Everyone understands that our cities are going to have to make do with less help from Lansing. In fact, nearly every city, village and township in Michigan has had a harder time the last few years.
Not only has revenue sharing been cut; declining property values and more foreclosures has meant less tax revenue.
Now, we are about to find out the answer to a crucial question: Are the residents of hard-hit cities going to be willing to pay a little extra to keep up services and their quality of life?
Tomorrow, a number of cities around the state will ask their residents to do just that. Perhaps the most important of these elections is in Southfield, just north of Detroit in Oakland County, one of the many suburbs that exploded after the coming of the freeways.
Southfield’s gleaming office towers hold a daytime population of perhaps two hundred thousand. But at night, seventy-one thousand people call Southfield home. The city is one of well-kept split levels and ranch houses, with a lovely city center complex and one of Michigan’s newest and largest libraries.
Thirty years ago, Southfield was populated largely by young Jewish families. Today, it hasn’t lost its leafy character, but is now seventy percent African-American. Thanks largely to the recession, housing values have crashed, and so have sales tax receipts.
Mayor Brenda Lawrence and the other city leaders know they are on the point of a knife. They have to keep services up and crime down, or their city could topple into urban decay. They don’t say it aloud, but their biggest fear is that Southfield could become Detroit.