Peterson defends veterans exemption eligibility, millage proposal

Sunday Times Newspapers
By GABRIEL GOODWIN

WYANDOTTE — Talk of the upcoming millage and the impact of the veteran’s tax credit on the city forced Mayor Joseph Peterson to defend his tax credit eligibility and what is best for the city.

Wyandotte resident Richard Patrick said he was “flat out against” the proposed millage and felt that the city had not made enough cuts to ask the residents to vote on a 3-mill increase in property taxes.

“I don’t believe there’s been enough cuts prior to going 3 mills for five years,” he said. “The point I’d like to make here is with some of the items on the agenda the citizens don’t exactly know what’s in the background of it.”

Patrick said he was concerned about the costs of the tax exemption given to veterans because it “is almost along the lines of an unfunded mandate” by the state.

“The tax break is not the problem,” he said. “But I do have a problem when (the state) is forcing it down the throats of cities and municipalities already strapped for funding.”

Wyandotte has 13 veterans who were approved for the tax exemption this year, he said, which does not seem like a big hit but until someone considers the future costs to the city. For those 13 veterans, the City Council confirmed the city will lose about $14,500 every year for the lives of the veteran and spouse.

“The most notable thing in the idea of government transparency is one very important person who is on that list,” Patrick said. “There was no mention of his name, but I do believe Mayor Peterson applied and was granted a total exemption from property taxes.”

Peterson said his name is on the list of veterans who will receive the tax exemption and he is not ashamed to apply for something for which he is eligible. He recently was categorized as 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs due to the long-term effects of Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.

“I was 18 years old going into Vietnam to fight for my country,” Peterson said. “I would give all that money back if I wasn’t as sick as I am right now because of Agent Orange. I am proud to have my name on that list. I’ve asked nothing from the city, but if I can put my name in for something I’m entitled to, then I’m going to do that.”

Peterson said he is not ashamed of the decision to apply for the tax exemption and encouraged anyone who qualifies for the exemption to apply for it as well. He said he wants to keep his personal life separate from his political life, but will continue to fight for veterans and their rights while trying to provide what is best for Wyandotte and its residents.

“As long as I am elected as the mayor of this city, I am going to fight for this city and its citizens, so we can continue to provide a good place to live,” Peterson said. “I took that oath and I stand by it as a proud man sitting here.”

The city is asking its residents to vote on the renewal of the current 1.75 mills general operating millage rate and increasing it to 3 mills. The revenue generated by the current 1.75 mills is about $1.04 million but the proposed 3 mills would generate $1.112 million, City Administrator Todd Drysdale said, because of the drastic decrease in property taxes.

The new millage rate would allow the city to manage the projected financial shortfalls, he said, even though the city already has reduced the budget by about $1.5 million through personnel reductions, wage freezes, reductions in the future retiree benefits, and several consolidations.

Drysdale said the city has also eliminated 14 full-time employees since 2010, while reducing holiday pay for police and fire employees, eliminating longevity pay for all employees, and consolidating services with several neighboring cities through the Downriver Consolidated Dispatch, Downriver Animal Control and the Downriver Consolidated Assessing.

Michigan Legislature enacted Senate Bill 352 Nov. 12 that allows the primary residence of a 100 percent disabled veterans exempt from the collection property taxes. If the veteran was to die, his or her spouse would continue to receive the tax exemption status until they remarry or pass away.

The exemption cannot be transferred to any other family member or owner of the property, and cannot be applied to additional property or rental properties. The veterans’ spouses have to provide proof they were married to the qualified veteran and they have not remarried.

(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at ggoodwin@bewickpublications.com.)

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