Highland Park’s financial hardships are focus of town hall meeting

Residents are on edge as the city faces the prospect of bankruptcy

Jun 29, 2023 at 11:00 am
click to enlarge A community organization is hosting a town hall for residents in Highland Park at Nandi's Knowledge Cafe. - Google Maps
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A community organization is hosting a town hall for residents in Highland Park at Nandi's Knowledge Cafe.

A lot is at stake for Highland Park’s 8,900 residents.

Once a booming city where Henry Ford opened his first auto plant with an assembly line, Highland Park is on the verge of bankruptcy and owes more than $20 million in unpaid water bills.

Abandoned houses and buildings dominate the landscape, and about 40% of the population lives in poverty.

City leaders are debating ideas to generate new revenue, but a tiff between the city council and Mayor Glenda McDonald has stymied those efforts.

These are among the issues that will be discussed beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday evening during a town hall meeting featuring Council Pro Tem Sharmaine Robinson and Councilwoman Kallela Martin at Nandi’s Knowledge Cafe at 71 Oakman Blvd. The event is organized by O.N.E. Highland Park Community Organization, and this reporter is moderating the discussion.

Robinson and Martin are leading an effort to amend the city’s recreational marijuana ordinance to help Highland Park address its budget deficits.

The current ordinance is tied up in court following two lawsuits that allege the previous city council failed to follow the required steps in approving the ordinance. The lawsuits also claim the ordinance improperly gives the city clerk sole authority to dole out the licenses.

Earlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Denise Qiana Lillard issued a temporary restraining order in what could be the first step before the ordinance is struck down.

Robinson and Martin support amendments that would address the problems with the ordinance, but the mayor has vetoed those efforts.

Supporters of the amendments say recreational marijuana could generate as much as $2 million in new taxes every year. To put that into perceptive, the primary source of revenue in Highland Park is property taxes, which amount to $9.6 million.

The city recently made a $1 million payment to the Great Lakes Water Authority, a small fraction of the more than $20 million that is owed for unpaid water and wastewater fees.

In April, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld a previous ruling that ordered the city to pay its water debt.

To stay afloat, the city has considered municipal bankruptcy.

With residents wondering what’s next for the city, Robinson and Martin plan to answer questions about Highland Park and its finances during the town hall.

The event is free and open to the public.
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