Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Headlee meeting heated

by Kathy Ryan

September 27, 2012

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — City administrators presented their case to residents Monday night on why the city is requesting voter approval of a Headlee property tax override on the November ballot.

About 75 residents attended the meeting.

City treasurer DeAnn Irby explained a Headlee override is needed in order to make up for a loss in tax revenue due to declining property values. According to Irby, in the 2007-08 fiscal year, tax revenue was nearly $15 million. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, that revenue dropped to $12 million. The decline in revenue represents a 30 percent decline in taxable property values.

In order to make up for the loss in revenue with an increase in property taxes, city officials are required to have voter approval for an override of the Headlee Amendment. Passed in 1978, the Headlee Amendment to the state’s Constitution requires cities to reduce millage rates when tax revenue increased greater than the rate of inflation. Local governments have the option of overriding the Headlee Amendment by a vote of the people, and authorizing millage rates set by city charter. In the case of Grosse Pointe Woods, the charter mandates a maximum millage rate of 20.0 mills.

The city is asking residents to approve two ballot proposals Tuesday, Nov. 6. One calls for an additional 1.85 mills over 10 years to support the General Fund budget, including public safety services, parks and recreation and other public services. The other is a 2.14 mil increase over 10 years that would be used for road construction bonds.

During Monday’s meeting, Irby described cuts the city has made cuts in several areas, including a freeze on wages, benefits and hiring, reductions in pension benefits and health care costs and mandatory furlough days for employees.

At the conclusion of Irby’s remarks, city administrator Skip Fincham introduced several department heads to residents and said they would be available to answer individual questions.

That was not exactly what several audience members had in mind, and several were vocal in their complaints that they had expected more of a town hall-type meeting, with a question and answer session done in the context of an open forum. Despite their comments, Fincham held firm, explaining this was the format the city had would be using, causing several residents to leave.

Residents who remained were able to individually express concerns or ask questions of several city officials, including the director of public safety, the building official, the director of public works, the city clerk and the court administrator.

Several opponents to the Headlee override, led by three former city council members, Lisa Pinkos Howle, Joe Sucher and Pete Waldmeir, attended the meeting. Waldmeir, in response to a request for comment, said, “This so-called town hall meeting was a joke, another sham attempt by the Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Bob Novitke and his hand-picked council (minus Vickie Granger, again, of course) not merely to limit debate on an important topic, but to eliminate public comment entirely. Why don’t you ask Novitke what he’s so afraid of that he refuses to respond to taxpayers’ questions and comments? And what’s with Novitke’s new ‘traffic cop,’ administrator Al Fincham, telling taxpayers — in effect — to just shut up and sit down? This is a new low, even for these alleged ‘public servants.’ If our citizens want some real answers, they can go to www.grossepointewoodstruth.com.”

Another meeting on the Headlee override is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, at the Grosse Pointe Woods Community Center.