DETROIT – Amid reports that the city could run out of money in six weeks, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing gave his annual State of the City speech on Wednesday night, and in it he stood by earlier proclamations that the city would not face a takeover by an emergency financial manager. He stressed that the city is working its way out of its financial mess.
“Tonight, we are at a critical and pivotal time like none in Detroit’s history,” Bing said. “It requires real talk, continued transparency and real action. I want you to know my commitment remains unwavering as I work toward my primary mission to bring financial stability to city operations and to improve the quality of life for our citizens.”
Detroit’s current deficit sits at nearly $197 million, which is down from the $330 million deficit in 2009 when Bing took office. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has assembled a financial review team to examine the city’s finances and is set to make its recommendation later in the month as to whether Detroit would become the first major American city to be taken over by an emergency financial manager.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, I do not want and will not support an emergency manager for the city of Detroit,” Bing said. He added that the next phase of the city’s attempt to climb out of its deficit would be by “aggressively downsizing city government.”
In Wednesday’s Detroit News, Snyder also acknowledged that he preferred a brokered consent agreement to an emergency financial manager for the city. Snyder said that he hoped that “the city can solve its own problems.”
“No judgments have been made, but we’re working with the city to find a middle ground between here and an emergency,” said Michigan State Treasurer Andy Dillon after the address. Dillon, who is a member of the financial review team, would not comment on a possible consent agreement because the state is currently reviewing Detroit’s books.
“The governor doesn’t want (an emergency manager),” Dillon said. “The mayor doesn’t want it. I don’t want it. We’re working with him to find a middle ground.”
Bing and the Detroit City Council have come under heavy fire from residents over the handling of the deficit issues, which has seen numerous city services — namely public safety — be severely cut.
“It’s not about cutting our way out of this,” Bing 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.”
The public safety cuts have become a focal point over the last two months as a rash of violent crimes has brought attention to the lack of police in the city. Over the first two months of 2012, there have been 57 homicides in Detroit, up from 43 at this time last year.
The most heinous crimes took place in a seven-day span. On Feb. 20, 9-month-old Delric Miller IV was killed when his family’s home was hit with nearly 40 shots from an AK-47. The shooting was allegedly in retaliation of a dispute over a seat at a baby shower the previous evening.
On February 26, two 15-year-old boys went on a “carjacking spree”, culminating in one opening fire on a car with an AK-47 and hitting a 6-year-old boy multiple times in the leg and back. The next day, 14-year-old Joshua Smith allegedly shot his mother 12 times while she slept following an argument over the friends he was hanging around.
These incidents came nearly a month after 12-year-old Kade’jah Davis was killed when a dispute over a missing cell phone turned violent. During his speech, Bing touted his efforts to convince officers to move officers back into the city — over the last year, just 15 have moved back under his “Project 14” initiative — but noted that those efforts do not solve the larger issue.
“I know living closer to a police officer doesn’t keep someone from spraying bullets into a home with an AK-47 and killing a 9-month-old boy,” Bing said. “Do we need more police officers? No question. Public safety is a top priority of my administration.”
Last week, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade announced that the FBI and DEA would also be cracking down on the entire east side of the city, specifically targeting gun crimes. “I’m outraged by the insidious violence in our neighborhoods and in our city,” Bing said. “But Chief (Ralph) Godbee and the police can’t do it alone.”
Bing did not go into full detail over the status of the city’s funds. The findings of an audit by Ernst & Young last fall showed that the city was set to run out of money as early as this month.
As it currently stands, the city still stands to run out of cash by mid-April and faces a budget shortfall of $50 million by May. Bing says that his plan, which is a series of tentative labor agreements with the city’s 48 unions that was negotiated last month — but has yet to be ratified — will save $102 million this fiscal year. Some city council members believe it is not enough.
“It’s not clear at all when (those agreements) will be voted on by the membership,” Councilman Ken Cockrel, Jr. said after the address. “Even going beyond that, we’ve had our own fiscal analyst look at those agreements and has come to the conclusion that those savings are not going to be sufficient. It’s clear that there needs to be a Plan B.” He continued, “We need to hear from the administration on how they plan to handle that. We’re willing to listen, but it takes two to tango.”
The council has previously suggested layoffs of city workers and other cuts to prevent state intervention. The city was expected to lay off 1,000 workers this month but now anticipates that they will occur throughout the year.
“The key is that we need the mayor to work with city council,” said Cockrel, who lost the 2009 mayoral election to Bing. Cockrel, and other council members, insist that their plan would save the city more money, but Bing balked at them.
“In retrospect, had we done those cuts, we’d be much better off,” said Cockrel. “I’d be open to a consent agreement. What we’re going to have to understand is that if we agree to it, it will ultimately fall to the mayor and his team to adhere to the terms of the consent agreement.
“The concern I have is that this administration has not shown an ability to execute.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith