For those still reluctant to admit failure in Detroit after decades of progressive governance, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s recent report to creditors makes that reality grimly, inescapably clear. Everyone’s heard by now about the topline numbers — record unemployment, a crushing tax burden, etc. — but the report also furnishes more obscure details, smaller symptoms which reinforce the overall diagnosis — or autopsy. Herein a sample of the most vivid data points:
- Desperate citizens are forming private police forces. “Residents and business owners have been forced to take their safety into their own hands; some relatively well-off sections of the City have created private security forces.”
- About half of the city’s EMS vehicles are operational at a given time and many vehicles have over 250,000 miles on them. New vehicles were promised to the city a few years ago, but the deal fell through. Since then, the city’s emergency services have been using “aging, poorly maintained” equipment. On the bright side, the private sector has come to the rescue: Detroit automakers and other corporations donated $8 million earlier this year to lease 23 new vehicles to the EMS fleet and provide the police with 100 new patrol cars, which will be deployed in the coming months.
- The average age of a Detroit firehouse is 80 years. Not only does modern firefighting equipment not fit in the ancient stations, but firefighters frequently have to work shorthanded due to the lack of serviceable equipment.
- Sixty percent of fires battled by the Fire Department each year occur in blighted or abandoned buildings. Instead of using funds to remedy its facilities problem, the Fire Department spends an unnecessary amount of time and money putting out fires in vacant structures (the city has some 78,000) that should have been demolished long ago.
- The average response time of the Detroit Police Department is 58 minutes. The report tracks average response times for every precinct, all of which are far above the national average of eleven minutes. High response times, however, are not surprising for a department that’s lost 40 percent of its manpower over the past decade, operated for over a year on a “virtual precincts” model that closed precinct offices from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m., uses an outdated emergency-dispatch system that is prone to crashing, and outfits hundreds of its officers with expired bulletproof vests.
- Parks are vanishing. The number of city parks, already down from 317 in 2008 to 107 in February 2013, is due to shrink even further, to just 57. Many of these once-grand public spaces are now dilapidated and deserted, suitable only for criminal activity.
- The city takes in more revenue from gambling than from property taxes. The report projects that property-tax revenues will fall by $13 million to $135 million for FY 2013, coming in well under projected wagering-tax revenues, which amount to $170 to 180 million. But slot machines alone will not save the birthplace of the auto industry – Orr notes that “gaming tax receipts are projected to decrease through FY 2015 due to expected loss of gaming revenue to casinos opening in nearby Toledo, Ohio.”
- There’s very little left to tax. The report notes declining revenues from property tax, income tax, and the utility users’ excise tax — then warns, in bold, “The City is currently levying all taxes at or near statutory maximum rates.”
For what it’s worth, one of us is a native Detroiter, the other a longtime fan of the American car industry. We both love and admire the Motor City for its history, and we wish Detroiters all the best on their long road to recovery. The first step on that road is to face facts.