Welcome to SEMCOG's Think Regional/Act Local blog! SEMCOG is the only organization in Southeast Michigan that brings together all governments to solve regional challenges and enhance the quality of life for the seven-county regions 4.7 million residents. With this regional perspective in mind, we work with member local governments to sustain our regions reputation as a great place to work, play, and do business.


Our panel of SEMCOG staff bloggers will post daily to this blog, discussing SEMCOG's data, federal and state legislative issues, and environmental and fiscal sustainability best practices for local governments all with the goal of creating a successful future for the region.



Think Regional/Act Local

Detroit Comparables

(Best Practice, Data, Efficiency, Right-sizing) Permanent link

Now that Detroit has developed a proposed budget linked to the recently approved consent agreement, let’s take a deeper dive to assess how it compares to the finances and personnel levels of other similar-sized cities. An analysis was performed using Detroit’s proposed 2012-13 budget compared to the 2011 audited Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) for each of the following eight cities with similar populations as Detroit. The results are shown below for each comparable city versus Detroit, as well as like data for selected service areas. Especially notable are the wide variations of both expenses and employees for the similar-sized cities, as well as Detroit’s relatively positive position with this new budget among the group of similar-sized cities both overall and for the various service areas. The tricky part will be meeting such a challenging budget while concurrently enhancing services and redeveloping the city. This new budget represents a great start.


US City Population Expenses
(in millions)
Austin, TX 790,390 $2,853 12,037
Columbus, OH    787,033 $1,391 7,919
Fort Worth, TX 741,206 $1,225 6,969
Charlotte, NC 731,424 $1,312 6,809
Detroit, MI* 713,777* $1,312* 6,242*
El Paso, TX 649,121 $630 5,378
Memphis, TN 646,889 $3,054 7,568
Baltimore, MD 620,961 $2,434 15,053
Boston , MA 617,594 $1,460 8,225
Avg. w/o Detroit 698,077 $1,795 8,745



*Proposed 2012-2013 budget



Service Area Detroit Expenses
(in millions)
Average Comparable
Expenses (in millions)
Employees Average Comparable 
Police $340 $324 2,954 2,597
Fire/EMS $159 $160 1,257 1,229
Public Works $158 $156 683 763
Administration $129 $173 579 877
Development $69 $124 125 488
Parks & Rec. $12 $53 87 481
Community Svcs. $39 $105 272 153
Debt. $74 $46 n/a n/a


















For no-cost assistance in dealing with your fiscal challenges, contact me via e-mail at boerger@semcog.org.


Dave Boerger
Learn how to navigate fiscal uncertainty by improving efficiency, fostering collaboration, and providing information on right-sizing. Through weekly posts, Dave will discuss legislative developments, best practices, and training opportunities.

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May 1 – Beginning Ozone Action season and Commuter Challenge

(Air Quality, Environment, Public outreach, Public transportation, Transportation) Permanent link

May 1, 2012 is an important day for two reasons. First, it’s the start of Ozone Action season, which lasts until the end of September. Ozone Action days are called when hot summer temperatures combine with pollution to create elevated amounts of ground-level ozone, a threat to human health and the environment. On Ozone Action Days, people are asked to take certain actions that can help reduce the creation of ozone that day and keep it at levels that meet the national air quality standard. Find out what you can do to help keep the air clean at www.semcog.org/OzoneAction.aspx.


The second reason is the start of the Commuter Challenge, which lasts until the end of May. Help cut down on traffic congestion and pollution – take the Commuter Challenge by trying a new way to work during the month of May. The Commuter Challenge is a fun and exciting way to encourage carpooling and vanpooling, riding public transportation, biking and walking, and using telework and flextime benefits. And there are prizes at the end of the month! We’re kicking this year’s challenge off with an event today. If you’re in the downtown area on May 1, come by the Commuter Challenge Transportation Fair at Compuware. We will be giving away great prizes to the winners of our “Carpool” game from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. We’ll also have free popcorn, water, and information from MiRideshare, SMART, DDOT, and The People Mover. And, of course, more info is available at www.semcog.org/CommuterChallenge.aspx.


I know you’re reading this information with passion and interest to help keep the environment clean. Please pass this information along to friends, family, coworkers, and community leaders. After all, we only get one life on one planet, so make the best of it!


Grant Brooks
In order to create a successful future for Southeast Michigan, we must have an educated and engaged public. Grant’s blog posts will focus on important messages for residents on how their daily habits can improve quality of life for themselves and their neighbors.

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Update on Personal Property Tax

(Legislation, SEMCOG Member Services) Permanent link

A few months ago, SEMCOG and the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition convened a task force comprised of business, labor, and government to review issues around the potential elimination of Michigan’s Personal Property Tax (PPT). Since that time, legislation has been introduced (Senate Bills 1065-1072) to eliminate the tax and provide revenue replacement. As you can imagine, the task force conversations were long and sometimes heated. The passion expressed by many members, from both the local government and the business perspective, was real and heart-felt. Yet, the group was able to find agreement on some pretty important principles. Local governments support business investment and being competitive with neighboring states; businesses recognize the importance of funding local governments and the critical services they provide to both residents and businesses. All sides agreed that the current personal property tax system is a lousy tax to administer. Testimony that we provided at the Senate Finance Committee using these concepts last week was well received.


The huge issue is revenue replacement for local governments. It is important to appreciate that the impact of PPT on local governments varies from those that are heavily industrialized – like the Cities of Wayne and Warren that receive 20% and 15% of revenue from PPT respectively – to a community like Commerce Township that only receives 5%. Anticipating any loss of PPT revenue, regardless of percentage, adds to the funding disaster local governments have faced over the last five years. Property-tax revenues for almost all of our local governments have tanked and will take decades to recover. Additionally, the legislature has slashed revenue sharing. In a sense, many local communities are drawing a line in the sand and saying, “Enough already, we cannot afford to cut back any more programs.”


So what now? Well, the legislation to get rid of the tax appears to be moving forward, along with some revenue replacement bills. The Senate Finance Committee is currently taking testimony on legislation proposed by Governor Snyder. Local governments have expressed concern over the revenue replacements proposed, particularly one that a future legislature could negate. One thing’s for sure – the stakes are high for both local government and business. I can only hope that legislators recognize the many implications of any changes they make, for both sides.


Karen Wieber
Karen is SEMCOG’s Legislative and Planning Analyst. As a member of SEMCOG’s Membership/External Affairs Group, Karen draws on her local government planning experience to engage SEMCOG members and policymakers on a variety of issues.

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More Evidence

(Data, Legislation, Public transportation, Regionalism, Transportation, Walkability bikeability) Permanent link

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you the results of a SEMCOG/MAC poll that indicated people would be willing to pay for better road and transit systems. Well, the Michigan Environmental Council just released results from their survey that said the same thing.


The survey indicates people are unhappy with the condition of Michigan’s roads and public transportation. What is really interesting is that more than 70 percent of those that responded said that they would not vote against elected officials who vote to raise additional dollars for transportation infrastructure improvements.


The statewide poll of 600 voters was conducted by Maryland-based Victoria Research & Consulting in February and March.


Other key findings of the survey include:

  • 67% of responders rate Michigan’s public transportation systems as fair or poor;
  • 87% rate our roads in fair to poor condition;
  • 70% believe we should improve or fix bus systems;
  • 64% want increased state investment in infrastructure;
  • 78% believe new transportation investment creates jobs and boosts the economy.

I hope the results of this and other polls get to our legislators, who have yet to take up several pieces of legislation that would provide more resources to improve our failing transportation system. Many legislators are hiding behind the thought that raising taxes means being voted out of office – this poll begins to say otherwise.


The longer we wait, the more it costs and the longer it will take to have good road and bridge programs. Now is the time to make something happen – get hold of your legislator and tell him/her to invest in our road and transit systems now.


Complete results of the poll are available at: http://bit.ly/IE363l


Carmine Palombo
If you want to know what about anything related to transportation in Southeast Michigan, don’t miss Carmine Palombo's blog. Carmine has more than 30 years of experience in various phases of transportation planning at SEMCOG. He is responsible for administering SEMCOG’s transportation planning program, which includes the region’s long-range transportation plan and short-term transportation plan.

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