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City reviews departments' long range planning

By Grace Lovins


The city of Birmingham held its once-a-year long range planning session on Saturday, January 21, with heads from each city department giving presentations on plans and past progress, with this year’s session including a five-year financial forecast, planned capital projects and infrastructure improvements, and updates to city facilities.


To start off the session, the commission reviewed the five-year financial forecast developed by finance director Mark Gerber and Plante Moran. Birmingham has seen revenue growth eight out of the last nine years, said Spencer Tawa of Plante Moran, which is led by property tax increases. This growth is expected to continue over the next five years. Birmingham’s general fund is also expected to climb throughout the forecasted five years.


Based on assumed costs of water and sewer services and the amount of water units sold, explained Tawa, the water and sewer rates are expected to steadily increase throughout the forecasted period. The unrestricted net position of both water and sewer funds – used for funding capital projects – are expected to decrease, which is driven by capital projects. Gerber noted that the unrestricted net position of the water and sewer funds is concerning, and the city is going to have to do a lot of balancing acts with the funds and its desired capital projects.


The initial requests by the engineering department for capital project funding had to be scaled back due to lack of funding, Tawa explained.


“If the city wants to continue supporting significant infrastructure improvements in the city, you’ll need to generate more revenue, whether that’s in the form of increased rates even more to help fund some of the requested improvements,” Tawa said.


The city was also awarded a Drinking Water Asset Management grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) for the development of a Water Asset Management Plan and the continuation of the water service line material verification program. The roughly $745,700 grant will supplement the city’s current lead service line replacement program and allow for the development of a management plan for the city’s water itself.


Birmingham’s lead service line replacement program began in 2019, according to Mike MacDonald with Hubbel, Roth & Clark, Inc. consulting, when the state began requiring cities that provide water to replace a certain percentage of all known lead service lines. Most of the program was funded partly between the city’s budget and Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. At the start of the program, Birmingham had 731 known lead service lines, but additional lead lines were identified as the program progressed, shifting the total to 776 lead service lines.


Since then, 558 service lines have been replaced or verified as of January 13, 2023. Although homeowners are not required to pay any cost for the replacement, 11 homeowners have decided to opt out of the program and over 200 homeowners have been unresponsive. As of the meeting, 207 service lines still need to be replaced, not including the homeowners that have declined to participate, says MacDonald.


Commissioners voted to approve the agreement with EGLE to receive the watear assedt management grant on Monday, January 23. On top of the grant, the city had also applied for Oakland County Planning Grant – for planning and maintenance of the city’s sewer and water distribution systems – an omnibus spending bill for the combined sewer system rehabilitation program. Birmingham will have just under $2.2 million total in grants over the next two-three years, according to city engineer Melissa Coatta.


The commission also reviewed a roadway assessment management plan produced by Hubbell, Roth & Clark (HRC), which showed that the city’s roadways were rated 5.04, rated on the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating system, earning just above a ‘poor’ rating. The five-year projection provided by HRC indicates, without significant funding, the quality of the roadways will decline.


HRC recommended the city continue updating the five year capital improvement plan, work with communities to secure additional funding, and reassess the roadway conditions every two years, evaluating the budget to keep contributing to improving road conditions.


Following the roadway assessment presentation, Coatta gave the commission a rundown of upcoming capital projects for 2023-2024. Projects from 2022 will continue into 2023, but the city also has plans to begin new construction projects for road improvements, sidewalk maintenance programs, infrastructure improvements and golf course improvements. Two projects of note include maintenance and new coating of the city’s two water towers as well as the Cranbrook non-motorized shared use path, which received funding through the Michigan Department of Transportation.


Other projects include the refurbishing of Brown Street, limiting the street to one lane with the addition of a crosswalk across Woodward Avenue; improvements between Westwood Drive, Oak Street and Raynale Street; as well as the 2022-2023 cape seal and asphalt resurfacing programs.


New to Birmingham, the city will also have a chance to establish an environmental sustainability committee, as noted by planning director Nick Dupuis. The final draft of the city’s 2040 master plan, which is still awaiting planning board approval, incorporates goals for sustainability. Dupuis stated that sustainability is going to become more of a central focus of the city. Commissioners were expected to vote Monday, January 23, to declare a climate emergency and establish an ad hoc environmental sustainability committee.


Building off a plan created for the 2022-2023 long range planning session, Birmingham police chief Scott Grewe updated officials on the remodel and additions to the police department and city hall. In 2022, former police chief Mark Clemence came to the commission with safety and security issues observed throughout the buildings. In July, the commission gave their approval to have an architect create conceptual designs addressing the safety concerns.


The latest renovations to the 95-year old building took place in 1983 – 30 years ago. Grewe explained that safety concerns include the lack of a sally port – a controlled entryway –which could be dangerous when transporting prisoners through an area often used by the public, the interview rooms can only be accessed through a public area, and the location of the police administration offices on the first floor of city hall. Right now, said Grewe, there’s no way of restricting somebody from walking into that office.


Other areas of concern include ADA-access and inner office safety and security. The architect for the project, Telluris Architecture, is expected to provide the city with conceptual designs and renderings by the first week of February, which will be presented to the historic district committee, planning board and city commission before July 1, 2023.


The Baldwin Public Library also presented plans for the third and final phase for library renovations. The phase three vision, part of the library’s long range building plan, includes the expansion and renovation of the circulation area and front entrance. Construction is expected to begin this July and slated to take between seven and eight months. The library will remain open during construction.


Long range planning required no formal actions or votes, but the commission will be revisiting various items at regularly scheduled meetings in the near future. Commissioner Clinton Baller was absent for the meeting.


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