DETROIT - Living in Detroit is like living in a world turned upside down.
You pay the highest taxes in the state for the worst possible living conditions and services. The crime here is undeniably omnipresent and absolutely frightening. It's unrivaled across the nation. I have long said much like the way General Motors became a healthcare company that just happened to build cars; the City of Detroit has become a jobs program masquerading as a public service provider. The costs of employees is driven sky high, and this is what creates the upside down culture of paying $50,000 for a new car and getting delivered something out of the junk yard. How do we know this? Well, when the city itself and its school district are the city's single largest employers, you can't draw any other conclusion! The net effect is that Detroiters are paying a premium to live in [for the most part] squalor.
No matter how much elbow grease some Detroiters put into making their home look great they live next or near serious trouble. Vacant homes in foreclosure that should be boarded up per Detroit ordinance are not; the code enforcement ranks now so decimated by budget cuts no one's feet get held to the fire. Banks and even the federal housing agency HUD don't bother to secure their foreclosed homes and sadly there is no one there to hold them accountable. If you drive down a Detroit street the only thing more unnerving than the vacant homes are the burned out vacant homes, left open for any criminal to do pretty much whatever illicit thing his or her black heart or twisted, drug addled mind can dream up. Detroit police admit bodies end up dumped in the basements of these homes usually never to be found.
Then there is the problem of Detroit's water being quite expensive and getting more so every day. The vast majority of the street lights don't work. Call the police and they don't come unless the 911 operator actually hears gunfire and good luck with a house fire. This is no indictment of the brave men and women who do the very dangerous public safety work. There are far too few to cover far too much land mass. But as for the water department, if the City's recent study is correct, the featherbedding that's gone on there for generations is a pure embarrassment. Eighty One per cent of the workers there are going to be leaving soon.
Knowing these horrible conditions exist Mayor Dave Bing has been swimming upstream mightily trying to fix them for years. Now armed with a consent agreement with the state he is getting on a roll. On Wednesday he revealed a major overhaul of the aforementioned water department by 2018 and today he announced a plan to fix the city's street lights by 2015. This is not music to the public sector union member's ears. But for Bing it ever so slowly takes the city out of the muck and mire of bare knuckle politics and puts it on a path to finally delivering some good services residents have long suffered without.
Although this will be painful for union workers, many of whom will likely lose their jobs as a result; this is good news for the city. It will take some time, but residents can start to begin to see their street lights going on at night, their water bill not increasing ten per cent a year. It's a slow start but important first steps toward making this a place where you get what you pay for.
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