Farmington Voice sent questionnaires to five Farmington city council and four Farmington Hills city council candidates. Responses are being published in the order they were received. Read all of our election coverage here: farmingtonvoice.com/tag/elections
What best qualifies you to serve on Farmington city council?
Experience, Experience, Experience. I am fully invested in Farmington. For the past 30 years Farmington has been my home for my wife Anne and our children. During that period, I have been intimately involved with our community in one way or another. I have been involved with the City Administration in various positions for nearly 15 years, the past 4 years, serving on the City Council. Prior to that I served on the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals. I also serve as Farmington’s representative on the 8 Mile Boulevard Association and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. Additionally, I have served on numerous study committees and boards.
So, when discussions concerning the Farmington Vision Plan, Downtown Area Plan, Grand River Corridor Plan, the Parks and Recreation Plan or the Capital Improvement Plan, I don’t just know that they exist, but I have inherent knowledge of it’s content since I was involved with their development. Many of those plans are now showing the fruits of our collective efforts. The redevelopment of the Kmart site, the new Fresh Thyme Grocery, the proposed new development at the Maxfield Training Center and the anticipated new development on the old courthouse property on Ten Mile Road to name a few.
Other community activities which I have been involved with include: South Farmington Blues baseball coach (13 years), Director of the South Farmington Blues Invitational Tournaments (9 years), Farmington High School Hockey Booster Club president (5 years) and Farmington First United Methodist Church finance committee and staff parish relations committees.
I also bring to the City Council the experience as a registered architect (30+ years) and a business owner for nearly 25 years. 17 years ago, I purchased and renovated the building where our 16 professional employees provide architectural and engineering services regionally as well as nationally. I deal with different communities every day. I am able to gain a unique perspective on what other communities do well and where they fall short. I understand issues regarding our roads, water and sewer systems. I understand the balance between historical preservation, for which I have won awards, and the necessity to grow our tax base. I feel I have the ability to properly lead Farmington into the future.
I understand the issues business owners deal with every day. Making payroll, dealing with governmental bureaucracies, personnel issues, creating and maintaining budgets and planning for the future are just a few issues I deal with regularly. I bring a common sense, fiscally sound approach to the Council.
There is time for information gathering and contemplation, but endless discussions of issues do not move the City forward. Hard decisions will need to be made and I have a solid track record of accomplishments. I bring to our community, my ties, my commitment, my education, my decision making and extensive experience as a businessman and architect to the City Council, which make me the best qualified candidate.
Describe your vision for the future of Farmington looking 10 years ahead.
I feel this is the most important task of a City Council Member: How will the policies implemented by the Council impact the future of the City. Some might desire no change to occur. They believe they can hold onto the past, preserve anything old with a new coat of paint will suffice. All the while, change is happening all around us. People’s views on desired businesses, adequate housing or necessary city services, change. Change is inevitable. I believe controlled change, in the manner desired by our neighbors is. positive and healthy. To control change you cannot be reactionary, you need to get out in front of an issue.
Farmington is well positioned for the future. Aside from the City Master Plan and the DDA Downtown Master Plan, our neighbors, businesses and stakeholders have already taken the time to delve into various areas of our city to create a more detailed road map for the future. I am proud to say I, along with many of our neighbors have participated in various plans and studies which include: The Farmington Vision Plan, The Downtown Area Plan, The Grand River Corridor Improvement Plan, The Parks and Recreation Master Plan, The Orchard Lake and Ten Mile Intersection Study and the Rouge River Nature Trail Project. As mentioned these plans and studies act as the road map of the desired development.
It is with that background that I feel I can confidently follow the road map to imagine what Farmington would look like in 10 years.
The new multi-story residential development at the Maxfield Training Center has been completed. As a result of the influx of new downtown residents, new businesses and restaurants have opened in downtown. The retail shops to the east of Fresh Thyme will be reconstructed to multi-story mixed use development. The Farmington Streetscape (similar to the streetscaping along Grand River) has been implemented. A permanent public art program has taken hold with much public support. A new mixed-use development has been constructed on the current city hall site. A new modern city hall is constructed south of downtown.
Parking issues are being addressed with public private partnerships. New technology will assist employees and patrons where available parking is located on a real-time basis. Walkability has improved with additional crosswalks and warning beacons. Additional bike lanes have been implemented throughout the city.
New mixed-use housing, retail and office developments extending east from the downtown along Grand River to the Rouge River Bridge. The historic Farmington Junction Power House (Winery) will be renovated and repurposed into a mixed-use development which will attract regional interest. As part of that development the beginning of the Rouge River Nature Trail will begin to take place with a river access node. Another river access node is developed at the Grand River Bridge. Because of the Winery renovation, new development is occurring in that entire area.
Our real strength will be our neighborhoods. Public Safety services will remain premiere with Farmington continuing to be one of the safest places in the country to live. With the increased walkability, bikeability and the ease of access to the downtown; demand for our neighborhoods will be strong resulting in higher property values. Our current housing stock will continue to be updated by new families which will also keep our school system strong.
Our historical district will be strengthened. A consensus will have been developed where the residents of the district acknowledge that instead of owning (in a traditional sense) an historical home, they are actually stewards, preserving the heritage of our community. This is achieved by reasonable, clear and consistent application of the approved guidelines. Residents surrounding the historical district as well as elsewhere throughout the city see how the increased value benefits them; as a result, the size of the historical district increases. New housing is located adjacent to the sledding hill (the sledding hill remains) replacing the old courthouse, school, bus garage and school administration buildings.
The growth in development and property values increases our tax base which begins to alleviate the budgetary pressures on city administration. Through attrition, sound financial management and decisions previously made by the City Council, retiree health and pension demands will have subsided and no longer a major obstacle on the City’s budget. Technology has fully taken hold of the public works department with their files and records are fully integrated. Our roads, water and sewer systems will be continually monitored and maintenance and repair programs performed more efficiently and consistently. The budget contains funds for capital improvements for our parks, parking lots, streetscapes, public safety equipment and cultural and recreational activities.
Based upon our recent successes and our road maps for the future, Farmington is positioned for prosperity. It is imperative that we maintain our momentum.
What is Farmington’s most critical challenge today and how should the community address it?
Balancing the budget. Our neighbors expect and deserve high quality services: safe neighborhoods and streets, 2-minute emergency response times, quality roads, dependable sewer and water systems. Curbside leaf pick-up and 24-hour snow plowing are also special services which elevates Farmington as a desirable place to live.
Just over half of the City’s revenues come from property taxes. Proposition A combined with the drop in property values resulting from the great recession, means every mil levied by the City generates approximately $100,000 less than 2007. This translates to about 1 1⁄2 million dollars per year. So, for the past 10 years the City has been sustaining our quality services with less revenue.
Unfortunately, one of the significant areas which were cut or saw significant reductions was for capital improvements. These are things like maintenance of our roads, water, sewer, parks, parking lots, vehicles, buildings and grounds. The lack of re-investment into our infrastructure and deferred maintenance is beginning to show throughout the City and we need to begin to address this more aggressively. I was a member of the steering committee which recently completed Farmington’s first capital improvement program in many years. The capital improvement program and capital expenditures looked at potential projects over the next 5 years.
These were identified as: urgent, necessary-short term, necessary-long term or desired-not necessary. In all, 141 projects were identified with an approximate cost of $28 million.
Obviously, we will not be able to address all the projects but we need to have a starting reference point.
To put additional pressure on the budget, the Employee’s Retirement Pension System (MERS) changed their amortization policy which over the next five years will raise annual contributions by over $500,000.
The State of Michigan is not helping Farmington. The amount of funds (revenue obtained by state income taxes and sales taxes) sent back from the State does not even meet the amount required by our state statute. If you were to compare revenue sharing to local municipalities of every state in the union, Michigan would be dead last. Some states have seen over 100% increases. In fact, Michigan is the only state where there has been a decrease in funding. Until the State of Michigan gets their act together and changes how local municipalities are funded, we are on our own.
I am not in favor of raising your taxes to resolve the budget shortfalls. The best way to increase our tax base is to grow our way out. Farmington is an older community which is fully “built out”. We don’t have acres of vacant land where new development can occur. This means some of our structures will be replaced with higher density redevelopment projects. I believe this can be accomplished in a manor desired by the majority of our neighbors and without the City losing its character or heritage.
In order to attract new development, we need to allow for the developer to make a profit. So, when you hear people wanting less dense projects, that may sound great, but if the economies of scale diminish, the potential developers will look elsewhere and as a community we are left with a vacant or underutilized building (or property) with no expansion of our tax base. I believe I have the right experience and qualifications to help lead the City out of our budget issues.
What do/will you do on a personal level to engage residents in city government and ensure that
you’re hearing from a broad cross-section of the community?
For the past 30 years I have lived, and the past 17 years worked, in the city of Farmington, so I am engaged with the community on a daily basis in one form or another. It’s interesting how much you can ascertain on how the City is functioning and providing services to our citizens just by being around and observing ones surroundings. Are the streets plowed, is the garbage picked up, are the leaves being pick up, what are the conditions of the roads, are there emergency DPW projects underway?
That doesn’t mean I have extensive interaction with a broad cross-section of people on a daily basis, but I do think I am to able feel the pulse of the city. I will continue to engage our community by attending as many organizational or group functions held throughout the city as possible. I am always amazed and impressed on how many types there are, each with their own focus throughout the City and most them are volunteer driven. It’s there I can engage and hear from our neighbor’s regarding their issues and concerns.
Additionally, our local newspapers and electronic media such as the Voice are good resources for our community. I do go on a few of the social media sites. Unfortunately, there are many times were social media is all about rumors and uninformed rants. I don’t usually respond on the sites since most issues cannot be properly or fully vetted in that format. Also, the social media sites do not represent a full cross-section of our community. They appear to have a greater base of support, but in actuality it is a very vocal but small minority.
As I have been out campaigning and knocking on doors for the past few weeks I have been able to engage in a broad cross-section of our community. What I have found, is that what is most important to our neighbors does not extend much beyond their own driveway; safe streets, good roads, reliable water, sewer and electric, trash pickup and they love the curbside leaf pick-up.
When I ask them about other issues in the City or other concerns, the majority says they like living in Farmington, they like the direction the City is heading in and keep doing what you are doing.