July 30, 2014 at 1:00 am


Editorial: Assess millage renewals on performance

Tax levies shouldn't be automatically renewed; voters should consider how well money was used

Voters in several communities will be asked on Tuesday to renew tax millages. Typically, voter approval is automatic for such requests. But voters should treat renewals the same way they would a request for new taxes — weigh the merits and assess how well the money has been used in the past.

Wayne County and Oakland County have no countywide tax hikes up for consideration, aside from the SMART millage proposal The News has endorsed and the Wayne school millage proposal, which we did not support. But many cities are considering renewing mills that have expired, and there are a few new proposals on the table as well.

A 4-mill library renewal is on the ballot in Detroit. While the city’s library system has suffered mismanagement and been investigated by the FBI, libraries are a critical part of any city core, and this funding is essential to its continuation.

Grosse Pointe and Grosse Pointe Park are voting on new millages of 2.25 and 1.75 — to expire in 2015 and 2014 — for road construction and improvements. The state’s roads are deplorable, and it is understandable that voters in these cities want better roads as well. These proposed mills rightly expire quickly.

Grosse Pointe Woods wants to borrow $10 million for road repairs. While it’s risky for any locale to borrow money right now, roads are a needed investment.

Lincoln Park is looking to increase an 18.9-mill to a 20-mill rate for general operating expenses. As the most recent city to be put under an emergency manager, it’s obviously in need of more funding, and this would provide about $500,000. The millage doesn’t set an expiration date, and voters should consider whether their tax dollars will be spent wisely as the city restructures. As a rule, taxes should come with a sunset date.

Northville is looking to increase its property tax rate for public safety and shared services. Since the city already has more than 5 mills dedicated to these services (also up for renewal), voters should carefully decide if the almost $3 million this millage would bring in will actually augment public safety, or if this is a backdoor attempt to raise more general fund dollars.

In Oakland County, Hazel Park and Oak Park propose decriminalizing the possession and transportation of small amounts of marijuana for those over the age of 21. While state law should clarify existing provisions regarding marijuana possession for the sake of all residents, these cities will follow a smart trend of other Michigan communities if they vote yes.

Clawson wants to borrow $3 million for park improvements. While desirable, voters should ask whether they want to pay back the loan over 20 years. Rochester Hills is considering renewing a “green spaces” mill for just five years, a shorter length of time than the current mill, which is expiring after 10 years. This proposal moves in the right direction.

Most other mills in both counties pertain to renewals for police forces and fire departments. Voters should assess whether their locales have spent the money well, and the taxes are still essential.

Oakland County Commission

Only three of the 21 districts in Oakland County have contested primaries. Here are our recommendations for the primary.

District 1 (Orion Township, Orion, Lake Angelus, portions of Auburn Hills and Independence Township): This district has a contested race on the Republican side. Michael J. Gingell, of Clarkston, is seeking his fifth term on the board he now chairs.ness experience as a vice president of IHS Automotive make him our choice.

Gingell is challenged by retired superintendent and high school principal James Goebel of Lake Orion.

District 10 (Pontiac): Six Democrats are vying to fill the open seat left by incumbent Democrat Mattie McKinney Hatchett, who is not seeking re-election. Brenda Carter of Pontiac is the only candidate who returned our questionnaire, and her background and ideas make her a qualified candidate. She is currently the interim assistant for the Troy city manager. And Carter is a trustee on the Pontiac school board, as well as the representative for Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties for the Michigan Association of School Boards.

District 21 (Southfield and Farmington Hills): Two Republicans are running in the primary, and they’ll face incumbent Democrat Janet Jackson in November. Neither Michael Breznik of Southfield nor Richard Van Camp of Farmington Hills returned our questionnaire, and neither is likely to unseat Jackson. We withhold an endorsement in this district.