Friday, March 24, 2006

If Detroit Can Do It...

The meltdown of the finances of Detroit city government is becoming a stimulus for new regional thinking by adjacent counties concerned about the shut-down or cutbacks of city servcies that are of course regional assets.

Surely, if Detroit can begin to talk across county lines, we can do it. First and foremost, though, it requires some one to show enough leadership to call every one together to start the conversation.

From The Oakland Press

FARMINGTON HILLS - County commissioners from three counties plus the Detroit City Council say they can put aside their differences and work together. But they also acknowledge there are some issues that Detroit and Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties may never agree on.

The Summit at Oakland County-operated Glen Oaks Golf Course on Monday drew more than just county commissioners and the city council. More than 200 people attended the four-hour meeting, including state lawmakers and social agency representatives.

They stayed clear of issues that have generated heated remarks across county and city boundaries, such the Detroit Zoo closing.

"We'd like to stay focused on issues where we have common ground," said Oakland County Commission Chairman Bill Bullard, R-Highland Township.

Those issues included mental health in jails, infrastructure and transportation.

Mass transit, chiefly how to coordinate SMART, the suburban bus system, and the Detroit bus system, matters to Wayne County Commission Chairwoman Jewel Ware, Detroit. "Transportation is the biggie," Ware said. "We have to have it for people to get back and forth to work."

Macomb County Commission Chairwoman Nancy White, D-Clinton Township, said she's concerned with jail overcrowding and the number of mentally ill people who are jailed rather than treated. She estimated that number at 50 percent.

"Jail diversion is very big," White said. "If we can solve that, we can solve the jail overcrowding."

House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, urged counties to cooperate with each other to help handle the "peaks and valleys" of crowded jails.

"We have to use the assets we have and get a better return on investment," DeRoche said.

But even the issues on the agenda may not prove easy to agree on when the costs of solving them are considered, and no solutions were immediate from Monday's summit.

Paul Tait, executive director of SEMCOG, rattled off the amounts of money needed for basic infrastructure over the next 26 years -- roads, $20.7 billion; bridges, $4.6 billion; school buildings, $8.1 billion; mass transit, $8.1 billion; water, $9 billion; and sewers, $14 billion-$26 billion.

Even so, summit participants said the dialogue is a start and that it beats fighting with each other.

"If there are 100 issues and we agree on one, then let's work on the one," said Oakland County Commissioner Chuck Moss, RBirmingham. "This is something we should have got going a long time ago.

"When we're talking, we're not shooting at each other. Let's get past the stuff we can agree on and maybe stop assuming the worst of everybody. That's no small victory."

Bullard said the multicounty committees that developed the first three issues will continue to meet. He predicted options for road funding would be developed and that road funding will be a major issue before state lawmakers after the November election.

"We need more money for roads," Bullard said. "I believe that will be a front-burner issue for the Legislature next year."

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