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.


Posted on May 20, 2013, in Issues and views. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Paddy Mullin

    Howling? Tsk, tsk. Shame on you.

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Geoff ,almost everything you say is correct. However you speak of other depts.This millage is for poice,fire,and roads. I hope they split it in 2.I will pay for road funding.I will take layoffs of police and fire over another tax increase.No other city is even thinking about tax millages.

    • Tax dollars currently devoted to Police, Fire and roads could be diverted to other departments if a public safety/road millage passes. As for no other city considering millages, I just read about one failing to go through during the past month. All municipalities in SE Michigan are in tough shape right now. I don’t imagine Sterling Heights will be the only town with a millage on the ballot come this November.

  3. As at least a few people have suggested in past meetings, I think they should put up 3 separate ballot measures:

    1. To fund the police department
    2. To fund the fire department
    3. To fund everything other than the police/fire department.

    For some time there have been questions about the disproportionate funding of the police department relative to everything else. It seems that the entire city structure has been gutted to finance the police.

    I also believe in leaving it in the hands of the people, By putting them forward as separate measures, we can more clearly see where the people what to put the money.

    If it’s put as simply a police/fire ballot measure, people will vote for it in order to fund the fire department, and the police department will continue to get the money.

    • I think there are practical limits to how many proposals you can put on the ballot and keep the choices understandable to the voting public. That said, most people would put Police and Fire services above all others in terms of importance, and I think that is represented in the way they are funded. The distribution of the funds if the new millage passes will be determined by law; the Police would not get any more than the law dictates.

  4. Mike Taylor asked about this proposal on his FB page but now his page appears to be gone or offline.

    Anyway, I don’t like how police, fire and public safety are all being grouped together for the 1.7mils. Does the council think they know what the residents want more than the residents themselves or is this some kind of game they play to help the Unions get what they want by grouping the two together so that a voter who wants to support one is forced into supporting other too. It’s like buying a car and being forced to get a complete option ‘package’ just so you can get the option you want. Total BS. If that’s a decision I will be forced into, I would vote no for everything.

  5. I don’t understand why some of the comments on here. why would you support the fire dept but not the police dept. they are both equally important for complete public safety .of course more funding goes to the police dept it is by far the biggest department in the city. its just common sense it would cost more. if you think they retire with pensions that are too high please remember that the firefighters have far higher pensions upon retirement than police officer do. so go ahead and vote no and enjoy your lack of service, just don’t complain when the police dept does not have a car to send to your home because your neighbor has been playing his stereo too loud . they will be taking priority runs only….

  6. If the Council would have done the smart thing and at least separated the Fire and Police portions of the millage to let the residents decide, I could have at least voted yes for the Police increase.

    Ask any firefighter from the surrounding communities and they’ll tell you our FD is a joke with respect to workload. I’ve talked with several and it’s a community where they all know what’s going on.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we outsource our ambulance/transport service, it’s more efficient that way for the city given all the equipment and training that must be kept up. But, as a result the FD is over-funded. Those guys spend more time in their pumper trucks making runs to the grocery store and going out to breakfast (we see them all the time) than actually fighting fires and you can retire with a sweet guaranteed pension for the rest of your life after 25 years of that.

  7. I will vote no.I was hoping they were split.It is all or nothing.I do not think it will pass.I wanted 2 man rigs,18 and ryan station shut down,before any new taxes.Fire averaged 2 fires per house per week last year.A dumpster fire,grass fire, all count.We have way too much “protection”.With the flight of crime from Detroit to sterling heights,we wll need all the police we have.I would vote for roads. Now there are 4 votes from my family the city will not get.

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