Lakes area voters will cast ballots on Tuesday, Aug. 7 to decide a number of contested Democratic and Republican primary races, and weigh in on several local and a pair of regional ballot questions. With the great volume of primary candidate contests and ballot questions this year, we are presenting our advice — for those readers looking for it — on the 11 local ballot questions in this week’s edition. Our Wednesday, Aug. 1 edition will include endorsements in the contested primary races and on the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) millage proposals. Readers will also find our endorsements at www.spinalcolumnonline.com. There, online readers will be able to learn about a bevy of contested primary races and all of the ballot questions.
When considering the many funding questions on the primary ballot, remember that 1 mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, which is generally equal to half the property’s market value. The owner of a property with a taxable value of $100,000 ($200,000 market value) would pay $100 in property taxes under a 1-mill levy.
Highland voters are asked to consider an additional 0.75-mill collection for a period of two years to provide police service funding for the 2013 and 2014 budget years. The township contracts for police services through the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department. In light of the very brief millage term and the critical importance of police services, we’re recommending a YES vote.
This ballot question comes on the heels of township voters authorizing a 2.7805-mill collection at the August 2008 primary election polls, a millage that will be collected twice more. In essence, the new millage proposal is a request to enhance that 2008 millage for the next two years. Township officials state declining property tax revenues required the elimination of three patrol deputies, a detective, and a lieutenant. Approval of the proposed millage would allow the township to bring back one patrol deputy and a detective. It also would prevent the township from having to make more cuts in law enforcement personnel by generating about $500,000 in each of the next two years. This proposal is relatively modest in that it would return only two of five eliminated positions for the next two years and hold the line on more cuts. The community needs those two positions reinstated to better ensure public safety and timely service, and for adequate backup for the remaining deputies working in Highland.
Charter Amendment/Road Millage
Another millage proposal for major and local road maintenance is going before village voters next month. A 2009 request for a five-year, 0.5-mill levy was shot down in a tie vote. Milford voters haven’t backed a road millage since 1999. Since that millage expired in 2003, village roadways have continued to deteriorate without a dedicated source of maintenance funding, which prompts the current request for a 3.5-mill collection for 10 years, which would then drop to a 1-mill levy for another 10 years. That’s right — a 20-year millage.
We don’t doubt the need for road maintenance, but we certainly question the duration of the proposed millage and suggest a NO vote. In this age of economic uncertainty, even a 10-year millage is pushing the limits of reason. To make voters to wait 20 years before having a chance to review the progress of road maintenance and mull whether village officials have been good stewards of tax dollars for roads borders on ridiculous. Vote NO and make the village come back with a shorter millage term at the November general election polls.
ALS Millage Renewal
This request for a 10-year renewal of an existing 0.63-mill advanced life support (ALS) millage is as close to a no-brainer as it gets: The millage absolutely needs to be reauthorized with a YES vote.
Frankly, we don’t know why one would consider voting against the renewal. The Waterford Fire Department would be unable to continue ALS patient transport services without this millage and would have to lay off 13 firefighters. Approving the renewal merely extends for another 10 years what property owners are now paying for an imperative service. Without local ALS service, residents would have to rely on private ambulance companies for transport. The community is far better served by township personnel backed up by private-sector paramedics. This truly is a matter of life and death.
It’s important to note that the estimated $1.2 million the millage would generate in the first year of the collection, and similar sums for the following nine years, would only be used to support ALS transportation services in Waterford — none of that revenue would be used to pay for services provided to neighboring Pontiac and Lake Angelus through ongoing contracts with Waterford.
Library Millage Renewal
While not as crucial as a public safety millage request like the ALS renewal, a proposed 10-year renewal of an existing 0.9118-mill library levy is necessary to keep important township services available. It warrants a YES vote.
Library officials easily could have made a case for a millage “restoration” proposal, taking the millage back to its original voter-approved 1 mill. Despite having to let go 14 employees, closing its branch library, and eliminating operating hours on Fridays since the revenue crunch hit home in 2008, the library only seeks to renew its millage at its existing level. Deciding against a restoration proposal or even a request for a new millage is an impressive sign of fiscal responsibility and restraint. Since no township general fund dollars subsidize the library, and the millage provides 91 percent of the library’s operating funds, failure to renew it would effectively eliminate the library. That must not happen, so please vote YES.
Parks and Recreation Millage Renewal
West Bloomfield voters are asked to approve a 10-year millage renewal of 0.2435 mills for parks and recreation acquisition, maintenance, and operations. With voter support, the existing millage set to expire in 2013 would be collected for 2014 through 2023. Seeking renewal now prevents the need for a special election next year. In addition, since there would be a one-year gap between now and the new 10-year collection period, the ballot language was written to indicate the first collection of the renewed millage could be less than 0.2435, if provisions of the Headlee Amendment to Michigan’s Constitution require a rollback. All of that adds up to thoughtful, reserved millage renewal proposal that’s worthy of a YES vote, which would help maintain current programs and services and avoid the loss of one-third of the Parks and Recreation Department’s annual budget.
Parks and Recreation Millage Increase
We’re less enthusiastic about this request for a new, 12-year, 0.35-mill levy for township parks and recreation acquisition, maintenance and operations. It’s been said that this new millage is necessary because of the loss of nearly $1 million in tax revenue since 2008. The department has cut $500,000 in spending and staffing over the last three years and will have to cut another $600,000 without the new millage.
Past voter support for several parks and recreation millages has resulted in an impressive log of facilities and programs. To pull the rug out from underneath the department at this stage by voting no on the new millage would jeopardize current operations, programs, and facility maintenance. Because of declining property values, authorizing the new collection would simply bring the Parks and Recreation Department back to 2008 revenue levels. So, voters are left to decide whether to protect their past investment by supporting the new millage, or voting no and seeing some of that investment neglected or perhaps lost. Given that tough choice, we suggest voting YES.
Police-Fire Operating Millage Renewal
First approved in 1992, White Lake Township voters need to cast a YES vote on a proposed renewal of a 1-mill levy slated to last for 10 years.
Sixty-five percent of the estimated $1.1 million the levy would generate in the first year will go to the Police Department, while the other 35 percent will go to the Fire Department to preserve existing levels of service.
Currently levied at 0.9526 mills due to reductions under the Headlee Amendment, approving the renewal would represent a modest tax hike from $95.26 per year to $100 per year.
If not approved, township residents would be looking at having a police department operating with between $600,000 and $800,000 less in annual revenue and a fire department working with roughly $320,000 less. Simply put, that means fewer police on the streets and less men and women staffing the township’s fire stations, leading to greater response times that threaten lives and property.
Both the police and fire departments have whittled back their budgets and been good, responsible custodians of White Lake tax dollars.
For the sake of public safety, White Lake residents can’t afford to let this proposal fall in defeat.
Fire Millage Renewal
White Lake voters also need to support with a YES vote a proposed renewal of a 0.674-mill levy for the Fire Department.
First approved by the township electorate in 2010 for a 2-year period, the township is simply asking for a 10-year extension of the levy voters overwhelmingly supported two years ago.
Proposed to run from 2012 to 2021 and expected to generate $630,642 in the first year, this levy would cost the average homeowner $67.40 per year to support the maintenance of existing Fire Department services, including personnel, equipment, vehicles and operational costs.
Similar to the joint police and fire renewal facing voters, this proposed levy would in no way provide for an increase in services. Instead, it is needed to stave off staff reductions in the Fire Department — which currently has 15 career firefighters, one secretary, and 26 paid-on-call firefighters — and keep operations at current levels.
Township voters need to renew their support of this levy and show up in strong numbers at the polls to ensure easy passage of this modest and needed proposal.
Fire Millage Increase
White Lake Township should also support with a YES vote a proposed 0.5-mill increase in taxes for 10 years to give the Fire Department the operating funds it needs during a difficult economic climate.
Property values have declined in recent years, leaving the Fire Department grappling with the difficult task of maintaining its existing level of services with revenue streams that are less than reliable.
Expected to generate $467,835 in the first year, the tax increase would cost the average homeowner $50 per year.
Fire Chief Anthony Maltese said that if all three of the proposed public safety millages aren’t passed by voters, six or seven career township firefighters could be facing the unemployment lines and the department’s service levels would be “devastated.”
Although we are less emphatic about this public safety proposal than the first two, the 0.5-mill request isn’t exorbitant and providing for public safety services is a top priority of local unit of government. Approving this tax hike, however difficult it may be to swallow for some, will help the township make sure its able to provide those services.
Parks and Recreation Millage
A fourth and final local ballot question facing White Lake voters would renew a 0.3-mill parks and recreation levy for five years, generating $280,701 in the first year. If parks and recreation services are important to you, this proposal deserves a YES vote.
This millage was originally approved by township voters in 2006 and it expired in 2011, meaning that a year has lapsed since the township last collected the levy that cost the average taxpayer $30 per year.
If approved, it would be used for park maintenance, pathways, park construction, and acquisition of land and easements. It also could be used to provide the township with matching funds for grants.
While not as critical as public safety services, parks and recreation amenities are still important parts of the community. Voters said as much six years ago when they — albeit narrowly — approved the initial levy in a 51-49 vote. White Lake voters should support a modest tax increase to provide for the maintenance of and improvements to the township parks system.
Charter Amendment/Millage Cap
Wixom voters must decide whether to OK a permanent 4.98-mill hike in the city’s charter millage cap. Although the current charter millage is capped at 8 mills, Headlee Amendment rollbacks have whittled the levy down to its current 7.5429 mills. We admit we’re not thrilled with such a beefy millage increase, particularly when it would be permanent and city officials have been saying they probably won’t need to levy the full 12.5 mills that they could with voter approval of the higher cap. But we look at this question as giving the voters a choice between paying more taxes in the future to maintain current service levels, or paying what they do now and losing programs and services. The problem is, one doesn’t know how much more property owners will have to pay.
Closure of the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant and the potential loss of personal property tax revenue under pending legislation in Lansing cause very real budget challenges for the city. Wixom officials have cut personnel by 20 percent over the past four years, frozen wages for three years, moved to a four-day work week, made significant changes in employee benefits, and relied on a budget stabilization fund to weather the storm. But the budget stabilization fund is quickly dwindling.
If you don’t want to lose the existing level of city services provided — everything from essential public safety services and staffing levels, to parks and recreation programs, road maintenance, and more — and you’re willing to pay more than you do now in city taxes, then you’ll want to vote yes on Aug. 7. If you believe the city should bite the bullet and whack away at personnel and programs to live within its current means, then vote no.