Detroit — Mayor Dave Bing’s staff is weighing eliminating city roads, shutting down water lines and reducing garbage pickup in some neighborhoods as part of his Detroit Works Project to reshape the city.
The scenarios emerged from hundreds of pages of analysis about city life that Bing staffers quietly posted online late last week. They’re just ideas and include lists of advantages and disadvantages, but they’re bound to generate discussion for an already contentious project.
Bing spokesman Dan Lijana said the proposals were included because Detroit Works is a “data-driven process” that takes a blunt look at “some of our challenges and evidence of the need to transform our city.”
Up for discussion: turning off street lights in depopulated areas.
“May reduce costs, since there would be fewer lines to maintain,” consultants wrote. “Political issues involved in identifying areas for decommissioning — likely to be controversial.”
The eight reports posted online at detroitworksproject.com included a host of maps, demographic studies, land-use analyses, studies of pollution and vegetative land cover, and discussions of hot-button topics from urban farming and lead exposure to real estate speculation. The News requested the audits in January through the Freedom of Information Act, but the city did not respond.
Bing and his staffers are using the reports from outside consultants paid by the Kresge Foundation to draft proposals to reshape a city whose population has declined 25 percent since 2000 to about 714,000. Bing has said his plan could include offering incentives to lure residents to seven to nine neighborhoods, but no specifics are expected until at least June.
“We will continue to engage the public in vetting the ideas and concepts outlined in these reports to help create the blueprint for our future,” Lijana said.
“We will also continue addressing the short-term challenges:; improving public safety, eliminating blight and strengthening neighborhoods, even as we continue planning for the long term.”
Neighborhoods not specified
The analysis makes a case for major change, noting that expenditures have exceeded city revenues in five of the last eight years. Several city departments — including transportation and the Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport — require subsidies and are a drain on the budget.
“The severity of the current downturn means that recovery will not be instant even for more optimistic 20-year growth scenarios,” the consultants wrote.
Bing hasn’t shied from saying that those who stay in underpopulated neighborhoods may receive fewer services. In September, during the first public forum on the project, he told reporters: “There are some problems if (residents) stay where they are. We really have to have conversations with people … give Give people the facts, give people the data.”
The reports outline a host of possibilities for underpopulated areas, including:
Reducing garbage pickup to twice-monthly from weekly. “Service must be maintained, even in areas with very low densities,” the consultants wrote. Outsourcing garbage collection outright could save $14 million a year.
Shutting down water lines. “Savings will be marginal but may be justified based on system efficiency improvements,” according to the report.
Eliminating roads and recycling concrete and asphalt: “Reduces or eliminates road maintenance costs. Recycling concrete could produce revenue,” the report said.
“Due to the significant costs to both deconstruct and reconstruct roadways, this approach should only be considered in areas where the prospect of future growth is very limited,” the report said.
The reports don’t specify which neighborhoods could be considered — and Bing’s staff has said any such discussion would be months away — but they generally describe neighborhoods that would receive full services and residents would be encouraged to move.
Residents of “ruralization” areas would receive “lower level/no level of service” but pay less in fewer taxes. Some services might be handed over to community groups to administer under that scenario, according to the report. Another model could be urban neighborhoods with full services that are surrounded by recreation areas.
Mary Goodwin is all for it. The 51-year-old has lived in the Brightmoor area on the city’s west side for 30 years and worked on a letter to Bing on Tuesday letting her know she’s “ready to go.”
“I don’t want anything fabulous,” Goodwin said.
“They should just let us know one way or the other.”
But Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said he doesn’t support cutting off services and would prefer Bing focus on repopulating neighborhoods.
“I don’t see us closing roads and digging up water pipes,” Kenyatta said. “I think we will end up in lawsuits. Are you going to stop taking their tax dollars?”
Dialogue on services urged
The Rev. Charles Williams, a member of the project’s advisory team, said city officials need to start a dialogue with residents if service eliminations are possible. So far, discussions at community forums have focused more on police response and education, rather than service delivery.
“I am skeptical of not having the real conversation,” Williams said.
“The analysis leaves us with the question of whether we work to invest or divest. To be or not be is the question in this scenario. I believe the average Detroiter believes and has hopes that their neighborhood is slated for investment in the plan of action.”
Among the other findings in the audits:
Detroit, which levies a 65.4-mill tax on houses, has the nation’s fourth-largest tax burden — among 51 large cities — for those making $50,000 or more of 51 large cities.
Quality of life, education, income and housing values generally are higher in neighborhoods closer to suburbs, while they’re generally lower in underpopulated ones closer to downtown.
The city has 100,719 vacant parcels in the city. That equates equals out to 10,950 acres or 12.3 percent of the city.
Thirty percent of the city’s solid waste fees go uncollected. Improving collection would save the city anywhere from $6 million to $20 million.
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110406/METRO01/104060371/Downsizing-Detroit-could-mean-cuts-to-utilities-and-trash–removing-roads#ixzz1Ilh7mn5n
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