Can Detroit Get Back On Track?

The Motor City has a new CFO who faces an enormous task: putting one of the country's most financially stressed cities on sound footing.
by | May 11, 2012

Earlier this spring, GOVERNING visited Pontiac, Mich. to see how the state's takeover of the financially distressed city was working. At the very same time, nearby Detroit faced its own threat of losing autonomy to the state.

Ultimately, Detroit was able to avert the same level of state oversight as Pontiac. But it was forced into a consent agreement with the state government that gives the state some say in the Motor City's finances.

That consent agreement creates a new board to monitor the city's fiscal restructuring, and it creates two positions -- a CFO and a project manager -- who will be integral to the city's recovery. Jack Martin, previously the state-appointed emergency manager of the school system in Highland Park, Mich., was just tapped to fill the CFO position, the Detroit News reports.

“The problems we must now resolve were created over several decades and cannot be fixed overnight,” he said at a news conference, the Detroit Free Press reports. “There is no silver bullet to this situation.”

A declining tax base and struggling auto industry, coupled with spending that wasn't reduced as revenue declined, helped create a $200 million deficit in Detroit.

Yet, despite those problems, the situation in Detroit isn't so black and white. Amidst the vacant lots are beautiful works of public art. Abandoned properties lie directly next to some that have been lovingly restored. Some neighborhoods have been decimated, but downtown remains clean and vibrant. See the accompanying slide shows of a city in transition.

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