Time to dust off that crystal ball and gaze into the year to come

By Charles Sercombe
What’s the word for the city in the New Year?
Which is the word of the year for not only city government and schools, but also for everyone else. Yes, tough economic times from 2009 have hitched a ride to 2010, and it doesn’t look like the problem is going to ease up anytime soon, according to economic experts and forecasts.
It’s predicted that the nation will eventually recover way before Michigan does, particularly southeast Michigan, which is to say, Hamtramck as well as the entire metro area.
So, what is there to expect?
It’s likely home foreclosures will continue this year, much to the dismay of homeowners and the city as well. There are already an estimated 400 vacant houses in the city, according to the Department of Public Works.
Empty houses raise a number of concerns: namely, the threat of arson fires and lost property tax collections. The less tax money the city and public schools receive, the more those two government entities must cut from their budgets. Translation: layoffs.
City Manager Bill Cooper has already outlined a budget projection for the next three years and says the city faces a $4.2 million deficit. He has proposed a series of savings, revenue increases and job cuts to balance the budget in the coming years.
Over at the public schools, a budget deficit of $3.8 million is projected during the next few years. The schools have come up with a five-year plan to balance its budget. One of the key solutions for the schools to fix its deficit is to convince the teachers’ union to make contract concessions, namely increase their co-payments in health insurance to 25 percent.
Contract negotiations are expected to begin sometime in the coming weeks.
On the city-side of things, Cooper said a few firefighter positions will have to be eliminated unless the firefighters’ union comes up with an additional revenue stream to tap into.
On the whole, Hamtramck is not as bad off as many other surrounding communities. Hamtramck had been under the control of a state-appointed emergency financial manager for several years until three years ago. During the past three years the city has been able to live within its budget – a feat city officials were unable to do for many years.
Development-wise, the big news of this year will be the grand opening of the new state Department of Human Services, a brand new two-story building that is now getting the finishing touches. The building, located at the site of the former Woody Pontiac Dealership, is expected to be open for business this month with a ribbon cutting ceremony featuring Gov. Granholm. City leaders, especially former Councilmember Scott Klein, lobbied hard to convince state officials to locate the building in Hamtramck.
Hundreds of employees and clients will be here in town, and the hope is that many of them will dine and shop here. For those looking to open a restaurant or other type of business on the empty northend of Jos. Campau, now’s the time to invest.
One of the development heartbreakers for city leaders in the last couple of years was the lost chance to develop the former Shoppers World, a two-story structure now sitting vacant and ugly in the heart of the Jos. Campau business district.
The building has potential, though. During the past few months, students from MSU have been redesigning the building for a possible conversion into a Meijer retail outlet. It’s not clear where that project is heading, but cross your fingers.
Over on Conant near the county jail, the former Missant building and its warehouses also sit empty. There is a good chance, however, that a green technology plant will move in. Although “green technology” sounds sort of sexy, what it really means, at least in this case, is that garbage will be dropped off here and turned into a clean recyclable product that can be burned for fuel.
The developer has promised the facility will be odor free. Yeah, we know, if it sounds too good to be true … well, at this point it’s good to view the project with an open mind.
On the political side of things — and you know how this town loves its politics — the year 2010 will likely continue to be transformative.
The Bengali community has now become the dominant political force in town, judging by the election outcomes last August and November. Two Bengali-Americans won seats on the City Council, which now features a total of three Bengalis on council.
While there are no local elections coming up this year, you can bet that when two seats come up for election in 2011 there is a good chance the Bengali political muscle will be flexed once again.
Although there is no local office up for election, there is an opening for state representative. Newly elected Hamtramck City Councilmember Mohammed Hassan has said he might go after the seat. He said if he doesn’t do it, there are others in his community taking a close look.
Hmmmm, is it us or does it appear Congressman John Conyers has been dropping in town quite bit in recent weeks? Political observers in the metro area are speculating that because of his wife’s recent felony conviction for taking a bribe while on Detroit City Council, Conyers might be vulnerable.
To date, Conyers has refused to speak about his wife’s troubles. Conyers could sure use all the goodwill he can muster from Hamtramck – especially the Bangladeshi-American voting bloc.
Culturally, it looks like the city’s Special Events Coordinator has been spared from the budget ax. A month from now, it will be Paczki Day on Feb. 16. A number of events will take place to celebrate the day. More on that in the weeks to come.
With the arrival of March, the mighty sights and sounds of the Hamtramck Blowout roars into town. Hundreds of bands and performers from the metro area will be converging on a dozen or so stages throughout the town. The event attracts thousands of young music lovers. We’ll definitely have more on this in the coming weeks.
It’s not known for sure, but there is a good chance the Bangladesh Festival held last summer will be expanded this year and hopefully organized without the chaos of last year. Note, this is not a city-organized event.
The Big Daddy of all festivals is still the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival. Last year’s festival was such a success we can only imagine this year’s four-day party will blow us away.
You know, the year 2010 is not looking too shabby.

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