by ROCKFORD CITY MANAGER MICHAEL YOUNG
Over the past several years, the City Council has implemented numerous cost cutting measures to ensure that the City of Rockford budget is maintained within our budget constraints. One of the many cuts that were made included the elimination of the publication of the Rockford Outlook Newsletter. As an alternative, Council has asked that I coordinate periodic articles in the Rockford Squire to update the community on all that is the City of Rockford. The following information will represent the first installment of the Rockford Outlook in the Squire Newspaper.
As mentioned above, the City Council has implemented many cost cutting measures over the last several years to ensure that our budget is balanced. We have cut staff by 25% and have reorganized virtually every department to ensure that we are working within our budget framework. On July 1st of this year, the City’s new fiscal year began and I am very pleased to announce we are working on a balanced budget, which maintains expenditures in check with revenues. This, quite frankly is a significant task in that we have seen major reductions in State shared revenue, property tax revenue, and investment income while many expenditures continue to increase. We have put together a multi-year budget strategy, which will ensure that the City’s fiscal position remains strong. One indicator of our strong position is the recent review of the City’s bond rating. Two (2) years ago, we received an upgrade in our bond rating to AA, which was recently confirmed by Standard and Poors. As we look to the future, our main focus will be preservation and enhancements to our public infrastructure including water, sewer and streets and an eye towards maintaining quality services that our residents have grown accustomed to. Our forecast is that property values will continue to decline for at least the next year at a rate of around 4%. Even with this news, we have developed a budget framework that will take us to 2013. Our budget projections will be updated as we work through the new budget process in February of next year.
The new budget maintained the City’s millage rate at 10.9 mils, one of the lowest in the County for cities and villages. We also maintained our water and sewer rates with no increase, which was a goal of Council’s.
West Michigan Healing Fields
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in the West Michigan Healing Fields tribute to the 911 victims. The committee did an excellent job in putting on this event surrounded by an army of volunteers with significant support from our business community. What most people do not know is that this event was sponsored and unwritten by the Rockford Area Community Endowment (RACE). The Rockford Area Community Endowment is made up of representatives from the City of Rockford, surrounding townships, Rockford Public School District and four (4) at-large members. The Endowment Board has been working over the past several years to build its Endowment to a point where it can give grants back to the community. The Endowment took the significant financial risk of underwriting the Healing Field project and I want to personally thank the RACE Board of Directors for their progressive thinking in sponsoring this event. In the near future, the RACE Board of Directors will be taking the proceeds from the Healing Field event generated from sponsorship and flag sales and giving back grants to public safety agencies throughout the area. This event could not have become a reality without the generous financial support from the Rockford Area Community Endowment.
Wolverine World Wide
One of the questions I hear most often is the status of the Wolverine World Wide Development. Wolverine conducted a public open house earlier this month to discuss the status of their redevelopment. We have been very pleased with Wolverine’s attention to detail during the demolition phase of the tannery redevelopment, which has brought us to the point where we are at today. Wolverine has recently conducted a series of groundwater sampling for nearly 200 different components. Wolverine shared with the results with the community, which were very promising and informed us of their steps to take future samples throughout the fall. Wolverine also shared several conceptual plans for the ultimate development of the site, which were exciting to see. With all things progressing as they are today, we would look for the perimeter fencing around the site to be removed in the spring, which would allow the public to enjoy the nearly fifteen (15) acres of lawn area prior to the ultimate development of the site. Timing is certainly dictated by Wolverine and I would like to personally thank them for their continued commitment to our community.
Meter Changeout Program
We have been working over the last several months to evaluate changing out our water meters for all water customers throughout the City. This is something the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is looking for communities to do to ensure we maintain the state of the art water system and high water quality standards. We will be making a proposal to Council the next month or two for approval of a meter change out. If approved, we will look to replace one-fifth of the City’s meters each year until the change out is complete. Stay tuned for more updates on this very important project.
As discussed above, despite the difficult financial environment we are experiencing in Michigan, the City has been able to maintain its strong financial position. Of primary concern is maintaining our quality infrastructure. This year, we saw several projects initiated to help us achieve this goal. We repaved South Monroe, Fremont and Highlander Streets, which were ranked some of the lowest streets in our street ranking system. We were also able to repaint the North Rockford Middle School water tank and are planning to extend the Rogue River Nature Trail on the west side of the Rogue River to the Riverchase Subdivision. This trail extension will be made possible through a $95,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund. This project is currently in permitting and while we were hoping to complete it yet this construction season, it is looking more likely that it will be constructed in the spring of next year. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting park expansion. We also have two (2) resident initiated projects that have been considered by Council. The Rockford Historical Society has received a one-year time period to raise funds to relocate the Rockford Museum to the old 63rd District Court House. This approval is contingent upon the Historical Society meeting several milestones. The first being a presentation of their refined budget as part of the October Council meeting. The Society is currently in a fundraising mode with half of the money to be raised by the end of this year. Another resident initiated project is a proposal to construct a dog park at the old ball field at Richardson Sowerby Park. Council also granted the Dog Park Committee a one year timeframe to raise the necessary funds for this project, which is estimated at $15,000. All indications are that the fundraising effort is going very well and for more information, please visit their Facebook Page at Rockford Dog Park.
I hope the information contained in this article is useful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact me at City Hall either by telephone at 866-1537 or by email a firstname.lastname@example.org, should you have any questions or concerns or requests from City staff. Communication with our residents is critical to us and we want to receive the important feedback that will help us as we move into the future. Please also visit our web page at www.rockford.mi.us or Facebook Page at City of Rockford, MI to receive more frequent updates on City news.