Should we vote on a tax increase?
City Council is about to consider a resolution that would place a 2.5 mil tax increase for public safety and local road improvements on this November’s ballot.
Predictably, the howling by those in the anti-tax corners of the city has already begun, yet those folks are doing both themselves and their fellow residents a disservice. By opposing this measure, we would not be giving the public the opportunity to decide for itself whether or not the continuation of the status quo with regard to public safety is worth paying on average $150 more per year in property taxes.
I first became aware of city politics several years ago when I discovered the city was proposing to levy a 1.9 mil tax increase in 2010. I was strongly opposed to the increase; the economic situation in Michigan was dire, and the circumstances the city was in at the time did not justify the tax increase in my opinion.
Since the tax increase went through, I have followed the city’s progress as it has attempted to cut costs and live within its means. Although our city employees have taken a significant reduction in pay, benefits, and pension, the quality of service has remained roughly the same. Some of the most egregious abuses, such as the DROP program, have been eliminated. However, the condition of the city’s roads and the municipal vehicle fleet are deteriorating. Most of the computers you will see on desks at City Hall are antiquated. The equipment in some of the departments, such as the Community Relations Department, is in a shocking state of disrepair. We have seen personnel reductions in both the police and fire departments, and services that once used to be free to all residents, such as chipping up trimmed tree branches for disposal by the DPW, have begun to cost extra for those residents that use them. Gone now is the free rock salt that once used to be distributed to residents for use on sidewalks and driveways in the wintertime. And in case you haven’t noticed, when it snows heavily, the process of clearing the roads takes longer and starts later than it once did.
The simple fact of the matter is that the city’s revenues have plummeted, and the increase in home taxable values back to their pre-crash levels may take decades, and under Proposal A will be capped at 2% per annum. A soft real estate market will continue to mean slow improvement in the city’s tax revenue. Meanwhile, the level of service we receive from our city government is declining, and could decline a lot more.
I am not happy about the prospect of a tax increase. Along with everyone else, my expenses have continued to go up with inflation without a corresponding increase in my income. The difference this time, though, is that the residents are going to get to vote on what happens next: we will decide collectively whether or not we are willing to pay more to maintain our city government. Another important difference this time is that I have seen genuine sacrifice on the part of the city employees, reductions of waste, and significant effort made towards reducing legacy costs. Have those reductions gone as far as they possibly could? It is difficult to say, but the fact that they have happened and are significant is indisputable.
The idea of putting it to a vote of the public strikes me as eminently fair: one of the chief objections to the 1.9 mil increase was that the residents didn’t get to vote on the matter. Now we will have that opportunity, and the city will have to make its case for the increased revenue to all of us, rather than the 7 people who sit behind the head table at City Council meetings.
Ultimately, I am a believer in the democratic process, and I think the public will choose what is best for themselves and the city. You will note that the people who will be voting on this tomorrow night are putting their political careers on the line: this is an election year for them, too. Something tells me that they wouldn’t vote to put a major tax measure on the ballot during a re-election campaign unless it was necessary.
For this reason, I support the process the city will go through to bring this measure to the ballot next November. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, and I will be following it very closely.
As usual, feel free to leave a comment below.