Birmingham discusses city's long-range plans
By Kevin Elliott
The Birmingham City Commission and department heads spent the day on Saturday, January 23, discussing long-range plans for the city, including a five-year financial forecast, significant services and programs and facility upgrades.
The city’s independent auditor, Plante Moran, provided a five-year financial forecast of the city, including the city’s general fund, major street fund, local street fund and water and sewer funds.The auditor said the city is expected to see continued growth in property tax revenue, which has increased each of the past eight years. At the same time, capital costs are expected to rise with some planned capital projects. Still, the city’s general fund balance policy requires it to be maintained at 17 percent, which the city is expected to do in each of the next five years.
“The city of Birmingham, Michigan, continues to be an example of strong fiscal management,” the auditors said in its report. “With careful planning and investing, the city will be able to remain a positive model to other communities and to maintain a strong bond rating that results.”
Projected infrastructure projects include implementing an ongoing backyard sewer and water master plan, which aims to rehabilitate or abandon most public sewers and water mains located in backyards by 2019. About five to six blocks remain to be completed.
In terms of water distribution, the city is still in the process of replacing lead service water lines,as mandated under state law. About 631 lead service lines remain to be replaced, with seven percent, or about 52, required each year. Another 100 replacements are planned for 2021.
Birmingham city engineer Jim Surhigh said more than 52 lead service lines were replaced by September 2020, with the program being well-received by property owners.
Other projects include $1.2 million in sidewalk and streetscape improvements on S. Old Woodward in 2022-23; and alleyway improvements along W. Maple Road and Pierce Street.
Roadwork projects greater than $200,000 for 2020 and 2021 include Grant Street, from E. Lincoln to Humphrey ($350,000); Cranbrook from Maple to 14 Mile ($300,000); Oakland Boulevard, from N. Old Woodward to Woodward ($300,000); Maple Road, from Southfield to Woodward ($2.5 million); Peabody from E. Maple to Brown ($200,000); Pierce from Lincoln to Bird ($400,000); Redding, from Lake Park to Woodward ($450,000); N. Adams Road, north end ($200,000); S. Old Woodward, Brown Street to Landon Street ($4 million); and S. Eton, from Yosemite to 14 Mile ($1.7 million).
Birmingham Parks and Recreation Manager Carrie Laird said the first phase of the parks bond, or $4.75 million, includes Adams Park development; a plan for an entry plaza at Booth Park with gardens and seating; the ice arena locker room expansion; playgrounds at Springdale, Crestview and Howarth Parks; pickleball; and trail improvements, beginning in 2020-21. Phase II will begin in 2023-24, and will cover playgrounds at Lincoln Well and Pumphouse, Linden, Pembroke, and St. James parks; splash pad; Poppleton Park playground with drainage improvements; and Kenning Park playgrounds, fields 1 and 4, and a new walking path, in the amount of $6.5 million.
Discussion of parks and recreation priorities sparked discussion as to what the long-term costs of the ice arena will be to the city, a point of contention with some commission members.
“I would like to see the full costs,” said commissioner Mark Nickita. “This talks about revenues and expenses on a month-by-month basis and other efficiency savings, but there should be a recognition of the $5 million needed to get us there, and how that factors into the facility over time.”
The city also is in the process of beginning the second draft of the city’s 2040 Master Plan. Birmingham city planner Nicholas Dupuis said planning will continue to embrace green planning, including green stormwater infrastructure, native plantings, solar energy and historic preservation when possible.
In addition, library director Rebekah Craft presented the third and final phase of improvements at Birmingham’s Baldwin Public Library. Craft went over highlights of the proposed project, which includes a new street-level entrance with an elevator and wheelchair ramp; a cafe and collaboration space; brightened space with a large skylight; improved exterior appearance; renovation of the circulation area; an expanded Idea Lab; and an updated plaza that would better integrate with Shain Park and the city’s civic center.
Craft said the improvements, which would cost between $3 million and $3.2 million, depending on specific options, will be scheduled for 2023, assuming the public and city commission are willing and financing is available. However, planning and design processes would begin in the latter half of 2021.
The Phase Three plan was originally proposed to the city commission in 2016, with construction to begin in 2023. The project would require a continuation of the library’s existing millage, up to its cap through the 2023-26 fiscal year. The library has collected its maximum millage amount since 2016, which have funded the first two phases of improvements at the library.
Craft said the Phase Three improvements were proposed as the result of citizen surveys, focus groups and community forums the library has conducted between 2012 and the present.
Specific improvements include better access for senior citizens and handicapped patrons, as well as those using strollers. Craft said poor access, especially the lack of a street-level entrance, is one of the most mentioned shortcomings of the library that citizens have asked to be addressed.
A cafe and collaboration space with tables and chairs would be run by a third-party provider. The city commission at its 2020 long-range planning meeting indicated a cafe would be a high priority.
A brightened space would be designed continue the “let there be light” theme of the original 1927 building. A large skylight would be installed over the front entrance to provide light and a view of the original building. An improved exterior would include energy-efficient floor-to-ceiling glass and an entrance that would infuse light into the currently dark entryway.
The circulation area would be renovated into a “commons” area, connecting the Grand Hall, the Youth Room and Adult Services Department. The library’s Idea Lab, which was created in 2017, features digitizing software and hardware, and other features used in creative tech projects. That area would be expanded.
The Phase Three plans also includes three optional add-ons, including movable glass walls by the front entrance, solar panels and granite trim at the plaza, which would increase the total by about $250,000.