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Northville Area Leaders Optimistic Despite Economy

City and township leaders join schools to highlight progress and challenges at State of the Community luncheon.

The area's challenging economy was the focal point of Wednesday's annual State of the Community meeting of leaders from the City of Northville, Northville Township and the Northville Schools.

Hosted by the Northville Chamber of Commerce, speakers this year included representatives from all governmental entities, including Northville Township Supervisor Mark Abbo, Northville Mayor Chris Johnson, outgoing Superintendent of Schools Leonard Rezmierski and 20th District State Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth.

Each one touched on Michigan’s still-challenging economy and how their governmental bodies are faring in the face of massive cuts that will likely be put into place once the state adopts its budget.

"We’re working hard to make sure that we make the decisions that will create jobs to improve this difficult economy that has lasted so long,” said Heise, who left the gathering to return to Lansing because the legislature was in session.

But fiscal issues aside, governmental leaders chose to focus on things are working, as opposed to not working, in the current environment.

Northville Township

Abbo said that Northville Township is an example of a community which already does the mandates Gov. Rick Snyder’s is proposing regarding sharing services. He said Wednesday that he invites Snyder to see what he calls "best practices" at work.

“I would ask the governor to come here to see best practices, because we’ve been sharing services for a long time,” Abbo said.

Currently, Northville City and Township share parks and recreational services, senior services, 911 dispatch services and fire services.

Recently, the City of Plymouth entered into an agreement to turn over fire services to the Northville Fire Department at the end of this year.

Recent developments that occurred in the township include the push forward on a development plan for the former hospital on 7 Mile Road. A master plan for the 330-acre property is underway.

In addition, Abbo touted that fact that Northville Township has experienced a population boom, at the time other communities experienced a bust.  According to 2010 census data, there was a 35 percent increase in population since the last census.

City of Northville

Northville Mayor Chris Johnson said the forethought of the current administration and past administrations has paid off in terms of reducing debt in the city. He cited the fact that city and its collective bargaining units agreed in 1996 to a defined contribution plan – as opposed to a defined benefit plan – for all employees hired after that year, which will eliminate some legacy costs.

But like Abbo, Johnson said he believed Northville City and Township are good examples of what Snyder said he’s like to see with all municipal governments – more shared services.

“We have several different partnerships going on in our communities right now,” he said. “We have partnerships with the township, with the school district, with Livonia – all of these make our community better.”

Current partnerships include shared 911 dispatch services, fire services and recreational services, Johnson said.

Like other cities, Northville dealt with dwindling state funding. In 2001, the city received $332,000 in state shared revenue. But in 2010, that had fallen to $80,000, and this year, will be $53,000, Johnson said.

Still, many projects are on tap for this year. Johnson also said that work started on the Streetscape Project, which will improve sidewalks on both East and West Main streets, and other adjacent streets. The project began after the city retained a $700,000 grant.

“We have a fund balance in the city that allows us to apply for grants that require a match,” he said. “A lot of municipalities are not applying for those.”

Northville Schools

Northville Schools will face a $470 cut in state per-pupil funding, a cost increase of $230 per students for pension contributions and additional cuts – leaving Rezmierski with few desirable options to cut a $7 million deficit, he said.

District officials have indicated more than 50 teachers are facing layoff; class sizes could increase to up to 37 students each for the 2011-12 school year if the cuts are approved at the proposed aforementioned levels.

Rezmierski tried to put a humorous spin on what has been a difficult time for public schools, showing a slide of himself super-imposed selling pies at a farmer’s market to raise money for education, and later putting on a light-up wizard hat when he pondered what state officials expect when it comes to balancing the books for the district.

“Truth be told, I’ve never made a pie,” he said. “But that’s just about how bad it is – there’s just nothing left [to cut].”

Rezmierski urged residents to vote yes on a 1-mill sinking fund proposal that would raise $2.4 million per year for five years to make repairs and upgrades to buildings.

“The money can only be used for physical improvements,” he said. “There are two reasons to vote for it – it would take some pressure off of our general operating budget, and it would make sure that all of our buildings are safe for students.”

Eric Barritt, the president of the Northville Education Foundation, announced that at a $500,000 donation from an unnamed donor was made to the foundation to be put towards a sinking fund, and to send a message to the community to support the millage.

At least one attendee at the luncheon was pleased with how the officials have dealt with the problems.

“I think what [officials] have been going through is difficult, but I’m glad to see that the people that live in the city are continuing to do well,” said Keith Wilson, a community development manager for the Feldman Automotive automobile dealership. “I’m glad that the officials seem to be staying ahead of what’s happening – not every community has been doing as well.”

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