Vote YES on the Millage Increase


I am writing to encourage you to vote ‘YES’ on the proposed public safety and roads millage issue on the ballot November 5.  My support for this comes with some hesitation but a lot of thought. I believe the city has made the case for the additional tax.

Quite simply, the alternative is awful.  The city has a contingency plan in place should the millage fail.  That plan will needlessly increase the everyday risk that residents face of losing property to a fire, dying of a sudden illness, or becoming victim to criminals.  The shut-down of Fire Station #4 will increase the response time to unacceptable levels in the southeastern part of the city.  The partial shut-down of Fire Station #5 will at times make the response time in the northwestern part of the city equally unacceptable.

And that doesn’t really consider the matter of the police.

Back in 2006, when I took the Citizen’s Police Academy, one of the statistics I learned was that Sterling Heights is actually operating with fewer police officers per 1,000 residents than most cities of its size.  Being that response times were generally very good and crime relatively low, the police brass was satisfied that they were delivering adequate policing, owing in no small part to the fact that their officers were rather well paid, and thus were in the upper echelons of the available labor pool.

That was seven years ago.  As you know, the economic times have changed, and not exactly for the better.

Laying off 40 cops may not seem like a big deal, but it is going to compromise the coverage the department can muster.  Policing is something that has to be done continually; there is no “making an area safe” and then sitting back to reap the rewards.  As most ads for stock brokerage houses say, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

One thing I remember vividly from the Police Academy was Captain Frank Mowinski (retired) describing how the police work to prevent crime.  Cpt. Mowinski had a gift for humor which made some of the things he said especially memorable.

To paraphrase, he said “you see, Clinton Township, Shelby Township, Warren, Troy…they’re all working hard to get their criminals out of town by pushing them to cross their city borders and leave.  The ones that come here?  We’re working hard to push ‘em back!”

Reducing if not completely eliminating the traffic division and cutting back on investigations of all but the most serious crimes is going to hurt our ability as a city to withstand the increasing lawlessness in our society.  With the collapse of the City of Detroit’s government and a highly unstable economy, relying too heavily on luck to keep the crime rate here low doesn’t seem like a safe bet.  We’re going to start losing the race to “push ‘em back.”

Intelligent, conservative people like myself may argue that it is up to the city to live within its means, that taxation is burdensome to everyone, especially elderly residents living on fixed incomes, and that the city does, after all, have some of the best paid police and fire staff in the state.  All of these things are true.  (I have found, however, that some of the claims of ridiculously excessive wages paid to public safety employees are highly inflated and taken out of context, reflecting ignorance of federal tax law on the part of the people making the claim.)

Unfortunately, the city’s means are no longer sufficient.  They shrank dramatically in 2008, and although they show tentative signs of recovery, they will not recover completely until the 2020s — if all goes well, which is hardly assured in this time of a federal government shutdown.  In fact, our economy is probably at greater risk of collapse today than it was in 2008.  The very real prospect of a federal government default should be viewed like storm clouds on a hot day in July.

The city has spent down its savings.  But it has also made a serious effort to reduce costs — and spurred Public Act 312 arbitration in the process.  There are no further reductions of public safety salaries legally possible.  The only thing the city can do now is lay off massive numbers of people.

In the meantime, the vehicles our city employees drive around in are seriously dilapidated and many, in my very conservative view on vehicle condition, are unsafe.  The computers on the desks of city employees are antiquated, and most use an operating system for which the vendor has long ago announced it is cancelling ongoing support.  By this time next year, our city could very well fall prey to cyber criminals due to unpatched operating system exploits.  There are similar warts and bandages applied in every aspect of our city government.  I have toured most of the buildings.  I have seen the unavoidable deterioration with my own eyes.

Although some will argue that the last of the savings have not yet been wrung out of the city budget, my experience in interacting with city employees, being part of the CERT team, and in talking with our elected officials as well as the Fire Chief is that the operation is nearing a breaking point.

If you are a true, small government, Tea Party conservative who resents taxation, unions, professional fire departments and the rule of law, don’t vote for the millage.  I believe you will be shocked at the results if your side carries the day, but by all means vote your conscience.  If you number yourself among these folks, I respectfully disagree with you on philosophical terms, but I also respect your right to your opinion.

If, on the other hand, you try to take an objective view that is informed by a conservative philosophy as I am, I think the reasonable conclusion is that the city government has made its case.   The collective investment we have in the city needs further support to remain viable, and our personal quality of life will not be too dramatically impacted by a 2.5 mil increase.  If you are concerned about public unions reverting back “to the good old days” of high benefits and even higher wages, don’t be — this millage won’t support that kind of spendthrift behavior.   Even with the millage, which will sunset in six years, incidentally, there won’t be enough revenue brought in to do anything but maintain things at the current level.

As far as the roads portion of the millage is concerned — again, in my opinion, as most things here are, the roads are already in abominable shape.  My own driveway apron has been rendered difficult to negotiate by broken concrete in the street which has caused the driveway to seemingly “sink”.  Most residential streets in town are in equally bad shape.

I am a very tough sell on tax increases.   As many might know, this website arose in no small part from my opposition to the last tax increase, and I still resent the way it was enacted.  Before coming to the conclusion that I have on this, I reached out to a significant number of people within our city government to make sure I understood why it was being proposed and what the stakes are if it fails.  I think I asked some tough questions.  I know that I got some honest, heartfelt answers, both from people in charge as well as people who answer to them.  I have spent a considerable amount of time on this.

It is my carefully considered opinion that this tax increase needs to happen.  Vote ‘yes’ on November 5th.


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Posted on October 15, 2013, in Election 2013, Public Safety. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Until the smoking ban in bars is repealed, I’ll never vote yes on another millage. I know it was a state law but the cities including Sterling Heights seemed more than happy to go along for the ride. I’m sick of the nanny state. They pass these unconstitutional regulations that hurt businesses then they want to make up for the lost revenue in extra taxes.

  2. you are hardly a “conservative”

  3. Geoff,
    I have watched and read your posts over the past few years. I think you post a very valid argument. I myself am not a fan of taxes or tax increases (I don’t think many are). However, I know they are the essential fabric that make this country run. I also believe that taxes that are spent in my backyard where I can see those dollars in action is a no brainer. I am not saying give away the farm, but an increase such as this is a small investment. If the millage were to fail, what will insurance rates rise to with less fire “coverage”. If crime rises where will our homeowners and auto rates be at? Could or would they rise to this increase? Most likely not, but I guess it’s possible. Having the resources to keep roads plowed efficiently and timely must prevent auto accidents. What is the value of personal injury? Wether its 1 serious or several accidents, what is the value in preventing them. I could continue on with several more points, but I think my point has been made. To me, this is a much needed Vote YES desicion. I look forward to reading your future thoughts.

  4. Read my lips: no new taxes. Troy has volunteer FD and has a better rating than SH. Do not be sceered folks. Our boss blogger Geoff was agin new taxes before he was fer em. Did one of his council buddies twist his arm or promise him something? Mr LaRouche writes a compelling argument here:http://www.sourcenewspapers.com/articles/2013/10/23/opinion/doc52618473e1add913106831.txt
    Good day and God bless

    • I published this comment because it demands a response.

      Point by point below.

      1. Troy has a volunteer FD and has a better rating than SH.

      Troy does indeed have a volunteer Fire Department, and one of the ratings the insurance companies use to rate the performance of Fire Departments is better for Troy than Sterling Heights.

      What Mr. Roberts is overlooking is something that the Troy Fire Chief himself will tell you (and I have spoken to him personally): A switch to a volunteer FD in Sterling Heights would never work. Ask him for yourself, Mr. Roberts.

      Mr. Roberts is also glossing over the facts regarding the insurance rating. To say that the validity of that rating is controversial would be an understatement. The entire story is lengthy and would take more time and words than I can muster, but I encourage the reader to investigate this on his own. If we compare actual response times and results, the reality is that Sterling Heights is better served by its professional Fire Department than Troy is by its volunteer Fire Department. It’s not a fact I particularly like: I would prefer volunteer-run departments if it worked well in this situation. But the facts are the facts. And I’ll stick with what works, thank you.

      2. Geoff was against new taxes before he was for them.

      Not true, and once again out of context. I certainly was against the 1.9mil hike, resent the way it was accomplished, and feel like it was unwarranted at that time. In fact, that tax increase spurred the creation of this blog.

      On the other hand, I was for the bond issue put before the voters to improve the fire stations and voted yes on it. I didn’t have a blog then, so I didn’t write about it. But I was familiar with the condition of the fire department station buildings, and the improvements were clearly necessary. It was good public policy to reinvest in replacing some very tired, worn out, and obsolete buildings. So I was for that one.

      3. “Did one of his council buddies twist his arm or promise him something?”

      Like City Counselors have anything to give? Give me a break. These people earn $15,000 per year to take crap from the likes of Mr. Roberts. None of them, with the possible exception of Paul Smith, has any real wealth. I already have all the access I could ever want to the city employees, board meetings, City Manager, Fire Chief, Police Chief and Council Members. I am not running for election, am not volunteering for any spot on any board, and the CERT team doesn’t stand to benefit as a condition of my support (although it certainly will benefit — our Police liaison won’t be laid off, and our trailer project will continue to move forward. Not sure how this benefits me directly; it certainly does benefit the city as a whole, though, to have a well supported Community Emergency Response Team if a tornado comes through.)

      My arm wasn’t twisted, Mr. Roberts. I’m just not an ideologue. I don’t reflexively say “no” to taxes when they can be justified, and in this case they have been.

      And as for my “buddies” — well, Mr. Roberts, all I can tell you is that they’re man and woman enough to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with me instead of quasi-anonymously sniping at me from behind a keyboard. Something that your boy Paul Smith is afraid to do, and something that I haven’t seen you do either. Who are you, anyway?

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