For a city so broken, and simmering in bankruptcy, newly minted Mayor Mike Duggan delivered an upbeat state of the city address Wednesday evening that was chock full of hope and talk of improvements.
He talked about bringing the bus system into the 21st Century, improving ambulance service, attacking blight, cracking down on scrappers who are reversing progress, providing cheaper car insurance, going after owners of abandoned properties and reducing the high rate of premature births.
“After seven weeks,” he said at the end of his 45-minute speech at city hall, “l report this you here tonight, what I believe for sure: The change has started, the change is real, and Detroit is not nearly as far away from turning around as most people think.”
After only two months in office, it’s easy to buy into the optimism and Duggan’s grand speech. A year from now, we’ll see just how much progress is made.
But for now, Duggan seemed to say some of the right things when it came to addressing problems like the embarrassingly inadequate bus and EMS systems and the pensions that are in limbo for retired city workers.
“I join the majority of Detroiters and say to the courts, I hope that every effort will be made to honor the pensions of the men and women who gave their careers to this city.”
Here are highlights:
Working With Kevyn Orr:
“That really wasn’t an easy decision. I don’t like the arrangement that the emergency manager is running the bankruptcy and the police department. But I had a choice to make; and that was, should I take responsibility for the city services that are there, do the best I can and prepare for the smoothest transition as possible on Oct. 1 when the emergency manager leaves or should I take the politically easier way and criticize him for the next nine months. And I gave it a lot of thought but at the end of the day, I really felt that the people of the city of Detroit were going to be better served if we put aside our differences and sat down and tried to work professionally. And I couldn’t be more pleased that my colleagues in the city council reached exactly the same conclusion. It’s a change that had to happen. And probably the change that surprises most people is that the mayor and city council are working together.”
Bus System: Hours for about 14 routes are extended until roughly 1 a.m.to accommodate people working late shifts. He said the city needs to have 220 buses on the road at peak hours and at best, only has 180 on a good day He said buses are old and in need of repairs. He said the system has hired 20 additional mechanics and plans to hire 20 more, plus another 40 drivers at a job fair this weekend at Cobo Hall. The city has also asked the Obama administration for another 50 buses.
Department of Neighborhoods: A new department will handle services that directly relate to neighborhoods, including blight removal, trash collection, demolition, vacant lot clearing. Residents will be able to go to a single location in each of the city’s seven city council districts to address concerns. Community leaders will manage the offices.
Car Insurance: Duggan wants to create a city car insurance program called D-Insurance to offer lower rates. He said some people are paying more for insurance then their car payment. He said his family car insurance jumped from $3,000 to $6,000 a year when he moved into the city from Livonia.
Demolition Fund: $16 million in an escrow fund, left unused for years, will be spent on knocking down properties.
Going After Property Owners: The Detroit Land Bank will sue property owners who let homes become eyesores.
Improving Parks: He pledged to have 150 of the city’s top parks "opened and well-maintained." He said he's asked the ministers and businesses to help and open another 50 parks for the kids. He said parks last year "were an embarrassment."
Street Lighting: Crews are installing 500 new LED lights every day. He pledged to have more than 50 percent of the lights working around the city by year's end, and all by next year.
EMS: He plans to buy 15 new ambulances and hire 70 new EMT workers. He said the city should have 25 ambulances on the street at one time, but is struggling to have even 15.
Job Creation: Tom Lewand and his Jobs and Economy Team are working to create jobs and develop incubators at employment centers in neighborhoods to connect entrepreneurs to mentoring, work space and capital. He said his administration will also try to make sure big projects like the M1 Rail and the Red Wing hockey arena hire as many Detroiters are possible.
Premature Births: Duggan wants to reduce the high rate of premature births by working on an initiative to make sure doctors have access to the latest medical breakthroughs to combat the problem.
Health Insurance: The city will help Detroiters register for the Affordable Care Act. The city will open up enrollment at 5 firehouses across the city on Mondays and Wednesdays starting next week. Centers will also be open at city hall and at three recreation centers, Adams, Butzel and Young.
Tough Scrap Legislation: Duggan is pushing hard for legislation in Lansing that would make it tougher for scrappers to peddle stolen metals at scrap metal yards. He said scrappers are ruining improvements around the city by stripping metals from homes and street lights.