Source : DETROIT FREE PRESS http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/detroit-bankruptcy/2014/11/09/detroit-city-services-bankruptcy/18716557/ When Detroit filed for bankruptcy last July, observers around the world were shocked by how far some city services had deteriorated — though it was no secret to residents. Average police response times clocked in at almost an hour. Tens of thousands of broken streetlights meant entire streets go dark at nightfall. And though Detroit has more than 200 municipal parks, the city could only afford to keep about a quarter of them open. DETROIT REBORN: A SPECIAL PROJECT How has the city changed since it entered bankruptcy? Detroit’s public services have shown some improvement in the last year but still have a long way to go before they’re at adequate levels. Here’s how the Motor City is faring in 9 essential public areas.
1. Public Safety
The Detroit Police Department says it is focused on hiring non-uniformed administrative staff so that it can move officers from desk duty to street patrols to concentrate on high-crime areas and react in real time to crime trends. A nonprofit group also was set up to administer $8 million in private donations from companies including Penske Corp. and Detroit’s automakers that purchased and delivered 100 new police squad cars and 23 new ambulances — a boost to a city fleet that’s old and prone to breakdowns. DPD’s response time is improving, but it still lags national standards in responding to high-priority crimes such as homicides. The city met a goal of reducing its response times on those crimes to 18 minutes or less, but the national standard is 11 minutes. Detroit reported response times of up to 58 minutes in 2013. It’s much the same with ambulance services. While the city has received much needed new rigs, EMS response times averaged 12 minutes and 12 seconds in October, exceeding the national standard of 8 minutes or less. Average response times exceeded 15 minutes in 2013. The Detroit Fire Department has managed to increase the number of fire trucks, ladders and the like available on an average day to 46 from 41 a year ago after the city spent $12 million on new rigs and and $1.8 on fleet maintenance over the summer.
Darkened streets lined with broken streetlights have long been a visible emblem of Detroit’s decline. As many as 40% of the city’s 88,000 street and alleyway lights were inoperable at the time of the bankruptcy filing. Residents have blamed nonworking lights for higher crime, avoidable traffic accidents and a heightened sense of vulnerability in neighborhoods each time the sun sets. An effort to overhaul and downsize Detroit’s antiquated streetlight system began under Mayor Dave Bing and shifted to a higher gear late last year. A newly created Public Lighting Authority of Detroit allowed officials to borrow more than $185 million to fix streetlights while the city was in Chapter 9 bankruptcy. The bonds are backed by $12.5 million a year in Detroit utility tax revenue. Contractors have so far rewired and installed more than 25,000 new LED light fixtures and poles and hope to finish relighting all of the city’s neighborhoods by the end of 2015. The thoroughfares are to be done by the end of 2016. The new system will have about 65,000 light fixtures. While this is not a one-for-one replacement of old lights for new, officials say the LED fixtures should be twice as bright as the older high-pressure sodium fixtures.
3. Public Transportation
Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledges the city’s bus system needs much more work to improve its reliability. The city is working with employees to reduce absenteeism and overtime, but another big problem is the number of buses available. With an aging fleet, DDOT is able now to field about 180 buses a day, on average. That’s an improvement from 140 a year ago, but still short of the 225 needed to meet posted schedules. Thanks to a federal grant approved by the Obama administration, Detroit received $25.9 million to purchase 50 new buses, and Duggan’s office says it has commitments for delivery of 39 of them by June 2015.
4. Parks and recreation
As the city’s finances toppled before bankruptcy, the Bing administration was forced to reduce maintenance at city parks and eventually closed all but 58 of the city’s 300 parks. With corporate donations, he ultimately was able to reopen a few. The city now says it has 225 parks open. About 75 are maintained by volunteers from church, civic and neighborhood groups who have pledged to mow them and remove trash and litter. In addition, the State of Michigan is leasing the city’s signature park, Belle Isle, under a 30-year deal in which it will operate as a state park run by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The state has pledged to invest up to $20 million in upgrades into the island’s facilities. The state has repaired and reopened restrooms, removed dead trees, cleared trails and stepped up litter cleanups and mowing.
5. Trash collection
Detroit’s trash collection services had eroded to the point where weekly collection became unreliable. Bulk pickup had been drastically cut, and there was no citywide recycling plan. To fix that, emergency manager Kevyn Orr privatized waste management beginning in May. The city hired two companies, Rizzo Environmental Services and Advanced Disposal, on five-year contracts worth a combined $122.6 million — an annual price tag roughly equivalent to the city’s costs before privatization. Under the private haulers, Detroiters receive weekly trash pickup between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., biweekly bulk removal, biweekly curbside recycling and seasonal yard waste collection at least every other week throughout the city. Since May, elected officials say residents are happy with the change because trash is picked up more consistently, and expanded bulk pickup should reduce the amount of illegal dumping. The city increased bulk collection to once every other week. Expanded recycling pickup also was part of the privatization package. Recycling bins for residents who don’t have them or need new ones cost $25.
6. Tax collection
The Internal Revenue Service called Detroit’s income tax collection systems “catastrophic” in 2012. As a result, workers spent too much time processing taxes and not enough time making sure people were paying them. Detroit’s tax collection deficiencies, combined with high unemployment and declining property values, sent tax receipts plummeting. By the time Detroit filed for bankruptcy last year, annual income tax receipts had dropped by $95 million, or 30%, since 2002. A $5-million upgrade of Detroit’s income tax software is expected to improve operations in the next year or so. Meanwhile, Detroit and state officials have been negotiating an agreement for the state to help the city collect taxes, particularly income taxes from residents who work outside of Detroit. Property tax collection is another problem; receipts decreased $13 million in 2013 compared with the previous year. While property values are not expected to increase in the near future, the city is taking steps to smooth out the process. Detroit is undergoing a much needed citywide property assessment to more accurately set property values. Officials expect the assessment to cut down on tax-bill disputes.
Detroit’s 10-year restructuring plan calls for a $152-million investment in information technology across all departments, including police and fire, in a city where outdated computers hinder everything from basic payroll to proper accounting. The city’s obsolete equipment has had a paralyzing effect on city operations. According to an expert report filed in bankruptcy court by Detroit chief information officer Beth Niblock, about 80% of the city’s 5,500 computers are more than five years old, and about 85% of the city’s workstations operate using Windows XP, an operating system more than a decade old and no longer supported by its developer. “They’re atrocious,” Niblock testified in September during the city’s bankruptcy trial. “Depending on what luck of the draw you have, your desktop can take almost 10 minutes to boot up.” The new investment in IT includes about $85 million for system upgrades and about $16 million for additional staff to implement the new IT projects.
8. Water and sewers
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department had been a regional sore point for decades, because of the rates the department charges suburban customers and the costs of upgrading its aging infrastructure. Detroit’s bankruptcy brought about what more than 30 years of bickering and federal court oversight did not: a deal for the Great Lakes Water Authority. The agency will lease the city’s water and sewer assets for $50 million a year for 40 years, money Detroit will be required to spend fixing aging pipes that result in hundreds of water main breaks a year. Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have signed on to the deal, in which Detroit maintains ownership of the system and remains responsible for operating water and sewer lines within city limits. The authority also sets up a dedicated fund that starts at $4.5 million a year to help low-income households that have difficulty paying for water bills.
9. Blight removal
The most visible sign of the city’s decline is its troubled, abandoned housing stock. The number of vacant or blighted homes in the city is estimated at 78,000, although the Duggan administration says it’s knocking down 200 or more a week. That doesn’t include commercial blight removal. The city’s bankruptcy plan envisions spending in excess of $400 million to demolish vacant eyesore buildings and clean up trash-strewn lots over the next few years. Detroit got a big boost in that effort when the federal government last year approved allowing Michigan to use $100 million in Hardest Hit funds — money aimed at easing the foreclosure crisis — on blight removal in Detroit and cities including Grand Rapids, Flint, Saginaw and Pontiac. Beyond that, details about funding continue to evolve, and the cash to pay for clearing blight depends heavily on savings the city hopes to reap through the bankruptcy reorganization. But the goal is clear: to rid Detroit of the blight that scars so many neighborhoods and that burdens Detroit with an international reputation for Rust Belt abandonment.