February 20, 2016 -- by Jim Neff
The Neff Zone
IF CADILLAC WERE FLINT
It's tough to imagine what it's like to live in Flint right now. We can read about it, but that's an impersonal exercise. Perhaps if we think about some of the same circumstances being applied to
our lives here in Cadillac, it might make the picture a bit clearer.
I realize this asks you to stretch your imagination, but before you think this is a futile “apples and oranges” comparison consider a few things. The per capita money income in Flint is $14,360,
but in Cadillac it's not much higher at $19,589 (U.S. Census). The poverty rate in the Flint area (Genesee County) is 21 percent, but the Cadillac area (Wexford County) is close at 18.6 percent.
According to FBI statistics, property crimes per 1000 people are 42.64 in Flint and 41.31 in Cadillac, virtually the same. So, preconceptions aside, let's imagine what it would living in Cadillac
under a Flint scenario.
First of all, the poisoned water is a given. However, it was revealed this week that Flint residents pay the highest water rates in the country. I don't know what the monthly water bill is at
your house, but Cadillac is now Flint, so your bill is now $864 per year. Bottoms up!
Of course, you had no say about the water rates because if Cadillac is Flint you were under the control of a state appointed emergency manage for the past five years. What this means is that the
mayor and city council members had no power to decide anything. Ask yourself who would want to run for one of these positions knowing all their time spent would be meaningless. What “high
quality” people would be interested in such a set up?
Plus, since those positions are meaningless, so the votes that elected them are meaningless too. What would be your incentive to even cast a vote in an election to select people to fill positions
that are pointless? Democracy has been replaced by dictatorship. You are now a serf.
Since the sole object of the EM is to save money, you probably don't feel safe leaving your house. In Flint, from 2008 to 2015 the number of police officers was cut 59 percent from 265 to 108. Divide that 108 into two shifts and it means 64 officers to protect Flint's 100,000 residents. Some of those have to staff the stations and do duties other than street patrol, so that explains reports on MLive and WJRT-TV of nights when Flint has only 5 officers on patrol. This is why: “It takes officers nearly 22 minutes to respond to the highest-priority calls, such as robberies in progress. The response is more than four-times longer than the 5-minute response benchmark for these types of calls.” Cadillac has 15 police officers on it's force, so if Cadillac is Flint that means a reduction to six. Split that to three per shift. If one of those three arrests someone and takes the crook to jail, now there are only two officers on patrol. Pretty good odds for criminals, so do you think the crime rate might go up?
Well, you still have to leave the house at some point because you have to eat, right? Assuming you are brave enough, the problem is, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you
live in a “food desert.” This is where there are no grocery stores in your area and the closest one might be several miles away. In Flint, because so many people lack automobiles, the city bus
authority has “Ride to Groceries” routes. If Cadillac is Flint, this is how it works. You walk to a bus stop a few blocks from your house. The bus picks you up and for 85 cents takes you to the
nearest grocery store – in Manton. You shop. You carry your bags to the pick-up spot and pay 85 cents. You get off, with all your bags, at the stop a few blocks from your house. You schlep your
Oh, by the way, if you work during the day and arrive home at 5:30 pm or so, you need to hurry. The bus service stops running at 7:00 pm. And it might be winter. And it might be dark. And there
are no police to respond to a mere mugging. Bon apatit! (http://www.freep.com/story/life/2016/02/04/flint-water-crisis-bus-groceries/79809556/)
All this begs the question, “Why don't those people just move?” In Flint, 16.5 percent of the houses are vacant. “RealtyTrac last analyzed vacancy data in September...Most of the empty homes in
Flint are investment properties, where owners live elsewhere and aim to rent them out. The ongoing water troubles has made it difficult, if not close to impossible, to sell a house.”
I don't know what your house is worth or how much money you have invested in it, but if Cadillac is Flint your house is now worthless. Do you board up your house and move, getting zero dollars
for your investment? Do you ride things out, but do no home maintenance to a valueless property? Do you think out-of-town landlords will be doing improvements to their rental units, or will they
just let them deteriorate until the place falls down and then take a business tax write-off? Oh, by the way, whether you leave or stay you still are on the hook for property taxes.
Okay, enough is enough. I hope this illustrates the “Flint picture” a bit better than just numbers on a spread sheet. Next week, some good things about Flint. Yes, there are glimmers of hope around the city. Many people are still trying to do some positive things. I'll tell you what I've seen first hand.
Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.