Less than a month after Governor Rick Snyder and Dave Bing commended Detroit city council members for approving restructuring contracts and ousting the city’s controversial head lawyer, the City/State relationship is soured again.Snyder quickly pulled that state’s 30-year lease offer for Belle Isle after city council members voted 6-3 to table a decision on the deal, a setback that could have delayed a vote for weeks.Immediately after the council made their decision, Snyder wrote Bing to tell him that the deal was off.“I am extremely disappointed with today’s decision by City Council to table the vote on the Belle Isle lease deal with the State,” Bing said in a statement on Tuesday, confirming that the governor “has now withdrawn the proposed Belle Isle lease agreement” from consideration.”
Bing said the plan would have relieved the city of its fiscal duty to maintain the park, which has seen shoddy upkeep in as the city’s funds dwindle.
The offer would have given the state control of the island park while the city worked to stabilize its own dismal finances according to Bing.
Under the agreement, Belle Isle would have been run as a state park under the management of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and motorists would have to pay an annual $11 fee to enter the island.
“I believe the majority of Detroiters supported this lease agreement,” Bing said. “City Council’s actions today will force us to look at making additional cutbacks that may negatively impact the City’s other parks.”
The city has cut Belle Isle’s upkeep budget by 76 percent over the past six years according to the city’s general services department. Running Belle Isle at a bare minimum still costs almost $6 million a year.
Supporters of the lease offer said that the millions the city spends annually on Belle Isle could go to other city parks that sorely need maintenance.
But city council president Charles Pugh, who wavered on his opinion of the deal, said he isn’t disappointed that the deal is off.
“I was never fully comfortable with the belle isle lease anyway,” He said after he voted to stall the decision. “It’s one of those things where you pull the trigger on the deal and then something better comes up a year or two later and you’re like dang what have we done?”
Pugh said he wanted to brainstorm other possibilities to gain revenue to keep the island under city control and ownership. “We never really looked at the fact that we have a port authority with its own bonding capacity. We just applied for a national historic designation for Belle Isle we don’t know what kind of grant opportunities that exist because of that.”
Pugh suggested that Bing was not a “focused mayor” and not determined to find a solution for the Belle Isle expenditures in-house.
“I feel like we have not had a full commitment from the mayors office to make sure our jewel really is a jewel,” he said. But the withdrawal of the offer shows frustration on Snyder’s part. A spokesperson for the governor said the deal was off because the DNR needed to know by the end of January whether it needed to budget for Belle Isle in the 2013 fiscal year.
A soured relationship between the city and the state could also fast track an emergency manager to take over the city’s finances and siphon much control from elected officials. Detroit is currently under state financial review to determine whether the governor should appoint an emergency manager to the city.
Because the Belle Isle Lease was part of a consent agreement between the city and the state it is unclear if the cancellation of the offer will put the city’s finances over the edge into emergency management.
Pugh said he hoped Snyder would not hold a grudge because of the council’s decision to postpone a vote on the deal. “I hope that Governor Snyder would not go away angry from this seeming rejection of the Belle Isle lease and then not want to partner with us. I would love the state to be a partner with Belle Isle but not with the state running it.”