Mayor Rick Sollars of the City of Taylor was the featured speaker during the Rotary Club of Taylor's 2015 State of the City meeting and business luncheon Thursday, February 12, in the Ray Mix Room at Wayne County Community College's Downriver Campus.
Mayor Sollars gave an enlightened and upbeat speech of over an hour, focusing on three major components of 2014 -- new business activity, governmental changes and community involvement.
The event raised over $5,000 for three local charities -- Downriver Fish & Loaves Food Pantry, the Taylor Foundation for Educational Excellence and the Penrickton Center for Blind Children. Fish & Loaves and the Educational Foundation were the featured charities, while Penrickton (a featured charity last year) was the benefactor of the 50/50 drawing. Thanks to the generosity of the 50/50 winner, Penrickton officials ended up with the entire total, over $1,000.
In all, about 190 people attended the event, MC'd by Rotary President Fred Pepper.
The Hoover Middle School band entertained before lunch and drew raves reviews from the audience, many of whom assumed that the group was a high school group.
As part of the Rotary ceremony, the club bestowed Paul Harris Fellowship honors on two standout members of the community, Atlas Oil CEO Sam Simon and WCCCD Downriver Campus President and long-time Rotary member Anthony Arminiak.
Through Atlas Oil, Simon has sponsored two canine units for the Taylor Police Department and is an active donor in citywide holiday celebrations. Over the past year, he has donated at least $60,000 to various functions to directly benefit the community.
Arminiak, despite his busy schedule as the head of the WCCCD Downriver Campus, is a key Rotary member, coordinating all of the speakers for its meetings. He donated the use of the Ray Mix Room for the 2015 SOC.
Mayor Sollars opened his speech by recognizing his wife, Alicia, whose birthday is just a few days away.Without her support, he said, he couldn't possibly do his job.
Highlights of his speech included focusing on the business development across the City, including key areas (Menards, Southland Mall, Taylor Ford, Watson Engineering, the old Taylor Tool and Ramada Inn sites) where opportunities are blossoming. Those developments will mean key additional tax dollars to the community. Coming out of a state-mandated Deficit Elimination Plan, those types of business developments will be very important as the community moves forward.
He also focused on City finances, where he explained improvements in the City's bond ratings, moving out of the DEP, the positive but slow returning growth of the residential sector, and several other important issues, including better internal controls and better labor agreements.
He explained that the administration was working through recent financial problems in the Fire Department, and reiterated that Taylor will aim at a department staffing level in the mid-30s, focusing on fire suppression and Advanced Life Support. It plans to keep all three fire stations open, and will continue to work with a private company to handle EMS transport. The City, which will have a federal FEMA SAFER grant extension run out at the end of the month, will reapply for another. That application is due in March and awardees across the nation will be notified in early summer.
In the meantime, the City will dip into the general fund to keep staffing levels in the mid-30s until a new SAFER grant kicks in.
As the Mayor pointed out in his speech, this plan is both safe and sustainable. While the current fire financials are about $3 million shy of City budget, a new two-year SAFER grant would bridge the funding gap and when it runs out, the existing department of between 30-40 would be sustainable without further grants or special tax levies.
He also pointed out various improvements in the Taylor Police Department, which ranged from staffing increases to new programs and a decline in 2014 crime.
He pointed to better management at the Sportsplex and golf courses that led them from deficits to profits despite various hurdles. He also noted that major course improvements will start on Taylor Meadows this year.
He noted the reopening of the Northwest Pool, the Taylor Recreation Center and said that a new Taylor Farmer's Market will return this summer and will be housed inside of the Sheridan Center Open-Air Pavilion. Splash pads and an inline skating rink are also planned around that facility.
Mayor Sollars spent the final portion of this speech "celebrating the community." He noted the "True Meaning of Christmas Dinner" by the Domski Family, recognizing Larry Domski in the crowd for special recognition. He spent several minutes on the highly successful Taylor Veterans Home Program and its contributors, and other highly successful events like Armed Forces Day, Relay for Life, Prayer Day and many others.
He took time to acknowledge Jim Taylor in the crowd, who received a warm round of applause for his "Heritage Park Cleanup Day" creation (which will happen again this year). Taylor's creation ended up sparking a number of "clean up days" around the community, and the Mayor took time to celebrate all of them.
The speech was recorded for the second year in a row by the City of Romulus video department. As soon as the event is processed, it will be aired on Taylor's Comcast and WOW channels and also posted on the City of Taylor's website.
Look for those announcements on the website and in social media.