On Election Day — exactly two weeks away, on Nov. 5 — many communities and school districts throughout Metro Detroit will be trying to enhance their financial positions through tax-increasing ballot proposals which should be a last resort, especially when it comes to essential emergency services.
Consolidation, sharing services and privatization are proven methods of stabilizing governmental budgets without increasing the tax burden on residents. Voters should assess whether their communities have done enough to find savings elsewhere.
Four communities are seeking police and fire millage increases or renewals. Police and fire protection should be basic services provided by local governments. But taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay extra to feel safe in their homes or walking in their neighborhoods.
Many communities have found financial relief in sharing fire services. Some have disbanded their small, independent police departments and contracted with their county sheriff’s office. These actions have eased tight budgets without increasing taxes.
Sterling Heights, however, is asking residents for a 1.7-mill increase for six years for police and fire protection, while in Clinton Township officials are seeking 1 mill for police for seven years and 1.25 mills for fire for nine years. Meanwhile, Grosse Ile Township wants .75 mills for five years to renew its police millage and Lincoln Park seeks to renew 3.4591 mills for three years for police and fire.
Voters also will face requests for tax increases from seven school districts and from two community colleges. In Farmington Hills, voters who just defeated in August a $222 million bond proposal are faced with a slightly reduced one of about $185 million. Opponents complained about the first proposal, saying many residents were not included in the planning of the project. They say even less public discussion was provided before placing the current issue on the ballot. It’s unfair to keep coming back to voters with the same request.
Other communities with school bond issues include: Grand Blanc, $36 million; Romeo, $5.1 million; Troy, $125 million; Walled Lake, $67.5 million; Richmond, $12.9 million; and Dearborn, $76 million. In addition, Mott Community College wants voters to approve a $50 million bond issue and Henry Ford Community College is seeking an increase of 1 mill for five years for operation.
There are also three Headlee Amendment override proposals. Overrides are pitched as renewals but they still result in increased taxes for residents. There was a reason the Headlee Amendment was passed by the state legislature in 1978. It was meant to control the tax and spend policies of many communities. The levies were forcing people on fixed incomes out of their homes. Headlee has helped many people, not only senior citizens but homeowners who have been laid off and others whose incomes have been drastically reduced. Headlee override votes are set for Lake Angelus, where taxes would increase by 2 mills, to 12.1588 from 10.1588; Pleasant Ridge, where the boost would be 8.5752 mills, to 20 mills from 11.4248; and Eastpointe, which wants a 7.8246-mill override to 20 mills from 12.1754.
One superfluous ballot proposal is Royal Oak’s Human Rights Ordinance. State and national regulations more than cover the issues addressed, and it places cumbersome compliance regulations on businesses. It’s on the ballot because a successful citizens’ petition drive put the law on hold after the City Commission passed the measure earlier this year.
Privatization and sharing of services as well as consolidation could easily alleviate many of the financial problems faced by local governments. Turning to residents for more money isn’t the answer.