Who demolished the budget?

There’s something awry in the city’s abandoned building demolition program. Last week, city Budget Director Roger Short asked City Council to advance $8 million from the general fund to pay for demolitions that occurred last fiscal year, which ended June 30. Short says that in 2001-02, the city spent $6 million more than was budgeted to tear down structures, for a total of $17 million, and owes demolition contractors $6 million. Oddly, during this time, the city tore down 2,250 structures, only 33 more than were torn down in 2000-2001 for $11 million. Short says the extra cost could be attributed to several things, such as the increased cost of demolitions or demolition of large commercial buildings, but he wasn’t sure.

Short told council that in addition to the $6 million owed contractors, he needs $2 million for administrative costs associated with demolitions, thus the $8 million.

Jamaine Dickens, spokesman for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, did not return numerous calls, possibly because he thinks Metro Times is irrelevant. Likewise, officials with the Department of Public Works were not available for comment. They might have been scrambling to figure out how to explain this all to the council, whose members are exceedingly curious.

Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel wants to know who got the $6 million and how many structures have been demolished since Kilpatrick took office. Council President Maryann Mahaffey says she needs to know from whence in the general fund Short thinks the money should come. “They’re very constipated over there with their information,” says Mahaffey. “The question is not just how many buildings, but what kind of buildings were torn down.”

For several years, demolitions in Detroit have been paid for entirely with block grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Short says that when HUD approves the city’s grant program for this year, the general fund will be reimbursed the $8 million. Unfortunately, that will leave only $2.8 million for demolitions in all of 2002-2003. At about $7,500 per house demolished, that should pay for the razing of about 370 houses in the current fiscal year — compared with an average of 2,500 per year in recent history, according to city documents.

Since Kilpatrick announced his accelerated program in January to tear down abandoned houses near schools, many contractors have been working without pay. In fact, the city asked contractors to sign an agreement to work without pay until July 1, a highly unusual arrangement, says Cockrel.

“A lot of the contractors are hurting,” says Deborah Taitt, spokeswoman for the Inner City Black Wreckers’ Association. “It’s hard to work without money.”

Short, who works directly under the mayor, says the administration will return to council soon with a plan to reallocate HUD grant money to pay for additional demolitions in the current fiscal year. Ideally, the money can be taken from programs that haven’t yet started, he says.

Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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