Detroiters talk about setting city service priorities

and Christine Ferretti

Detroit — Residents learned about cost-cutting moves and plans for the city’s service priorities, including more fire stations, better police response times and more police cars in a post-bankruptcy Detroit.

“We don’t need sworn officers gassing and cleaning vehicles,” Police Chief James Craig told a crowd gathered for a public hearing on the department budgets. “That’s not a good use of money.”

Craig, whose 2014-15 general fund budget is about $259.6 million, highlighted the push for reduced response times, fewer carjackings and other major crimes, adding police vehicles and extending hours for neighborhood police stations.

And there are plans for more fire stations.

Edsel Jenkins, the city’s executive fire commissioner, discussed plans to open more stations in the next decade and how Mayor Mike Duggan’s push to eradicate blighted structures could help ease firefighter’s loads. He estimated as much as 60 percent of department calls are for blazes in vacant structures. With those reduced, the goal is to have rates on par with other communities.

“A healthy city does not burn,” Jenkins said.

The public had a chance to ask questions about everything from public lighting upgrades to sidewalk repairs in the presentations at the Coleman A. Young Community Center on the east side.

Sharon Jordan, a Detroiter for more than 40 years, said she had hoped to learn more about how the city’s financial decisions would impact the quality of life.

“It was just an overview,” she said. “It’s not detailed enough.”

The meeting comes a day after the city wrapped up its historic bankruptcy trial in federal court.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes is slated to deliver his decision Nov. 7 on whether to approve or reject the plan that would allow the city to shed $7 billion in debt and pump $1.7 billion into restructuring initiatives over the next decade.

Jones Day attorney Bruce Bennett in his closing arguments Monday made his final push for Rhodes to approve the plan. Bennett also noted risks tied to its implementation and admitted that the strategy could fall apart if Detroit leaders deviate from the reinvestment plan or waste the money, though the debt plan has numerous protections and levels of oversight baked in.

“The worst thing that could happen is if the $1.7 billion is misused or perceived to be misused,” Bennett told Rhodes. “Either would be an enormous problem.”

Among the investments, Detroit wants to spend almost $559 million over the next decade to improve public safety, reduce response times, close more criminal cases and fix outdated equipment and vehicles.

The spending plan also includes $440 million to fight blight and an investment of $101 million for information technology, including $84.8 million for IT upgrades and $16.3 million for additional staff to implement IT projects in all city departments.