Voters reject 3.4 mill tax increase, layoffs loom

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Hayley Szpynda (left), a 7-year-old in the first grade at Huntington Elementary School, accompanies her father, Bo Szpynda, to vote at Precinct 5 on Tuesday. Chairman Norm Campbell (right), an election worker, prepares their ballot paperwork.

Riverview voters on Tuesday turned down a chance to let the City Council pass a 3.4 mill increase on all taxable property for three years by a 2-1 margin. The proposal would have overridden taxation limits as allowed by Headlee Amendment, which requires local governments to collect less tax money when assessed property values drop but gives voters the option of approving any increase to return revenue to previous levels. The unofficial vote tally reported on the city’s Web site was 832 voters in favor, with 1,792 opposed. Officials now may follow through on earlier budget recommendations to reduce staffing by three patrol officer positions, an animal control officer, four utility servicemen, one mechanic and the assistant library director.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW — City employee layoffs and other budget cuts are coming soon after voters on Tuesday said no to a three-year, 3.4-mill tax increase.

The city is a facing a deficit of $1.6 million as part of its overall $10.6 million budget for 2010-11 because of lost revenue sharing; lower property values and their resulting decreased tax revenue; and higher health care costs. It also must deal with the loss of Taminco Higher Amines, which had been its largest industrial taxpayer, and less income from its landfill, the Riverview Land Preserve.

Voters rejected the additional millage by a more than 2-1 margin, with official vote tallies of 832 for and 1,792 against.

Officials had been seeking a 5-mill increase to keep staffing and services at current levels, but could not ask voters for additional money until millage was at the maximum allowed under the state Headlee Amendment.
The amendment prohibits municipalities from increasing taxes without voter approval and caps tax increases to 5 percent annually or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
Tuesday’s special election gave residents the choice to keep the millage the same or raise it, overriding the Headlee Amendment and allowing the city to collect taxes at a higher rate.

In order to do that, however, the City Council was required to raise the existing levy to 1.6 mills to the Headlee limit of 16.31 mills. That increase would have generated $567,000 in property tax revenue in the coming budget year, which starts July 1, but was contingent upon voters’ approval Tuesday of the Headlee override.

Officials say cuts will hit the Police and Public Works departments and include three patrol officer positions, the animal control officer, four utility servicemen, one mechanic and an assistant library director. A clerical position will be reclassified from full- to part-time.

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

“Do you think we want to lose those police officers, those DPW workers? No. But how are we going to pay them? And I don’t want to be like Ecorse or River Rouge going into receivership. And if we don’t balance the budget, that’s just what happens to us.”

City Manager Dean Workman said the 5 mills would have erased the current deficit. Mayor Tim Durand said it would have averted public safety employee layoffs, and that even with the cuts coming the city still will face another $800,000 deficit next year.

Durand emphasized that the only way to maintain the status quo would have been to cut costs or raise revenue.

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