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Pleasant Ridge Mayoral Race Divided Down Woodward

by: Laura Weber Davis

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

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The city of Pleasant Ridge will elect its first new mayor in 20 years next month. Residents must decide between two non-partisan candidates who agree on many key issues, but have different approaches. And the dividing line in the battle for mayor is drawn down Woodward Avenue.

If you turn east off of Woodward as you pass through Pleasant Ridge you’ll find bungalows and Tudor-style homes from the 1920s, the vast majority of which have signs urging a vote for Kurt Metzger for mayor. Head west off of Woodward and you’ll find large houses and yards, immaculately maintained, many of them with signs supporting Frank Rubino.

Rubino says Pleasant Ridge is a quiet, quaint place to live. Rubino is currently serving as a city commissioner. He’s been working alongside longtime mayor Ralph Castelli. Rubino says his working relationship with Castelli helped spur his own interest in running for mayor.

“Sitting next to [Castelli] for the last four years, he said I think you should fill this seat because of your past experience and knowledge, and I think you could help Pleasant Ridge in the future," says Rubino, who prides himself on his lengthy resume in public service positions throughout the region.

“I was a councilman in the city of Fraser, I had retired as city manager, I ran for office and was elected councilman and then mayor pro-tem, and I met my wife.”

When Rubino met his wife he moved to Pleasant Ridge. He says over the past several years he’s fallen in love with Pleasant Ridge’s unique – and pleasant – qualities. Rubino says he would hate to see Pleasant Ridge further absorbed by the larger cities that surround the community.

“[Kurt Metzger], who is a very good guy, but who has no municipal experience whatsoever, has some ideas of regionalism and ways that we would structure our government here, and I’m opposed to that. The only thing we have left to regionalize would be our police department… The only thing in our streets that has our name on it is our police department, and I don’t want to see that changed at all.”

Rubino's opponent is Kurt Metzger, who heads up Data Driven Detroit, though he plans to retire at the end of the year. He says “there’s this idea that or at least an argument that [I'm] is this regional guy who is going to basically eliminate Pleasant Ridge as we know it." Metzger says that isn't true. He wants the Pleasant Ridge Police Department to stay in Pleasant Ridge, and he’s never alluded otherwise.

"[I’ve] been pro-police long before Frank became pro-police, which is pretty recently. My thought is that we are part of a bigger region, and we need to work more closely with our neighbors, and we need to be supportive of Detroit, and we need to be supportive of Ferndale.”

Metzger says that’s because the people of Pleasant Ridge don’t live in a vacuum. They work and play throughout the region. Pleasant Ridge also shares a library with Huntington Woods, a fire department with Ferndale, residents must grocery shop in cities nearby, and their kids go to Ferndale Public Schools.

Resident James Hanks says being an active part of the region matters to him. Over the weekend he was unloading metal folding chairs from the back of an SUV at the Pleasant Ridge community center. The chairs were used at an event called "Orchtober Fest," which helps illustrate why he loves living in Pleasant Ridge.

“It’s small-towny," he says, "but it’s also well integrated into the adjacent community. Just giving the example of Orchtober Fest activity; Ferndale Public Schools, Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale, Oak Park, parts of Hazel Park and Royal Oak Township all share a school district. So this is a unifying activity and last night we brought people all over together to support fine arts in the neighborhood.”

Hanks says he was hesitant to move to Pleasant Ridge from Ferndale five years ago.

“There were parts of Ferndale I just didn’t want to leave because we were going to - our kids were going to the same school they did previously, and I knew the same people were coming to my house to celebrate life and I wasn’t giving up that community. So in terms of issues, I would identify the continuing need to stitch together our community.”

Kurt Metzger says though it’s impossible to separate Pleasant Ridge from the surrounding communities, there are certain services that have given the city a Mayberry-like feel. A community pool, curbside leaf pickup, snow plowed sidewalks, and a nice family park. But he says each of those amenities have been compromised because of a loss of revenue over the past few years.

“Over ten years it’s about $1.2 million. So we’ve seen the cutbacks in revenue sharing, and we’ve obviously seen expenses going up,” he says.

Declining interest rates on revenue-generating funds and reduced water use have also hurt the city financially. According to the city, property millage taxes have not changed since the City Charter was adopted. That means there have been no property tax increases for operating costs in 75 years.

“The city has prided itself on not raising property taxes," Metzger says. "But what it has done is to raise water and sewerage charges. So it’s been this kind of assessment that people pay more and more and more for water.”

Metzger is hoping residents will approve a ballot proposal for a Headlee Amendment override – a measure that would allow the city to raise property taxes to help pay for operating costs and improve city services. Metzger says without passage of the proposal, the city will be in trouble.

Frank Rubino also supports the property tax proposal. He says a million dollars in lost revenue is a lot of money for a small community.

“Pleasant Ridge hasn’t had an operating cost millage in quite a few years. So it’s time," Rubino says. "We’ve cut back so much in the last four years, especially since 2008 with the downfall, that we’ve had to cut back so seriously that we’re asking for the millage to get their services back to what they’re used to.”

The property tax proposal could raise taxes by an estimated average of a few hundred dollars per household. Rubino and Metzger agree that money would go a long way to bolstering the tangible and intangible qualities that make Pleasant Ridge so pleasant.

Click here for more WDET Election 2013 coverage.