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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

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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Achieve community goals by partnering with SEMCOG

(Best Practice, Green infrastructure, Public transportation, Transportation, Walkability bikeability) Permanent link

The region got great news earlier this month – a new federally funded train station could open in Dearborn as soon as the Fall of 2013. This new station will provide access not only to existing Amtrak service but also to SMART, DDOT, charter buses, corporate and hotel shuttles, taxis, and personal vehicles. Strategically located, the station is near the University of Michigan – Dearborn, River Rouge Gateway Trail, and The Henry Ford complex. In addition, the station will help set the stage for high speed transit between Detroit and Chicago.

 

What is the SEMCOG connection? Our expert engineers and planners assisted Dearborn with an important pedestrian crossing at the site of the proposed station which is on Michigan Avenue. This work was done as part of SEMCOG's Road Corridor Assessment program in which member communities are provided recommendations to improve safety, pedestrian walkability and bikeability, community attractiveness, and incorporate green infrastructure strategies. And many communities have been able to secure funding to implement these recommendations.

 

RoadCorridorAssessmentFieldPhoto


In talking with Dave Norwood, Dearborn's lead on sustainability issues, he stated that our work helped secure:

  • MDOT Training Wheels class – on road bike facilities (train-the-trainer course).
  • Pollution Prevention (P2) grant to develop a sustainability plan for the city.
  • The EPA Global Green grant looking at sustainable, neighborhood-oriented development.

To learn more about SEMCOG’s Road Corridor Assessment program, we invite you to participate in our Webinar on May 2. We look forward to working with you!

 

Amy Mangus
You can leverage your SEMCOG membership to help your local government become more sustainable and effective. Amy’s posts will focus on SEMCOG’s member services.

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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.

 

40YearHistory

 

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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It’s about what we do, not how we do it

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

Last Saturday, I looked out the window of my home in Ypsilanti to see community volunteers, not city workers, sprucing up the baseball diamond at the park across the street. It dawned on me that I was watching the new reality for local governments playing out in my hometown…local governments under great pressure to reset the mix of services they provide.

 

Local government revenues have dramatically crashed over the past several years due to lowered property values and reduced state revenue sharing. The response by local elected officials and staff has, by and large, focused on “how” they provide services. How do they provide services more efficiently? How do they continue to maintain services with reduced staff? How do they collaborate with their neighbors to achieve economies of scale? All good questions. All good responses to the first rounds of revenue shortfall. Not good enough to solve the revenue vs. expenditure gap in the face of repeated revenue hits. Further, Proposal A and Headlee caps will limit local government revenue growth even when the good times return.

 

The new reality demands a serious look at the array of services local governments provide…the “what” government does, not just “how” it does it. In Ypsilanti, a bold mayor and strong city council made the tough decisions several years ago. Recreation services are important…we just can’t afford them. Yes, we will mow the grass in the parks and pick up the litter, but the recreation programming…youth baseball, youth swimming, and senior recreation…would all be carried out by volunteers, not government staff.

 

In good financial times, local governments met lots of needs. Now, governments have to make the tough priority decisions. Is police and fire service more important than supporting parades, festivals, recreation, curbside leaf pick up? All are important for the community quality of life. Not all are amenities local government has to provide.

 

Local governments must step up to the plate and deal with the “what” they provide. As importantly, our taxpayers must accept a reality…we get that for which we are willing to pay. We may no longer get everything we think local governments should give us.

 

 

Paul Tait
Paul Tait joined SEMCOG in 1972 and has served in a variety of planning and administrative capacities – becoming Executive Director in 1998. This experience gives Paul a rich perspective on the past, present, and future of our region. Please join him as he blogs about issues of importance to the region’s local governments and residents. Paul is also president of SEMCOG’s partner organization – the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition (MAC) – a coalition of business, labor, government and education.

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Motorcycle safety?

(Data, Legislation, Transportation) Permanent link

Last week, Michigan became the 31st state to give motorcyclists the option of wearing a helmet under legislation signed by Governor Snyder. The new law lets motorcyclists choose whether to wear a helmet if they are at least 21 years old, carry additional insurance, and have passed a motorcycle safety course or have had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years. Additionally, motorcycle passengers who want to exercise this option must also be 21 or older and carry additional insurance.

 

The safety community has registered disappointment in this action and rightfully so in my opinion. Why? Well, the data suggests that this action will increase the number of deaths on our roadways and increase our auto insurance costs. I believe that the safety community will be carefully keeping records of this over the coming year to see just what the impact of the law will be.

 

While I was hoping the governor would veto the legislation, he didn’t. I hope the impacts, if any, will be small. SEMCOG’s role in safety planning is to monitor the data, inform the public, and work with partner agencies to make the region safer. Research shows that per vehicle mile traveled, the death rate for motorcyclists is nearly 40 times greater than for passenger car occupants. In 2010, crashes involving a motorcycle were the lowest of the previous five years – a total of 1,176, or just one percent of all crashes. However, 90 percent of those crashes resulted in injuries

 

Given those stats, the new legislation seems counter to other recent legislation that stresses safety. The state just made using seat belts a primary enforcement issue a few years ago. Why? To make driving safer. The state also just passed legislation on texting while driving and discouraging cell phone use while driving. Why? To make driving safer.

 

I am very careful around motorcyclists and I can only imagine how much more nervous and careful I will be the first time a helmetless cyclist pulls up next to me. Please be careful. SEMCOG will continue to monitor the data and we’ll let you know if the helmet legislation has a positive or negative impact on traffic crashes in the region.

 

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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“Less” doesn’t have to be “a bore”

(Census, Data, Regionalism, Right-sizing) Permanent link

 

Prominent modernist architect Mies van der Rohe used “Less is more” as a precept for minimalist design. Decades later, Robert Venturi, another architect, coined the maxim, "Less is a bore," a postmodern antidote to van der Rohe's famous "Less is more" modernist dictum. Although some architects tend to be extreme, we can learn some lessons here for our region’s long-term outlook.

 

EmploymentPopulation(1990-2040)

 

We are not forecasting fast growth in our region. In fact, we anticipate a continuing loss of population in the next 10 years before rebounding around 2022. And the rebounding will be slow and modest. We’ll have 100,000 fewer people in 2040 than we had in 2000. “Less” is certainly relevant in regard to our region’s population trend. But “less” doesn’t have to be bad or “a bore.” We are dealing with a different set of issues than the fast growing regions. A friend from San Diego, California, once said to me, “Can we give a million people to you, so we don’t have to make room for them?” We can generate excitement by making the region better without having to deal with growth pressures on resources and infrastructures.

 

We  can be successful despite population loss. There are successful examples in recent history. The Pittsburgh region continues losing population many years after the collapse of the steel industry. But the transformation of its economy has made the region more prosperous, as demonstrated by a faster-than-U.S. -average growth rate of per capita income.  Southeast Michigan is strategically placed for international trade, we have beautiful natural resources second to none, and we still have a significant population of hard-working talented people. We have a bright future ahead of us – don’t buy into “less is a bore.”

 

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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Welcome to Phase II...

(Census, Environment, SEMCOG Member Services, Stormwater management) Permanent link

There are more than 130 communities in Southeast Michigan already a part of the Phase II stormwater permit. This designation from the federal Clean Water Act requires communities to manage their stormwater runoff through a stormwater ordinance, a public education program, and adopting good housekeeping practices such as street sweeping and catch basin cleaning.

 

It also means more paper work!

 

This designation is determined based on whether communities are located within the U.S. Census Urbanized Area. The 2010 urbanized area was recently released. While the boundary has not changed significantly (unlike in 2000), there are some communities that are now “in” the boundary….. which makes them “in” Phase II!

 

This map shows the 2000 boundary and adds the 2010 additional area and the area that is no longer in the urbanized area.

 

SEMCOG members….We’ll look at how this new boundary may impact you and be in touch. If you are in Phase II, there are many services we offer to help, including developing stormwater plans for maintenance garages, reviewing your documents, and sitting down with you to understand the regulations.

 

Amy Mangus
You can leverage your SEMCOG membership to help your local government become more sustainable and effective. Amy’s posts will focus on SEMCOG’s member services.

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EVIP Update

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

The details of the 2012 Economic Vitality Incentive Program are emerging from Lansing as legislators consider various proposals – from carrying over the 2011 requirements to more dramatic changes, such as expanding the coverage to counties. The Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS) has published an excellent recap of the alternatives under consideration. In addition, legislators are likely to increase the EVIP grant funds by five times to $25 million, with the funds available for both EVIP-and non-EVIP-eligible local governments. Also, please be reminded that the 2011 EVIP Phase III submission addressing your employee compensation plan is due May 1. The City of Mt. Clemens submission as an excellent and straightforward example.

 

SEMCOG University Webinar on Performance Measurement
Be sure to register for the April 24th SEMCOG University Webinar, Using Performance Measurement to Reduce Costs and Improve Service. And, to view archived EVIP-related materials from past SEMCOG University workshops and Webinars, check out the Past SEMCOG Universities Web page.

 

SEMCOG member communities can receive no-cost help dealing with their fiscal and operational issues by contacting Dave Boerger, SEMCOG Local Government Effectiveness.

 

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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Time is of the essence

(Efficiency, Environment, Legislation, Regionalism, Transportation) Permanent link

The legislative session is quickly winding down.  Now, the average person might think there is about eight months or over 220 days to get legislative priorities through the process, but in reality there is only a quarter of those days to work with.  There are only 56 legislative session days scheduled between now and December 31.  33 of those days are between April and July 1, and most of those days will be focused on the passage of budget bills.  Then the legislature will take a summer recess.  When they reconvene in September, only 21 days of session are scheduled for the final three months of the year.  Thus, you can see the current legislative session is quickly winding down.

 

So, what are the issues out there?  The Regional Transit Authority bills are moving, and I expect them to pass the Senate in April and, with luck, get through the House in May or June.  Transportation funding is another issue.  Addressing this issue is something I have deep feelings about and it will be a huge disappointment if this legislature fails to address our transportation funding deficit this year.

 

There are other issues that are of great concern to us.  The repeal of the Personal Property Tax without a funding replacement would be devastating to many of our members.  It appears the Senate is going to address this issue in April, when they return from session.  Our members really have to make clear that their solvency may well be at stake if they lose the PPT revenue.  I do think passing a repeal of the Personal Property Tax in the Senate will be easier than in the House.  The Senate is not up for reelection this year; the House is.

 

We have some other issues, such as our environmental bonding bill and the manufactured housing park issue.  The environmental issue may get introduced yet this spring and since it may have full support from the Governor’s Office, its passage could be pretty quick.  The manufactured housing park issue appears to be a long shot.  We will have to see some kind of agreement or understanding by key legislators before we could expect any chance of passage this year.

 

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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Something to build on

(Legislation, Public transportation, Regionalism, Transportation) Permanent link

As you all know, even the smallest improvement in public transit is difficult in this region – especially in today’s environment. That makes this week’s announcement of a new train station in Dearborn a very significant event. Dearborn has been working with MDOT, Amtrak, and the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) to move the existing  Amtrak station from its current location in Dearborn to a new site on Elm Street with access to The Henry Ford.

 

This project is part of a larger concept to connect Detroit to Chicago and the entire Midwest portion of the country with high-speed trains. This would allow easier access from the Midwest to one of the premier tourist attractions in the country – The Henry Ford, stimulating tourism and additional economic development opportunities for the City of Dearborn, the region, and the state.

 

Now, if we can just keep moving forward on other projects – like the Ann Arbor to Detroit Commuter Rail project, the M-1 project and get the legislature to approve a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) – we could actually be developing a regional transit system that could move people efficiently and effectively from one place to another while improving the region’s economy at the same time. Plans – we have lots of – it is dollars and governance we need and there is evidence that people, if asked, would be willing to contribute dollars to a well-run transit system.

 

SEMCOG and the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition just released the results of a public survey on transportation funding. It is not a scientific survey, but the results still suggest a significant percentage of the people responded that they would contribute dollars for needed transit improvements. When asked about public transit, nearly 83% of the 700 respondents said it is important to expand public transit in Southeast Michigan and 75% said they would support additional revenue for an enhanced regional transit system. When asked if an RTA should be established to oversee a coordinated transit system, nearly 81% said “yes.” For more results, please go to SEMCOG's Web site.

 

So, let’s build off the announcement in Dearborn this week. One small step, but let’s take the next one and see where it takes us. For more information on the Dearborn station, please visit the City of Dearborn Web site.

 

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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Undeserved bad rap

(Public outreach, Regionalism) Permanent link

How is it that elected officials and staff working for local governments have gotten such a bad rap? They’re greedy. They’ve got exorbitant salaries and benefits. They don’t give a damn about the taxpayer. They are only in it for their own personal gain.

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong! My decades of personal experience at SEMCOG working with literally thousands of local elected officials and local government staff paint a very different picture. The vast majority of elected officials with whom I have had the true pleasure of working are in local government for one reason and one reason only…they want to serve the public. And many of them are working at the pleasure of the voters with token or no salaries.

 

Local government employees exhibit a similar reality. The majority are working for relatively low wages with increasing cuts to their wages and benefits. They want to keep your streets safe, pick up the garbage, conduct efficient and fair elections, promote your communities, and address the needs of your businesses.

 

As taxpayers, we want and deserve a good return in services for our investment in taxes paid. We are asking our local government leaders to provide the same or more services with fewer tax dollars…fewer tax dollars due to declining property values. They are doing a great job cutting expenses with minimal impact on services.

 

Sure, there have been “bad apples” in local government and those receive lots of media coverage. But, let’s not forget the large majority of local government elected officials and staff who work hard every day to provide quality government services to us, giving us value for our tax dollars. Forget the bad rap. We should be thanking our elected officials and staff for jobs well done.

 

Paul Tait
Paul Tait joined SEMCOG in 1972 and has served in a variety of planning and administrative capacities – becoming Executive Director in 1998. This experience gives Paul a rich perspective on the past, present, and future of our region. Please join him as he blogs about issues of importance to the region’s local governments and residents.

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New normal for Detroit comparables

(Census, Data, Regionalism, Right-sizing) Permanent link

Comparable data from similar-sized local governments are typically used to analyze and benchmark the relative effectiveness of government services across the region. To that end, Southeast Michigan represents the 12th largest region* in the country as indicated in the list below, so we routinely associate and compare ourselves with the other regions our size like Atlanta or Minneapolis. Similarly, Detroit is the 18th largest city in the U.S., but with the shifts in population, we find ourselves among a whole new set of comparable cities as indicated below. Typically, we would not have grouped Detroit with Columbus, OH or Memphis, TN, for example.

 

This new normal for comparing Detroit, however, should not inhibit the city’s potential success, as the list includes several very successful cities with very well run local governments that hopefully will be benchmarked by city officials and the Financial Advisory Board as they strive to stabilize the fiscal situation, improve core services and redevelop the city as spelled out in the recent consent agreement.

 

Also included in the tables below are the surface area and population density for comparable metropolitan regions and cities. The data tends to debunk the theory that Detroit is too large for its population and the region has too much urban sprawl, as we are in the middle of the pack on both lists.

 

Rank

U.S. Metro Area*

Population

Area (sq. mi.)

Pop. Density

8 Miami, FL

5,564,635

1,116

4,986

9 Atlanta

5,268,860

1,962

2,685

10 Boston

4,552,402

1,736

2,622

11 San Fransisco

4,335,391

526

8,242

12 Detroit

4,296,250

1,261

3,407

13 Phoenix

4,192,887

799

5,248

14 Seattle

3,439,809

953

3,609

15 Minneapolis

3,279,833

894

3,669

16 San Diego

3,095,313

782

3,958

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rank

U.S. City

Population

Area (sq. mi.)

Pop. Density

14 Austin, TX

790,390

298

2,652

15 Columbus, OH

787,033

217

3,627

16 Fort Worth, TX

741,206

340

180

17 Charlotte, NC

731,424

298

2,454

18 Detroit, MI

713,777

139

5,135

19 El Paso, TX

649,121

255

2,546

20 Memphis, TN

646,889

315

2,054

21 Baltimore, MD

620,961

81

7,666

22 Boston, MA

617,594

48

12,867

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For no-cost assistance in dealing with your community’s fiscal challenges, contact Dave Boerger, SEMCOG Local Government Effectiveness.

 

*Based on the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) definition of Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

 

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

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Member Services? What kind of services?

(Transportation, Walkability bikeability, SEMCOG Member Services, Environment, Stormwater management, Green infrastructure, Best Practice) Permanent link

“I didn’t know SEMCOG did that…”
“How much does that cost?...”

 

These are typical comments and questions we hear at SEMCOG when we start working with our members on a specific project. At SEMCOG, I have the privilege of working with an extremely talented group of people focusing on providing direct services to SEMCOG members.

 

From transportation issues, including: traffic safety, pedestrian and bikeability, and access management – to environmental topics, like: green infrastructure and meeting Phase II stormwater requirements – to neighborhood stabilization techniques – to understanding the transportation funding options…our staff can help.

 

I look forward to sharing some of our success stories and encourage you to consider becoming one of them. You can start by checking out our Member Services Web page – and be sure to read my post next Wednesday. In it, I’ll be discussing how changes to the U.S. Census Urbanized Area might impact your Phase II stormwater permit requirements.

 

Amy Mangus
You can leverage your SEMCOG membership to help your local government become more sustainable and effective. Amy’s posts will focus on SEMCOG’s member services.

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Thinking about the Earth

(Air Quality, Environment, Public outreach, Regionalism, Stormwater management) Permanent link

On April 22, 2012, more than one billion people around the globe will participate in Earth Day celebrations to help clean up the Earth. People of all nationalities and backgrounds will show their appreciation for the planet and demand its protection. On this day, communities around the country will unite for a sustainable future. I call upon individuals, organizations, and governments to do their part on this day. Please help celebrate this day, and join me at one of the following local Earth Day events around the region.

  • April 12th, Washtenaw Community College ,4800 East Huron River Drive,
    Ann Arbor, MI, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. – General Public – Rideshare, Ours to Protect.
  • April 18th, TACOM, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. – Employees Only – Rideshare.
  • April 19th, Chrysler Headquarters, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Employees Only – Rideshare.
  • April 23rd, Canton Public Library, 1200 South Canton Center Road, Canton, MI, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. – General Public – Ours to Protect, Rideshare.

As I attend these Earth Day events a few questions will be on my mind. Is the green movement still going strong? Do people still care about the environment? I’m going ask these questions of the public during the events. Attending these Earth Day events are great for a family outing, but do people care enough to go home and practice what they’ve learned? At SEMCOG, we like to say that everyone doing their small part does make a difference.

 

SEMCOG’s Ours to Protect program and the Seven Simple Steps to Clean Water make it easy to find something you can do and make a difference. Our MiRideshare matching service helps you join with other commuters to reduce gasoline consumption and air pollution. And the great part of all these programs is that while they improve the environment, they also increase our quality of life and economic prosperity. That’s how we create a successful region!

 

Grant Brooks
Grant is the Communications Specialist for the Membership/External Affairs Group at SEMCOG. Grant meets regularly with SEMCOG members to assure a quality membership experience, and to educate the public about SEMCOG’s outreach programs.

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Building on our strength

(Data, Census, Maps, Regionalism) Permanent link

There are two schools of thought when it comes to making progress – developing your strength or overcoming your weakness. I believe it is far more effective in developing strength than overcoming weakness, not only for personal or organizational growth but also for economic development.

 

What are the economic strengths of our region? Here is one of them: We are Number One in terms of engineers per capita among ALL large metropolitan areas in the United States! Yes, we rank higher than Boston, San Jose, or any other metro area. For whom do those engineers work? Obviously a lot of them work for the automotive industry or the related industries in our region. A few years back when the domestic auto industry was experiencing near-death restructuring, I heard people arguing that it’d be better to have no auto industry than having a sick auto industry. I wonder if they still think that way after the remarkable turnaround of the industry in the last few years.

 

Building on our strength to renew our economy is one key message from SEMCOG’s newly adopted 2040 Forecast. When we think about the auto industry, it is not only about manufacturing jobs, which are likely to fall in the long term due to continued increasing productivity. It is also about all the knowledge-based jobs, including those engineering and other professional jobs, which are the hope of our future economy. It is very true that we need to continuously diversify our economy. But in the process of renewal, we need to maintain a strong presence in our key industry and build from our existing strength. Don’t try to be somebody else. Leverage our own strength for a better future.

 

I will be covering additional messages from our 2040 Forecast in the following weeks. Meanwhile, we continue to add information about our past and future on SEMCOG's Regional Forecast Web page.

 

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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Just don’t care

(Transportation) Permanent link

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. I always feel a little funny about the designation of certain months, because we need to be careful every minute of every day of every month of every year when we take the wheel. Obviously, the intent is to highlight the activity especially in this month. Well to do that, the Michigan State Police just completed and released the results of a recently administered 600-person telephone survey on distracted driving. The results are startling.

 

More than half of Michigan drivers say they use cell phones when driving, and eight percent say they text behind the wheel, according to survey results released by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP). What is incredible about these results is that in the same survey, more than 80 percent of Michigan motorists believe that drivers talking on cell phones are more likely to be involved in a crash and nearly 96 percent of those polled believed they were more likely to be involved in a crash while texting or e-mailing – and yet we continue to do so. Unfortunately, the data tells them that they are right!

 

According to Michigan crash data, nearly 4,000 crashes in 2010 listed the driver condition as distracted. Cell phone use was noted in 881 crashes.

 

So, are the messages working? We know it is more dangerous to talk on the phone and text while driving, so people have been educated. We just don’t seem to care. Mike Prince, Director of OHSP, said, "It appears drivers are aware of the dangers of being distracted by cell phones and texting, but the ability and pressure to be constantly connected and available seem to trump traffic safety as motorists continue to talk and text while driving."

 

I guess most of us just don’t believe it can happen to us. I confess to being one who used to do a lot of talking and texting in the car – thought of it as an office on wheels. I haven’t in a long time – and find I enjoy getting away from the ball and chain of the phone for even that short period of time. You should try it – not only is it good for you to get away for a while, but it can save your life as well.
The Michigan State Police has posted a 30-second public service video on their Web site. I will warn you it is a bit graphic, but extremely realistic.

 

Please be smart and careful and look out for me – I will be looking out for you.

 

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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Detroit’s consent agreement: We are ALL Detroit

(Best Practice, Data, Regionalism) Permanent link

Let me take a look at this week’s actions in the City of Detroit from my regional perch. I congratulate Mayor Bing, Governor Snyder, Detroit City Council, and the Review Team for adopting the consent agreement to address the City of Detroit’s fiscal crisis. This is a vitally important major step forward for our City.

 

I can’t more emphatically stress “our” City. Yes, the consensus reached is significant to Detroit’s future. What we can’t forget is the rest of our future…the State of Michigan’s, Southeast Michigan’s, each of our counties, and each of our communities…is inextricably intertwined with that of the City of Detroit. We’re in this together. Repeated studies have shown that the economic prosperity of surrounding counties, suburbs, and exurbs is strongly better when the central city prospers. When we are competing globally, foreign business owners and investors think less about us being from this county or that county…they think Detroit. When any of our local governments seeks a favorable bond rating, the fiscal status of their neighbors becomes a factor.

 

Beyond economic prosperity for our region, is our regional concern for the well-being of Detroit’s 700,000 residents. They need…they deserve…quality services with which to live and raise their families. The consent agreement paves the way to future quality core services for city residents.

 

So, both congratulations and thank you to those who toiled to produce the consent agreement. Does this mean the challenges facing the City are suddenly solved? Of course not. What it does mean is our City of Detroit, so important to all of our prosperity and well being, is on the road to recovery.

 

Paul Tait
Paul Tait joined SEMCOG in 1972 and has served in a variety of planning and administrative capacities – becoming Executive Director in 1998. This experience gives Paul a rich perspective on the past, present, and future of our region. Please join him as he blogs about issues of importance to the region’s local governments and residents.

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Careful what you ask for

(Transportation) Permanent link

Well, we asked the legislature for more dollars to improve our transportation system, but I don’t think any of us were anticipating this as the solution. Last week, the Michigan Senate passed SB 351 that would raise more dollars for roads by redistributing a small percentage of the 6% sales tax on gas. The legislation would raise about $135 million per year to give to MDOT and decrease the state general fund by the same amount. How, you ask? Well, SB 351 would still require 2% of revenue from the sales tax on gasoline to be deposited to the School Aid Fund. However, it would then take 18% of the remaining 4% and send it to the state trunkline fund. The remainder of the revenue generated from the sales tax on gas would then continue to go to the School Aid Fund and revenue sharing for cities, villages, and townships.

 

The simple question is why? What does this action do? What does it fix? The stated reason is to provide matching funds for MDOT, enabling them to match anticipated federal transportation dollars. It doesn’t help us fix our long-term needs. We need over a billion dollars statewide to begin to put a dent in fixing our pavements and bridges – $135 million is about 10% of what we need, so this solves nothing. All of the $135 million goes to MDOT – it doesn’t begin to solve their problems. Do they use it to ensure that they can match potential additional federal aid? Maybe, if Congress ever gets around to raising revenue. It doesn’t do anything to address the needs of county road commission or city and village roads.

 

There is a whole package of transportation bills that were introduced months ago – some that raise revenue, some that identify reforms, and some that improve public transit. Where are we on those bills? Very little action has occurred. Why are they not moving when they can have a positive impact on restoring our public road and transit systems? Why is the state senate wasting their time on transportation legislation that does not fix the identified problem, is divisive, and continues to take dollars away from local units of government? It may also convince some of them that they have fixed the most immediate needs of the transportation system.

 

Let’s get going on real reforms and real revenue enhancement. Every day they wait, by taking up bills that do not address our problems, the cost of improving our system goes up and it will take longer to improve.

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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