Detroit Mayor Dave Bing reiterated his opposition to a state-appointed emergency manager in his State of the City speech Wednesday night, offering little data on the city's dire financial condition or his plan to turn it around.
"Regardless of the emergency manager law, Detroit must preserve its financial integrity and maintain control of its future," Bing said. The mayor said his administration "has adopted and shared with the governor a phased approach to restructuring city government," but he was vague on details.
Nor did Bing address the possibility of a consent agreement between Detroit and the state of Michigan, which would allow city officials enhanced powers over city operations and keep Detroit out of state receivership.
The mayor instead focused on positive development projects in the city, highlighting small businesses and strides to improve housing, eliminate blight, and reduce crime. He noted the outsourcing of the city Department of Transportation to improve city bus service, and hinted that the Public Lighting Department could fall under a similar scheme. The city will develop a new authority to control city lights, and Bing plans to invest $150 million in fixing streetlights.
To tackle blight, the city will continue to tear down houses. Bing promised 10,000 tear-downs and the city is on track to complete 6,000 by July, he said. Next on the demolition list is the massive, vacant "Brewster Projects" housing complex on the near east side. The city will also expand the "Project 14" initiative, which offers incentives for police officers to live in the city, to include fire department, EMS, Homeland Security workers, and eventually all city employees.
In another blight-tackling effort, the city will test a project to allow homeowners in Southwest Detroit to buy vacant city-owned properties adjacent to their own for just $200.
The mayor promised not to close any city recreation centers. He said the city might enter into corporate partnerships to keep them open and running.
While the city has established tentative agreements for big concessions from city workers, and is looking to trim its budget elsewhere, Bing insisted other measures were just as important.
"It's not about cutting our way out of this," he said. "It's about redefining who we are as a city, how we operate as a municipality, and how we deliver core services to Detroiters who have stuck with the city, and those who are slowly, but surely, finding their way here."
Redefining those municipal operations will take more than rhetoric. It will take cash -- $60 million per month in current operating costs -- but Bing gave little indication that raising revenue is a priority.
Terry Conley, a partner at the consulting firm Grant Thornton in Southfield, said the Detroit should be "very concerned" about the stability of its revenue forecast. "There's a clear revenue need," he said. "You can make the budget as efficient as you can, but there needs to be a complementary raising of the revenues."
But because the city tends to overestimate its property and income tax revenues, and then fall short of budget, Conley said it would be smarter to broaden the tax base, perhaps with a local sales tax.
"There's only so many ways you can raise revenue," Conley said. "When you impose taxes on gross receipts or wages paid, or a sales tax on transactions related to consumption, then you ensure some very predictable revenue."
The mayor has previously sought state help in collecting city income taxes -- and asked the state to provide more than $220 million it owes Detroit under a past revenue-sharing agreement. In his speech, he noted the need for "tangible support" from the state, including approval to implement certain labor agreements and "financial and operational support."
"We have asked the state to work with us to find ways we can save money in the collection of taxes, and make sure that those who owe the city money are paying," Bing said. Bing's speech gave no indication the state has agreed to help Detroit collect taxes.
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