Thursday, July 31, 2014

Detroit's Andrew Carnegie?

There were a couple articles on the front page of the Sunday Free Press from a few days ago. One contrasted the two big real estate holders in downtown Detroit. Mike Ilitch owns a couple sports teams and the lavish Fox Theater and recently proposed a new hockey arena – and got the bankrupt city to cough up lots of millions to support him. Dan Gilbert brought his Quicken Loans business to downtown, a business some people blame for the residential blight in Detroit. He has been buying and renovating lots of downtown office buildings and now owns or controls about 60 buildings. In some eyes these two guys are leading the redevelopment of Detroit. At least the downtown area of Detroit.

There was one small section of the article that caught my eye.
One day, Detroiters and historians might hold the Ilitch and Gilbert contributions in the same esteem Pittsburgh residents have for the corporate benefactors Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, who used their wealth to endow universities, libraries and cultural institutions in the steel town and across the country.
Which sounds like a backhanded way of saying Ilitch and Gilbert have not yet become benefactors of Detroit. So far, both appear to be in it only for the profit and Ilitch appears to be in it to suck public money into his grand schemes.

The other article is about the water shutoff issue. It said that several other cities across the state and country shut off water when bills are overdue. In Detroit the program is very good at prompting residents to pay up – 60% paid in full within two days of a shutoff.

That got me thinking of an issue not well stated in the article. Detroit has a culture of not paying city tax and utility bills. Why should I pay when my neighbor doesn't? The city has been lax on collection from a combination of incompetence and woefully scrambled and out-of-date records on out-of-date computers.

It is this combination of incompetence and bad records that have compounded the shutoff problem. When the resident is too poor to be able to pay there is a big headache to get the records straight and another headache convincing the clerks of poverty. Then incompetence again, the water company spokesman confessed no clue to the potential blowback he might receive when the shutoffs began several months ago. That is what had turned this into a public relations nightmare.

I can see the water department's dilemma. If there is a culture of nonpayment how do you change it? Shutting off water is a simple way to prompt payment, but with nasty consequences. A better way would be to deal with those incompetence issues. Alas, Detroit siphoned away the money that was supposed to help with that.

No comments:

Post a Comment