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Detroit seeks salvation during Big 3's victory dance by zhaodi peng





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Detroit seeks salvation during Big 3's victory dance by
Article Posted: 01/08/2012
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Detroit seeks salvation during Big 3's victory dance


 
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Bill Perkins, a Detroit-area car dealer, has ample reason to raise a glass in the early days of January.

Perkins is chairman of a North American International Auto Show that debuts here this week just as domestic car companies are riding high from an $80 billion government bailout and strong sales in 2011. ugg boots clearance

"Detroit, we are with you," Perkins said, leading a group of automotive business leaders in a lunchtime swig of Brut champagne at the city's Cobo Center.

But not everyone is in the mood to celebrate.

While car companies thrive, Detroit continues to bleed. Saddled with a crippling debt load, mounting labor costs and onerous union contracts, the city that paved the auto industry's success is in need of a bailout of its own. ugg boots outlet sale

In the next month alone, another 1,000 Detroit employees are slated to lose their jobs, adding to the already-alarming rate of people who are not employed here. Retiree pensions, health-care benefits, vendor contracts and overtime hours are also on the chopping block as the city eyes a quarter-billion dollars in cost cuts by mid-2013.

"The building is on fire," Detroit Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said to Mayor Dave Bing Thursday after a budget presentation. "We're in a place where we've never been in as a city." ugg boots clearance

PERPETUAL DOWNSIZING

The crisis means that Detroiters -- historically benefiting from booms in the persistently cyclical auto industry -- are forced to sit on the sidelines and wait out another reckoning for a region battered by decades of insufficient downsizings.

On Tuesday, residents in northeast Detroit watched as student protesters -- many from the "Occupy" movement -- marched in an effort to block movers from taking books and furniture out of the newly closed Lincoln branch of the city's library. A map posted on the door showed residents "other libraries available to serve," the closest being a few miles away.

"It's sad that this neighborhood is being destroyed," Mable Washington, 70, said while waiting a block from the library for a bus that was running late. Washington frequented the library until it closed December 22, and said children from the nearby elementary school and unemployed people looking to search for jobs on the Internet would routinely walk to the Lincoln branch.ugg boots outlet clearance

Two days later, just a couple miles away, Police Chief Ralph Godbee announced a plan to dramatically reduce services that will be available at the city's eight police stations. On Monday, stations will begin working with skeleton staffs between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. -- including overnight hours during which residents feel particularly vulnerable.

On Thursday, Godbee, surrounded by reporters and staffers in a station located in the depressed northeast corner of Detroit, said the move allows him to eliminate non-essential positions: report clerks, desk clerks, building maintenance officers, timekeepers and property officers.

These people too often find themselves "sitting there like the Maytag repair person waiting for something to happen ... it is prudent for us to do this while we talk about the city's fiscal challenges."

FINANCIAL STRESS

"Do we have financial stress?" Bing asked the city council as he presented Detroit's bleak numbers to them only a couple hours after Perkins' champagne toast Thursday. "Damn right we do."ugg boots outlet clearance

Bing's urgency is fueled by the Michigan governor's threat to potentially appoint an emergency financial manager in the coming weeks. Such a move would give a manager unilateral power to cut costs, but threatens to yank power from Bing and the city council.

The city faces a mountain of obligations accumulated over decades during which officials relied on debt to cover deficits and continued to offer generous pensions and health care packages to employees.

There currently are two retirees supported by the city for every active employee. Tax revenue, meanwhile, has fallen as the population plummeted and corporate payers -- including GM and Chrysler -- dramatically lowered their tax bills through downsizing.

Detroit, meanwhile, is saddled with $13.2 billion in longterm financial obligations, or $18,500 per resident, according to the Bing administration. Detroit's direct net per capita, or debt related to bonds issued by the city, is second- highest among big U.S. cities, only trailing the city of New York, according to Moody's Investors Service. ugg boots clearance The city said it paid about $150 million in interest in fiscal 2011 alone.

The mayor said the pain will continue as he looks to create "headroom" in relation to cashflow over the next 18 months. He said he is not willing to kick the can down the road by raising more debt, and he will not try to contrive a quick fix.

Detroit is a city littered with the remains of failed last-ditch efforts, including the monorail "People Mover," which operates 12 cars on 2.9 miles of elevated track. Built in the 1980s as a way to connect the city's major attractions, the system now is severely underutilized.

On Thursday at lunch time, only two people sat on a train surrounded by hundreds of empty seats.ugg boots clearance

Bing said he is focused on beefing up the delivery of simple services -- such as on-time bussing, functioning streetlights and the demolition of thousands of buildings that sit vacant throughout the city.

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