In less than two weeks, lakes area voters will head to the polls to vote on a variety of ballot questions impacting local public safety, parks and recreation, and library services, among others during the Tuesday, Aug. 7 primary election.
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.
What follows is a rundown of the local ballot issues voters will approve or shoot down in the primary election.
Highland Township has decided to ask for an additional 0.75 mills for two years for Oakland County Sheriff’s Department services on the primary election ballot, in order to have an additional opportunity to “come back again” to the voters for approval in November if primary election ballot issue fails, according to township Supervisor Triscia Pilchowski.
Due to declining tax revenues, the Sheriff’s Department Highland Township substation has lost three patrol deputies, one detective, and one lieutenant, according to the Keep Our Police Services Committee, which was formed to promote the successful passage of the ballot proposal.
If the proposal is approved, it would allow the township to bring back one patrol deputy and one detective.
“This wouldn’t replace the existing millage,” Pilchowski said. “It would complement it and would run out at the same time as the existing millage. If the revenue sources decline next year, services would be cut. We are really happy with the command structure, and the intention is to provide the community with more boots on the ground and to ensure the deputies have adequate backup.”
The ballot language for the proposed tax increase for Sheriff’s Department services reads as follows:
“Shall the authorized charter millage for the Charter Township of Highland for Police Services, established August, 2008, at 2.7805 mills and expiring in 2014, be increased up to .75 of an additional mill for a period of two years, starting with the December 2012 levy (budget years 2013 through 2014 inclusive), for the purpose of continuing to provide police services in Highland Township?”
According to the ballot language, the 0.75-mill increase will raise an estimated $494,894 in the first year the millage is levied. The portion of the revenue collected solely within the Highland Downtown Development Authority (DDA) District would be disbursed to the DDA.
“We are getting support from the community,” Pilchowski said. “I’ve talked with (a substation sergeant), and we both agree that all the feedback has been positive. This millage is really to bolster what we already have. To me, if we bring in those two individuals (that would be hired with the new millage funds), with the population we have — assuming the population doesn’t really change — we will have coverage that will go for a long time. Right now we have adequate coverage. It’s always better to be better than adequate.”
WHITE LAKE TOWNSHIP
White Lake Township is going to the public for approval of three public safety millages and one parks and recreation millage during the primary election.
Fire Chief Anthony Maltese said all three public safety millages are important because the departments receive no funding from the township’s General Fund.
“We are solely funded by our many millages,” he said.
Both he and Police Chief Ed Harris said that none of the proposed millages are being sought in order to increase services. Instead, the three are simply needed to maintain police and fire services at present levels.
The first public safety ballot question is a millage renewal for both Police Department and Fire Department operating costs. It first appeared on the ballot in 1992, was renewed in 2002, and is now up for renewal again.
If not approved, the Police Department is expecting a revenue loss of between $600,000 and $800,000 each year, while the Fire Department is looking at losses of around $320,000 each year.
“We currently have 24 sworn officers, including myself,” Harris said. “We recently had a dispatcher retire, but with all the uncertainty, I’m not sure we can replace that position.”
The Fire Department has 15 full-time firefighters, one secretary, and 26 paid-on-call firefighters.
The ballot language for the police and fire operating millage renewal is as follows:
“Shall the previously voted 1.00 mill increase in the constitutional tax limitation on the amount of taxes upon taxable property within the Charter Township of White Lake, which last resulted in a levy of .9526 mills in 2011, be increased to and renewed at the original voted 1.00 mill and levied for a period of ten years from 2012 to 2021 inclusive, for fire and police services, with 65 percent to be allocated for police services and 35 percent for fire services; and shall the Township levy such renewal?”
According to the ballot language, the township would collect $935,671 in the first year of the levy if renewed.
The second public safety ballot issue is for the 10-year renewal of a fire millage that was originally approved in 2010.
The ballot language for the fire millage renewal reads as follows:
“Shall the previously voted .6740 mill increase in the constitutional tax limitation on the amount of taxes upon taxable property within the Charter Township of White Lake, which last resulted in a levy in that amount, be renewed at .6740 mills and levied for a period of ten years from 2012 to 2021 inclusive, for the purpose of maintaining current fire and emergency medical services, including personnel, equipment, vehicles, and operational costs?”
The levy would generate an estimated $630,642 in its first year.
The third public safety issue is for a 10-year, 0.5-mill increase in the fire millage to combat declining revenues that resulted in a shortfall of funds as property values have continued to decline in recent years, according to Maltese.
“We have to renew the 2010 millage and ask for an increase for 2013 and 2014 to cover the shortfall,” Maltese said. “We are not looking to increase services, buildings, or personnel. We are just trying to keep the level of service our citizens have come to enjoy at its current level.”
The ballot language for the fire millage increase is as follows:
“Shall the limitation on general ad valorem taxes imposed upon taxable property within the Charter Township of White Lake be increased by 0.5 mills and that amount levied for a period of 10 years from 2012 to 2021 inclusive, for the purpose of maintaining current fire and emergency medical services, including personnel, equipment, vehicles, and operational costs?”
If approved, the levy would generate an estimated $467,835 in its first year.
Maltese said that if the three millages aren’t passed, in a worst case scenario, he expects six or seven career firefighters would be out of a job.
“Services and delivery to the public will be devastated,” he said.
White Lake Township is also seeking voter approval of a five-year parks and recreation millage on Aug. 7.
According to Jason Iacoangeli of the township Community Development Department, the millage is technically “new” but is requested at the same rate as a previous millage which expired a year ago.
“We can’t technically call it a renewal as it expired a year ago,” Iacoangeli said. “A year has lapsed, and now we are asking for it to be renewed at the same rate — 0.3 mills — as previously levied.”
The original millage was on the ballot in August 2006 and was collected from 2007 to 2011.
“This millage will be used for park maintenance, pathways, park constructions, and acquisition of land and easements,” Iacoangeli said. “It will be used for matching funds in connection with recreational grants.”
The ballot language for the parks and recreation millage is as follows:
“Shall the tax limitation on general ad valorem taxes within the Charter Township of White Lake, imposed under Article IX, Section 6 of the Michigan Constitution, be increased for the Township for .3 mills for a period of five years from 2012 through 2016 inclusive, for recreation purposes, including park maintenance, pathway and park construction, (including acquisition of land and easements for that purpose), providing matching funds in connection for grant applications for recreation purposes; and shall the Township levy such a millage for said purposes, thereby raising in the first year an estimated $280,701?”
Iacoangeli said he expects that even if the millage isn’t approved, the township would “just maintain the parks at status quo.”
“I would say we would still move forward with projects,” he said. “We would just have to get more creative when it comes to the financial end of it. We would use grants either way, but it’s nice when we have a dedicated millage to put money up front. We hope the residents of White Lake Township see the benefits of a dedicated park millage and will vote for it.”
WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP
West Bloomfield Township will be placing both a millage renewal and a millage increase for its Parks and Recreation Department before township voters next month.
Voters will not only be asked to approve a 10-year millage renewal of 0.2435 mills, to be collected from 2014 through 2023, but also a 12-year millage increase of 0.35 mills to be collected from 2012 through 2023.
The renewal and increase will be separate questions on the ballot.
The department is estimating the renewal to generate $758,789 in its first year, while estimating the increase to bring in up to $1,090,661 in its first year.
The ballot language states that the renewal and increase will be used for the support of the Parks and Recreation Commission in its acquisition, maintenance, management and control of township parks and places of recreation.
The owner of a property with a taxable value of $100,000 ($200,000 market value) would pay $24.35 in the first year of the millage renewal collection and $35 in the first year of the new millage collection.
Dan Navarre, the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said that the renewal is important to maintain the level of services and programs provided by the department.
“The renewal is one-third of our operating budget,” Navarre said. “Without it, service would be affected and the difference would result in cuts in recreation offerings and maintenance. Programs could be lost because of a lack of staff.”
He added that the increase is needed because the department has been dipping into its fund balance significantly since 2008 and that tax revenue for Parks and Recreation has fallen by over $950,000, which is approximately one-third of the departments’s annual revenue.
“The increase is restoring us to the 2008 level of funding and will allow us to continue the level of service we have right now,” Navarre said.
He added that the Parks and Recreation Commission has already cut $500,000 in operational spending and staffing over the last three years. If the increase is not approved, the commission will cut another $600,000 from the operations budget, resulting in additional reductions in recreation programming, maintenance and staff, Navarre said.
Navarre said that the last time voters renewed a Parks and Recreation millage was in 2002 at 0.25 mills, to be collected from 2004 to 2013, but that millage has dipped to 0.2435 mills due to the Headlee Amendment.
Both the renewal and the increase would be collected for the first time on the winter tax bill in December.
Milford Village is asking voters to authorize a ballot question to approve a new additional millage that would increase the charter tax rate for the purpose of defraying the cost of major and local road maintenance.
The proposal calls for a 20-year collection period, with 3.5 mills collected during the first 10 years before dipping down to 1 mill to be collected during the last 10 years.
A 3.5-mill levy would cost the owner of a village property with a taxable value of $100,000 ($200,000 market value) $350 a year. A 1-mill collection would cost the same property owner $100 in each of the last 10 years of the 20-year levy.
The village estimates that the 3.5-mill increase would generate $765,000 in its first year, while the levy at 1 mill would generate $220,000 in its first year based on current taxable values.
“We don’t generate enough money from state-shared (Public) Act 51 to maintain the roads, much less improve them,” Village Treasurer Becky Jacques said. “We’ve been transferring money from our operating fund to use for road maintenance. There has to be a different funding source.”
The village previously put a five-year, 0.5-mill levy for the maintenance of major and local roads in the village before voters in the September 2009 election, which resulted in a tie of 427 “yes” and 427 “no” votes, and ultimately the defeat of the ballot question.
The last time village residents approved a road millage was in 1999 at 3.445 mills, which was rolled back to 3.21 mills by the Headlee Amendment before the millage expired in 2003.
The first collection of the new millage would take place with the July 2013 village tax bill.
Wixom voters are asked to consider raising the city’s operating millage cap by nearly 5 mills in the Aug. 7 primary election.
Ballot language will reads as follows:
“Shall Sec. 9.2 of the Charter of the City of Wixom, Oakland County, Michigan, be amended so as to permit the increase of the millage cap not to exceed 4.98 mills for public safety and other city purposes?”
The city’s current millage cap is 8 mills. With Headlee Amendment rollbacks, the city levies 7.5429, according to Finance Director Kevin Brady.
“Other communities don’t have a cap in their charter, so they follow the state requirement of (a maximum of) 20 mills,” Brady said.
Opponents of the initiative say that the city has been lax in implementing innovative and cost-effective alternatives to help cope with budget woes.
“The city needs to recognize the new taxation under Headlee and Proposal A, and that the (higher) millage cap would only keep the status quo and doesn’t address lower revenues coming in before the economic downturn,” said John Lee, a former member of the Wixom City Council. “The economy is not coming back for at least 2 or 3 years and the new reality of revenues is what we have right now unless there’s more development.”
Lee also said the key to solving budgetary challenges is by reviewing services.
“There are efficiencies that can be gained, like more privatization,” he said.
Yet Lee was one member of the city’s Financial Task Force that recommended an increase in the millage cap being placed before voters. Other members included Richard Ziegler, Assistant City Manager Tony Nowicki, Brady and City Manager Mike Dornan.
“There was no dissent on placing it on the ballot or the language,” Ziegler said. “A consensus was reached that it was necessary and (that was) the way to approach it.”
Ziegler added he is concerned that a few former council members are voicing opposition to the millage cap proposal.
“I find it disingenuous that people who served on (the) council in the 1980s and 1990s and who were instrumental in creating programs and bigger buildings now are critical of (the) current council trying to maintain them,” Ziegler said. “That’s disturbing.”
Dornan said the city has worked diligently to address falling revenues. He said city staffing levels have decreased 20 percent from 2008, and there are four more positions vacated recently that won’t be filled.
“Everyone does more with less and these employees have balanced the budget on their shoulders,” he said.
Moreover, capital improvements were trimmed, employee benefits were changed from defined benefit to defined contribution plans, training and professional development were cut, and a three-year wage freeze was enacted.
“Even with these cuts, we still won’t be able to make it if the millage (cap increase) doesn’t pass,” Dornan said.
If the proposal is passed, it would give the city license to permanently up its maximum millage rate by up to 4.98 mills. However, city officials say they would only raise the millage rate if it is warranted. They also said it is a safety net based on a 10-year projection by Plante & Moran auditors.
“The 4.98 mills may not be used, but in future years the CPI (Consumer Price Index) increase and other increases will affect us unless there is new business or new construction,” Brady said. “We need a ceiling amount even though it’s not used early on or if at all.”
“If you want to protect your assets of your home, you need to maintain your town, roads, sewers and water,” Dornan said.
Since 2008, Wixom has experienced a 38 percent decrease in tax revenue. In addition, with the proposed elimination of the state’s personal property tax, the city would lose another 19 percent in revenues for a total loss potential of 57 percent, officials said.
In 2008 the city took in $1.4 million in tax revenue from the Ford Motor Co.’s assembly plant. Today it receives a fraction of that, at $153,000 a year.
Moreover, the budget stabilization plan adopted in 2005 is petering out.
“It was supposed to last four years, but lasted for seven,” Dornan said.
Voters in Waterford Township will be asked to decide on two millage proposals during the Aug. 7 primary election.
The first is ballot proposal asking constituents if the township should renew the advanced life support (ALS) transportation services millage for 10 years at 0.63 mills upon taxable real and tangible personal property within Waterford from 2013 through 2022.
The funds would be used by the Fire Department to serve only Waterford residents. The millage would continue to provide paramedic ALS services, as well as maintain current staffing levels.
The township would raise an estimated $1.2 million in the first year if the millage renewal passes.
The millage would support one of the four township paramedic units.
“The millage is for rescues located in Waterford,” said Fire Chief Ron Spears. “Even though we cover Pontiac and Lake Angelus, this millage is for rescue in Waterford. (If the millage doesn’t pass), the potential would be to lose 13 firefighters and transport.”
The second ballot proposal seeks to renew the library millage for 10 years at 0.9118 mills on property in Waterford from 2013 through 2022. The funds would be used to fund the operation and maintenance of the Waterford Township Public Library.
By levying this millage, it is estimated the township would raise $1.76 million in the first year.
“The library receives no revenue from the Waterford Township General Fund,” said Library Director Joan Rogers. “This dedicated millage represents 91 percent of the library’s operating budget. Without it, the continued operation of the library could be in jeopardy.”
The library has trimmed costs because the funds generated by the library millage have steadily declined since 2008.
In that time, the library has lost over $645,000 in revenue from the existing millage. In response, the library has implemented reductions to stay within its budget, including reducing staff by 14 positions, reducing service hours by 51.8 percent per week — including closing the branch library completely and the main library on Fridays — and reducing collection development by 70 percent, according to Rogers.
Staff writers Michael Shelton and Leslie Shepard contributed to this report.