineer, Tesha Humphriss, has been working diligently to develop asset management practices for all municipal infrastructure – with a specific emphasis on drinking water and wastewater systems. This includes new technology, tools and programs to evaluate risk and prioritize capital and O&M practices. Ultimately, proper asset management tools will shift decision making from reactive to proactive, and thereby improve infrastructure quality throughout our City.

As noted previously, the City will continue to advocate for state funding of stormwater infrastructure and will aggressively compete for recently approved federal funding under the new bipartisan infrastructure statute. In fact, we are actively soliciting support for an $18 million federal grant to assist with the rehabilitation of our wastewater treatment plant. We’ll also seek to leverage state and federal resources as we continue to evaluate and explore the future of the Mill Pond Park Dam –

2022 will also be an active year on the sidewalk front – the City will begin design work on a US-12 sidewalk from Mill Pond Park to Austin Drive. We will also reactivate our comprehensive sidewalk initiative, beginning in Northview Subdivision, and possibly expanding depending on the number of deficiencies and the impact on our City’s general operating budget.

Transitioning now to economic development – we are acutely aware of the challenges our business owners and workers have experienced, and will continue to experience in the year ahead –

On August 5th, the City, in conjunction with the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce, will be hosting our annual large business summit – we’ve confirmed some excellent external presenters, whose presentations will primarily focus on talent recruitment and retention. This promises to be a great event – RSVPs are required, any questions or comments can be directed to our PR Generalist, Sarah Massey.

Further, in the third or fourth quarter of this year, the City will also organize and host our annual small business forum – focusing on the needs of our service enterprises, retail establishments and numerous restaurants –

With the addition of our new Community Development Director, Ben Harrington, we are working to re-activate our Community Recruitment & Retention Team, comprised of representatives from the City, Chamber, Saline Mainstreet and Saline Area Schools.

Additionally, I am keenly aware that the best thing any of us can do during uncertain economic times is to patronize our local businesses. If you value our community’s enterprises, and or the products and services that they provide, please show them some extra support in the weeks and months ahead.

Later this summer, the City will begin revising our master plan with a renewed emphasis on our historic downtown. Our downtown is the heart of our community and as a City, we must actively work towards making it the
place to gather, relax, and make new connections. Further, throughout the master plan revision process, we will reemphasize our various community assets, including, parks, green space, strong residential neighborhoods, and our numerous commercial centers.

I’m also pleased to report that the sale of Saline’s long dormant hotel now appears to be imminent – staff, myself, third party consultants, our fire chief, several architects, and the potential buyer have met, and recently toured the facility. Barring something unforeseen, this potential developer hopes to close on the property later this summer. I am hopeful that construction activity will resume shortly thereafter –

Our Community Development Department is proactively performing code-enforcement on properties that have been blighted, damaged, or vacant. Saline cannot, and will not tolerate, properties that are unattended and/or magnets for blight. The City is actively working with owners to repair said properties or encouraging them to sell parcels to individuals interested in bringing their talents & passions to the Saline community. Also, I expect City Council to adopt a residential rental inspection ordinance later this summer. This will insure quality housing standards for all local renters.

In the very near future, we will begin a comprehensive review of all existing site plans to ensure that commercial and industrial properties are meeting standards that were approved and authorized by staff and/or the City’s Planning Commission. These site plan reviews will place the strongest possible emphasis on public safety, while also improving the attractiveness of parcels throughout our community.

The City Code Review Committee – a group, comprised mainly of private citizens and business owners, remains a great outlet for individuals to recommend policy/ordinance changes, particularly, if they seek to modernize and/or streamline our City’s regulatory framework –

As I have stated frequently, our first responders can rest easy knowing that our community’s elected officials will continue to provide them the resources they need to effectively serve and protect the residents of Saline.

The Saline Police Department is in the process of implementing their body worn camera/taser initiative. The corresponding taser policy was recently completed, and training on both the policy and the taser itself will occur within the next two weeks.

The department’s goals & strategies, which focus on four critical areas - community engagement, education and training, mental health, and recruitment and retention, are still being developed by department personnel and other regional stakeholders.

In July 2022, Officers Wright and Whited visited with our local Police Academy for the purpose of recruiting. The Saline Police Department is still working on accreditation, however, with a change in leadership, additional time will be needed to complete this vital initiative. Our dispatch center is currently fully staffed, that being said, our PD is still looking to fill one open vacancy in police services, – interested parties are encouraged to visit our website, or connect with Chief Radzik or Assistant City Manager, Elle Getschman, directly –

The Saline Police Department recently hired a new Administrative Assistant, Joelle Coss, who replaced Laurie Foondle, who retired this past May – on behalf of my Council colleagues, we wish Ms. Foondle good health and happiness in the years ahead -

In my capacity as Fire Board Chair, I am working to complete an RFP for an independent review/analysis of the Saline Area Fire Department – this analysis, will evaluate operations, policies, our governance model, and existing funding streams, with a primary focus on ensuring that our firefighters can effectively meet the needs of our community in the years ahead -

As residents are aware, our recently approved budget, covering fiscal year 2022/2023 demonstrates that Saline’s elected & appointed officials remain good stewards of public resources. Salinians can rest easy, knowing that during these uncertain times, with costs dramatically increasing, we’ve exercised the same fiscal prudence & strategic thinking that has been utilized over the past decade. Moving forward, Council will continue to prioritize the City’s infrastructure, various municipal assets and legacy costs, while maintaining healthy fund balances.

Further, I am confident that we will use existing dollars to create a vehicle/equipment revolving fund, while also reserving the necessary funding to appropriately manage retiree pay-outs.

Additionally, our City’s Rec Center Sustainability Taskforce, will shortly transition into an advisory panel, assisting Parks & Recreation Director Scruggs and her staff, as we continue to plan for the future of our municipally-owned Recreation Center. Needless to say, our Rec Center must be accessible and well used by members of the Saline community, without being an undue burden on our City’s general fund.

As I’ve articulated for the better part of two years now, our changing demographics, coupled with the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, has brought to light the desperate need for additional health care services in the Saline area. Our residents’ quality of life is directly linked to accessible, quality healthcare amenities – As such, our City’s Healthcare Improvement Taskforce has been working hard to correct this significant, and glaring deficiency. While we can’t publicly share all their work, or recent conversations with regional healthcare providers, I can state unequivocally, that tremendous progress has been made. If residents have thoughts, or would like to get involved, feel free to connect with Chairperson Dawn Krause or any member of our healthcare committee.

In addition to Rec Center Sustainability and Healthcare, we have other groups hard at work, and we’re intensely proud of their efforts – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, (DEI), comes to mind, along with our Historic Properties Working-group, and our Legal Services Review Committee.

As mentioned in January, in either the third or fourth quarter of 2022, I will be requesting City Council establish two new task-forces – one to evaluate and review our existing City Charter, and a second, to focus on affordability, with a specific emphasis on housing and transit – If any residents or business leaders are interested in serving in these capacities, I’d encourage you to contact my office.

Last, let me message on openness and communication – Earlier this year, we launched a new, redesigned and streamlined municipal website. Our new website is far superior to its predecessor, but of course, it is not without its imperfections. If you have thoughts or ideas on how it could be improved, please connect with our IT Director, Chris Shonk, I know he’d welcome your feedback.

The new website also replaces SeeClickFix with a new reporting tool, allowing residents and business owners to engage directly with staff – However, after communicating directly with City Manager O’Toole, we are not completely satisfied with this new technology – as such, alternatives will be considered, and improvements should be made in the next couple months.

In addition to our existing surveys on water quality and odor abatement, we recently launched direct communiques to our HOAs and condo associations – if you are not on this list, or would like to learn more, please connect with Sarah Massey, our City’s PR Generalist.

As promised in January, we have initiated in-person townhalls in advance of major construction projects – engaging with residents and property owners most impacted by major capital initiatives.

Let me end by acknowledging the years of service and the contributions made by my City Council colleagues – Mayor Pro-tem Dean Girbach, members Janet Dillon, Jack Ceo, James Dell’Orco, Kevin Camero-Sulak, and Dawn Krause.

Also, sincerest thanks to our very dedicated and talented staff, who care deeply for this community, and provide exceptional service to our residents daily. On behalf of Council, we thank each of you - our community would not be the world-class City it is without your commitment and contributions.

Further, I’d be remiss, if I didn’t acknowledge the recent retirement of our City Treasurer, Mickie Jo Bennett – who served this City faithfully for more than 36 years. Again, we thank Ms. Bennett for her dedication and outstanding performance, and we wish her well on a long and enjoyable retirement – she’s earned it -

In conclusion, I am mindful of where we’ve been, and conversely, where we’re headed as a community. Challenges and hardships remain, but our renewed focus on core services, investing in our infrastructure, strengthening public safety, while pursuing best practices for organizational efficiency, will undoubtedly improve our quality of life. I’ve said it before, Saline is a special place because of the character and commitment of our residents. We’re in uncertain times, and the ensuing months and years won’t always be easy, but I know great things are ahead of us. I continue to believe that Saline’s best days are yet to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless Saline.

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