LP voters to decide on police, fire millage

Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK —  One option for easing the city’s financial struggles will seek voter approval of a Public Act 345 millage to fund the police and fire retirement systems.

Emergency Manager Brad Coulter confirmed last week that two ballot proposals will be put before voters during the May 5 election.

Coulter said approval of the two measures – retirement funding and a charter amendment allowing the tax – would accomplish dual goals of securing public safety funding and shoring up the long-strained local budget.

“It sets up a dedicated funding stream for police and fire pensions,” Coulter said, “and frees up the general fund for hiring police, city workers and stabilizing the pension system.”

Public Act 345 allows for the levy of a millage to fund public safety retirements, the amount assessed annually for the non-expiring tax.     The millage can be for all or part of the total pension contribution, and Coulter said the initial expectation is of a 6-mill levy that would raise next year an estimated $3 million. If approved the millage would cost the owner of a $60,000 house with a taxable value of about $30,000 an annual tax of about $180.

That amount, Coulter said, would bring the city back to the revenue levels of 2009, one among several strategies designed to eliminate a deficit that had approached $5 million and resulted in the state-mandated appointment of an emergency manager.

Coulter said the charter amendment and PA 345 ballot questions must be approved to take effect. The plan allows the city more flexibility in addressing critical shortages in pension funds and retirement plans.

“People need to realize that the taxpayers are responsible for the pensions,” Coulter said. “We can’t just raise taxes – it has to be voted in – but if the city defaults on pensions it would be added to the tax role anyway.”

If the levy is approved, Coulter said the estimated $3 million would be applied to three principal areas, each receiving about $1 million: The enhancement of public safety and city services; road repairs; and to augment retiree pensions and health care plans.

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