14 Sep 2014
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Woods Headlee Override Town Hall Provokes Heated Commentary

The absence of a public comment period makes many Woods residents angry at last night's Town Hall.

Woods Headlee Override Town Hall Provokes Heated Commentary Woods Headlee Override Town Hall Provokes Heated Commentary Woods Headlee Override Town Hall Provokes Heated Commentary Woods Headlee Override Town Hall Provokes Heated Commentary Woods Headlee Override Town Hall Provokes Heated Commentary

The Grosse Pointe Woods Town Hall meeting began with City Treasurer DeeAnn Irby giving a presentation that outlined the tax increase proposals that residents will see on the November ballot. 

The Proposals

The city is asking residents to approve two millage increases in two separate proposals:

  • 1.85 millage rate increase for the general fund for 10 years
  • 2.14 millage rate increase to pay for up to $10 million in road construction bonds

Each mill equals about $600,000 in revenue for the city. For a property owner, a mill is equal to 1/1000th of a dollar so for every $1,000 of taxable value a property owner pays $1 in property tax.

For a home with a taxable value of $100,000, homeowners would pay $185 annually for the first millage request and $214 annually for the second millage request.

The council could have approved a 0.4 mill increase without voter approval, but instead decided that Woods voters must approve an override of the  Headlee Amendment. The amendment, adopted in 1994, in part requires tax rates be rolled back if state equalized property values (about half of market value) are greater than the rate of inflation.  

The tax rate in the Woods has dropped below the maximum of 20 mills allowed by city charter to between 14 and 15 mills, and the city is asking  voters to return to or near the 20-mill level on the ballot in November.

Reduced City Revenues

During her presentation, Irby explained that property tax revenues have dropped $2.5 million since 2007 because property values have declined nearly 30 percent in that time. 

The City’s reduction of 19 full-time positions and six part-time positions, as well as no pay increases for all employees since 2009, are only some of the cost-saving measures the City has implemented, Irby said.

Of the Woods tax payer dollar, Irby said roughly only 34 percent stays in the City, with the majority (61.62 percent) going to Wayne County, libraries and education. (See attached .pdf)

No Public Comment

After Irby finished, City Manager Al Fincham introduced city department heads and council members who were seated around the room, surrounding the 60-some residents in attendance.

When Fincham announced that there would be no podium for public comment but rather that each person could approach the city staff member of their choice and pose their question directly, the crowd erupted.

“I’ve never been to a town hall meeting where there was no public comment allowed,” a resident who asked not to be named said.  “This is crazy.”

Indeed many echoed that sentiment loudly and several residents disregarded the mandated meeting format to shout their disappointment about decisions made by city leadership and accused the council of overspending (see attached video). 

Fincham defended the decision to eliminate public comment and have department leadership answer citizens directly by saying, “How often do our residents have an opportunity to meet department heads face to face.  Not very often I think…  You’re going to have people disagree no matter what format you choose.”

Indeed, many residents appeared as upset about the lack of public comment as they did about the issues surrounding the proposed millage increases and stormed out of the meeting.  Many others stayed to ask tough questions of staff and council members.

Contentious Issues

The Headlee Override has been met with strong opposition by many residents who have been critical of raising taxes when they perceive there is budget squandering like a for the 114 city commission members.

“This is recognition of their efforts once a year.  These volunteers save the City tens of thousands of dollars each year,” Fincham said of the volunteer reception.

Still other residents felt that the City Council and Mayor should give up their salaries as many of the other Grosse Pointes do not compensate their councils.

Councilman Todd McConaghy disagreed saying, “My time is worth something.  I don’t feel it’s unreasonable.  I put in about 20 hours per week and I use my stipend for my cell phone and email for City business.  I don’t charge the City mileage either.”

The City will hold another Town Hall meeting to discuss the Headlee Override Proposals at 10:00 a.m. this Thursday, Sept. 27.

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