Greg Murray

By Greg Murray

August 17, 2012

(This is the first of a series of columns on the Assessor’s Office.) 

The City of Detroit is at it again. One step forward, two steps back.

Everyone knows the City of Detroit needs every penny it can get.  What some do not know is that there are divisions within Detroit’s departments that are charged with generating revenue.  One would think that those departments and divisions would be given priority when it comes to providing them resources need to keep the money flowing.  But one would be mistaken.

The city of Detroit’s Assessors office is out of paper.  Completely out of paper.  They need paper to make the city’s cheddar, so to speak.  The division cannot function without paper. You might think it is a small thing, but what business can function without paper?

This office within the City of Detroit’s Finance department is tasked with generating and defending millions of dollars in property tax assessments.  Yet, the workers in this office cannot get printer paper for its office because the vendor has not been paid and will not allow new orders.  That stops the business of the office dead in in its tracks.  A scramble is on right now to get some paper into the office at some point next week. Re-read that last sentence. 

Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh (l) and Mayor Dave Bing (r).

How does this happen when Bing’s administration just rammed two personal service contracts down City Council’s throat for the division’s two management-level assessors who retired after 20 years with the city on July 20, 2012?  These two, who will now be paid a total of more than $250,000, ran the office that cannot now get a basic office resource such as paper. Who would not find this situation unconscionable and why should not those two persons be held accountable?

Starving a department of the resources necessary to conduct business is an age-old management strategy to negatively affect the performance of the department and thus justify contracting out the functions to other parties “to improve operational efficiency.”  Where have we heard this before (Detroit’s  Workforce Development Department, Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, and the Detroit Human Services Department)?

Assessor’s Division is in charge of property taxes which provide revenue to the city.

Sounds like a tactic right out of Bain Capital’s alleged playbook.

Bing’s administration has been in office long enough to ensure payment to vendors for services to key department and divisions.  The assessor’s office is such a division.  The assessor’s office determines the property tax for homes and businesses and answers taxpayer appeals of those assessments to the Michigan Tax Tribunal, which affects revenues the city should receive for property tax assessments. The revenue this department brings in helps prop up Detroit’s annual budget, and any slowdown in its operations can actually worsen the overall deficit.

In the corporate world, someone’s head would roll. Someone in management should be fired or, at the very least, disciplined.  The two high level assessors who ran the office for years and who just retired just to get cushy personal service contracts in the same division should be held accountable for what appears to be a history of their department’s bill’s not being paid.  Just where does the buck stop?

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