Residents of this depressed auto town today voted for an increase in their taxes in an attempt to rescue the city government from almost certain bankruptcy and the possibility that control of Detroit's affairs would be wrested from Mayor Coleman Young.
The vote late tonight was running almost along racial lines, numerically, with about four out of five black voters approving the increase, and whites rejecting it by 2 to 1, with the city-wide total about 3 to 2 in favor.
Support for the tax referendum was concentrated overwhelmingly in black neighborhoods, where a "yes" vote often was seen as a declaration of loyalty to the brash, coarse and immensely popular Young.
White voters are outnumbered by blacks, 3 to 2, and largely resent Young and his administration's tax breaks and subsidies for downtown riverfront redevelopment while city services are cut neighborhoods.
Facing a $119 million deflict when the budget -- year ends next week, Young was forced to make the audacious 11th-hour request for higher taxes in a city reeling from layoffs and plant closings in the worst auto industry slump since the Depression.
Young's request charged against a national mood of revolt against rising taxes. He cranked a smoothly run political machine into action and turned the vote into a referendum on himself by stumping tirelessly in black churches.
The mayor warned of payless paydays, further drastic reductions in basic city services and a probable shift of control over city affairs to influential suburban legislators at the capitol in Lansing if Detroit were to go bankrupt.
The tax referendum is part of a fiscal package prescribed by Felix Rohatyn, who helped guide New York City out of financial crisis. Rohatyn had told Young that the city's crisis, caused by the auto industry decline and aggravated by the slowdown in the national economy, had left choices only of "extreme pain and agony."
As a result of the referendum, Detroit expects to raise about $94 million by increasing the city income tax from 2 to 3 percent for city residents and from 0.5 to 1.5 percent for commuters. Young plans to gain another $125 million from the sale of bonds and to save $76 million through wage concessions by city employes.
Objecting to the prospect of salary cuts and reopened bargaining, city workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes led opposition to the referendum. But they were out-manned by Young's forces, who sent sound trucks and more than 600 workers knocking on doors in the key, heavily black precincts.
More significant opposition, from white neighborhoods on the edge of the city, had been silent before the vote.
"I just voted no," said John Rinas, 28, who was laid off by Ford three years ago and is on welfare. "Seems like there's too much money going out. Nothing's coming back to us. . . ."