PONTIAC (WWJ) – He may not be a “Detroit basher,” but Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson thinks “no deal is better than a bad deal” when it comes to doing business with the Motor City.
At his 20th State of the County address, Patterson spoke at length about the number one regional issue that pits Detroit against the suburbs — the “behemoth” Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which provides service to nearly 4 million people in southeast Michigan.
“The system is suffering from decades of neglect and will require billions in maintenance and EPA compliance costs,” he said.
Patterson pointed out that Detroit’s water department is nearly $6 billion in debt and operating on outdated technology, saying it still uses wooden pipes in some places. He said if nothing changes, water rates will likely go up — perhaps even doubled.
“As payers in this system, who have had nothing to do with the corruption and the organization of failures of the Detroit Water and Sewerage System over the past decades, we are still going to be the ones held responsible to pay for the repairs for the infrastructure. In other words, that’s a long way of saying your rates are going to go up,” Patterson said.
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has proposed debt-reducing plan that would establish a regional authority to run the city’s water department. However, the plan calls for suburbs to pay nearly $2 billion to lease the water department, in payments of $47 million a year for four decades. It’s something Patterson said he wants no part of.
“Instead of sending billions of dollars to help the Detroit Water and Sewerage system come into compliance with the EPA standards, why not use those billions to build our own water and sewer authority,” Patterson suggested to the applauding crowd.
Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash said while he prefers the idea of a regional authority, a stand alone water and sewer facility in Oakland County isn’t off the table.
“It’s a possibility and it’s something that we’re looking at. Long-term, it would be better to be in an authority, in my mind. But, it’s a valid possibility if we can’t come to an agreement,” Nash told WWJ.
During his speech, Patterson, who accomplished his goal of walking on stage under his own power after suffering injuries in a debilitating car crash, touted the county’s accomplishments and record of being technology trailblazers. He also introduced five major initiatives he wants to focus on over the next year: connected car technology, information technology, improving healthcare resources for homeless individuals and families, the creation of G2G Marketplace, and Count Your Steps — a program to fight childhood obesity.
Patterson said he wants Oakland County to be the first in the world to create a county-wide “connected car ecosystem.” A connected car will be able to transmit data about the vehicle and its location to other cars and to the road infrastructure. These transmissions, known as “heartbeats,” will be able to send location data that will dramatically reduce auto accidents as well as assisting emergency responders during an accident or crisis. He said a team of three appointees will run the program.
“They will make recommendations on how to deploy a connected car infrastructure in Oakland County, and then cooperate with the auto industry to connect the car stakeholders, auto insurance companies and service providers. So together, it will best utilize this new technology for improved vehicle safety and enhanced efficiency of the roadway system,” he said, adding that “the potential for job growth is staggering.”
Patterson said he also wants to create the Oakland County Homeless Healthcare Collaboration, which brings together more than four dozen healthcare and service agencies to identify the barriers and gaps in delivering adequate healthcare to the homeless.
One thing Patterson didn’t mention in his address is whether or not he’ll be running for reelection, but don’t count him out just yet.
“A lot of this was forecasting into the future,” said WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton. “So, I’ll say yes, it was a launch to his reelection campaign — although he didn’t say it. But, I’ll tell you what, Brooks Patterson would be very tough to beat.”