In terms of how the city is handling its deficit, which at one point was over $300 million, Bing admits that the process of bringing it down is very difficult but very necessary. Years of overspending and mismanagement put Detroit in this position and it will take time to get it out.
“On a year-to-year basis in terms of our budget, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” Bing said. “We’re doing what should’ve been done 20 years ago, and that means not to spend more than you take in. We can’t afford to do that anymore and the consent agreement will not allow us to do that.
“There’s some structure in place and there’s an oversight board in place that I’m happy about.” He added that the city is working to pare down the working deficit, which is in the “billions of dollars” range.
A major point of contention with the city’s attempts to cut costs has come from public safety – namely the heavily-taxed Detroit Police and Fire Departments – which Bing has often called his “top priority.” Earlier this week, the city council voted down a ballot initiative that would have allowed the city to vote on a tax increase that would put more officers on the street.
“The men and women who work in public safety place their lives on the line every day, only to be treated like criminals,” said Joe Duncan, the President of the Detroit Police Officers Association, during a July 26 rally in front of the City-County Building. “When will this administration make public safety a priority? When will it put their citizens first by providing their citizens the same protection provided by other communities?”
“When will this administration understand that without public safety, Detroit will never turn around?” Detroit first responders attended the July 26 rally as a way to get the city’s attention that there could be other places to cut money from.
The police department has faced dwindling numbers the last decade due to retirements and resignations, and it has reflected in the city’s violent crime numbers, which are on pace to surpass the last two years. The Fire Department needed a federal grant in early July to stave off having 108 firefighters laid off.
“The only thing flourishing in Detroit is unabated crime,” Duncan said. “Response times are late and houses are allowed to burn. Why? Because of inadequate equipment, the closure of fire houses, and reduced man power.”
Bing insists that public safety is his number one priority but also said that in order for the city to meet its financial needs, every area of the city must make some form of sacrifice. He said that other city employees have been asked to take similar pay cuts.
“For 38 months, there was no impact on public safety,” Bing said. “Other employees had to take a 10 percent pay cut. There was a negative impact on their benefits, but never did it have an impact on public safety. But we now find ourselves in a situation because of the consent agreement, where we’ve got a revenue stream coming in and 65 percent of our budget is public safety.
“There’s no way we can balance our budget without touching (public safety).” Bing says that he doesn’t want to fire or lay off anyone in public safety, but every facet of the city must make sacrifices in order to make things work.
“People need to sit back and look at this from a long view,” Bing said. “Is it better to take a 10 percent pay cut, or not take it and lay off 500 to 800 officers? That’s not the direction that I want to go in. We’re trying as best we can to work with them because we need them. I still say that public safety is my number one priority for the city.”
When Bing first ran for mayor in 2009, he stated during the campaign that he would only serve one term. With the stress of the consent agreement, budget issues, and his health scare earlier this year, the speculation continued that he would be one and done after 2013, but it seems that Bing has started to change his tune on running for re-election.
“By the time this administration’s first term or second term is over, we will have gone through a major transformation for the city,” Bing said, making his first reference to a potential second term. “Then it’s time to start rebuilding, trying to get population back and trying to get businesses to expand here.”
When pressed on the question of if he’s officially running for re-election, he hedged slightly, choosing to focus on the rest of his first term.
“I’ve got about 16 months left in this term,” Bing said. “I want to focus on fixing things. Then the people will really make the final determination as to what I’m going to do.
“If people feel that we’ve done good things – as hard as they may be – and a lot of people don’t like change but when they start to see some positive change and I hope people say they believe in this administration and hope that we can keep doing what we’re doing.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter: @JayScottSmith