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2017/2018 Proposed Budget
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Administrative Policy for Agenda Items
Effective immediately, the City of West Branch hereby adopts the following administrative policy:
The same policy pertains to written materials that individuals would like Council Members/Board Members/Commission Members to review prior to meetings--i.e., in order for said materials to be compiled, scanned, and inserted into packets for review, they must be received no later than NOON three (3) business days prior to the meeting in question.
NOTE--Nothing in this newly adopted administrative policy should be interpreted to override pre-existing policies set by ordinance, including procedures for reviews of zoning applications, etc., which may have their own standards regarding timelines for submission and review.
ALSO NOTE--This policy also does not prohibit parties from appearing at public meetings and speaking during "Public Comment" sections, nor does it prohibit parties from requesting to have their matters be considered as "Additions to the Agenda." However, administrative policy will be such that administration may recommend that the respective Council/Board/Commission should postpone making any decisions regarding any issues brought up during "Public Comment" as well as any issues presented as "Additions to the Agenda" so that administration has sufficient time to research said issues and make recommendations to the respective Council/Board/Commission prior to a decision being made.
Anyone with questions regarding this policy may contact City Clerk/Treasurer John Dantzer at (989) 345-0500.
City Manager Report
Department Profiles—Department of Public Works (DPW)Most people have seen members of the City DPW crew at one point or another, but how many really know what it is that their department does? After all, what does the term “Public Works” mean anyways? Well, according to the American Public Works Association, “Public works is the combination of physical assets, management practices, policies, and personnel necessary for government to provide and sustain structures and services essential to the welfare and acceptable quality of life for its citizens.” However, if I had to put it into my own words, I would say that a public works department essentially oversees the proper functioning, care, and maintenance of all City-owned buildings, parks, facilities, equipment, and infrastructure, including roads, sidewalks, water and sewer pipes, etc. As you can imagine, this is no small undertaking. With a lean crew of only four full-time employees, including the DPW Superintendent, our City DPW has its work cut out for it. But we are extremely fortunate to have a hardworking group of dedicated employees who put that extra bit of effort in everyday to make sure that City residents are receiving top-notch services for their tax dollars. The West Branch DPW is headed by Superintendent Dennis Jameson, who has over 30 years of experience working for the City, and is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the inner workings of the City’s infrastructure. If you ever have a question about a water main or a sewer pipe, he is definitely your man! Mr. Jameson is also extremely dedicated to his position with the City, and impresses me every day with the amount of commitment he displays. The West Branch DPW is also very blessed when it comes to the rest of its crew. Lead Heavy Equipment Operator Jeff Brindley has worked for the department for over five years and on top of being a great operator, also has excellent skills as a mechanic, which really comes in handy down at the DPW garage (which is located at 403 S. 1st St.). Our other two Heavy Equipment Operators—Howard Beach and Jason Winter—are both relatively new to their positions as operators. However, Mr. Beach, who brings a lot of great carpentry skills to the table, has been an employee of the City for several years, first in the Housing Department, and then later in the DPW, where he was initially employed as a general laborer up until his recent promotion to heavy equipment operator. Though Mr. Winter is a new hire, he is showing great promise and seems to be a quick study. Mr. Winter is also keen to learn more about the water operations of the City, including a 175 foot tall 500,000 gallon water storage tank (a.k.a. the “Smiley Tower”), and two 600 gallon-per-minute wells that have to be powerful enough to pump ground water up from a depth of 170 feet all the way up to the top of the 175 foot tall Smiley tower. It is very helpful to have all DPW employees eligible to operate heavy equipment, as many of the tasks required of a public works department require the use of some pretty powerful (and unique) machinery, such as the following: blade truck (a.k.a. large snow plow truck), backhoe, loader, grader, street sweeper, bucket truck, dump truck, sewer jetter, various tractors, and more. Our DPW employees use these pieces of equipment to accomplish a multitude of tasks that you might not even realize that they do—from grave openings to the repair of broken water mains. And I have said it before, but I will say it again because I believe that it is true and worth repeating—“People who work hard to serve the communities that they love should always be appreciated!”—and sometimes jobs like those in the DPW go underappreciated. So the next time that you see a DPW worker, don’t be shy! Feel free to tell them how much you appreciate everything that they do for our community. Heather Grace can be reached online at email@example.com, or by calling (989) 345-0500.
Department Profiles—City Police Department
The City of West Branch is extremely fortunate when it comes to staff, and as City Manager, I take great pride in knowing that I work with such a qualified and dedicated crew of individuals who are as committed as I am to keeping our community great.Of these City employees, each individual staff member is assigned to one of four main departments: (1) Department of Public Works, or “DPW;” (2) Wastewater Treatment Plant, or “WWTP;” (3) Police Department, or “PD;” and (4) City Hall Administration. Over the course of my next few articles, I will be doing some department profiles, to give everyone a better understanding of what each of these four departments does, and how they do it. I am starting my department profile discussion with a conversation centered around our city police department—mainly because most people would assume that they already know everything about what a police department does. I mean, it seems pretty self-explanatory, right? But even if you are fairly familiar police operations in general, there are major differences between how a large police force operates compared to how a small police force, such as the West Branch City Police Department operates.To start, the West Branch City PD is made up of four full-time officers: Chief Ken Walters, Sergeant Steve Morris, Officer Michael Godfrey, and Officer Blake Beehler. Part-time officers include: Officer Dalton Worthy and Officer Travis Collins. The City PD also employs two part-time, non-officer crossing guards who help with school traffic and student safety: Simone Willett and Thomas Wiles.This relatively small police force comes with its own unique challenges. However, it also presents itself with unique opportunities as well—especially when one considers the size of the area that is being patrolled. A recent conversation that I had with one of our officers really seemed to demonstrate this difference in a great way for me, so I will try to summarize it for you, to the best of my memory. One evening, a few weeks ago, I was at City Hall working late when Office Blake Beehler stopped by to pull some security camera footage off a surveillance hard drive. Officer Beehler often works the night shift and he is also the PD’s resident “techie,” so it is not unusual that he gets called to handle such computer-related matters. While he was there, Officer Beehler and I began discussing how he was enjoying his position working at the West Branch PD compared to his prior position working for a much large police force in a more metropolitan city. Officer Beehler indicated that not only was he thrilled to be back to the community that he loved, but that he also greatly enjoyed the opportunities available because he was an officer of a smaller police force. One example Officer Beehler cited was that in larger cities, the sheer volume of calls often forces officers on a call to take the information, create a report, and then quickly move on to the next call—often with little to no time available to do much more than that, simply due to the logistics of the situation. However, for police forces such as the West Branch City PD, where the officer-to-citizen ration is a much more manageable size, police officers actually have the time and resources to devote themselves to seeing situations through to favorable conclusions—i.e., they actually have the time to investigate crimes! While this seems so common sense, you might be surprised that this is not actually so common place. In fact, just from my own personal experience with living in the City of Lansing while I was attending law school, I can tell you that Officer Beehler’s observation is spot on. While officers of larger cities may have the best intentions in the world, if their police force is not adequately staffed to ensure a proper officer-to-citizen ration, call volume alone is sure to all but guarantee certain results.Luckily, that is not the case in West Branch. We have a quality police force that is dedicated to public safety, and also one that it fortunate enough to have a manageable call volume. This enables our officers to provide quality services to our citizens in the form of quick response times, thorough investigations, and even personal touches that really exemplify what small-town policing should be. A great example of this is a gas station employee who worked the night shift and felt uncomfortable walking alone out to her car late at night. So WB PD officers, like clockwork, made sure that a police car was stationed outside the gas station every night when her shift ended, to make sure that they felt safe getting to her vehicle. Another great example is a story I was told just last week by a merchant in one of our downtown businesses who mentioned to me that she had stayed late at her store to get some things done, and around 3AM she received a call on her office phone line. Knowing that it was unusual to receive a call that late at night/early in the morning, she answered, and as pleasantly surprised to learn that it was a West Branch City PD officer checking on her to make sure that she was alright, as the officer had noticed that her vehicle was still parked outside her business much later than she usually stays. That sort of neighborly concern and observation is not something that is typically available in larger police forces, and we are proud that it is an option available to our citizens.Our Chief Ken Walters also exemplifies what small town policing should be. He has the skills and credentials to work anywhere, but chooses to work at our small police force because he loves our community and is committed to our citizens, especially the youth of our area. Along with helping coach for the Falcon football program, Chief Walters has also dedicated himself to expanding the City’s “Bike Safety” program to create a wide-range of “Youth Safety Program” offerings, which are supported by individual contributions and donations from community sponsors. (For information on how you or your business can contribute, please contact Chief Walters at 989-345-2627).Additional small-town policing services that are typically not available in larger cities include: “home checks” (PD will check up on your home while you are on vacation, just call the PD to let them know when you will be gone); “lock-out service” (PD will help you when you accidentally lock your keys in your car); and more. Honestly, the list really does go on and on (and so do the great stories I can tell about each one of our officers). So the next time that you see an officer out on patrol, feel free to thank them for their service. People who work hard to serve the communities that they love should always be appreciated!
Blight Enforcement BeginsAs the snow fades and Spring returns, so too will builders and contractors looking to aid property owners who still need repairs after the terrible hail storm endured by City residents during the past year. This help is greatly needed, as our City suffered so much damage during the record-breaking storm. However, such a flurry of building activity does not come without unintended consequences. So residents are reminded that if they question any practices, they can reach out to City Hall [345-0500], City Police [345-2627 or 911 for emergencies], or the County Building & Zoning Department [345-5919].This Spring will also mark the starts of a new taskforce within the City, the goal of which will be to eliminate blight and dangerous buildings from the City. This taskforce, which will consist of the City Manager and the Department Heads from each City Department, will begin by taking inventory of which properties are most in need of enforcement. Then, when funds are allocated for the program at the start of the new fiscal year, work will begin in earnest to start more aggressive enforcement against properties deemed to be the worst offenders.That said, there are two major ways that citizens can help the City’s new Community Revitalization Taskforce: (1) Identification, and (2) Collaboration. For “Identification,” community members can help the Taskforce by sending in pictures and addresses of properties that they believe are dangerous or blighted. Residents can also help the Taskforce tremendously by helping us identify properties that are not blighted, but are merely hail damaged, and that have a pending insurance claim and repairs that are anticipated to be completed soon—that way the Taskforce does not expend time and resources beginning enforcement proceedings against a property that is about to be repaired. So if you are an owner of a property that is hail damaged and you want to make sure that the Taskforce does not consider putting your property on our list for enforcement, please send a letter to City Hall indicating the timeline for when you plan to have your property repaired. For “Collaboration,” the West Branch Community Revitalization Taskforce is also asking residents to consider volunteering their time to a new program that is being developed called “Smiley Helpers.” These helpers would volunteer their time to help clean up blighted properties (in cases where the owners agree to accept the assistance). This program is anticipated to be multi-faceted, and will hopefully run the gamut from volunteers who simply do weeding and painting, all the way up to “Habitat for Humanity” style effort, for those who have such skills and are willing to volunteer their time to help improve their community and help their neighbors.Those who would like to know more about the Smiley Helpers program or the West Branch Community Revitalization Taskforce are encouraged to contact City Manager Heather Grace at (989) 345-0500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Thank you, and have a marvelous Spring! : )Heather Grace City Manager
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New Road Funding Revenues
State-municipal revenue sharing is a topic that probably does not come up much in your everyday conversations. In fact, outside of a state or local government office, it is a subject that few people have ever even heard of, let alone spent much time talking about. But for those who are interested in getting a clearer picture of how municipal governments operate, revenue sharing is an essential issue. It is also something that has been making headlines lately, mainly due to the package of road funding bills that Governor Rick Snyder signed into law on November 9th. These new laws aim to raise an additional $1.2 billion per year to be spent on road and bridge repairs throughout the state. However, though some of the tax and fee hikes start relatively soon, in early 2017, the entire $1.2 billion annual increase will not take full effect until the year 2021. But what does this have to do with the City of West Branch, you may ask? “Act 51” refers to Public Act 51 of 1951, which is Michigan’s transportation funding act. While the details of this act are somewhat complex, it is essentially a plan for how to divide up the road monies that the state generates through gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. Once these funds are receipted by the State, the Michigan Department of Treasury uses the Act 51 guidelines to divide the funds between MDOT, public transit agencies, and local road agencies—such as road commissions or cities. Under this plan, with the State’s new road funding increases, the City of West Branch will be receiving an additional $40,905 in 2017, on top of what it would already be receiving otherwise. From there, the City will receive increases in road funding every year until 2021, when it will receive a total of $290,445 from the State to spend on road projects, compared to the $173,431 the City received in 2015. While state-municipal revenue sharing as a whole still remains low compared to past years, due to drastic cuts in statutory-general-fund revenue sharing, local road agencies throughout the state are very much looking forward to the increased road monies that will soon begin to be available. So while no one loves increased taxes, at least we can take some kind of solace in knowing that very soon these new gas tax increases will be making a real difference in the quality of our local roads. Heather Grace can be reached online at email@example.com, or by calling (989) 345-0500.
City of West Branch
121 N. 4th St.
West Branch, MI 48661
Ph: 989-345-0500 / Fax: 989-345-4390