With the beginning of a new decade, Farmington Hills has two new city council members and a mayor who already knows the ropes.
Jackie Boleware and Mary Newlin in November joined council members Michael Bridges, Ken Massey (who previously served on council and as mayor), Valerie Knol, and Samantha Steckloff.
Mayor Vicki Barnett returns to the office after 12 years. During the interim, she served three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives.
Barnett said she’s excited to work with the new council and residents on “issues of redevelopment and keeping Farmington Hills the safest and best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
”We have some interesting challenges ahead,” she said. “We’ve had an economic expansion over the last 10 years, and one day, we’re gonna slow down. We have to prepare financially for that.”
Barnett said the city’s property tax burden, which has typically been a 60/40 split between residential and commercial properties, has shifted so that residents now shoulder 65 percent, which particularly affects seniors on a fixed income.
“It will continue to move that way if we don’t encourage economic development and growth,” she said.
Developers are looking at property in the 14 Mile/Orchard Lake/Northwestern Highway area, and there’s an infill development project in the works off of 10 Mile and Orchard Lake Roads. Barnett said opportunity lies in getting developers to “think outside the box.”
Examples may include housing geared toward millennials and seniors who are downsizing, folks who will be looking for homes with more open space and smaller rooms, and projects oriented to allow for solar roofing tiles.
“We’ll be looking at changing our ordinances to allow for these novel developments,” she said.
Young families boost schools
Barnett said she’d also like to see the city find a way to attract young families with children, which would boost Farmington Public Schools. She has concerns over the loss of students and quality in the district.
“The schools can’t control their finances,” Barnett said, adding that parents have had to pick up the slack with increases in athletic fees, volunteering, and fundraising. “Our school administrators are desperately working to deal with these issues… The city’s role is to encourage young families to move here.”
“Schools are the underpinning of our property values,” she said. “We all moved here because our schools are excellent. They’re still in the top 20 percent, but we want better.”
Barnett also hopes to set up meetings with Farmington Schools middle and high school students, to find out what’s on their minds. “I want to hear what their hopes and dreams are. They don’t have a vote, but they have an opportunity to participate.”
Safety is also high on the new mayor’s list of concerns, and maintaining Farmington Hills’ ranking among Michigan’s safest cities. The city has a well-educated police force that places an emphasis on community policing, Barnett said.
The city will also this year see the opening of a new community center and park in the former Harrison High School on 12 Mile Road. The Hawk “is going to be a great amenity when it’s done. I love the idea of a community asset staying the community,” she said.
Another major concern, Barnett said, is the 2020 Census and how counts will be done. The result is critical to a number of city programs, funding for infrastructure, education, and special projects, and ensuring the city is represented at the federal and state levels.
“The census is what is used to base CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding in certain census tracts for citizens who don’t have the ability to fund (home) repairs themselves,” Barnett said. “It gives us information about the nature and character of the people who live here, which helps us provide our residents the services they need. Undercounting is not an option we want.”