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Warren – Warren Mayor James Fouts laid out a year of accomplishments Thursday in his annual State of the City Address before nearly 500 people at an Italian restaurant and gave diners a hint of the future.

The presentation, projected on large screens inside the Andiamo Italia restaurant on 14 Mile, heralded Warren as “No. 1” in a number of areas, including in publications and TV newcasts.

“The overall message I was hoping to make is we are No. 1 in jobs, property investments, safety and more,” Fouts said after his address. “We have a lot to celebrate and plans I hope will make us a destination for visitors, for business and for future residents.”

Fouts said Warren is striving to be a “friendly, safe, clean, and progressive city” by pursuing these initiatives:

--Getting involved in litigation against drug companies overprescribing opioids.

--Acquiring a former school property to be converted into a natural park.

--Developing a new “downtown” area, estimated to cost $125 million, to include an upscale mix of residential and commercial space.

About 22 plans are under consideration for the downtown and civic area planned between 12 Mile and 13 Mile roads and east of the GM Tech Center.

“We hope to have all plans by next month,” said Fouts. “We envision lofts, a major 175-room hotel, restaurants, bars and a variety of retail and other businesses. With 25,000 people employed at the Tech Center – many of them younger workers – we think this should cause a lot of excitement and help make Warren a destination for others. We envision a pedestrian bridge from the new area across Van Dyke (road) to the Tech Center.”

Fouts noted that Fiat Chrysler is investing $1 billion, and is expected to add 2,500 jobs, at its Warren Truck Plant. He credited former President Barack Obama with showing faith in the auto industry and President Donald Trump and Congress, for enacting business tax cuts, sparking investment and creating jobs in Warren that “otherwise would have gone out of Michigan.”

Fouts, 75, was elected the city’s mayor in 2007 after serving 26 years on its city council. John H. Johnson, chairman and CEO of the Warren Chamber of Commerce, which hosted Thursday’s luncheon, praised Fouts’ leadership.

“No person works harder or cares more about Warren than James Fouts,” said Johnson. “We are grateful to have him as our mayor.”

Nearly 500 people paid $40 a plate to eat salad, pasta and dessert and to hear Fouts, who dished up his own “thanks” to those in the city who “make Warren what it is.”

Fouts also took time to applaud city workers and organizations that are working to improve the quality of life in Warren for its 135,000-plus residents. He said the city’s police and fire departments were “second to none” in making neighborhoods safe; including an anti-blight program that targets and fines property owners for noncompliance with city ordinances.

“This is the 10th year of our blight sweep through the city,” he said. “Last year, we received 15,000 complaints of violations and 1,800 citations were issued.”

Warren is 95 percent developed and in 2017 had record growth, including $4 million in building inspection fees, he said.

He said the city’s public works department has stepped up to add road repairs to its list of duties. In 2017, the city spent $6.8 million on neighborhood street repairs and $7.5 million on major roads, he said.

“We are doing the work of the county to repair roads,” said Fouts, noting his workers have filled 60,000 potholes and applied 700 tons of patch to road services.

Serious crime statistics in 2017 dropped considerably compared with 2016, Fouts said: breaking and enterings were down 20 percent; armed robbery down 24 percent; criminal sexual conduct down 15 percent; vehicle theft down 17 percent; arson down 11 percent and larcenies down 15 percent.

“Neighborhood watch and patrol is being reorganized to make our city even safer,” he said. “We distributed a large supply of Narcan kits (used to combat drug overdoses) and saved 30 people.”

A drug reporting tipline program called PAID (People Against Illegal Drugs) have helped shut down drug houses and dealers in the city. Ironically, many of the tips have come from people who live outside Warren, including Detroit and Birmingham, he said.

A city hall-created task force earlier this year invited school officials from throughout the city to huddle overways to make education safer in Warren.

“We are talking about some changes in schools that we expect to implement soon,” Fouts said.

New jobs are being created in the city, thanks in part to $1.2 billion to be invested in the GM Tech Center, expected to create 2,500 jobs. Hundreds of other jobs have been created by Meijer (120 workers); Kroger (240); St. Joseph Macomb Hospital (100) and Lipari Foods (300).

“We have had 355 new businesses open in Warren since 2015,” Fouts said.

Warren also has saved its taxpayers money and built the strongest “rainy day” fund in Michigan, Fouts said. There has been $10 million in savings on Water Division overtime since 2008 and $913,000 in overtime savings at the city-owned and operated Wastewater Treatment plant, he said, adding that new LED street lighting is saving $324,000 annually.

“I’ve cut my own mayor’s office staff from 11 employees to five workers,” Fouts said.

State guideline are for municipalities to fund retiree pension by at least 60 percent, he said. Warren’s general employees pension fund is 73.4 percent funded and police and fire pension is 75.7 percent funded.

“Our retirees pensions are secure and well-funded,” he said.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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