Stories indexed with the term ‘taxes’

Veterans Relief Tax Gets Initial OK

At their Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval to levy a tax to support services for indigent veterans. A final vote is expected at the board’s Sept. 3 meeting.

The county has determined that it 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 levy this type of tax –  the Veterans Relief Fund Act, Public Act 214 of 1899  – predates the state’s Headlee Amendment. The county first began levying this millage in 2008, and collects the tax in December. Services are administered through the county’s department of  veterans affairs.

Since 2008, the county board has slightly increased the rate that it levies each … [Full Story]

AATA Taps Berriz, Guenzel to Review Plan

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 24, 2011): At a meeting held at a revised time and day to accomodate board members’ summer schedules, the AATA board approved a series of resolutions, two of which related in some direct way to the possible future of transit in the Ann Arbor area.

Roger Kerson

AATA board member Roger Kerson at the board's Aug. 24, 2011 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At the board meeting, CEO Michael Ford announced that McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County administrator, will be co-chairing a panel of financial and funding experts who will review various funding options for a possible expanded, countywide transportation system.

The board voted to release a funding report to the panel – the third volume of its transit master plan (TMP). [.pdf of Part 1 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options] [.pdf of Part 2 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options]. The first two volumes were released previously.

The report describes a range of funding options, which would likely be used in some combination of strategies: fare revenues, advertising, property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, parking taxes, stakeholder contributions, fuel taxes and vehicle license fees.

In anticipation that the panel could recommend funding options that would require voter approval, the board also approved the selection of CJI Research Corp. as the vendor for survey work over the next three years. That survey work can include on-board surveys of bus riders as well as telephone surveys of Washtenaw County voters.

At the Aug. 24 meeting, the board also approved implementation of a new website, which will provide greater flexibility for AATA staff who aren’t computer programmers to push information to the public. The new site is also intended to make it easier for the public to track the real-time locations of their bus.

The board also changed its pricing policy for the go!pass, a bus pass offered to downtown Ann Arbor employees that allows them to board AATA buses on an unlimited basis without paying a fare. The cost of the fares has historically been paid by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority using public parking system revenues, plus a nominal fee per card paid by downtown employers. The revised policy breaks with AATA’s past practice of charging costs for go!pass rides based on its cheapest full-fare alternative. Those costs per ride will now be lower, based on the DDA’s ability to pay and the AATA’s estimate of what employers would be willing to pay.

In other business, the board approved a revision to its contract with the Select Ride company, which provides AATA’s on-demand paratransit service (A-Ride) for those who are not able to ride the fixed-route regularly-scheduled bus system. The upward adjustment was driven by a recent increase in maximum taxicab fares implemented by the city of Ann Arbor.

The board also approved a master agreement that will apply to all of its contracts with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and adjusted its capital plan to accommodate changes in three projects: the Blake Transit Center, the bus storage facility, and the bus maintenance facility. [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]

Washtenaw Assessed Property Values Drop

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (April 21, 2010): The economy was a theme throughout much of last week’s county board meeting, whether commissioners were hearing that this year’s tax revenues have fallen – but not as much as expected – or debating the virtues of a drug discount plan for residents. And concerns over the ability to pay additional road commissioners was one reason cited for tabling a motion to expand that group. The board also got an update on the Detroit Aerotropolis project, which is viewed by some as a way to boost economic development on the county’s east side.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners authorized the issuance of up to $405,000 in bonds for a porous pavement project on Sylvan Avenue in Ann Arbor – the Ann Arbor city council had approved a construction contract for the project at their April 19 meeting. The city is working with the county’s water resources commissioner on this effort. If successful, it could pave the way for more porous resurfacing of local roads.

In the category of the local agricultural economy, the board honored the Horning family of Manchester for their work as progressive dairy farmers – Earl Horning in turn invited the public to a June 26 “Breakfast on the Farm” event. “We’d like our city friends to come and visit us,” Horning told commissioners. [Full Story]

Column: Your Tax Dollars at Play

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

With tax day just past, it’s a good time to ask where our money should go – and where it shouldn’t. I don’t have all the answers, of course – but I’m convinced one expenditure should end immediately: stadium subsidies.

Two years ago, the New York Yankees signed third baseman Alex Rodriguez to a contract that will pay him $275 million dollars in exchange for 10 years of catching, throwing and hitting a baseball. That puts him ahead of his teammate, Derek Jeter, who has to get by on a mere $189 million for his decade of duty. Sucker.

Whenever teams sign contracts like that, the player’s agent always justifies it by saying, “Well, that’s what the market will bear.”

If that were true, it would still be insane, but at least there would be a logic to it. After all, if any team is dumb enough to pay someone that kind of money, and if a family of four wants to pay $200 to see that guy play – well, then, so be it. That’s how free markets work.

But the free market doesn’t come close to paying these guys’ salaries. Who picks up the gap? You do – every time you pay your taxes. [Full Story]

Budget Round 5: Economic Development

Last Monday night, the Ann Arbor city council held its fifth and possibly final meeting devoted exclusively to the city’s financial planning, before it adopts the city’s FY 2011 budget on May 17, 2010. The budget will be formally presented to the city council by city administrator Roger Fraser at its Monday, April 19 meeting.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) sets up his presentation on the LDFA.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) sets up his presentation on the Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) before the start of the April 12 council budget meeting. Rapundalo sits on the LDFA board as the Ann Arbor city council’s representative, and currently chairs the board.

At the April 12 budget meeting, the council heard presentations on two related entities: the Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) and Ann Arbor SPARK. The LDFA contracts with Ann Arbor SPARK for various business development services.

The two key themes that emerged from the LDFA presentation were consistent with the overall topic of the city’s budget: (i) Where does the LDFA get its money? and (ii) What does the LDFA spend its money on?

Part of the LDFA’s revenue goes towards economic development activities – a business accelerator – for which it contracts with Ann Arbor SPARK. The presentation to the council from SPARK’s CEO, Michael Finney, was followed by testimonials of companies who said they had benefited from SPARK’s efforts.

Development activities are just one kind of investment that the LDFA could make under its TIF (tax-increment financing) plan. It could also make investments in physical infrastructure. During question time, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) drew out from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) the possibility that the LDFA could contemplate an investment in a fiber-optic network. Rapundalo, who serves on the LDFA board, indicated that such an LDFA investment might be possible, even if Google does not select Ann Arbor as a test community for its current fiber-optic initiative.

The council also heard from the economic development community about how the name “Ann Arbor” is perceived in the rest of the world.

The part of the council’s meeting dedicated to deliberations on its own budget was comparatively brief. Councilmembers were keen to portray in a positive light a couple of different issues, among them a potential increase in the city’s debt load resulting from a failure to complete a $3 million sale of property at First & Washington, as well as proposed increases in water rates. [Full Story]

County Budget Moves Toward Final Vote

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Nov. 18, 2009): The county’s administration and elected officials have been grappling with the 2010-2011 budget for nearly a year, and passed a milestone at Wednesday’s meeting with approval of the budget during the board’s Ways & Means Committee meeting. They’re expected to take a final vote at the Dec. 2 regular board meeting. Staff members who attended the meeting seemed visibly relieved.

The board also got an update on the 2009 budget, made appointments to more than a dozen commissions and committees, and approved emergency funding to help provide shelter for the homeless during the winter months. Details on these and other agenda items after the break. [Full Story]

Firefly Club Closed, Assets Seized

A sign at the entrance to the Firefly Club apologizes for the closing.

A handwritten sign at the entrance to the Firefly Club apologizes for the closing. (Photo by the writer.)

The Firefly Club, a jazz and blues nightclub at 637 S. Main, was closed down by the state last night and its assets seized for unpaid sales taxes. Owner Susan Chastain told The Chronicle that her bank account and other assets have been frozen as well, because she was unable to make full payments to the state over the past two months on a debt of $120,000 – an amount in arrears for assessed sales tax dating back several years.

“We’ve always struggled,” Chastain said. It’s historically been difficult for blues and jazz clubs, she added, but the economic downturn has made it even more difficult to keep up.

Chastain opened the Firefly nine years ago at 209 S. Ashley, where the Bird of Paradise, a now defunct jazz club, had been located. Recordkeeping problems – dating back to the club’s opening – caused the state to assess the Firefly’s sales tax, plus penalites and interest, at about $160,000 several years ago. Chastain said that about three years ago her current accountant negotiated a payment plan, and she started sending the state $2,000 each month to put toward the unpaid sales tax. [Full Story]

4-H Fans, Others Lobby County for Funds

The overflow crowd in the lobby of the county administration building arrived too late for a seat in the boardroom.

An overflow crowd in the lobby of the county administration building arrived too late for a seat in the boardroom, and watched Wednesday's Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting on TV. (Photo by the writer.)

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Aug. 5, 2009): As Washtenaw County grapples with a staggering budget deficit, 4-H supporters – including local farmers, teens and club leaders – packed Wednesday’s county Board of Commissioners meeting, urging commissioners not to cut funding for that program. They were joined by many others who use master gardening, financial counseling and other services of the county’s MSU Extension program, which could see dramatic funding cuts as the county tries to balance its budget.

As The Chronicle previously reported, the county faces a $30 million deficit over the next two years. Last week, county administrator Bob Guenzel released a list of options for cutting another $12 million out of the budget, and eliminating up to 181 jobs. Those options – which he stressed are not his recommendations at this point – target non-mandated services, ranging from Head Start to a variety of mental health programs. On Wednesday, Guenzel gave a formal presentation about the options to commissioners, who will be the final arbiters of any budget decisions. The discussion following Guenzel’s presentation could aptly be summarized by this statement from commissioner Conan Smith: “It sucks.” [Full Story]

Column: Limited Edition

Bill Lockyer, California State Treasurer, says that Winston T. Lee of Lafayette, Calif. owes his department $9,940,513.49 representing unfiled state income tax returns since 2002. One wonders, since both Bill and Winston agree that the returns were not filed, how Bill determined the delinquent income tax amount so precisely? At least you would think he could have rounded down on the 49 cents. (Google “California Delinquent Taxes.”)

“Not so,” Mr. Lee tells CNN on tax day. The assessment seemingly was set high enough in hopes of encouraging Mr. Lee to file his past-due returns and pay the correct tax with interest and penalties. “Won’t happen,” further retorts Mr. Lee. “I feel badly about the whole thing but I just can’t bring myself to figure out the complexities of the California income tax forms. I hope they will call me and we can agree on some number and I’ll just pay it.”

If Mr. Lee, a businessman with a few rental properties, is confused by the California returns, he is most fortunate not to be doing business in Michigan. The governor’s new Michigan Business Tax, with its mind-numbing complexities and inequities, sets the gold standard for costly tax attorneys and CPAs. Likely the governor’s  State Treasurer has already realized – or soon will – the significant free give-a-ways, tax credits, and subsidies that will be needed to get any prospective new business to buy into the MBT mess, a tax adopted at 2 in the morning by a sleep-deprived (brain dead?) legislature surrounded by dozens of well-paid and wide awake lobbyists. [Full Story]

Washtenaw County: Equalize This

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (April 15, 2009): A report that’s crucial in calculating how much the county can collect in property taxes this year was delivered to the board, one of several budget-related topics as commissioners and the administration grapple with declining revenues and a multimillion-dollar deficit in the coming years.

County administrator Bob Guenzel, left, talks with county clerk Larry Kestenbaum during a break at the April 15 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

County administrator Bob Guenzel, left, talks with county clerk Larry Kestenbaum during a break at the April 15 meeting of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

As county administrator Bob Guenzel had foreshadowed at the commissioners’ April 11 retreat, the 2009 taxable value of property in the county fell 2.16%. It was the first time in 50 years that Washtenaw County saw a decline in both taxable value and assessed value – but it almost assuredly won’t be the last.

The board also took time to honor public health official Ellen Clement, who’s leaving the county staff after nearly 25 years, and to recognize Guenzel for his 35 years of service. He’ll be sticking around. [Full Story]

Is DDA District a Disproportionate Burden?

Six-million-dollar oval.

The bottom line according to a 2005 city of Ann arbor analysis of DDA costs versus payments. (The circle means "negative") The DDA sees it differently.

On Monday evening, March 23, several Ann Arbor residents took advantage of an entire city council session devoted to public comment on the recent A2D2 zoning revisions. The  zoning revisions apply to an area that  coincides almost exactly with the Downtown Development Authority district. We thus take the opportunity to focus on this district, and how taxes are collected in this geographic area, in light of recent community discussion on the topic.

The Chronicle has previously reported a remark by made by Mayor John Hieftje at a recent Sunday night caucus, in which he stated that the parking agreement between the DDA and the city was renegotiated in 2005 due in part to the fact that the DDA area represented a disproportionately greater burden on city services. Also previously reported, Kyle Mazurek, vice president of government affairs for the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, posed several questions to the DDA board at its meeting on March 4, including one about the possibility of disproportionate use of city services in the DDA district: [Full Story]