Mayor David Bing calls for cutbacks, assistance to keep Detroit afloat
Detroit has been hit hard by the recession. Once known as the "Paris of the Midwest, Detroit is now the poorest major city in the United States. City officials are in the midst of numerous efforts to stave off bankruptcy, but they're struggling to keep residents happy.
With a $265 million budget deficit and $13.2 billion in long term structural debt, the city of Detroit is in a tight spot.
Mayor Dave Bing has been called upon to revitalize the city. The former NBA point guard for the Detroit Pistons and steel industry businessman thinks the city has long been headed for financial ruin.
"The problems that we're dealing with today are problems that have been here for the last 10, 20, 30 years," Bing said. "The problem is that nobody did anything about it. As we were losing population, as we were losing revenue, we didn't make the necessary cuts in city government so we could have a balanced budget. Now everything is heaped on this administration."
In the past decade, Detroit's population has declined by 25 percent. For those who have stayed, in January the unemployment rate rose was more than 18 percent. The economic landscape of the city has made many residents frustrated, particularly as recent budget cuts have slashed crucial public services.
A third of Detroit's residents don't own cars, but public transportation has faltered significantly in the economic collapse.
"I think it sucks. For me to get downtown it takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. You can get to Chicago by then," said one woman waiting for the bus at the Rosa Parks Bus Terminal in downtown Detroit.
"Some of my best years have been messed around in this city. You stand out and just wait wait wait wait and sometimes the bus might not even come. All that kind of crazy mess, you get sick of that," said Detroit resident Willy Kendrick.
According to Quinn Kleinfelter, reporter for WDET in Detroit, public transportation services favor suburban residents.
"They actually have a bus system that goes mainly through the suburbs, and now just goes into the city during peak rush hours and doesn't go in otherwise," Kleinfelter said. "Now because of financial cutbacks, you actually have two different systems. You have the suburban system and the Detroit buses, and they stop at the city limits. They haven't been able to get together and form a regional system."
Earlier this year, city officials agreed to an 11-month trial to privatize bus operations and save the city money. At the same time, late night service has been suspended on several routes and drivers have been put out of work.
These changes are part of Bing's efforts to forestall fiscal takeover by the state of Michigan, but the mayor acknowledges public service cutbacks are not enough to save the city.
"There is so much that needs to be done. There is no doubt in my mind that we in this administration can't do it by ourselves," Bing said. "We've got to have help. Whether it's at the state level or the federal level. I don't think we can fix the problem here in the Detroit without some intervention, meaning resources. Not all the time money, but money will surely help."
On Thursday, Detroit-based General Motors announced optimistic April sales figures. The first quarter of 2012 has been the strongest for the automotive giant since the first three months of 2008. But GM's growth has made little impact on the surrounding metropolis.
"The disconnect is that most of the motor plants are no longer in Detroit. They're in Michigan, but not so much in Detroit. They're not going to build more automotive plants in Detroit, and not many across this country, but there is a supply base and I think we can capture some of the jobs or future jobs right now," Bing said.
Mayor Bing faces a stiff challenge attracting companies and residents back into the city from the suburbs. Like many cities, Detroit saw a middle class migration to the suburbs leaving a small tax base within city limits. But unlike many American cities, that trend hasn't reversed.
But despite those formidable obstacles, Bing is committed to keeping the city afloat.
"You're losing our population, losing your tax base, you're not providing the services, we've got a tough situation with our schools from an education standpoint, and all of this is happening at the same time," Bing said. "A lot of people will say 'let's just give it up, let's just have someone else come in,' but I'm not about to do that. I do believe that we need help and hopefully between Lansing and the federal government we'll get some support."
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