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

Rebounding, but not booming

(Data, Regionalism) Permanent link

There has been better news for our region in recent months than in the last decade: unemployment rates continue to go down; home prices are stabilizing; we are in fact adding jobs at a faster pace than the U.S. average. New data on residential building permits from SEMCOG also show the evidence of economic recovery in the region. Here are some highlights:

  • A 25 percent increase over 2010. The region finished 2011 with a total of 4,209 new residential building permits issued.
  • A net gain of 856 units in 2011, after accounting for a total of 3,353 demolition permits issued in 2011. The region had experienced net losses of residential units in the past three years.
  • The City of Detroit continues to lead in the region in terms of total residential construction permits issued with 488.

It is nice to see building permits increased two years in a row, although the amount is nowhere near where it used to be – over 20,000 each year (see the figure below). It is a nice rebound, but no booming in sight. We currently have 216,000 vacant housing units in the region; this is more than double the amount of vacant units in 2000 (107,000). It will take more time to see demand exceeding supply in the housing market. Just like the key message from our new regional forecast: we are rebounding from a deep recession, but the recovery will take a long time.




Xuan Liu
Interested in knowing how SEMCOG’s data impacts local governments and residents in Southeast Michigan? Then, you’ll want to read Xuan’s weekly posts.

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Millage increase readiness assessment

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

Typically, the SEMCOG Local Government Effectiveness Team focuses its efforts on helping member local governments reduce cost; however, as communities continue to face fiscal challenges even after dramatically improving their cost structure, our team can also provide a millage levy readiness assessment. To that end, this week an elected official from a member community called requesting help with such a readiness assessment. The following steps are being taken to assist that community:

  1. Compare the community’s municipal costs on a per capita basis to regional benchmarks via SEMCOG’s online fiscal information tool called Munetrix.
  2. If there is a gap, take a deeper dive to see if particular service areas are contributing to the gap using the SEMCOG service area fiscal and operational benchmarks.
  3. Evaluate the local government’s processes versus best practices from other effectively run local governments using this five-minute online self assessment tool.
  4. Help the community develop plans to reduce the gaps using ideas documented in SEMCOG’s AgileGov searchable database of cost savings ideas, shared services, and best practices.
  5. Assist the community in surveying its citizens for input about municipal finances and particularly if a millage increase would be an acceptable solution.
  6. Provide a database of previous millage levies across the region by other communities and encourage local officials to contact those with similar circumstances to learn best practices.
  7. Help the community with transparency efforts to add a dashboard/citizens guide to their Web site, using tools from Munetrix or BS&A.

Outdated regulations
The State of Michigan is making progress at reducing outdated regulations as outlined in this recent MLive article on the subject. Every local government has similar ordinances and policies that are no longer appropriate given today’s technologies and modern practices. Why not challenge your staff and planning commission to do some real housecleaning like has started in Lansing. Here’s an informative article from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) about improving your local government’s performance that will help get you started right now.


SEMCOG member communities can receive help dealing with their fiscal and operational issues at no cost by contacting 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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