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Howze: ‘I stand with Detroiters’

Lisa Howze

Lisa Howze

The threat of emergency management has become more real in the last week for Detroit. The financial review team, appointed by Gov. Snyder, is closer to making their recommendation for financial management. Mayoral Candidate Lisa Howze says her goal is to eliminate the need for the measures put in place to “turn the city around.” Howze says she would work to eliminate the Financial Advisory Board and put in place the necessary financial safeguards.

Howze says her unmatched background in finance will guide the city, but not to state control.

Why are you running for mayor?

I’m uniquely qualified to do the job. There is no other candidate in the race who has the financial background and the accounting and auditing expertise. (I am a) certified public accountant with a master’s degree in finance. …My other reason is I want to demonstrate to the citizens of Detroit my commitment and sacrifice. This is the reason why I chose not to run for re-election to the State House in 2012, as a demonstration of that commitment. No other candidate can say they did that knowing they were running for an elected office in 2012. No other candidate has as compelling a story as I have that relates with everyday Detroiters.

What would you do about the financial challenges in Detroit?

There are three primary revenue sources in the city of Detroit. There is our income taxes, property tax and revenue sharing.

I want to be able to grow our income tax through tax collection and by bringing at least 10,000 jobs to the city of Detroit through City Airport. The second area is through better tax collection, using policy that I introduced while (I was) state representative that the Treasurer’s Department actually signed off on and said they were in agreement with.

With property taxes, we know our housing markets have been devastated through home foreclosures and tax foreclosures. Through my neighborhoods’ program, my goal is to stabilize our neighborhoods by going after those stabilization dollars offered through the federal government. Tapping into the community development block grants so those various community groups can have an opportunity to work toward improving the condition of our community.

Because blight is an eyesore in our community, one of the programs we wish to initiate is a demolition crew where we can have our own schedule of demolishing homes. For the everyday Detroit homeowner, that removes the unsafe structure in the pathway of your child going to school. It also improves your property value because abandoned homes are depressing the value of your property. It gives you a better opportunity to keep your insurance premiums low. For every burned out home that hasn’t been removed … that’s putting additional pressure on our homeowners from the standpoint of increased insurance premiums.

Last but not least there’s revenue sharing. We’ve talked, fought and screamed about the $224 million in revenue sharing (the state owes the city). I stand with Detroiters in terms of getting what’s owed to us. However, we have to make sure we take advantage of capturing today’s revenue sharing. The best way we do that is make sure we get our audited reports in on time. This is where the relevancy of me being a certified public accountant comes into play.

What would be your top priority, if elected?

Crime and law enforcement. I will spare no expense in making sure dollars are available so we can have adequate policing and (officers) have adequate equipment so they can do their job in a more effective and efficient way. That means they have the ability to respond (rapidly) and there’s more police presence in the fields and in our neighborhoods as opposed to just being in our downtown areas.

One of the hinderances officers have is paperwork. My first commitment is to make sure that we invest in the technology. Our current leadership has said we can’t afford it; I say we can’t afford not to have it. That $1.2 million is something that will be a line item in my budget to make sure police officers have the equipment they need so they can do the reports in a more timely basis and therefore have more time to investigate crimes and prevent them from occurring.

Considering your financial background, what do you think about the deals the city is entering into (i.e. Belle Isle, Lighting Authority)?

When I looked at the Belle Isle proposal originally put before City Council last summer, I only looked at it from a financial standpoint. In that proposed lease it says the purpose in which the state is looking to take over or manage the operations of the island is because the city of Detroit is financially stressed. Given that, my concern was, “Where is the cash inflow coming back to the city of Detroit to help us with our financial stress?” It’s one thing to do cost savings, that’s just a form of cutting, but you can’t grow the city back to prosperity if we have assets that are not generating revenues for us.

My biggest concern is our ability to make sure Belle Isle (or any other asset in the city for that matter) is producing a financial benefit to the city of Detroit. In this case, it does not.

Looking at that $6 million in cost savings: You have 1.5 million cars that visit the island annually. The city’s 2011 annual report shows 1.1 to 1.5 million on average that visit the island. If we were to assess a minimum $5 per visit, per car, that’s $6.5 million. That addresses the operating cost for the island. The other portion of that is the capital improvements, investing in the island’s infrastructure. We would be in a better position because we’ve handled the low-hanging fruit of doing what’s necessary as Detroiter’s collectively, saying we value our island and those things we value we put money toward.

As it relates to the Lighting Authority, this is a measure I supported both times it was brought to the House floor in Lansing. I’m proud of that vote, because the city of Detroit’s residents deserve lighting. This is another portion of the public safety umbrella of services we offer to the citizens of the city of Detroit.

Would you undo the consent agreement, milestone agreement?

The consent agreement has many facets to it. It was born out of the emergency manager law. There would have been no conversation of a consent agreement were there not an emergency manager law through Public Act 4.

We should be estimating our revenues twice a year, not just once a year, and we should be monitoring our success toward actually coming within budget of those revenue dollars. So when we determine that we’re not on track then we have to make adjustments. So, I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is the duplication of responsibility.

You have a nine-member Council, you’ve got a nine-member Financial Advisory Board (FAB). You have a mayor, you have the chairperson of the FAB. That is a duplication that we don’t need. My goal is to eliminate the need for the FAB. We will take from the consent agreement those things the city of Detroit needed in place in terms of managing and monitoring flow of the dollars. But in terms of that duplication, it has to go.

Regarding outsourcing of departments and services, would you bring those services back to the city? (i.e., Workforce Development, Health and Human Services)

When we outsource, we have eliminated an area where we could have actually used that as leverage within our city’s finances. Those grants are all federal dollars, what that does is … right now we have a deficit in our general fund because a lot of the costs that are buried there could otherwise be allocated to our various grant funds and Workforce development presented that opportunity for us, as well as our Health Department.

My concern is the way in which federal dollars have come into the city of Detroit but they’re being redirected to various nonprofits. And I don’t know if that’s actually allowable. My team and I are looking into this measure with the Justice Department to make sure if federal dollars have been designated to the city of Detroit to take care of certain needs, I’m going to make sure I exercise my fiduciary responsibility to make sure those dollars are being effectively utilized in the community to effectively serve the constituents they were intended for.

What would you do about the debt, debt service to the banks? Would you consider bankruptcy?

I don’t know if bankruptcy is the best route to go at this point. It is an option. But it has both its pros and its cons. The pros: We are carrying hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. That debt needs to be restructured, meaning getting a lower payment rate so payments are more manageable.

Instead of every 40 cents on every dollar we’re spending in the city’s budget going toward debt service, those dollars could be used to pay city services, trash pick-up, public safety and law enforcement, etc. By restructuring the debt, we’re going to need the assistance of the state to make that happen … If we’re going to cut anything in the city of Detroit, we need to cut the interest rates so we can find ourselves getting out of debt much quicker than we currently are.

What core services do you believe a city should provide?

Public safety, transportation, public lighting, health and human services. Making sure that people have the necessary tools to get jobs and keep those jobs. And recreation for our seniors and our youth.

Hantz Farms?

I think they got a steal. When you talk about more than 100 acres of land for pennies on the dollar, that’s definitely a steal. The impact that has on our tax base, farm land isn’t as taxable in terms of the rate that we can apply to it as if it were used for commercial or residential use. So, we have to have a good mix before we start parceling off land.

What was your strategy behind the Super Bowl ad?

The strategy was to insert myself into this race as a true contender. Those who may have considered me an underdog or someone who’s a second-tier candidate are now saying, “Uh oh, we should never underestimate the underdog because Lisa Howze is serious.”

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