July 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

OUR EDITORIAL

Cities should cut costs, not raise taxes

Rather than turn to citizens for more money on the August ballot, communities should continue to trim spending

Voters in Mount Clemens must decide Aug. 5 whether to approve a hefty 5-mill tax increase that officials say is necessary to maintain current services. It’s too much to ask of taxpayers.

The proposal requests a boost to 20 mills from 15 to balance the general fund. Without the extra millage, revenues are predicted to fall short of expenses by about $1.1 million.

Mount Clemens is one of several Macomb communities with tax hike requests on the ballot.

Without the millage, city officials have expressed concern that state oversight of its finances may become necessary.

But a review from the state might help local officials balance the budget without a tax hike.

Consolidation, sharing services and privatization are proven methods of stabilizing local government budgets. Voters should assess whether Mount Clemens has done enough to find savings elsewhere.

Along these lines, Mount Clemens deserves credit for its past work to trim the budget. In 2005, it disbanded its police department and now is contracting with the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office. Other services, such as garbage pickup, also have been privatized.

Interim City Manager Robert Bruner says the city is looking at offering its water and waste treatment plant services to neighboring communities. Mount Clemens operates its own water system.

Bruner says the city wouldn’t qualify for Chapter 9 bankruptcy because it doesn’t have enough debt.

In fact, it currently has a fund surplus of about $2.9 million.

And turning to the state doesn’t mean an emergency manager is the only solution. There is a 12-step process that includes the option of a consent agreement between the state and the city — giving officials more local control in resolving the budget crisis.

Mount Clemens, like most cities, lost considerable tax revenue because of the recession, when property values plummeted. But city officials are too quick to turn to the taxpayers. They should instead continue their efforts to balance the budget with more creative management.

Elsewhere in Macomb County, Chesterfield Township voters must weigh a millage increase for police protection. An additional 1.25 mills is sought on top of the current 5-mill levy.

Police and fire protection should be basic services provided by local governments. Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay extra to feel safe in their homes or walking in their neighborhoods.

Residents in the South Lakes School District, which includes St. Clair Shores and portions of Eastpointe and Grosse Pointe Shores, also need to consider carefully a $25.585 million bond issue for technology updates.

Like many other districts, South Lakes does need technology upgrades to help students learn, especially given how quickly technology becomes obsolete. And it’s for that reason that schools should turn to more cost-effective options, such as leasing new equipment.

The state doesn’t allow bond money to be used for leasing, but it does give school districts considerable leeway in using available local and state finances.

Every millage increase proposal needs to be heavily scrutinized by voters because odds are, if approved, it will become a permanent fixture on municipal financial sheets.