Housing incentives for municipal employees… is now the right time?

    A few days ago, in a post about the recent string of downtown burglaries, I noted that, given that we have fewer police on the streets these days due to budget cuts, it might help if those police officers that we did have working for the City, actually lived here. I don’t know that it would necessarily solve our crime problems, but I have to believe that it would help if the men and women we had patrolling our streets also lived in the community, were members of our neighborhood associations, served on the same community boards that we did, had their kids playing in the same soccer leagues, etc. (It probably also wouldn’t hurt if we had 20 more families paying property taxes in the City.) At any rate, my comment received two comments that I thought should be moved up here to the front page. Here, first, though, is my comment from the other day.

    …I’d like to think that we could make things better, just by being more engaged citizens. At some point, though, I think it comes down to the police presence in a community. And this is something that I’ve struggled with. Up until 10 years ago, I probably would have always opted for less of a police presence, and it’s especially difficult for me to say otherwise now, in light of what we’re seeing cops do in places like Oakland, but I do think that good cops, who live in a community, and are an active, positive presence, can be a good thing… And, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it here, but I’d like to see us go back to a situation where our local cops actually live here in Ypsi. As I understand it, none of our current cops do. I think that would help quite a bit…

    And here are the two comments that were left in response.

    Elviscostello:
    Mark, what you are referring to is a residency rule. There used to be residency rules for Firefighters and Police. Usually they had to live in the community in which they worked, or within a certain amount of miles from their job community. Ypsilanti Township had a 10 mile from the borders rule. The legislature banned residency rules, mostly because of Detroit. Firefighters and Police there wanted to move out of the city. Many of them already lived outside, but had a local address to an apartment that they would share. I think that a better way to go is to give incentives. Ypsilanti Township had, and I believe still has a cash incentive for County Deputies to live in the Township, they have never offered the same to Firefighters.

    Murph:
    As Elviscostello notes, state law forbids us from having residency requirements for municipal employees, and most of our police and fire employees live outside the city. (DPW and city hall have much higher in-city addresses.) I’m not terribly convinced there’d be a huge advantage to having the public safety employees living in town, unless we went from an all-full-time fire department to a partially on-call system. I’m open to other arguments about the benefit, though.

    If we did want to get more city employees living in town, one thing we could do is offer housing allowances/incentives to city staff to live in the city limits, similar to the Live Downtown program in Detroit. Say, next time the union contracts are up for renewal, and the city needs to cut $5,000 from each employee’s total compensation, some of the money could go into a fund that gives down payment assistance grants to any city employee who buys a home inside the city limits.

    Countdown to somebody saying we don’t have the money for such extravagance: 3…2…1…

    Okay, so let’s limit the down payment grant to only being available for foreclosed properties in the city limits. To do a lot of handwaving on the numbers, we can say that a foreclosure reduces the value of every property within a one block radius by 1-2%. So 10-25 homes, average value $100k, reduced by 1-2% means each foreclosure reduces total property values by $10k-$50k, or $5-25k in taxable value, or $150-$750 in city tax revenues (counting general fund, road, transit, solid waste, and police/fire pension millages).

    So a $5000 down payment assistance grant to police/fire employees, used towards the purchase of a foreclosed home in the city, could repay itself in property tax stabilization in as little as 6-7 years (or a lot longer). Maybe that’s not a good enough ROI all by itself to do this, but if we think that there are good non-fiscal reasons to have public safety employees living within the city limits, the financial return is gravy. Especially if we assume that we can implement something like this at the same time as / as a mitigating factor to cutting employee pay / benefits, such that it doesn’t cost the city anything new.

    So, what do you think, is Murph on to something? I know money is tight at the moment, but would something like this be worth the investment? I’m inclined to say yes.

    Also, what could we do to get more EMU faculty and staff living in the City? What would it take to convince the EMU administration that they should begin encouraging their new hires to purchase homes in the City? What are other universities in similar situations doing? Are any covering closing costs? Are any establishing programs with local real estate agents? Could we, at the very least, convince President Martin that, as the futures of EMU and Ypsilanti are intertwined, it’s in the best interest of the University if more people are living in the City, patronizing businesses, and contributing toward a healthy urban ecosystem? And, assuming she’d acknowledge that, how about calling together some EMU faculty who live in the City to brainstorm ideas? Again, I know money is tight, but I can’t help but think that this would pay off for the University in the long run.

    [Those interested in this subject are encouraged to read my interview with Lee Azus, who recently decided to settle in Ypsi when he boyfriend was hired at EMU.]

    Posted in Detroit, Ideas, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

    Wanted poster issued for suspect in Downtown Ypsi burglary spree

    Remember a few days ago, in that post about the late-night break-in at Beezy’s, I mentioned how the police had a suspect? Well, they released a name and photo today. The man’s name is Daniel Thomas Bewernitz. From what I understand, he’s 30, and just recently moved to Ypsi from Detroit. As of right now, it looks as though the authorities have enough evidence to charge him with the recent robberies of Dos Hermanos and the One Twenty Three Skate Shop (on N. Washington Street). While the police haven’t indicated that he’d charged in the Beezy’s burglary, I’m told that will likely happen as well, as evidence found in the search of his apartment seems to link him. According to AnnArbor.com, “State Department of Corrections records show Bewernitz was paroled Oct. 5, 2010, after being convicted in Wayne County of breaking and entering a building with intent and second-degree home invasion. He also has a conviction for malicious destruction of fire and police property.” The police caution that he might be armed, so, if you see him, you’d best call the authorities.

    I also mentioned in my last post that I was concerned that downtown break-ins might be on the rise. Well, you’ll be pleased to know, that, according to police statistics, it’s not the case. In a letter released this afternoon, Chief of Police Amy Walker said that break-ins (which includes home invasions, business break-ins and attempts) have been decreasing for the past three years. Here are the year-to-date numbers, as of last week, through 2009. (note:This 2011 number does not reflect this last weekend’s burglaries.)

    2011: 212
    2010: 239
    2009: 255

    As for Bee, she seems to have a great attitude about the whole thing. If you didn’t catch it yesterday, here’s an excerpt from a note that she left on the site.

    …(W)hat concerns me most as a HUMAN BEING living on this big ball of gas floating in space is… how do we prevent bad guys from doing bad things? We need better fixes, not just alarm systems and camera surveillance… we need treatment programs and a civilized society… we need to treat the problem not the symptoms. I feel empathy for the individual/s responsible for these crimes [and yes, I'd like to kick the shit out of them too, but] that their addled/addicted/damaged brain would even make these actions a means of “income” or survival for him/her.

    So, back to fear… the world is a fucked up place. Ypsi is not unique in that. I’m not about to run off to some lily white pasture or feel chased out of business in Ypsi [regardless of being perceived as "hip" by some bloggers and some posters destined to fail]; I’m tough and I have a sense of place here- regardless of race, history, politics, triumphs or failures, past or present, this place chose me as home. So, hopefully I don’t say anything too stupid or too naive or too defensive, but I stand firmly in my beliefs in this community, in this world, that there is FAR more good than bad, that there is no magic bullet, and that bad guys are inevitable, but they ain’t gonna bring me down. And more of that please.

    Posted in Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

      State Senator Rebekah Warren to propose constitutional ban on for-profit schools in Michigan

      Occasionally, I scoop AnnArbor.com, like yesterday, with my story about the break-in at Beezy’s. But, more often than not, they scoop me. This, I suppose, is to be expected, as, from what I’m told, they employ several people who work all day, and not just at night, after they’ve put their daughters to bed. At any rate, they scooped me today, and, because it’s something that I think you’ll find interesting, I’m going to encourage you to read their article, which you will find here. And, for those of you unwilling to follow the link, here are the first three paragraphs.

      State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, is planning to introduce a constitutional amendment banning for-profit schools in Michigan.

      Details of the proposal aren’t yet known, but Warren issued a media advisory today indicating she plans to make the announcement during a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Rooms 402 and 403 of the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing.

      “In October, Republicans pushed legislation that would remove Michigan’s cap on charter schools, essentially opening the doors to for-profit schools and increased privatization of teachers and school workers,” the advisory states. “This constitutional amendment aims to protect our children’s education from being compromised at the expense of corporate profits”…

      I know I haven’t mentioned it lately, but I like Rebekah Warren, and I’m happy to see that she’s taking on this fight. For-profit education is a terrible idea, and it needs to be stopped. The same goes for for-profit jails. For those who disagree, I’d encourage you to look into the case of Pennsylvania juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella. The judge was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in a “kids for cash” operation in which thousands of juveniles, some of whom were clearly not guilty, were sentenced to lengthy stays in private detention centers in exchange for bundles of cash. I can’t imagine what the equivalent scandal will be in for-profit education, but I can assure you that, if we continue to follow this path, it will happen. More importantly, though, I’m sure that thousands of Michigan children will receive substandard educations in the interim, and we cannot allow that to happen.

      If someone finds footage tomorrow of Warren’s press conference, please leave a link… In the meantime, here’s a link to some video I took of Warren earlier this year, when she was talking at Washtenaw Community College about our Governor’s then proposed budget. If you’re unfamiliar with Warren, I’d encourage you to check it out.

      Posted in Corporate Crime, Education, Michigan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

      Michigan: the second best, or third worst performing state in the union, depending on who looks at the data

      I don’t put much stock in articles that attempt to rate various communities, states, cities, or what-have-you. Sure, it’s nice when you see your state’s name at the top of a good list, but, for the most part, I just think of these articles as filler. They’re relatively easy to write, people love to read them, and, as far as I can tell, their authors aren’t typically held to any kind of journalistic standard. The writers of these pieces may justify their “findings” with a statistic or two, but, for the most part, I think it’s pretty safe to say that they’re subjective. So, as a result, we see a lot of articles about, the best places to retire, or the best places to raise a family. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen Michigan featured prominently in two such national lists, both of which sought, in one way or another, to rank the economic health of states. One ranked Michigan 48th on a list of the best run states in America. The other declared Michigan’s economic health to be the second best in the nation. Here are clips from both, for your enjoyment.

      224/7 Wall Street:

      For the second year, 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed data on financial health, standard of living and government services by state to determine how well each state is managed. Based on this data, 24/7 Wall St. ranked the 50 states from the best to worst run. The best-run state is Wyoming. The worst-run state is California.

      Comparing the 50 states can be a challenge because they are so different. Some states have abundant natural resources while others rely on service or innovation. State populations also can be more rural or more urban. Some had booming industries that are waning or that have disappeared altogether. Border states with large immigrant communities have populations that are growing rapidly. Many states in the Northeast are not growing at all. All of these factors affect the finances and the living conditions in a state.

      Despite these differences, states can do a great deal to control their fate. Well-run states have a great deal in common with well-run corporations. Books are kept balanced. Investment is prudent. Debt is sustainable. Innovation is prized. Workers are well-chosen and well-trained. Executives, including elected and appointed officials, are retained based on merit and not politics.

      To determine how well — or how poorly — a state is run, 24/7 Wall St. weighed each state’s financial health based on factors including credit score and debt. We also evaluated how a state uses its resources to provide its residents with high living standards, reviewing dimensions such as health insurance, employment rate, low crime and a good education. We considered hundreds of data sets and chose what we considered to be the 10 most important measurements of financial and government management.

      This year, as a new component of our analysis, 24/7 Wall St. obtained additional budget data for each state. Examining the state’s revenue and expenditures, and what each government opted to spend money on, allowed us to determine if a state overspent limited resources, failed to devote funds to an urgent need of its citizens or spent a great deal of money but with poor results. While we did not use expenditures or revenue in our ranking, these numbers reflect how a state is managed. Together with other budget data, living standards and government services, it provided a complete picture of the management of each state….

      48. Michigan
      • State debt per capita: $2,963 (21st lowest)
      • Pct. without health insurance: 12.4% (18th lowest)
      • Pct. below poverty line: 15.7% (15th highest)
      • Unemployment: 11.1% (3rd highest)

      Michigan has arguably suffered more than any state in post-industrial America. The state is one of just four with a credit rating of AA-, although its debt per capita is actually below average. The state ranks among the worst in the country for violent crime, unemployment, foreclosures and home price decline…

      Bloomberg:

      The Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of the States (BEES) combines statistics on tax collection, personal income, unemployment, home prices, mortgage foreclosures, and the stock performance of public companies in a quarterly index that will allow you to analyze and compare the performance of the 50 states plus D.C…

      Michigan’s economy is recovering from the recession at the second-fastest pace in the U.S., lifted by reviving carmakers and local manufacturers, according to a new Bloomberg index that tracks the pace of state growth.

      The home to the U.S. automobile industry was topped only by North Dakota, where an oil boom is raising incomes and boosting government coffers at the nation’s quickest rate. California, Massachusetts and Illinois round out the top five in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States Index, which uses data on real estate, jobs, taxes and stock prices to gauge the growth rate in 50 states and the District of Columbia….

      BEES tracks growth by compiling data on six components that are given equal weight: job creation, personal income, tax revenue, housing prices, mortgage delinquencies and the performance of Bloomberg stock indexes that track the share prices of locally based companies.

      The BEES index, updated quarterly, is a measurement of growth, not absolute performance, so a slowing economy with low unemployment may rank below a battered state on the mend.

      Some of Michigan’s improvement reflects the severity of its decline. It ranked last in the BEES index in the decade through 2010, a period when it was the only state to lose population. In September, it still had unemployment of 11.1 percent, two percentage points above the U.S. average.

      “Michigan is emerging from, basically, a lost decade,” said Patrick Anderson, chief executive officer of Anderson Economic Group LLC, an East Lansing, Michigan-based consulting firm. “I sense a very cautious optimism in my home state.”

      Seventy percent of Michigan employers said they expected the state’s economic outlook to improve over the next 18 months, while only 46 percent expected such gains for the national economy, according to a survey released last month by Business Leaders for Michigan. Mortgage delinquencies dropped at the fourth-fastest pace in the U.S., and personal income and employment growth ranked in the top third, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

      Michigan is benefitting from gains in the U.S. automobile industry, which is reviving after Obama led an $82 billion bailout and General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC emerged from bankruptcy…

      Like I said, I’m not sure what all of this means. As these organizations didn’t set out to measure the exact same things, it’s hard to do a side-by-side comparison of results. Still, though, I think it’s interesting that one would put us second from the top, while the other would put us third from the bottom. Make of that what you will.

      Oh… and for what it’s worth, I also found it interesting that our Governor’s press release about the Bloomberg ranking neglected to mention the fact that our impressive position was due in large part to actions of the Obama administration. “Michigan was the nation’s second-best performer,” said Bloomberg, “thanks in part to the effects of the auto bailout.” Snyder, however, attributed the designation solely to his administration’s, “aggressive steps to get Michigan’s fiscal house in order, create a fairer tax structure and put families back to work.” He went on to say, “The fact that our shared accomplishments are recognized by one of the country’s premier financial information providers should reinforce our commitment to keep driving forward.” I don’t know that this surprises me any, but I thought that it was worth noting.

      Posted in Economics, Media, Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

      Senate to vote on giving President authority to indefinitely imprison American citizens, and others, without charge or trial

      At the risk of being called fear monger, it looks as though our Senator, Carl Levin, has drafted language within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012… which is likely to be voted on tomorrow… that would give Obama, and the presidents to follow him, the power to, among other things, deploy our military within the United States to apprehend American citizens who could then be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial. The following comes from the ACLU:

      While nearly all Americans head to family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Senate is gearing up for a vote on Monday or Tuesday that goes to the very heart of who we are as Americans. The Senate will be voting on a bill that will direct American military resources not at an enemy shooting at our military in a war zone, but at American citizens and other civilians far from any battlefield — even people in the United States itself.

      Senators need to hear from you, on whether you think your front yard is part of a “battlefield” and if any president can send the military anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial.

      The Senate is going to vote on whether Congress will give this president—and every future president — the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world. Even Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) raised his concerns about the NDAA detention provisions during last night’s Republican debate. The power is so broad that even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself.

      The worldwide indefinite detention without charge or trial provision is in S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act bill, which will be on the Senate floor on Monday. The bill was drafted in secret by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and passed in a closed-door committee meeting, without even a single hearing.

      I know it sounds incredible. New powers to use the military worldwide, even within the United States? Hasn’t anyone told the Senate that Osama bin Laden is dead, that the president is pulling all of the combat troops out of Iraq and trying to figure out how to get combat troops out of Afghanistan too? And American citizens and people picked up on American or Canadian or British streets being sent to military prisons indefinitely without even being charged with a crime. Really? Does anyone think this is a good idea? And why now?

      The answer on why now is nothing more than election season politics. The White House, the Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General have all said that the indefinite detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act are harmful and counterproductive. The White House has even threatened a veto. But Senate politics has propelled this bad legislation to the Senate floor.

      But there is a way to stop this dangerous legislation. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is offering the Udall Amendment that will delete the harmful provisions and replace them with a requirement for an orderly Congressional review of detention power. The Udall Amendment will make sure that the bill matches up with American values.

      In support of this harmful bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained that the bill will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and people can be imprisoned without charge or trial “American citizen or not.” Another supporter, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also declared that the bill is needed because “America is part of the battlefield.”

      The solution is the Udall Amendment; a way for the Senate to say no to indefinite detention without charge or trial anywhere in the world where any president decides to use the military. Instead of simply going along with a bill that was drafted in secret and is being jammed through the Senate, the Udall Amendment deletes the provisions and sets up an orderly review of detention power. It tries to take the politics out and put American values back in.

      In response to proponents of the indefinite detention legislation who contend that the bill “applies to American citizens and designates the world as the battlefield,” and that the “heart of the issue is whether or not the United States is part of the battlefield,” Sen. Udall disagrees, and says that we can win this fight without worldwide war and worldwide indefinite detention.

      The senators pushing the indefinite detention proposal have made their goals very clear that they want an okay for a worldwide military battlefield, that even extends to your hometown. That is an extreme position that will forever change our country.

      Now is the time to stop this bad idea. Please urge your senators to vote YES on the Udall Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

      If this is true… and I have no reason to think that it isn’t… why is Levin joining with the Republicans to do this? Why, when the administration says that it intends to veto this legislation, and that it would be counterproductive to our national interests, is he pushing it? Why does he think it might be necessary to deploy the military within the United States? And why does he agree that people should be held indefinitely without charge? If you have a moment on Monday, give him a call and ask. Here’s his phone number in Washington.

      (202) 224-6221

      And, as long as you’re calling him, you might as well call Debbie Stabenow too, and ask if she intends to vote along with Levin. Here’s her number.

      (202) 224-4822

      For those of you not in Michigan, you’ll find contact information for your Senators here.

      [More on the Udall Amendment can be found here.]

      Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

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