This past year was one of transition, progress and growth, with the pandemic again pushing us to rethink normalcy and reevaluate priorities. We welcomed vaccines for COVID-19, continued to work together as a community to address all the various challenges the pandemic tossed our way and celebrated new storefronts, new faces and new perspectives.
In 2021, we answered the call to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to help keep our community healthy and safe. What remarkable news to hear 95% of our students are vaccinated and well ahead of the game. Thank you to each and every one of you who has been vaccinated and has followed other guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. And thanks to our committed City employees who have worked through the worst of the pandemic to provide residents with reliable services, safe streets and access to the information they rely on.
Our community also approved the 2021 Parks Improvement Millage. It’s impossible to think of East Grand Rapids without picturing an active community, which is why this millage is critical for the improvement of our parks and open spaces. I am grateful to residents for investing in our home to ensure East Grand Rapids continues to be a great place for everyone to live, work and play.
The parks millage will provide funding for the replacement of the five playgrounds within the City, as well as for projects in several parks identified in our 2018 Master Plan and 2020 Community Parks and Recreation Master Plan. These projects were identified by residents as top priorities during these planning processes. The parks projects include Manhattan Park improvements, a new Gaslight Village pop-up park and sports courts and fields upgrades.
The City Commission has begun discussing priorities and timelines for individual projects. The Parks & Recreation Commission will consider the projects during its regular meetings, which are held on the second Monday of each month. Residents and community members will have several opportunities to provide input while we consider each project – we hope to hear from you. You can stay up to date on the millage by visiting eastgr.org/parksmillage and signing up for our e-newsletter at eastgr.org/signup.
The November 2021 election resulted in three new faces on the City Commission: Marc Schulz, Laura Schwartz and Chris Wessely. I look forward to working with them and the other city commissioners as we continue to make East Grand Rapids THE place to be. I want to again thank former City Commissioners Brad Hecksel, Claudine Wagenaar (Duncan) and Bryan Walters for their years of service to our community. I also want to extend a special thank you to our election workers, who worked hard to assist voters, provide resources and follow protocols to ensure a safe and secure election.
We also welcomed several new leaders to the City team, including City Manager Shea Charles and Parks & Recreation Director Derek Melville. With big shoes to fill, Shea and Derek have done an extraordinary job leading our City. We look forward to their continued commitment and leadership in 2022.
Thanks to a voter-approved millage, our Public Works team has successfully maintained and improved City street surface conditions since 2015. I am happy to report that 81% of City streets were rated fair-excellent in 2021 – well above the projected 50%. These ratings demonstrate just how critical resident tax dollars are to the success of the department’s street and sidewalk improvements. The team continues to plan for and work on the enhancement of our streets and sidewalks, ensuring we see long-lasting improvements.
As you know, EGR streets and sidewalks are maintained and improved for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians alike. In 2021, we continued to work with Progressive AE and Aligned Planning on the Mobility/Bicycle Action Plan, which was presented to the City Commission, revised and finalized during the first half of the year. This plan will guide future road and sidewalk projects by providing inclusive avenues for all who use EGR streets and sidewalks for years to come.
The first two projects under this plan included the addition of a four-way stop at Lakeside Drive/Greenwood Avenue and Reeds Lake Boulevard as well as the rotomilling and resurfacing of Hall Street, which balanced improvements to pedestrian safety and bicycle facilities while maintaining on-street parking to the fullest extent possible.
We also made significant investment in our water and sewer infrastructure, totaling more than $1.1 million. This included rehabilitating more than 3,000 feet of water main and more than 4,000 feet of sanitary sewer, as well as rebuilding two sanitary sewer lift stations and nearly 170 feet of storm sewer. It also included adding more than 3,500 feet of new storm sewer.
Also in 2021, we continued to reflect on and discuss racial injustices. I again encourage you to get to know our public safety officers, who welcome dialogue on racial issues and other topics, and familiarize yourself with their work and role in our City. Chief Herald always welcomes a phone call at 616.949.7010.
Chief Herald provides the City Commission quarterly reports on public safety, the department’s activities, training programs and community engagement efforts. The Public Safety Department also hosts an annual open house in late October and semiannual Drug Take Back Days in addition to offering a drop-off site year-round. In 2021, the department collected 1,171 pounds of expired and unused medications, helping to keep our community and environment safe.
Unfortunately, due to low participation over the past two years, the department’s quarterly engagement sessions will not return this year. Chief Herald and his team are determining how to best connect with EGR residents on a regular basis. If you have any ideas, please feel free to call Chief Herald or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we continued to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, we decided to host a Fourth of July Celebration with an extended parade route that wrapped around the City. Neighbors and friends were able to enjoy the parade from their own neighborhoods. It also was wonderful to welcome back the Reeds Lake Run and Rhoades McKee Triathlon.
We continued our Concerts in the Park and Movies in the Park series – community favorites that got us out of the house and into much-needed fresh air. I know many of us, including myself, have been reminded of how fortunate we are to have access to such beautiful parks and outdoor spaces.
And speaking of events, it was absolutely splendid to kick off the holiday season as a community at the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. After a year and a half of limited celebrations, it was just what we needed to cheer up. I can’t wait to safely gather for Taste of East this summer.
While we saw the impact of the pandemic close some restaurants and retailers, we were delighted to welcome new businesses to Gaslight Village that offer excellent products and services encourage you to visit and support the many wonderful small businesses in EGR. These business owners sponsor sports teams, support fundraising efforts and even employ our teens. They are the heartbeat of our community.
If you are not already, please stay connected with the City by following us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And don’t forget to sign up for our biweekly e-newsletter, the East Express. The City website, eastgr.org, is also full of resources, tools and engagement opportunities.
Remember: City staff are here to help you and answer any questions you may have. These dedicated professionals are committed to serving you. You are the City’s top priority and your engagement in your local government is incredibly important to us.
Wishing you a joyful 2022.