Good Evening. It is my honor, as Mayor of the City of Menominee, to deliver the 2020 State of the City Address.
As has been our history, the last year brought us events to celebrate as well as those that tried us, all of which were overlaid by the continuing COVID pandemic. As a community, we continued to persevere and adapt to our collective situation.
Some of the notable successes of the last year were the completion of road projects, the purchase of major equipment in the form of a much-needed replacement for the Sewer Vactor, and the purchase of a police vehicle and radios. The Library replaced one HVAC rooftop unit and new turbidity meters, which measure particulates in water, were purchased for our water department. The most observable success, which would not have been possible without the generosity of the John Henes Foundation and the efforts of Johanna and Tom Lewis, was the complete replacement of the old beach house with an impressive new structure that will be utilized by residents and visitors for generations. They also funded the rebuilding of the footbridge and improvements to the ponds within the park. The City of Menominee is blessed to be the recipient of such bountiful philanthropy, which, to date, is just under a total of $780 thousand dollars.
I would like to point to other achievements that should be highlighted as they are much less publicly noticeable. First, was the receipt of a clean, unqualified audit presented by Joe Verlin of the firm Gabridge & Co. During his presentation, he commented on the professionalism of Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Brofka and her team. While the audit firms have changed over the years, the report has not and we should not take for granted the hard work of our department head and her staff. Also of note, our assessor, Peg Bastien, has done an outstanding job reversing the challenge that she inherited. Through her diligent effort, we have received a perfect AMAR score in the Assessor’s Department. This is a far cry from our trouble that began in 2015; she should be applauded for her success on behalf of the City. We also had a Presidential election in November with a record turnout of absentee ballots and again, Kathy Brofka and Susan Johnson were tireless in their efforts to have this run smoothly and we thank them for their hard work.
During the last year, we relied heavily on City attorney, Michael Celello, of the firm Mouw and Celello, in the arduous undertaking of drafting ordinances necessary for opting into the legalized sale of marijuana in the City of Menominee. This issue evoked strong feelings within the community. However, it appeared to Council that we should accept the legalization trend that is sweeping the country. Therefore, we carefully crafted new ordinances to govern the process. The permit-issuing process will begin in the coming months.
As I stated last year, the water levels are wreaking havoc on our shoreline. This year, through monies granted by the DNR, we were able to place 980 linear feet of riprap along Harbor Drive. This has all but eliminated the severe flooding and rock displacement that had taken place due to wave action during storms. We still have much to do, however, in attending to our parks’ shorelines and the flooding at Riverpark campground. City Recreation Director Joan Kosewski continually evaluates the situation at the campground and recommends adjustments as we search for a solution.
The City lost several long-time employees to retirement this year: Library Director Cheryl Hoffman and DPW Cemetery foreman Tom Lafleur, who have given decades of service to the City of Menominee will be greatly missed. We wish them both a long and happy retirement and welcome their incoming replacements, Mr. Blair Nelson at Spies Public Library and Mr. John Jasenovsky at Riverside Cemetery.
The Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Brett Botbyl, continues to fundraise for the K-9 program. The total of gifts to date is $82,000 with expenses thus far of about $26,000. Two officers have been trained to handle our new dog, who has been named Dash. A promise was made to Council that this program would be fully funded through donations and we wish continued success to the Chief and his Department in funding and utilizing their newest asset.
As mentioned, there are some less positive issues that need to be touched upon if we are to have full disclosure and transparency in our government. We do not have a clear plan in place yet as to the expenditure of the remaining milage funds for road improvements. Nor do we yet understand the costs associated with the lead and copper pipe unfunded mandate. We have human resource shortages which need to be addressed within the City but the most troubling issue is the continuing drain of our unassigned fund balance. In the last 24 months, the balance has decreased by approximately $350,000. The projected deficit for fiscal year-end 2021 is $306, 000. This amounts to a number just between a half and three-quarters of a million dollar reduction in our savings account. The current balance of that account is $2,349,000 and, simply put, there is a finite amount of money available in that account. We cannot go on this way and remain solvent. COVID and climate change are not to blame for this issue. There are too many overruns and avoidable emergencies. This has been an ongoing trend and it needs to be addressed immediately. How long can we operate in arrears? Council, it is incumbent upon us to take action to reverse this downward spiral as property taxes alone are not keeping pace with expenses. We have three options: increase revenue, cut expenses, or both but the option we do not have is to be presented deficit budgets annually. Eighteen months have elapsed and we have yet to see a plan for the Klar gift to the City. However, in their bequeathment the acceptable uses were quite specific: the library and recreation. This gift is not a Band-Aid for our problems.
We operate at a disadvantage during this COVID crisis. Zoom meetings do not take the place of sitting together to address and resolve our significant issues. During the next year, we must make progress toward living within our means. As always, I wish to thank the dedicated staff and employees of the City who serve our public, especially during this time. I would like to thank all of the Department Heads who put in whatever effort it takes to get the job done, often at the expense of their personal time. I want to acknowledge the many citizens who unselfishly give of their time to serve on boards and commissions for the benefit of this community; we could not function without you. I would also like to thank all of our citizen volunteers who quietly give so many hours of service without any expectation of recognition.
Finally, I wish for steady progress to end this once-in-a-century world crisis, and look forward to the day when our local businesses are again thriving, friends and neighbors are gathering, and events are held for celebrating. Until that time, let’s keep working diligently forward for the benefit of the City and the fine people who reside within it.