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Council Discussions on Millage Ballot Initiatives Continue

Dearborn officials are now exploring the details of a proposed millage increase, plus advisory questions about how the money will be allocated.

Talks of what will be on November’s ballot for Dearborn voters are heating up amongst Dearborn City Council members, as the deadline approaches for the approval of ballot language.

A meeting on Monday afternoon at City Hall proved to be the first concrete look at what residents might be voting on this fall, including adding 3.5 to 5 mills to taxpayers’ loads, with a sunset provision, and asking residents what the “essential services” really are in Dearborn.

Public discussions of a millage increase have been happening since as early as April, but council members and Mayor Jack O’Reilly have not yet agreed on how many mills the ballot proposal will ask for.

Councilwoman Nancy Hubbard saw it as all or nothing. “Let’s go for the full five (mills),” she said Monday.

In dollar amounts, five mills on an approximately $100,000 household would mean about $270 per year above what taxpayers are paying out now, which Hubbard pointed out would not be that much spread out over several payments.

But Councilman David Bazzy said he believes the council should be more cautious in what they ask for.

“I don’t know anybody in the city that thinks they’re not paying too much in taxes right now,” Bazzy said. “It’s a dangerous roulette wheel to go for the five mills. It’s a situation where people don’t really trust public servants anymore. They don’t trust that we’ve … done the best job in managing their money over time.

“It’s a significant amount of money for an average person who feels that their house is overtaxed already.”

Whatever the measure asks for, the ballot initiative will likely not identify specific funding categories that the mills will go toward.

Instead, Mayor O’Reilly proposed that voters be presented with advisory questions on the ballot, asking them to identify what the “essential activities” are in Dearborn, such as pools, libraries, leaf pickup and recreational services.

The advisory results would not be binding, but would be used by the City Council to determine where the pool of millage funds would be used to best serve residents.

“You’re simply asking the people who show up and vote what’s their opinion on their issues, and that becomes guidance,” O’Reilly said. “I don’t think there’s a better way to test what people think.”

At this point, everything is still very much up in the air. The brief Monday afternoon meeting is tentatively set to reconvene on July 12, though no official meeting notice has been posted.

Ballot language is supposed to be turned in to the state by July 8, but Attorney General Bill Schuette has given Dearborn the go-ahead to take an additional few weeks to come up with their concrete proposal.

The city will need full approval from Schuette and Gov. Rick Snyder in August to officially place the questions on the November ballot.

Frank Lee June 28, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Before you can honestly come before the taxpayers and ask us for more, you have to address the explosive growth of revenue budgeted for public safety. This mayor, never communicated the full amount of revenue needed, and the discontinuation of city services necessary to support the minimum staffing requirement addition in the charter. Now rather than looking for ways to trim funding to discretionary spending this mayor wants to raise taxes or eliminate services. It is time for a recall, this mayor has proven himself to be unable to effectively manage policy, people and issues.
Dearborn Taxpayer June 28, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Was public notice given for this meeting? I can't find anything on the city's Web site about such a meeting. Shouldn't our elected council members and mayor be holding these meetings and discussions in full public view especially since they all seem to be drooling over how to spend a potential 25 - 30% tax increase! First, they unanimously approved a 12% millage hike for the upcoming fiscal year and now they want more of our money, but have their discussions largely behind closed doors. I tried calling the city council office and the legal deparment last week to get information on these "millage ballot initiatives," only to be told that there is no "official language" that can be provided at this time and that I'd have to submit a FOIA request. I was hopeful that eliminating the "minimum staffing" requirements would also be put on the ballot along with the tax increase in order to give voters a real choice as to how best to address the city's budget issues. Let's hope that our city council and mayor will be more transparent and open in their discussions. In the meantime, it sounds like it's time to give Bill Schuette a call to see if he cares to protect taxpayers in this process...
City of Dearborn (Editor) June 28, 2011 at 04:55 PM
We'll have a separate story on that issue up on the site within the next 24 hours, Frank. Several city council members and the mayor agree with you! Watch for the full story.
City of Dearborn (Editor) June 28, 2011 at 05:00 PM
I believe the meeting was posted on the doors to City Hall leading into the City Council chambers. However, they were never posted online to my knowledge. Rest assured that the July 12 meeting will be open to the public, and the meeting time WILL be posted on Dearborn Patch ahead of time. Sorry that we could not get this meeting on our radar in advance, but in the meantime, you can always contact City Council with your thoughts and suggestions.
Jane Ahern June 29, 2011 at 03:54 PM
I don't think anybody is "drooling" over how to spend any increase in revenue, as suggested by an above commenter. In the early 80's, when the economy tanked, the taxpayers of Dearborn voted in a temporary "save our services" millage increase. Luckily, the economy did improve, and ended this tax increase earlier than anticipated. Let's hope that's what happens to Dearborn in 2011-2012! However, I think it's wise to strongly consider a millage increase given how upside-down this economy remains, especially if that millage is subject to a sunset clause. I like to think of Dearborn's situation this way; this municipality really is the Ford Motor Company of cities - when the economy tanked, we had a rainy day fund that gave us more flexibility than some of our neighbors. But, let's talk about the rainy day fund for a moment - it was $40 million in 2000, and now, it's about $15 million - that is how tough these times have been on cities like Dearborn! The 2011-2012 budget did not address the tough questions - instead, it relied on dipping into the rainy day fund and selling off a one-time asset on top of painful cuts that have occurred throughout the past decade. The millage increase is not a function of city mismanagement, but rather, a function of very difficult economic circumstances - the worst since the 1930's. This millage increase is the smartest move this city can make.
Dearborn Taxpayer June 29, 2011 at 05:26 PM
This is not the 1980's and Ford Motor Company was not able to raise the price of their vehicles by 25 - 35% in order to weather the current economic challenges which is essentially what the millage proposal will do to Dearborn taxpayers. The "smartest move" for the city would be to address the minimum staffing requirements in the City Charter and the resulting post-employment healthcare and pension costs which are the true root causes of the city's budget issues. The Charter Commission did not address this and now it seems that the City Council and Mayor are unwilling to put this in front of voters along with their millage proposal. This approach would give voters and city leaders the most flexibility to deal with the current budget issues. My hunch is that most taxpayers are willing to re-think the minimum staffing requirements but are in no position to ante up 25 - 33% more in annual tax payments to the city.
Jane Ahern June 29, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Everything is on the table, the wording is being worked out, and we don't know what will be in the millage proposal, so, at this time, I am not sure you can claim what the administration is and is not willing to do. Minimum staffing and the charter were proposed and passed by the voters. At the time, nobody would have predicted how badly the economy tanked, so I am not sure what you are saying here and who you are trying to blame or tag as a root cause. Is the city's structural deficit of bad management or bad circumstances? Raising prices 25-35% compared to what? 5 years ago, or now? This about-to-be-proposed-but-we-don't-know-the-details-millage-increase is a restoration millage given how severe the revenues have plummeted due to deep housing value decreases. How is that an example of administrative mismanagement? For me, clearly, it is not; again, it is an example of bad circumstances. If you take a look at the structural deficit, you will clearly see a deep drop-off in revenue that taxpayers were willing to pay before. I think that a smart mix of cuts and revenue are the key to navigating through this situation, not cut, cut, cut. You're emphasizing we spend too much money. I'm emphasizing our revenue stream disappeared. We're both right and both require remedy. That said, we have been cut, cut, cutting for years now, and, truly, how has that been going? At some point, isn't that patent, blunt response part of the problem?
Frank Lee June 29, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Everything is not on the table until the Mayor, his appointees, and council go back and match their salaries with the revenue stream. If our revenue stream is equal to 1997 revenue then so should their salaries. Secondly how many forceable personal reductions in force? How many full time jobs done by DPW workers who work for 4 hours and get paid for 8 have had their duties competitively bid out?. The answer 4. All these so called job cuts and streamlining have been done through retirements and not filling vacancies. Which begs the question what were these people doing before?. Why does it take two contractors to cut Ford Woods and take 6 city workers to groom Ten Eyck? Why do city workers hang around the DISC until 9:30 drinking coffee every single work day before hitting the road? "Everything is on the table" is simply code for closing pools and libraries. Yes I understand that their is a revenue shortfall, I understand state and federal funding is nearly a trickle of past years. Yes I understand fuel, pensions, health care and capital is skyrocketing. I also understand this mayor is one of the highest paid Mayor's in the country for a city under 100,000 in the entire USA. Ditto for his department heads, and council. So this mayor can cry me a river, it is time he starts doing his job and quit pushing for a reality show on TLC about the trials and tribulations of mid east assimilation in Dearborn
marooned in Dbn June 29, 2011 at 08:24 PM
As far as this taxpayer/voter is concerned...it makes no difference what "language" they want to introduce to the ballot. I assure you all that this taxpayer, as far as his vote is concerned, considers this proposal DOA on voteing day. I hope that every other voter feels the same way or we will all be eventualy be taxed out of our houses in this fair city. As far as any possible recall of city politicians go, by all means...get THAT proposal's language cobbled out and placed on the same ballot. That should give a proper consensus to our elected "leaders".
marooned in Dbn June 29, 2011 at 08:26 PM
It may be that we will have to pull a Pelosi and pass the thing so we will know whats in it then.
Jane Ahern June 29, 2011 at 08:44 PM
What is your reaction to Councilwoman Hubbard recommending that the city ask for the full 20 millage points? She is aware of residents' feedback and community priorities, so what are your thoughts on that bold suggestion?
Dearborn Taxpayer June 29, 2011 at 09:43 PM
Brutely honest, it's time for Nancy to retire. John Jay Hubbard said the exact same thing during his time on the Charter Commission but thankfully he couldn't win support to put "the full 20 mills" in the last Charter revision. These folks are trying to support a legacy that simply is no longer relevant to today's realities. We need new and fresh thinking from our elected leaders, not the same old thing from 50 or even 20 years ago. If the city levies 20 mills, I will be gone. I will move my family (with 2 young children) and business to a more modern and less costly suburb! It's all about value for money and in my opinion Dearborn is headed in the wrong direction...
Nanjac July 12, 2011 at 05:07 PM
Dearborn was once a beautiful city, what happened...........it has been happening for years. We have residents that don't care and do what they want, not what should be done. Where the Mayors been? Police have to visit homes because of family dsputes and kids fighting.

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