CHICAGO - Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made the case in his first state of the city address that the foundation has been laid for the city's revitalization as it moves through its historic Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
Duggan was elected last year and manages day-to-day city operations, while control over most financial matters and the city's restructuring remains in the hands of emergency manager Kevyn Orr.
Duggan used his speech to outline his plans to reduce blight, overhaul street lighting and bus service, and improve other city services. He also announced plans to study the creation of an affordable auto insurance plan to combat the city's high coverage rates.
"The change has started, and the change in Detroit is real," Duggan said Wednesday night, noting the streetlight improvements and improved bus service already achieved.
Duggan announced he would speed up the use $20 million - currently being held in an insurance industry fund established to remove burned houses -- to demolish more than 2,000 vacant and dilapidated homes beginning next month.
The funds are included in Orr's proposed plan of adjustment to deal with the city's $18 billion of debt. The documents lay out a 10-year plan to revitalize the city by improving services and public safety after its Chapter 9 closes. The filings propose $1.5 billion be spent on capital improvements, blight removal, equipment and technology upgrades over 10 years with up to $500 million being spent in the next five years.
Duggan laid out in detail plans to improve city services including his creation of a single department to address neighborhood needs like trash collection and blight removal.
The Detroit Land Bank, with the help of city lawyers, will soon launch a legal pursuit against property owners who've allowed homes to become eyesores. Homeowners will be required to fix their houses or face seizure. Homes will be auctioned or demolished depending on their condition.
The Public Lighting Authority expects to achieve national standards for LED lights in Detroit's neighborhoods by 2015, a year ahead of schedule. The city has requested federal help for 50 new buses and security cameras are currently being installed on existing buses.
Duggan acknowledge the unrest among the city's creditors with Orr's proposed plan of adjustment that calls for steep haircuts for unsecured creditors. It cuts pensioner's annuities more modestly but would eliminate most city subsidized retiree healthcare benefits.
"I know the challenges are going to be difficult in court, but I join with the majority of Detroiters and say to the courts I hope that every effort will be made to honor the pensions of the men and women who gave their careers to the city," Duggan said.
Duggan and Orr struck an agreement late last year after Duggan's election allowing the mayor to manage the city's day-to-day operations, though Michigan's emergency management law gives the EM great formal power over the city.
Orr manages all finance operations with financial matters relating to day-to-day function of government being managed by Duggan in "close collaboration with Orr."