Stories indexed with the term ‘tax increases’

County Board Debates Taxes, State Laws

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 16, 2013): A packed agenda and extensive public commentary resulted in a meeting lasting over six hours, with the majority of discussion focused on three issues: (1) the state’s Stand Your Ground law; (2) an increase to the Act 88 tax, and questions about the legality of such a levy; and (3) the county’s participation in a Pittsfield Township corridor improvement authority for State Street.

Stand Your Ground, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A supporter of Michigan’s Stand Your Ground law brought his gun to the Oct. 16 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. (Photos by the writer.)

About three dozen people spoke to the board about the Stand Your Ground resolution, which urged the state legislature to repeal that law. Although there were speakers on both sides of the issue, more than 20 voiced opposition to the resolution, including several who attended the meeting wearing sidearms.

It was after midnight when the board took a 5-to-4 vote to pass the resolution, over dissent from Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), Dan Smith (R-District 2), Alicia Ping (R-District 3), and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5). In support of the resolution were Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9).

The following week, David Raaflaub of Ypsilanti – a former candidate for county commissioner – filed a complaint against the board in the 22nd Circuit Court. The complaint asks the court to determine two issues: (1) what authority the board has that enables it to “draw conclusions of law,” and (2) what authority the board has to represent the county in seeking changes to state law. Dan Smith has indicated that he would bring forward a resolution to rescind the board’s Oct. 16 action, if it’s determined that the county will incur additional costs – such as fees for outside legal counsel – to defend the lawsuit.

Another major debate on Oct. 16 related to an increase in the Act 88 tax levy, which funds economic development and agriculture – including activities of Ann Arbor SPARK. The board ultimately gave initial approval to increase the tax from 0.06 mills to 0.07 mills, following a long discussion and a failed attempt by Conan Smith to increase the tax even more, to 0.09 mills. His proposal for a draft policy to guide the allocation of Act 88 funds did win support from the majority of commissioners, however.

The county’s position is that it’s authorized to collect the Act 88 millage – as well as a levy for veterans relief services – without seeking voter approval. That’s because the state legislation that enables the county to levy these taxes predates Michigan’s Headlee Amendment. During deliberations, Dan Smith raised questions about whether levying this kind of tax is constitutional. He also questions whether the language of the Act 88 statute allows the kind of general interpretation the county is using to define eligible uses of funds generated by the levy.

Dan Smith also proposed amendments for both the Act 88 and veterans relief millages in the future exempt them from capture by tax increment financing (TIF) districts or authorities in the county. Those exemptions, which were approved by the board, would apply to tax capture from a proposed State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA) in Pittsfield Township. After about 90 minutes of debate, the board gave initial approval to participate in that project, with Dan Smith casting the only dissenting vote. He had unsuccessfully proposed postponement, then floated an opt-out resolution that did not secure enough votes to pass. The board is expected to take a final vote on participating in the CIA at its Nov. 6 meeting.

In other action, the board (1) gave initial approval to a proposed brownfield redevelopment plan by the Chelsea Milling Co., makers of Jiffy Mix; (2) appointed Barb Fuller to the county road commission; (3) took an initial vote to extend the coordinated funding approach, which supports local nonprofits; and (4) authorized the annual apportionment report, with details of the 2013 taxable valuations for property in the county.

And in a vote taken after midnight, the board rejected a proposal that would have given notice to eliminate a lump-sum budgeting approach for Washtenaw County’s court system. That vote was 3-6, with support from only Dan Smith (R-District 2), Conan Smith (D-District 9) and Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1). [Full Story]

Action Taken on 2 County Tax Hikes

At their Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners took action to increase two taxes for the upcoming 2014 budget – one for veterans relief services, and another for agricultural and economic development.

Final unanimous approval to levy a 0.0333 mill tax for indigent veterans services was given on Oct. 16, following an initial vote on Oct. 2. The new rate of 1/30th of a mill would be levied in December 2013 to fund services in 2014. It’s expected to generate $463,160 in revenues. The current rate, approved by the board last year and levied in December 2012, is 0.0286 mills – or 1/35th of a mill. It generated $390,340 this year.

According to a staff memo, the additional revenue is needed … [Full Story]

Hearing Set for Hike to Veterans Support Tax

A public hearing has been set for Sept. 18 to get input on a proposed increase to the Washtenaw County tax that supports services for indigent veterans and their families. The county board of commissioners voted to schedule the hearing at its Sept. 4, 2013 meeting.

The current rate, approved by the board last year and levied in December 2012, is 0.0286 mills – or 1/35th of a mill. The new proposed rate of 1/30th of a mill would be levied in December 2013 to fund services in 2014. It’s expected to generate $463,160 in revenues.

The county is authorized to collect up to 1/10th of a mill without seeking voter approval. That’s because the state legislation that enables the county to … [Full Story]

County Board Debates, OKs Act 88 Tax Hike

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 3, 2012): A sometimes heated debate over whether to raise a tax for economic development resulted in narrow approval by the board. It was a 6-5 vote on the increase to 0.06 mills, up from 0.05 mills. As an example, the 20% hike means that taxes for economic development will increase from $5 to $6 for each $100,000 of a property’s taxable value. The issue had been previously discussed at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting, but postponed until Oct. 3.

Janis Bobrin

Janis Bobrin, Washtenaw County’s water resources commissioner, attended the Oct. 3, 2012 county board meeting to present environmental excellence awards. She received a standing ovation from commissioners. She is not running for re-election, and will leave office later this year after more than two decades in that position. (Photos by the writer.)

The board is authorized to levy the tax under Act 88 of 1913 – and it does not require a voter referendum. Voting against the increase were commissioners Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner. They cited several objections, including the timing of a tax increase while many taxpayers are struggling because of the economy, and the unlikelihood that the tax will be lowered in the future, when economic conditions improve. Peterson also felt that the Act 88 funds aren’t being used for their original purpose – to leverage matching dollars for economic development – and instead are being diverted to support county operations.” It was never meant to be a piggy bank for county government,” he said.

The final vote to levy the increased tax passed 8-3, with Ronnie Peterson, Wes Prater and Dan Smith voting against it. Alicia Ping has in the past also voted against the Act 88 tax, but supported it this time – though she voted against the amendment to increase the rate. She hoped commissioners would consider reallocating some funding for the western side of the county, pointing out that there are economic development needs there too, including a lack of decent Internet access.

Far less contentious was an initial vote to move control over administering the county’s 5% accommodation tax from the county treasurer’s office to the finance director. Two members of the Washtenaw County Hotel/Motel Association spoke in support of changing the accommodation ordinance in this way. The vote by commissioners was unanimous, though Dan Smith noted that this is the second time this year that the ordinance has been revised, and he hoped it would be the last. He also expressed some concern that all hoteliers aren’t being treated equitably. A final vote and public hearing on the change is set for Oct. 17.

Commissioners also approved a set of recommendations to guide county administrator Verna McDaniel in her negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for animal control services. The current contract with HSHV ends on Dec. 31. An accompanying report from a policy task force was discussed only briefly – in part because the final version had been sent to commissioners only that day and there had been little time to digest it, and in part because some commissioners wanted to adjourn so that they could watch the first presidential debate, which began at 9 p.m. The board plans to continue discussion of the issue at a future date.

During the meeting, board chair Conan Smith told commissioners that a caucus would be held immediately prior to the next board meeting – on Nov. 7, at 5:30 p.m. – to discuss appointments to various county boards, commissions and committees. Such appointment caucuses are open to the public. [A listing of all vacancies is found on this website. An online application to apply for an opening can be found here.] The news prompted Ronnie Peterson to criticize the process, which he felt was not sufficiently transparent. [Full Story]

County Increases Tax for Economic Development

After holding a public hearing on a tax increase to support agriculture and economic development, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners authorized the Act 88 tax at a rate of 0.06 mills, an increase from the current 0.05 mills.

The action occurred at the board’s Oct. 3, 2012 meeting. The vote on an amendment to increase the tax rate passed 6 to 5, with dissent from Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner. The vote to levy the tax passed 8-3, with Ronnie Peterson, Wes Prater and Dan Smith voting against it.

The board was on track to approve the tax last month at the 0.05 mill rate. But after a public hearing, board chair Conan Smith proposed an … [Full Story]

County Board Puts Off Vote on Act 88 Tax Hike

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 19, 2012): After passing a tax increase to support services for indigent veterans, county commissioners debated and ultimately postponed action on increasing a tax for agriculture and economic development – also known as the Act 88 millage.

Veterans attending the Sept. 19, 2012 county board meeting saluted during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Veterans attending the Sept. 19, 2012 Washtenaw County board meeting saluted the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The indigent veterans tax was uncontroversial. Several Vietnam veterans attended the meeting and spoke passionately about the need to support soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The tax was increased to 0.0286 mills, to be levied in December 2012. The current 0.025 mills brought in $344,486 in 2012. The increased millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues for use during 2013.

But a proposal by Conan Smith to increase the Act 88 millage generated debate, primarily related to procedural issues. On Sept. 5, commissioners had given initial approval to a tax of 0.05 mills, unchanged from the current rate. At the time, Smith raised the possibility of an increase to 0.06 mills and a change in the way the millage revenues are administered, but he made no formal amendment. The board set a Sept. 19 public hearing for the 0.05 mills, and several representatives from groups that receive revenue proceeds spoke in favor of the tax.

Later in the meeting – after the public hearing – Smith made a formal motion to amend the resolution, raising the tax rate to 0.06 mills, a 20% increase that would bring in $838,578. Ronnie Peterson objected to the process, saying that although it might be legal, but was not moral. Wes Prater said the move lacked integrity. Smith argued that the law didn’t require any public hearing at all, and that the board was going above and beyond its obligations. He pointed out that he had notified commissioners of his intent on Sept. 5, and had passed out a memo about his proposal at the Sept. 6 working session. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Tax Hike for Economic Development?"]

Ultimately, a majority of commissioners voted to postpone action on Smith’s amendment until Oct. 3, when they also voted to set a second public hearing on the 0.06 mills proposal.

Also generating considerable debate was a resolution related to animal control services. The resolution, brought forward by Barbara Bergman, directs county administrator Verna McDaniel to begin negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley toward a new contract for services. It further states that if McDaniel doesn’t believe sufficient progress is being made by Oct. 30, then she’s authorized to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to seek bids from other organizations. It passed on a 10-to-1 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping.

Much of the debate over the second resolution centered on the fact that formal recommendations from the tasks force haven’t yet been presented to the board. There were also questions over how much flexibility McDaniel will have in her negotiations. The current 2013 budget has allocated $250,000 for animal control services. This year, the county is paying $415,000 to HSHV, down from $500,000 in 2011. Commissioners expect that the final amount negotiated for 2013 will be higher than the budgeted $250,000 – and if that’s the case, the board will need to amend the budget.

Ping objected to the process, saying that it could undercut HSHV’s position if the board eventually decides to issue an RFP, because other bidders would know how much HSHV is willing to bid. She also objected to taking action without knowing the task force recommendations. “This whole process is flawed on its face,” she said.

The board took a range of other actions, including changes to an ordinance for the county’s natural areas preservation program. Commissioners eliminated a previous restriction that only 7% of millage funds could be used for management or stewardship. In addition, they approved an amendment by Conan Smith eliminating a separate requirement for allocating 75% of the millage to the acquisition and maintenance of natural areas and 25% for agricultural land. Now, allocations can be made at the discretion of the county parks and recreation commission.

Commissioners approved a variety of state grant applications and reimbursements, as well as the 2012-2013 budget for its community support & treatment services (CSTS) department. Three resolutions of appreciation were also presented during the meeting – to Rodney Stokes, former director of the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources; Susan Sweet Scott, a long-time county employee; and the Ann Arbor alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for 50 years of service in Washtenaw County. [Full Story]

Econ Development Tax Increase Postponed

The handling of a proposal to increase a tax for economic/agricultural development drew criticism from some Washtenaw County commissioners, ultimately leading to a postponement of the item that was discussed at the county board meeting on Sept. 19, 2012.

The millage for economic development and agriculture is authorized under the state’s Act 88, and has been levied by the board since 2009. That year, it was levied at 0.04 mills. It was raised to 0.043 in 2010 and 0.05 in 2011. Because the Michigan statute that authorizes this millage predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, the board can levy it without a voter referendum.

On Sept. 5, it had been given initial approval by commissioners on a 7-to-3 vote, with dissent from Alicia … [Full Story]

Small Tax Hike OK’d for Indigent Veterans

A small tax increase for services to support indigent veterans got final approval at the Sept. 19, 2012 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The Michigan statute that authorizes this millage predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, so it can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. Several veterans spoke during a public hearing about the tax, many of them making an emotional appeal to support the funding.

The tax to support services for indigent veterans was increased to 0.0286 mills, to be levied in December 2012. The current 0.025 mills brought in $344,486 in 2012. The increased millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues for use during 2013.

According to a staff memo, the increase is needed because of … [Full Story]

County Tax Hike for Economic Development?

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 5, 2012): Board chair Conan Smith has floated a proposal to raise taxes that support economic development and agricultural programs, and suggested revising the way those revenues are administered.

The proposal came in the context of an initial board vote to levy an annual tax of 0.05 mills, unchanged from the current rate. The Michigan statute authorizing this millage (Act 88 of 1913) predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, so no voter approval is required. The board can levy the tax directly.

Ken Schrader, PC technician with Washtenaw County

Ken Schrader, a PC technician with Washtenaw County, explained to the county commissioners that recently installed new microphones are more sensitive than the older ones. He jokingly warned them that they should be careful what they say now, because “you can’t take anything back.” Later in the meeting, the county’s information technology department was presented with an award from the Center for Digital Government.

The current rate is expected to bring in about $683,095 in 2013, and is allocated to a variety of organizations, including the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK ($200,000) and its Ypsilanti office SPARK East ($50,000). Smith and county administrator Verna McDaniel serve on SPARK’s executive committee.

Smith, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, suggested that by raising the rate to 0.06 mills, property owners would see only a slight increase in their annual taxes. For the average taxpayer, he estimated it would increase from $4.25 to $5.10 per year, while the amount raised countywide would increase about 20% to $838,577. He also proposed that the office of community and economic development – a joint county/city of Ann Arbor department led by Mary Jo Callan – should be given the authority to allocate the funding, rather than having the county board earmark amounts for specific organizations.

No formal amendment was made, but Smith circulated a three-page memo the following night outlining his proposal. [.pdf of Smith's Act 88 memo] It’s likely the board will take up this proposal as an amendment before a final vote at its Sept. 19 meeting. Initial approval was given on Sept. 5 for the current rate of 0.05 mills on a 7-to-3 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, and Dan Smith. Ronnie Peterson was absent.

Another pre-Headlee tax – for support of indigent veterans – also got initial approval from the board, at a slightly increased rate. The initial approval increases that tax from 0.025 mills to 0.0286 mills. Staff of the county’s department of veterans affairs say the increase is needed because of rising claims and services from veterans due to a struggling economy, an anticipated increase in the number of returning soldiers, and a drop in property values. The millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues during 2013.

In other action related to tax revenue, commissioners gave initial approval to an ordinance governing the county’s natural areas preservation program. The change would remove the current restriction that only 7% of millage funds can be used for management or stewardship. The intent is to provide more flexibility in managing the funds, allowing the county to build a reserve for long-term stewardship. It’s viewed as an important goal, in the event that the NAPP millage is eliminated in the future. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat who represents District 11 in Ann Arbor, proposed an amendment that would set a minimum of 25% to be spent on stewardship. The amendment failed on a 1-9 vote.

In an item viewed largely as a formality, county commissioners “ratified” the articles of incorporation for a new countywide transit authority. The document had been slightly revised from what the board had previously approved on Aug. 1, 2012 – on a 6-4 vote. This time, the vote was 6-3, with dissent from Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Dan Smith. Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Ronnie Peterson were absent. Rob Turner, who had previously voted against the articles of incorporation, supported the item on Sept. 5.

Also approved was a resolution to support a policy change in the city of Ann Arbor related to affordable housing. The item was added to the Sept. 5 agenda during the meeting by Democrat Leah Gunn of Ann Arbor, and was not discussed by commissioners at the meeting. The resolution “encourages the Ann Arbor City Council to direct proceeds from the sale of the city-owned surface parking lots in the downtown to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, to be used to support sustainable, affordable housing.” [Earlier in the day, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board had passed a similar resolution of support. Gunn is chair of the DDA.] Dan Smith abstained from the vote. The following night, at a board working session, Alicia Ping announced that she had intended to vote against it, but had cited the wrong agenda number in casting her no vote.

Other action at the Sept. 5 meeting included initial approval of the county’s public health budget, which projects a 3.5 net increase in jobs. Voting against the budget were Alicia Ping and Dan Smith, who cautioned against adding new jobs as the county faces a deficit in 2013. A final vote is expected at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting.

Seth Best, a former resident of Camp Take Notice, addressed the board during public commentary about the need to tackle the root causes of homelessness. The homeless encampment had been evicted this summer from its most recent site in Scio Township.

And highlighting a letter that the county had recently received, commissioner Felicia Brabec raised concerns about the intent of Paxton Resources LLC to drill an exploratory oil and gas well in Saline Township. The board will likely revisit the issue of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” at a future working session. Yousef Rabhi, who chairs those meetings, suggested wrapping it into a session he plans regarding the Pall/Gelman Sciences 1,4 dioxane plume. He sees a tie-in to the issue of industrial environmental contamination. [Full Story]

Column: Grover and Me

Editor’s note: Though The Chronicle focuses coverage on local government and civic affairs in the Ann Arbor area, from time to time we acknowledge that a world exists beyond these borders. For one, we pay state and federal taxes – and in Michigan, as Ann Arbor resident Roger Kerson notes, many of us are now paying more.

Form MI-1040ES

Many Michigan residents will be paying higher taxes this year, thanks to tax hikes championed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

According to Daily Beast correspondent Howard Kurtz – a venerable Washington insider who is supposed to know such things – the greatest fear among certain Republicans in Congress is not that they might stumble during the current game of fiscal chicken and send the nation into default.

They are more worried, writes Kurtz, of being “targeted for defeat by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.” Which is what they dread will happen if they agree to anything that would provide the federal government with a single penny of additional revenue.

This leads me to wonder: Has anyone inside the Beltway taken a look at the tax increases Norquist signed off on here in Michigan?

Norquist, who has famously declared that his long-term goal is to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” runs an outfit called Americans for Tax Reform. Never at a loss for a sound bite, he has gained outsized media attention with a demand that candidates for state and federal office sign an anti-tax pledge. The state version calls on candidates (and incumbents) “to oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

The wrath of Grover, apparently, was not sufficient to intimidate Michigan Governor Rick Snyder or GOP majorities in the state House (63-47) and state Senate (26-12). They passed a budget this spring, ahead of schedule, and they balanced it the old-fashioned way: They raised our taxes. [Full Story]