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Doomsday In Detroit?

By Vickie Thomas

As Detroit Mayor Dave Bing prepares to deliver a sobering message on the city's financial crisis, one member of city council proclaims there is no way around massive layoffs and a resulting reduction in city services.

There's some speculation that Bing will move to privatize the city's troubled lighting department and management of the sputtering transportation department.  But City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown said that won't be enough to solve Detroit's cash flow problem, adding that those are long-term solutions.

Brown believes up to 2,300 city employees could get pink slipped right as we enter the holiday season.  He said if the city's unions come to the table to negotiate healthcare and pension concessions the number of layoffs could drop to 1,500.

Bing's state of the city's finances address at 6 p.m. Wednesday comes on the heels of a report by the Ernest & Young accounting firm that warns if leaders do nothing, Detroit will run out of cash by spring.

How did Detroit get into this financial mess?  Bing admits his revenue projections fell below expectations.  He says income and property tax collections are down and a $100 million dollar cut in state revenue sharing have left the city on the brink of financial disaster.

Brown could have said, "I told you so," but he didn't go that far on his way into the Coleman Young Municipal Center this morning.  Last spring, in addition to deeper budget cuts, Brown called for the city to enter into a consent agreement with the state.  "There are tools in the consent agreement that the mayor could use to help get out of this situation.  But we are burning cash everyday.  These are things that should have been done 18 months ago, a year ago," said Brown.

In discussing revenue projections in Bing's budget, Brown added, "I said in April that all of the city's revenue sources would come up short.  There was nothing to indicate the optimism the administration was projecting."  He went on to say, " This should not be a surprise to anybody.  All of the signs were there.  We just ignored them."

Brown also said public safety can not be spared.  "You can lay off all the city employees and still not get to where we need to get to without cutting into public safety.  So, that's what you should be listening for tonight."

Meanwhile city workers are on edge.  Brown admits there could be a 50 percent reduction in council staff.  One insider tells me their bosses on council have given them the green light to hunt for employment elsewhere, even offering to write letters of recommendation.

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