When I reflect back on the last year and the incredible work accomplished in our City, it’s no wonder we were named the happiest place and best suburb in Michigan. Whether it’s taking a bike ride around Reeds Lake, tasting the scrumptious bites Gaslight Village has to offer or attending Concerts in the Park, there are many amenities to keep us happy. However, when I think about what truly makes East Grand Rapids a unique place, I know it is the people. Our residents are the heartbeat of our community – the dedication you have to creating a vibrant place to live, work and play inspires me daily.
One of the most visible projects of 2016 was the Lake Drive and Breton intersection renovation, paid for through the street and sidewalk millage with additional funds coming from federal highway grants. Work on the intersection, which began in early spring, included completely rebuilding the road, repairing sidewalks, updating water and storm sewer infrastructure and adding decorative elements such as brick pavers and fluted traffic signals. This intersection is the gateway to Gaslight Village so we wanted to incorporate elements that would tie into the existing aesthetics of the business district.
Street and sidewalk work in the City went well beyond the intersection project. More than 2.59 miles of roads were resurfaced or repaired and a total of 667 5x5 squares of sidewalks were replaced. In addition, 6,679 lineal feet of sidewalks received grinding to even out and improve usability in a cost-effective way.
Our mature urban canopy is often cited as a major draw to live in our community – it’s a resource that improves the aesthetics and health of East Grand Rapids. This spring, we took a major step to manage our City’s trees by commissioning a tree tracking survey. From the survey, which inventoried 7,082 trees, in public spaces like street right-of-ways and our parks, we learned that the total value of public trees in the City is a whopping $7.4 million.
Residents once again had the opportunity to participate in our annual tree-planting program this fall. We had a record number of 70 tree requests from the program, which splits the cost between the City and residents for the planting of trees in the public right-of-way. Using the results from the tree-planting survey, the City modified our tree offerings to help diversify the canopy and select locations that are most beneficial for the tree’s long-term viability and do not interfere with infrastructure.
Our yard waste collection remains one of the most popular services we offer to our residents – hauling annually more than 30,000 cubic yards of waste from resident yards. The majority of this waste comes from the fall leaf collection, which was featured on a FOX 17 segment this year.
The City remains committed to partnering with the East Grand Rapids Public Schools through our joint facilities program – a partnership that maintains 176 acres of park and school property. This year, the Rusty Swaney Baseball Field at Remington Park received improvements including a new viewing area and equipment shed. The program also implemented a fueling station at Public Works that allows bus, and other City equipment drivers, to fuel up within East instead of driving to nearby locations – saving time and dollars.
A quick walk through Gaslight Village or a leisurely stroll around Reeds Lake will let you know our community is an active one. Our Parks and Recreation Department is a machine when it comes to offering unique programs to enrich the mind and body. Family favorites continue to be our Movies and Concerts in the Park, which both had record attendance this year. The department added 42 new programs and had 8,729 program participants – up almost 1,000 from the previous year.
Reeds and Fisk lakes are the epicenter of community life in East Grand Rapids and remain a beloved natural resource. Keeping our lakes clean has been a top priority for the City for decades. Every year, we work with a lake management company to treat for milfoil and monitor for invasive species. This year, a non-native plant called European Frog-bit was found in the channel between Reed and Fisk Lakes. While we were concerned to find this invasive species in our waters, we were able to manage it because of our proactive monitoring.
While national politics caught the spotlight of the 2016 Election, most people had no idea the intense planning and coordination that went into insuring a smooth election day. The East Grand Rapids election, which had more than 87% of active voter participation, was a superb example of democracy in action. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the City’s election staff along with the 45 election workers, our Public Safety Department, the East Grand Rapids Public Schools and everyone else who came together to make this election possible. No matter what your political views may be, we should all be proud to live in such an engaged community.
Over the last few years, there has been a marked increase in the number of water service leaks, water main breaks and other repairs due to the age of many of our the underground water and sewer mains. After extensive discussion and several public information sessions, the City Commission voted to increase water/sewer rates to provide the additional critical funding needed to proactively fix our infrastructure. With this new funding, we’ve already been able to replace 4,711 feet of water mains (up from 1,449 in 2015) and lined 4,736 feet of sewer lines (up from 2,052 in 2015.).
During what can sometimes be a challenging time for public safety officers around the country, our department remained dedicated to keeping the residents of East Grand Rapids safe – leading us to being named one of the safest cities in Michigan. East Grand Rapids has a consolidated police and fire department, which allows us to provide more efficient and effective service to our residents – while saving the City more than $1 million a year. The benefits of this model, through its cross training, are exemplified in how two of our public safety officers recently saved the life of one of our residents.
While our public safety team works extremely hard to keep us safe, we as residents also need to take steps to protect our homes and possessions. Ensuring we lock our property is extremely important to maintaining a safe community. Home and vehicle break-ins continue to be one of the largest safety issues our community faces, with numerous homes broken into or vehicles stolen simply because they were unlocked. Despite this, property crimes decreased by 21.7% in 2016.
2016 marked the 125th anniversary of the founding of East Grand Rapids. From our beginnings as a resort town to our current reputation as a sought-after urban community, our City has changed dramatically over the years, all while maintaining its character and close-knit feel. To celebrate our quasquicentennial, we teamed up with Mary Free Bed, who was also celebrating 125 years of service to the community, for our annual Fourth of July Celebration.
We also celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Community Center this year. Since its opening, the Community Center has become the epicenter of East Grand Rapids – it’s a place where friends, families and students can gather to learn, have fun and connect. To celebrate, we hosted an open house in partnership with Kent District Library complete with food, activities and music.
As we celebrate the important work completed in 2016, we also look ahead to 2017. The biggest initiative over the next year will be the revision of the City’s master plan. Created in 1996 and updated in 2006, the plan provides framework and a reference point for neighborhoods, transportation, public services, pathways and open space, Gaslight Village and Spectrum Health – Blodgett Hospital.
As we sail into the New Year, we’ll be looking for opportunities that will continue to position East Grand Rapids as a first-rate community. Specifically, our master plan will focus heavily on Gaslight Village and the surrounding area. With successful multifamily housing established over the past few years, we want to explore additional opportunities for higher-density housing around the Village. There will be multiple opportunities for public input – a vital part of the process – to ensure the plan reflects the wishes of our residents. Check back for details on the website and our social media in the coming months.
The 1996 plan was developed when Spectrum Health was considering relocating Blodgett Hospital. Since then, the organization has invested more than $100 million into the property, and it is here to stay. We will look for ways to help ensure the healthcare system will continue to play an important part in the fabric of our community.
We intend to continue to honor our word to improve the streets and sidewalk infrastructure in East Grand Rapids in 2017. Gaslight Village will see some major updates this year. We’re using cured-in-place lining to update a 1913 water main that runs through the village. We’ll also be grinding and resurfacing Wealthy Street from Lakeside to Lovett. Access to businesses will be opened during this entire time, but measures such as traffic shifts or one-ways will be implemented.
We’re looking forward to working with the neighbors on the eastern end of Lake Drive to create new sidewalks. The street and sidewalk millage dedicates funds to the creation of new sidewalks with the City contributing 80% and homeowners contributing 20% of the costs.
Investing and protecting in our natural resources will also be an important initiative for the City over the next year. We recently became a member of West Michigan Conservation Network, who will be assisting us in creating a management and tracking plan for invasive species in our community. Through our membership, we have access to an app that our grounds maintenance staff can use to track when they find a non-native plant. We’ll continue to look for innovative ways to protect the bountiful natural resources our community is fortunate to have.
The high level of service we provide, such as sidewalk plowing and yard waste pickup, is a draw to our community. During our budgeting process, we are dedicated to maintaining this high service level as we work to develop a balanced budget. We will continue to focus on providing our residents the best possible service.
If you are not already following the City on Facebook and Twitter, I would encourage you to do so. Coupled with our e-newsletter, this is the best way to stay up-to-date with what the City is working on.
I want to extend my heartfelt thank you to each of our residents – I am honored to serve as your mayor. We’ve accomplished a lot over the past year as a community and I look forward to what 2017 has in store.