Grand Blanc Township leaders look to ’21 with optimism

GRAND BLANC TWP. — With six of seven new members on the Board of Trustees, and the return of ousted Superintendent Dennis Liimatta, not to mention the pandemic, 2021 is an unprecedented time in Grand Blanc Township.

Looking into the new year, the first priority for the freshman board members will be to get oriented to their roles and responsibilities in the community, Liimatta said.

“They will bring in a facilitator for that, sometime in January,” he said. “From there, they will start work on the creation of a strategic plan, probably a four-year plan to take us to 2024.”

Liimatta said he expects the board to identify at least five major initiates they hope to accomplish in the coming years.

“I know there has been a lot of discussion about parks and recreation capital planning,” he said. “We have the millage funds for that and it will be nice to get a good look at it and perhaps move that forward. There has been a lot of talk about community events, which I think is exciting.”

The new board and the new year also will bring strict oversight of the township’s financial burdens.

“These guys are very sensitive to the fiscal pressures,” Liimatta said. “They’ve discussed keeping the focus on paying down legacy costs and unfunded liabilities.”

The township has made “huge inroads” in managing those expenses in the last five years, and Liimatta is pleased that the board appreciates the importance of keeping that momentum going.

“It’s music to my ears,” he said. “I’m encouraged to hear the new board say this is one of their priorities. It’s the sure way we can guarantee our ability to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer funds and provide services. One of our goals is to face the economic challenges brought on by COVID while maintaining the service levels for taxpayers and residents.”

At this time, it appears the township will take about a $250,000 hit from the economic impact of the pandemic, but it’s still a waiting game, Liimatta said.

“Moving forward, what does that look like?” he said. “My concern now is the businesses that haven’t been able to be open are going to approach the tax tribunal and ask for reductions in taxable value using the income approach because they were deprived of income.”

While Liimatta said he is sympathetic to the plight of the businesses, the impact on municipalities could be devastating.

“The long-term fallout from the pandemic remains to be seen in terms of taxable value,” he said. “If you look back at the 2008 recession, and the loss of our taxable value, it took 12 years just to get back to the 2007 levels. In 2020, we were at 95 percent of the taxable value we had in 2007, and we’ve had a tremendous amount of new growth, residential housing units and economic development. And even with that growth, we’re still only at 95 percent.”

Liimatta said the indicators do not point to a recession as deep as the 2008 crash, but it does make township officials “very cautious” in their approach to budgeting, and drives their concerns about revenue sources for the next several years.

One of the factors that could offset that potential trend continues to be economic development, and “there’s always something cooking” in that respect in Grand Blanc Township.

Liimatta said he is optimistic that there will be some movement at the Tech Village site soon.

“Obviously, when COVID hit us at the end of March, the investors and developers stepped back,” he said. “But we still have conversations with the investors. They are still interested in the project. We have met with a couple end users interested in purchasing property and relocating within Tech Village. All of that is very positive.”

The north end of the township also will get some attention this year as the Board of Trustees and Planning Commission review the proposed updates to the Master Plan.

“It clearly highlights the fact that we do have a plan for the north end,” Liimatta said. “It’s about redevelopment and reuse of some of the properties. I think there are a lot of ways to accomplish that.”

Potential routes toward that goal include creating another tax increment financing district, and/or a revolving fund for low-interest loans to property owners to clean up their facades.

At this point, both options are still in the discussion phase.

“But it (north end improvements) is in the Master Plan and moving forward,” Liimatta said. “That lets people know we are moving in that direction and open to reinvestment in the north end. That’s also exciting, and it bodes well for the future of Grand Blanc Township.”