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Budget Cuts Could Impact Detroit’s Aesthetics

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DETROIT (AP) - It remains to be seen how Detroit’s cost-cutting measures will affect basic public services, but there’s a good chance residents will be asked to step in to fill some of the gaps.

Detroit’s General Services Department, which maintains parks and cuts the grass on city properties, could lose staff under Mayor Dave Bing’s proposal to shave $250 million in spending and possibly more than 2,500 jobs from the city’s budget.

Grass at more than 100 city parks will be allowed to grow longer throughout the summer months as resources dwindle.

“We inevitably will have to put more parks in limited maintenance,” General Services director Brad Dick said. “Those parks we only cut once a year. We cut them in the fall so they can look decent going into the winter season. We’re still going to do the best we can. We have to do what we have to do to get out of this financial crisis.”

Dick’s department has about 30 fulltime grounds maintenance workers. His 90 seasonal workers are less than a third the number from about seven years ago. The department also has fleet, facilities management, administrative and security divisions.

The city has more than 300 parks and over 6,000 acres of land to mow and provide maintenance. Belle Isle, Rouge Park and parks with summer programs geared toward youth and families will get most of the attention, while smaller, neighborhood ball fields and playfields may be virtually ignored.

There are “no-mow zones” in some larger wooded parks, like Rouge, where only some grassy areas will get cut.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Cheyne said maintaining the 130-acre Eliza Howell Park remains a challenge. Maintenance issues are part of a lawsuit filed by Cheyne’s family, who donated the property to Detroit in 1936 and now wants it back, claiming the city has reneged on its upkeep responsibilities. Cheyne said even in better financial times, the city’s record for grass cutting and keeping the far west side park tidy has been shoddy at best.

“Last year, they mowed it once or twice,” he said. “There are wild dogs that run in there. It isn’t treated like a park. It’s like a stepchild in a way. Nobody cared for it.”

The department is slated to service 100,000 vacant lots and other properties under Bing’s 2012-13 budget recommendations before the City Council. That’s up from 60,000 two years ago.

But overall spending for all divisions under General Services has been nearly halved from $68.5 million in 2010-11 to $39 million recommended for the upcoming fiscal year. Salaries and wages would drop by more than $6 million.

While the cash shortfall can’t be made up, residents are being asked to pick up the slack by cutting grass and weeds as part of an adopt-a-park program.

“Every year we give out thousands of bags and gloves. We lend rakes and shovels to community groups,” Dick said. “We will arrange trash pickups. We’ve got to do it all together.”

Volunteers will join residents cleaning several locations Saturday in Detroit during the final day of the annual Motor City Makeover.

The neighborhood beautification campaign includes cleaning areas around homes, businesses, churches, school and vacant lots. Some groups also plant flowers and trees, and remove graffiti from the sides of buildings.

A vacant lot and burned-out building near Jennifer Revoir’s southwest side home is one of the targets.

“It’s falling down and kids play around it all the time,” the 37-year-old stay-at-home mom and college student said. “They are dumping plastic bumper covers from cars, construction materials. There’s a boat – stripped – in the parking lot.”

Sometimes you have to step out to make your own neighborhoods presentable, Revoir added.

“If the city can’t take care of it, why can’t we take it and maintain it ourselves?” she said. “I don’t want to look at a broke down Detroit.”

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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