Headlee override question on LP ballot

Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – Mayor Thomas Karnes understands that some taxpayers might resist a proposed millage that was confirmed last week for primary election ballot placement, but hops voters understand the critical need for revenue.

“We’re at the point where this is needed,” Karnes said. “I live in this town, pay the same taxes, and from where I’m sitting this is something we can’t do without.”

City Council Monday approved a ballot question for the Aug. 5 primary election asking voters to approve an override of the property tax-capping Headlee Amendment, currently levied at just under 19 mills. If approved, the city could restore that property tax to 20 mills.

Karnes said the amount generated would cost average homeowners about $30 annually and provide about $250,000 for the city’s struggle toward a balanced budget. The proposed tax increase is one of many avenues the city is exploring to erase a projected deficit of $1 million.

Strategies to correct the city’s economic shortfalls continue, Karnes said, and resolving what the state confirmed to be a “financial emergency” will take a variety of solutions along with a potential tax boost.

Negotiations with public safety management concluded successfully and continue with union staff; city hall budgets have been trimmed and will be monitored by a state panel under the terms of a consent agreement.

“We’ve gotten reductions from all the employee groups,” Karnes said. “We’re looking for other ways to bring cash in.”

Employee contracts were, Karnes said, negotiated with input and guidance from state officials, whose supervision the city approved last month to avoid placement of an emergency manager. The still-developing agreement is expected to be confirmed by May 20.

Voter approval of a tax hike remains to be seen. The same question was on the November general election ballot in 2012 and was defeated when nearly 65 percent of voters rejected the measure.

“I don’t know what the circumstances were (then),” Karnes said. “We’re at the point where the money’s not there, we can’t balance the budget. Whenever you go for a tax raise there are people who say we’re ‘bleeding them,’ but at some point they’d have to tell me where else we can cut.”

Karnes said the city needs the tools to begin recovery. Home values are expected to continue falling, although the reduction has slowed. The trend in recent years lowered property value in the city by 40 percent.

“This is a piece of the puzzle,” Karnes said of the ballot question. “People voted us in, now we need the tools to get the job done.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)