As I reflect back on 2018, I realize that East Grand Rapids staff and commissioners had quite a busy and productive year. We worked hard to keep our City running well, while also making strategic plans for our future. I am always so proud to represent our outstanding community – and 2018 once again found EGR being recognized both statewide and nationally for the good work we have done, including being named as the best city in Michigan to live by USA Today.
Beginning in 2017 and wrapping up last summer, we undertook the process of updating our Master Plan. The final document is the result of many months of citizen input, discussions, research and a desire to develop a far-reaching map for the road ahead.
Several themes emerged during the process. First, key discussions involved the need to create an overall mobility plan that will allow us to continue the City’s enviable walkable and bikeable network, with an eye to new personal mobility trends. Additionally discussed was the need to ensure that any new housing development continues to be compatible with the existing character of our community and possible ways to increase diversity in our housing. Finally, the Master Plan highlighted the desire to find ways of attracting new investment, at an appropriate scale, in Gaslight Village along with parking management.
All of the suggestions in the plan are currently just concepts and will need additional research by staff and consultants, input from citizens and discussions among elected and appointed officials. Some of the concepts and ideas will be implemented, some will be altered and some may not be right for our community. We appreciate everyone who was a part of crafting this important document.
Our Public Works team remains steadfast in its commitment to improve East’s public utilities, including upgrading our 50 miles of streets and 80 miles of sidewalks. When I was elected seven years ago, my pledge was that we would better understand the current state of our infrastructure and make plans for updating it – and indeed we have worked hard to ensure this was accomplished.
I’m happy to share this year’s Paser ratings (the system that rates pavement condition) are well above projections. After this past year’s projects, nearly 56 percent of City streets are at a fair-excellent rating. Without the street bond proposal of 2015, our projections showed that less than 20 percent of our roads would have been in the fair-excellent category by 2018. We have put your tax dollars to very good use to continuously improve the condition of our roads. In 2018, Public Works implemented a variety of improvement projects, including the complete rebuild of Breton Road. This major project included removing and replacing the street surface, ADA ramp
upgrades, traffic signal upgrades and several areas of road base and spot curb replacement.
During the spring, a variety of “grind and resurface” road asphalt projects were implemented to improve driving and safety conditions. In addition to these projects, the City Commission approved a special assessment project for Durant Street. Once a gravel road, the street is now paved and has a new water main in place.
NEW CITY MANAGER
It has been a bittersweet year for us as our current City Manager Brian Donovan, is preparing to retire. During his 25 years of public service to the City, Brian has fostered a culture of strong service, fiscal responsibility and innovative thinking among our 67 full-time staff members and various commissions at the City.
Under his leadership, numerous capital projects were implemented and significant financial decisions made, including the Community Center redevelopment, reactivating the Gaslight Village Business District through a redevelopment and streetscape overhaul, managing the City through the 2008 foreclosure crisis and the redevelopment of City recreational areas such as John Collins Park, Waterfront Park and the Reeds Lake Trail.
After an extensive search process, including input from residents, City staff and community partners, I am pleased to announce that Emmanuel (Manny) Toribio has accepted our offer to become our next City Manager. Joining us from Drake University in Des Moines, Manny impressed my colleagues on the Commission and me with his organization and preparedness. He will be relocating to the area alongside his wife, Emily, and infant daughter, Elena.
As we look to the future of our community, we are confident in Manny’s ability to collaborate with our staff, commissions, community partners and residents to keep East on a strong path of success. We look forward to having him at the helm as we embark on our next chapter.
Ensuring the safety of our residents and visitors continues to be a top priority in our community. Thankfully, the 28 sworn officers, two clerks, 20 crossing guards and four bike patrol interns of our Public Safety Department represent the very best in professionalism and service. This past year, the department was able to implement new programs, strengthen old ones and find more opportunities to keep our City safe.
Public Safety analyzed data from the past two years and discovered nearly 90 percent of vehicle theft occurred from unlocked vehicles. To help combat theft, Public Safety began a program that includes extra patrols, crime prevention messaging and warning advisories on vehicles that are observed unlocked and/or have valuables clearly visible. We cannot stress enough the importance of locking your homes and vehicles as the first step to crime prevention in our community.
One outstanding example of the caliber of our department and of our community happened one evening this past summer. Officer Zach Nagtzaam was dispatched to Memorial Field where a teenage boy had collapsed. Officer Nagtzaam found the patient lying on the field as Megan Zabawa, a physician’s assistant with Spectrum Health, was performing CPR. Eventually, Officer Nagtzaam was joined by Staff Sergeant Eric Smith, Officer Dan Lobbezoo and Officer Jon Karnes to provide assistance. Our officers and Ms. Zabawa worked together to bag the teenager with oxygen, perform CPR and utilize the AED, eventually reviving him. For their life-saving actions, the officers and Ms. Zabawa received awards from Public Safety.
Another example of proactive work happened this fall when Officers Andrew Good and David Katje were conducting a crime prevention foot patrol. They detected an odor of smoke, eventually tracking it to an attic fire. Their efforts prevented extensive damage to an unoccupied residence. For exemplary performance, the officers were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.
Keeping students safe on their commute to school continued to be a strong topic of conversation this last year. To help teach good habits, we worked with our Schools to develop two videos aimed at providing tips for commuting to school safely. The Schools will share these in their classrooms each fall and throughout the school year. I would encourage you to take a moment to view them (they are on the City’s website) with your children and talk through why they should know all the safety rules. A special thank you to the EGR Community Foundation for providing the funding for this project.
OUR PARKS & ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP
In its report, USA Today specifically mentioned our lakes, scenic views and glorious parks and trails as reasons we were given the top spot in Michigan. While you may see our Parks and Recreation Department grinning a little more than usual at this news, this recognition came through their hard work.
As part of our ongoing effort to combat invasive species, the City, in conjunction with West Michigan Conservation Network, PLM Lake & Land Management and the Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, has been actively managing the European frog-bit infestation found in Reeds and Fisk Lakes since 2016, with positive results and a goal of eradication from both lakes.
We ask residents to be very careful when disposing non-native plants and foliage. Dumping water garden plants into the lake or tossing ornamental plants into the woods can have adverse long-term effects. The City, with assistance from the Kent Conservation District, has hosted invasive species volunteer work days focused on removing Buckthorn from our natural areas. There will be additional volunteer opportunities throughout the coming year.
Our new recreation software platform, CivicRec powered by Rec1, has been well received by the community. The user-friendly interface
has already proven that its simple, yet effective, layout encourages people to register online. This efficiency and adaptability is a goal we’ve been striving toward. In fact, our statistics show online registration versus phone or walk-in has increased by nearly 30 percent in just one year. In addition, more people have begun registering for classes on their mobile devices.
A STRONG FINANCIAL FUTURE
We are very proud of the budget we’ve put together this past fiscal year as there was no reduction in city services and no rate increases. Of our $24.7 million budget, property tax revenue represents 74 percent of general fund revenue, while state shared revenue represents 9 percent of general fund revenue.
Due to the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A, municipalities are required to roll back their millage when the annual growth on existing property is greater than the inflation rate. This past year, we had an overall taxable growth of 5.5 percent, which is higher than the 2.1 percent inflation rate so the millage was once again rolled back.
With decreasing funds due to Headlee and Proposal A, the City continues to find ways to be more efficient with our allocated tax dollars. Each budget season, which we are about to enter, we challenge City staff to find greater efficiencies or areas of improvement, without decreasing the high-level of service our community is known for.
As part of our continuous effort to make interactions with the City easier, we implemented a web-based, electronic invoice payment system this past spring to provide faster, more convenient billing services. The new online payment is easy to use and the e-bill service offers more flexibility in paying tax and utility bills.
It is through all our departments that we are able to work together to help make EGR a wonderful home. However, it is thanks to your commitment to our community that we can truly call this City a home. Our work and strides at City Hall are, after all, for your well-being and safety. I hope you continue to stay active by attending commission meetings, participating in programs and events, signing up for our bi-weekly e-newsletter and engaging with us on social media.
Several of the potential city managers noted what a lively community we are. Your encounters in Gaslight Village, walks along Reeds Lake and participation in City events — in other words, normal activities — are what make our City stand out amongst others. These human interactions are, in my opinion, what make EGR the best city to live in. For this, I thank you, East Grand Rapids residents, for being the heartbeat of our home. It is truly such an honor to serve this outstanding community every day – and I look forward to the growth our community will see in 2019.
Amna P. Seibold