Detroit council delays decision on community benefits

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city council Tuesday voted to delay making a decision on putting a community benefits measure on the November ballot.

At issue is putting a proposed ordinance that would require developers with major investments or seeking certain tax subsidies to provide community benefits, such as job opportunities and affordable housing, before voters.

The council voted 8-1 during its regular meeting Tuesday to table its discussion on the matter and revisit it at a special meeting scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday.

Councilman James Tate suggested delaying the vote on the ordinance.

“We have two separate proposals before us,” he said. “My recommendation is that we not vote today ... we come back and figure out what’s best for the city of Detroit.”

Councilman George Cushingberry was the lone dissenting vote.

“Quite frankly, I’m not for either (proposal),” he said. “I think it could send the wrong signal to the international community about what we’re trying to do to bring Detroit into the 21st century. Every development that has come through here has had significant community benefit.”

To be placed on the ballot, the city clerk must certify the proposal by Aug. 16, 84 days prior to the Nov. 8 general election.

There are dueling community benefits ordinances. Councilman Scott Benson introduced one of the proposed ordinances a couple of weeks ago and another plan was submitted by Rise Together Detroit, a community organization.

Both proposals lock in guarantees and other protections for communities where major development is planned, but they differ on enforcement, levels of investment and city involvement.

Under Benson’s plan, developers with projects worth at least $75 million or that will expand or renovate structures where a developer is seeking city-owned land or tax breaks of at least $1 million would be required to provide community benefits.

Rise Together Detroit’s proposal calls for developers to provide the benefits if they’re projects have a public and/or private investment of more than $15 million or they’re seeking a tax break from the city of at least $300,000.

Dozens — mostly residents and representatives from corporations and the construction industry — addressed the council about the issue during the public comment portion of its meeting.

“We’re on the uptick, and we want to continue the development happening in our city,” Detroit resident Nicole Jackson told the council. “Let’s add the enhanced language to the ballot and let Detroiters decide what we want to do in terms of community benefits.”

Rodney Cole, a regional manager for DTE Energy Co., said the council’s work on community benefits “is very important.”

“One of the priorities of DTE and its leadership is job development,” he said. “We ask work on this issue continue to ensure that community benefits are achieved while maintaining job growth in the city of Detroit.”

Ric Preuss, a business representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58 in Detroit, told the council his union and many other building trades unions support Benson’s plan.

“There are workers being exploited in Detroit by developers who aren’t paying their fair share,” he said. “We anticipate being able to vote on his enhanced plan this November.”

But Rashida Tlaib, a former Democratic state representative from Detroit, blasted Benson’s plan, saying it doesn’t go far enough.

“To me, it’s just a fake community benefits engagement, or whatever you want to call it,” she said. “You’re trying to put it on the ballot to confuse voters and say that it’s about choice.”

Benson defended his plan.

“This was a group, collaborative effort,” he said. “Four years ago, this was not a conversation we’d have in the city of Detroit. This is an enhanced ordinance that has input from different stakeholders in the city of Detroit.”

Also Tuesday, the city council unanimously passed a resolution to give Detroit firefighters a raise.

Under a plan announced last week by Mayor Mike Duggan, Fire Commissioner Eric Jones and Mike Nevin, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, to give all city firefighters a 4 percent across-the-board wage increase.

The increase is in addition to 2.5 percent raises previously negotiated for 2016, 2017 and 2018. Firefighters will also get 3 percent raises and 6 percent pension increases at the end of the contract, which expires in 2020, Nevin said.

It also augments the firefighters’ 2014 contract, which requires all members of the firefighters’ union be certified medical first responders. All of the city’s 892 firefighters will have been trained and certified by the end of the year, officials said.

Wages in the fire department were cut by 20 percent during Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy. Officials said the median salary for a Detroit firefighter is currently $51,000.

“Our chief financial officer concluded the city has the funds available for the increase,” Cushingberry said during before the vote. “It’s not enough; we’d still like to do more. Before long, all of our firefighters will be cross trained (as medical first responders.)”

Nevin said firefighters welcome the raise.

“It’s pretty good, but it’s long overdue and it’s far from where we need to be and what we deserve,” he said. “But our firefighters will continue to put their best foot forward to serve the public.”

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