Mayor Dave Bing insisted Wednesday that Detroit will avoid running out of cash later this year as his reforms pick up speed, but he acknowledged dissatisfaction with slowed progress on fixing the city's dire finances.
Bing said during an hour-long interview with Free Press reporters and editors that he wants to:
--Have an outside vendor perform payroll services at a savings of $11 million a year.
--Send letters to those who owe city taxes from as far back as 2006.
--Continue to meet with state lawmakers to push through legislation for a public lighting authority.
--Work with the City Council to approve a state lease of Belle Isle.
"We're a fighting population, and we don't give up, and I hope people don't give up at this point," an occasionally animated Bing said of Detroiters.
Bing defended his administration, saying the city's deep-rooted problems were more than he or any one mayor could expect to resolve smoothly.
"A lot of the things that we inherited were a reflection of 30 or 40 years of not doing what needed to be done," Bing said. "For anybody that had expectations that in a three-year period there was going to be significant change, the expectations were misguided."
His comments came two days after the joint city-state financial advisory board, which has significant sway over Detroit's fiscal matters under the financial stability agreement, warned that Detroit risked running out of cash by year's end because restructuring of city government has been far slower than expected.
Detroit must meet crucial reform goals before the state releases more than $80 million in bond revenue now in escrow. Board members said Monday that they're concerned the city isn't making enough progress, particularly with savings from reduced employee health care not kicking in until Jan. 1.
Bing conceded as much but said his administration believes a cash-flow crisis will be avoided, despite huge challenges.
For one, the state's emergency manager law faces a crucial test Nov. 6, when voters decide a referendum on it. Equally difficult, he said, is opposition from the city's unions, a lack of cash to upgrade outdated technologies and low morale in battered city departments that have endured pay cuts, furloughs and work force reductions.
"I've not tried to promise people too much," Bing said. "We've got to work through this, and I think we've set a foundation that we are going to take forward with all the initiatives and the improvements that we're making, and hope people will believe in us and say that things are going to change. But it's not going to happen overnight."
The city's troubles weigh on residents such as Olivia Hazziez-Shakoor of northwest Detroit, president of the Crary St. Mary's Community Council.
She said there are too many vacant properties owned but not maintained by the city, crime is high and streetlights are out. Yet she said all she hears coming out of City Hall is word about cuts to workers and departments and not enough about finding new revenues.
"I don't think you can cut the people in Detroit and balance the budget on the backs of people who've stayed here for years," she said. "I think you need to be creative in finding other ways of financing, and that I haven't seen."
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