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Detroit asks voters for $215M for city upgrades

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Friday, October 29, 2004

Detroit asks voters for $215M for city upgrades

By Natalie Y. Moore / The Detroit News

DETROIT - Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is asking Detroiters to let the city borrow money for upgrades in the police, recreation, transportation and public lighting departments.

The five bond proposals on Tuesday's ballot total $215 million, but would be issued over four years. Officials assure tax-weary Detroiters that their tax bills won't increase; the money is needed to replace antiquated facilities and rundown buildings.

Public safety stands to receive the biggest chunk: $120 million, of which $78 million would go to the Detroit Police Department.

"I will vote yes because that protects the community," said retired teacher Marvin Petty, 44.

Some of the requested bonds for police are tied to consent decrees from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is monitoring the agency.

The $78 million breakdown would include:

* $30 million for a stand-alone detention center, a consent decree requirement.

* $20 million for a new state-of-the art crime lab.

* $9 million to retrofit five precinct firing ranges that are currently closed.

* $5 million to renovate precincts.

* $14 million to build a separate property room.

If this bond doesn't pass, "it's going to be next to impossible to come into compliance with the consent decree," said Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings. "It's the most expensive initiative that we're facing in coming into compliance. We don't have the capital dollars to make necessary improvements."

In her pitch to residents, the chief says that a new crime lab would be technologically modern - think television's "C.S.I." The current property room, containing money and hundreds of thousands of items, is at the police headquarters. A new one would better prevent stealing, Bully-Cummings said, while providing more space. And the oldest precinct out of the 12 was built in 1948 and is in need of investing, she said.

Chief Financial Officer Sean Werdlow said the city pays about $60 million in debt each year and has made a promise to bond-rating agencies not to overburden taxpayers with too much debt. These bonds would be added to the city's Debt Service Fund and would be paid down periodically by the city. These general obligation bonds can only be used for capital improvements, not toward operating expenses. If voters give the green light, the city will sell bonds, which will be worth $40 million to $50 million annually.

This is the second time in less than two years the city has come hat-in-hand to residents. In April 2003, voters rejected three bond proposals totaling $125 million that would have paid for renovations at Cobo Center, the People Mover, a new public safety mall in Southwest Detroit and neighborhood development and economic revitalization. Only $6 million for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History passed.

Under the public safety proposal, the health department, public works and recreation department would be beneficiaries for their public safety components. The fire department would get $17.5 million, toward a combination of renovating facilities and constructing two new ones.

The five bond proposals will be voted on individually and will pass with a majority vote.

Funding for the beleaguered public lighting department, which has received countless complaints regarding faulty lights, is among the proposals. Twenty-two million dollars would upgrade street lighting, traffic signals, power plant generators and new electric service extensions.

The transportation piece totals $32 million. The Detroit Department of Transportation, which endured a brunt of layoffs this year and runs below national industry standards, would receive $12 million for bus replacement. The People Mover would get $15 million and the Detroit City Airport, already undergoing capital improvements, would get $5 million.

The $19 million for neighborhood redevelopment and economic development would go to areas such as Brush Park, Chalmers Heights, Virginia Park and Jefferson-Chalmers.

Lastly, the recreation proposal would provide $12 million to the parks department for improvements on Belle Isle and other park renovations. The zoological institute would receive $8 million and Eastern Market $2 million for infrastructure enhancements.

You can reach Natalie Y. Moore at (313) 222-2396 or [email protected]

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