Officials: 5-mill tax increase could stave off city layoffs

Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW – City officials floated the idea of a 5-mill property tax increase at Tuesday’s City Council meeting in response to residents’ concerns over impending public safety employee layoffs. Residents and police who packed the council chambers also suggested ways – ranging from millage proposals to revenue reallocation – to maintain current, prelayoff levels of police, fire and Department of Public Works employment in spite of cuts the city is facing because of a current $1.6 million shortfall. Officials said the 5 mills would erase the deficit for the current year, but that a duration of the increase would have to be determined.

Mayor Tim Durand reminded the packed chamber of residents and city employees of the amount of the deficit.

“It’s ugly out there, he said in reference to the economy. “None of us relish what we’re doing up here. It’s not easy. Many of these people are friends and we know them, and stuff, but we’re in a survival mode right now. I’m dead serious.”

He urged anyone who believes that a 5-mill tax increase to raise the $1.6 million could pass to spearhead the effort.

“Get it going and we’ll put it on the ballot,” Durand said.

Councilman Elmer Trombley outlined some of the circumstances that have led to the current fiscal crisis.

“We’re in deep trouble,” he said. “We lost (the Taminco) chemical plant (which closed 2 1/2 years ago). I’d like to hold some town meetings and find out just what the people of this city feel about what’s going on and this economy, and what we can do about it.”

Trombley also raised the idea of a millage vote.

“The people of Riverview are a different breed of people,” he said. “When they know something’s bad, they usually would come to the aid. And I’d like to put that on the ballot. Let the people decide what they want.”

Trombley reiterated his desire to hold a town meeting over the city revenue crisis.

“We want to take care of business, but guess what? We don’t have the money,” he said. “I’ve been going on 29 years on this City Council and I have never, ever, seen it like this before.

While no officials want to lose police officers or DPW workers, the city can’t afford to pay all of them, Trombley said.

“I don’t want to be like Ecorse or River Rouge going into receivership,” he said, “and if we don’t balance the budget, that’s just what happens to us.”

To give an idea of the possible cost, Durand explained that a $100,000 house is assessed at $50,000, and that a 5-mill assessment would cost the average resident about $250 a year. He said the money would allow Riverview to avoid public safety employee layoffs for now, and that millage would have to be extended over a period of time.

Next year, however, the city still would face another $800,000 deficit, and officials would have to look at the budget again and adjust.

Durand emphasized that the only way to get by right now is to cut costs or raise revenue.

“That’s the bottom line,” he said.

The mayor said decreased local construction activity caused a significant decline in the need for the city’s landfill and a resulting decline in revenue. Officials also anticipate declines in the city’s state shared revenue payments because of Michigan’s $1.6 billion deficit.

Trombley said he wanted to see state laws changed to once again allow yard waste in the landfill. The methane gas-producing waste was banned from landfills in 1996. Trombley said officials have even been trying to take in Canadian trash to keep revenues up.

Durand discussed the loss of the tax base from the shuttered Taminco plant, which currently is being razed. It will be completely off the tax rolls by the end of the year, he said, and since it was the city’s major consumer of water, those costs now must be shouldered by residents, who can expect a rate increase of up to 20 percent increase in water bills in the coming season.

The landfill had supplied much of the city’s revenue for years, officials said, and Durand reminded residents that the city has no industrial tax base.

Many residents expressed concern about police, fire, and DPW staffing reductions. Police officers foretold negative consequences from a reduced department staffing levels, including higher stress levels because of increased overtime. One officer said the city has been cutting police staffing levels since he joined the force and that “can’t afford to cut anymore.”

Durand said even though city officials knew Taminco was closing, no one foresaw the drastic economic change.

One resident summed up the feeling of many in the room, saying they “would not let this city go down.”

“We got too much vested interest,” he said, citing “top-notch” schools and services. “Come to us. We’ll help.”