It’s definitely safe to say that East Grand Rapids was very busy in 2019. Between all of our community events, discussions and improvements — let alone high resident and community member participation — I can testify our City is an incredible place to serve. I would like to thank you for trusting me to continue this service, now as your Mayor. It is truly an honor. I look forward to leading our community into the future with you over the next four years.
We also closed the decade with a couple new and one returning commissioners. I would like to again congratulate Second Ward Commissioner Karey Hamrick on her re-election and welcome First and Third Ward Commissioners Kris Pachla and John Arendshorst. I am so thankful for and confident in this team of officials as we take on 2020, serving our community and each of its residents.
Additionally, a new trustee was appointed to the School Board, filling the one-year vacancy left by Elizabeth Welch. I would like to thank Elizabeth for her eight years of service and dedication to our schools and also extend a warm welcome to Abby Sorota. Our school district continues to stand out as a model of success and I look forward to working closely with the schools to continue our “Tradition of Excellence” and strengthen the City-School relationship.
City Manager Update
As you know, in early 2019 we said farewell to our City Manager of 25 years, Brian Donovan. You may also be aware that while we thought we had found a candidate to succeed Brian early last year, he decided to rescind his acceptance. However, please rest assured the duties of City Manager have not gone amiss. I want to thank Doug LaFave for all of his long days acting as Interim City Manager in addition to directing the Public Works Department. Doug’s strong dedication and tremendous leadership has kept the City running smoothly, ensuring its needs are met and exceeded.
Our incredible Public Works team has accomplished much to improve and enhance our approximate 50 miles of streets and 80 miles of sidewalks in the past year. As noted in the City’s 2019 Construction Recap, this year’s Paser ratings, the system that rates pavement condition, indicate that 64% of our streets have fair - excellent ratings, well above the projected 43%. Had residents not voted in favor of the 2015 millage, our projections show that only 15% of our roads would have been in this category by this time.
Our hard-working crews have also completed 8.4 miles of mill and overlay, cape seal and micro surfacing projects and rehabilitated more than 1.5 miles in water main and sanitary sewer projects. Water main rehabilitations used a cured-in-place-pipe process, which puts a resin sleeve in an old pipe to create a new, stronger pipe. Through access pits, the City’s contractor is able to run the new liner in and through the older water main, extending the life of the water main line. Sanitary sewer and storm sewer replacement also use a different cured-in-place-pipe to renew this important infrastructure while minimizing impacts to residents.
Last summer, EGR built its first roundabout, located on Alexander Street at Cambridge Drive and Rosewood Avenue, improving the geometry of the five-leg intersection, traffic calming and pavement surface at the same time.
Additionally, the Manhattan Park Varsity Softball Field Drainage Project was executed through the combined efforts of the Public Works and Parks & Recreation departments. After receiving bids from contractors that were outside of the Joint Facilities budget, the two departments stepped up to the plate, collaborating with a contracted engineer to complete the project within the budget. Thanks to Joint Facilities Committee funding from the City and the Schools, the softball field was reworked to include the necessary drainage that will allow our Pioneers to play their season with more optimal conditions.
I encourage you to stay up to speed on all of these projects throughout the year by visiting eastgr.org/construction, which is updated on a weekly basis.
Traffic & Safety
Safety is a top priority for the City of East Grand Rapids. In 2019, our Public Safety Department not only advanced itself professionally, but also improved relationships with residents and continued to keep our community one of the safest in the country.
After an extensive, three-year process, Public Safety has completed the accreditation process, which evaluates 105 standards and requirements provided by the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission. Our officers have worked hard to refine department policies and procedures, management, operations and support services to ensure it complies with the MLEAC’s high expectations. Once officially awarded the title this winter, EGR Public Safety will be one of only 24 accredited departments in the State, which has 585 police departments — what an accomplishment! This accolade will only further distinguish our cross-trained police, fire and medical department.
This past year, Public Safety Officer Collin Wallace became the full time School/Community Liaison. Previously, on-shift officers were allocated for the position, however, the City deemed it necessary to have a fully dedicated officer in order to build strong relationships with our students, residents and administrators.
In addition to this, our officers have begun making rounds at each of the schools in the mornings and afternoons, as an opportunity to get to know and bond with our youngest community members through positive engagement. This increase in patrol has also helped with traffic flow, avoiding potential incidents.
The department has also added two crossing guard posts at Lake Drive and Kenesaw Drive and Lake Drive and Bagley Avenue/San Lu Rae Drive and, in collaboration with Public Works, placed a Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon at the intersection of Lake Drive and Bagley Avenue to further alert motorists of those commuting to and from school. The RRFB is currently a pilot program under evaluation as the City studies its placement, use and effectiveness.
Our Parks & Environmental Stewardship
Our hometown is well known for its natural beauty. Between Reeds Lake, the trails and our parks, it’s no wonder that people travel across the metropolitan area and beyond just to visit EGR. One of the City’s major undertakings in 2019 was redeveloping our Community Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenway Plan.
Serving as a roadmap for future projects, this plan allows Parks & Recreation to apply for grants to help continue the improvement and development of EGR’s parks and recreation opportunities. I am thankful to all those who participated in the survey and the public workshops to really narrow down what residents are looking for as we work to enhance our community’s highly used and loved spaces. You can read the plan at eastgr.org/recreation.
In an effort to further improve our parks, Stonyfield Organic selected EGR as one of 35 communities across the nation to help transition two of our parks to organic lawn care. We are just in the beginning stages of this three-year process, as professionals will evaluate John Collins Park and the Manhattan Park soccer field to select the appropriate treatment. After the treatment is implemented and studied for effectiveness, Parks & Recreation will then decide whether or not it wants to continue, based on the treatment’s functionality and durability.
This past year, the City Commission voted to increase water/sewer rates to provide the additional critical funding needed to proactively fix our water and sanitary sewer infrastructure. With this additional funding, we were already able to fund and execute many of our infrastructure improvements.
As we enter budget season, our finance professionals will continue to find areas of improvement to minimize City costs while maintaining the high-quality services EGR is known for. Of our $12.1 million general fund budget, property tax revenue represents 73% of general fund revenue, while state shared revenue represents 9% of general fund revenue.
Doing Business in EGR
As you’ve driven, walked and biked through town, you may have noticed the new Gaslight Village wayfinding signs. The City Commission took on this project last year as part of the Master Plan developed in 2018 to help visitors make their way to our charming dining and retail center. Located on main EGR streets — Robinson Road, Lakeside Drive, Lake Drive, Wealthy Street, Hall Street and Breton Road — the signs are prominently placed to attract and direct those entering East to the Village.
In 2019, we welcomed Gaslight Kitchen Asian Cuisine, MIX and Bowdie’s Chophouse. I have heard endless positive reviews of each of these eateries and am delighted they joined our business district. Additionally, Coldwell Banker re-opened its doors this past summer after an extensive renovation — the interior of this iconic building is decorated with photographs of Gaslight Village through the years, befitting of their history, reinvestment in EGR and many more years of realty to come.
Community participation in all the Gaslight Village events is another testament of your dedication to our City. From our fan-favorites such as Taste of East and the Tree Lighting Ceremony, to our newest event, Spooky Saturday in Gaslight Village, you are the reason our business district is so lively. I do encourage all residents to support our local businesses not only when there are events, but year-round. Our business owners support boosters, clubs, etc. that make our school and City functions and activities possible. Gaslight Village is an area many living in surrounding communities travel to take advantage of, and between its proximity to Reeds Lake and the heated sidewalks in the winter, who could blame them?
I have lived in many communities throughout my life, both in and out of the State of Michigan, ranging from the big City of Chicago to my small hometown of Frankenmuth. From these experiences, I can tell you EGR is an amazing place to live, work and play not only because of its vibrant scenery, outstanding schools and excellent amenities, but mostly because of the people invested in making it thrive.
I am incredibly grateful for how passionate our residents and community members are in making EGR a fruitful community. I challenge you this year, this decade even, to keep up the good work and continue to get involved. There are many opportunities to enjoy all our special community has to offer.
Our incredible City staff are also among our home’s strongest assets. These individuals work hard every day to ensure quick responses and top-notch service. As a reminder, they are here to help you, but cannot do so if you don’t ask for it. They welcome your call from emergency situations to leaf pick up inquires and everything in between.
You can stay informed by connecting with us on Facebook and Twitter, through our e-newsletter, The East Express, and by attending or watching livestreamed City Commission meetings on the first and third Mondays of every month.
Cheers to 2020!