Take Note: City's Plans Will Affect You
Much was discussed at Birmingham's long-range planning session Saturday morning. Here's what we're keeping an eye on.
There’s a lot in store for Birmingham this year, and on Saturday, those plans were the only topic of discussion at the City Commission’s long-range planning session.
Perhaps you were hanging around your computers Saturday and caught Birmingham Patch’s live coverage of the meeting, complete with detailed descriptions of every agenda item as it was presented to the commission.
Hey, maybe you were there yourself. There’s always a healthy number of residents at Birmingham’s bimonthly City Commission meetings, but the number present so early Saturday morning was surprising. Kudos, Birmingham, on the impressive level of civil engagement.
But then, maybe you had something better to do than sit in City Hall for six hours on a Saturday and maybe coverage from a six-hour meeting seems a bit daunting to read now (it’s definitely not short). However, that’s no excuse not to keep up with what’s going on at 151 Martin St. or to be unaware of the issues your leaders are discussing.
Luckily, I hang out at City Hall a lot, so here are the issues I'm going to be keeping an eye on this year:
- The Planning Department is always working on multiple projects, but residents are going to notice if the department presents plans to allow food vendors to set up shop on city streets and in parks. Planning Director Jana Ecker said any plans would include stipulations on the number of vendors and where they can set up. Tentative locations include Booth and Shain parks, the green space in front of the Pierce Street parking garage and the alley near Tokyo Sushi. However, there’s quite a bit of contention on this subject from members of the Principal Shopping District, who are wary of the competition.
- According to audit and accounting firm Plante Moran, the city’s finances are doing OK—better than surrounding communities, but still facing challenges. Expenditures are expected to remain relatively flat going into the next few years, but Plante Moran’s five-year financial forecast calls for revenue in 2015 falling to levels not seen since 2005. The general fund is also expected to slide to $4.6 million in 2015.
- The Department of Public Services aims to roll out new water meters in the upcoming year, promising customer service will improve, water loss will go down and the department will spend less money on meter readers. The project is expected to cost $2.6 million, but it may save the city $1.6 million over 10 years and $3.3 million over 20 years in personnel costs and water that won't be lost due to leaky meters.
- Updates to sections of the city’s sewer and water system is a perennial topic of debate in Birmingham, and the Engineering Department presented options for residents in the eastern half of the city and the Quarton Lake district, where they may have to reline and replace sewers in upcoming years. City engineer Paul O’Meara is eager to get started on the project and offered to begin inspections of backyard sewers this summer. However, Commissioner Tom McDaniel warned him that residents are going need time to understand the issue and the work involved.
- Baldwin Public Library Director Doug Koschik touched on several parts of the library’s 2011-13 strategic plan, the biggest item on the to-do list being negotiations between the library and the city of Bloomfield Hills. Baldwin is considering offering library services to our neighbors to the north, similar to the program offered to residents of Beverly Hills and Bingham Farms.
I was impressed with the entire process behind the long-range planning session. Commissioners moved things along at a good clip (even if presentations eventually went over their prescribed time limit), yet residents still had plenty of opportunities to comment on plans and make their own suggestions.
It was particularly nice to see Birmingham’s incoming city manager, Bob Bruner—who takes over as the city’s chief executive Feb. 14—present at the meeting as well. Though he couldn’t participate yet as city manager, Bruner jumped into the discussion on new water meters, making it clear he isn’t shy.
Plus, these meetings are always chances to learn something new. Did you know, for example, that ice cream trucks aren't allowed in Birmingham under the current vendor ordinance? Plans to allow street vendors may change that.
Although these issues sound important to me, perhaps they're not what matters to you. There was a lot on the agenda Saturday morning, so let me know: What issues do you think are the most important for Birmingham going into the next few years? While I can't promise that any of these projects will come to fruition in 2011, I can promise you this: Whatever you care about, I'll be there to write about it.