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GPWoods Truth: Council pressured, folds on Headlee

Headlee Override scaled back. Check You Tube for video.

Grosse Pointe Woods city council, under pressure from a trio of former council members who have demanded more truth and transparency in their elected officials' tax-boosting deliberations, on Monday evening (May 7) dumped their original plans for an extravagent 4.5 mill Headlee Override tax increase.

Instead of asking city voters for a $2.1 million annual blank check Headlee bailout property tax gift that they can spend any way they care to spend, they took the political way out. Encouraged once more by the presence of a citizen's video-tape recording camera in the council chambers, they wisely split their tax-grab attempt into two distinct parts.

One is a ballot proposal to float several million in construction bonds dedicated to badly needed residential road repairs. The other proposal is a separate ballot issue that would give them a $1.2 million annual windfall of unrestricted cash, but only if they can pass a Headlee Override.

Incidentally, if you total up the 1.9 mill roads construction levy and the 1.85 mill projected Headlee Override, it comes right back to nearly a 4 mills jump in annual taxes Woods residents may have to pay for the next 10 to 15 years.

What is left to decide sometime in the next two weeks is exactly how much road construction money they'll ask for in November and how long Woods' residents will be assessed extra taxes to pay it off.

A word of caution: This council's wheeling and dealing, to paraphrase Yogi Berra,   "Ain't ever over until it's over." And "over" won't happen until at least May 21, when the council votes on the specific language for each ballot proposal.

In the meantime, alas, Mayor Bob Novitke, Mayor Pro Tem Vickie Granger and their five hand-picked cronies have plenty of time to go into the revolving door behind unsuspecting taxpayers and come out in front of them, as they often do.

On Monday night, for instance, the seven council members politely agreed to disagree on a couple of ballot items, then postponed their next public negotiation to the Committee of the Whole session on Monday, May 14.

Woods residents would be wise to wait out their stall. Another shoe could drop before the final decisions are made on Monday, May 21.

As they stand today, both of the tax bump proposals are supposed to have "sunset" clauses calling for specific termination dates. These, however, often are manipulated and made ineffective.

The first and most important proposal is expected to ask taxpayers to approve a specific dedicated $10 million bond issue to fix the Woods crumbling residential roads - something our ad hoc committee of former council members demanded.

Projected debt service on that will cost Woods' taxpayers 1.9 mills, or an additional $190 per $100,000 of taxable value.

So far the Woods council has split 5-2 on the length of that contract. One faction wants to borrow $10 million for 10 years; another wants $10 million for 15 years. The date that the "sunset" clause kicks in, however, is still to be determined.

As for the new $1.2 annual Headlee Override windfall, it'll cost each resident and business owner another 1.85 mills - over and above the Headlee amendment cap.

That's an extra $185 in real estate tax each year for each $100,000 of a property's taxable value - for the life of the ballot proposal, whatever it is. By law, this money cannot be earmarked for any specific project. It goes into the General Fund to  subsidize any number of vote-getting programs that the City Council chooses to approve.

That's a lot of appointee perks and political patronage to spread around.

"Even scaled back to 1.85 mills, the Headlee Override is distasteful and unnecessary," said former Woods council member Lisa Pinkos Howle. "They keep talking about needing it for police and fire. If that's the case, why not do a dedicated bond proposal for police and fire like they suggest for road repairs?"

NOTES IN BRIEF:

Citizens who want to attend Woods' council meetings now have an invitation to make "Public Comment." The previous agendas only called for "New Business." Some comment from citizens was permitted under that, but was discouraged and severly limited. Once our video camera showed up, all that changed and attendees now are invited to speak their minds, with "Public Comment" finally listed on the Woods' council agendas. Welcome to the 21st century!

Woods' Committee of the Whole meetings also now are held in the main council chambers, instead of jamming media, council members and interested citizens into a tiny conference room. Another comfort reluctantly conceeded to video-tape coverage.

 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gloria May 10, 2012 at 03:13 PM
To view videos of the meeting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9ZjD5pUAN4&feature=youtu.be full video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tBp6F4kC6I&feature=channel&list=UL
anthony neme May 11, 2012 at 02:38 PM
http://www.candgnews.com/news/proposed-flat-farms-budget-features-no-millage-increase That my friends is what a city is suppose to be doing.
Joseph Sucher May 11, 2012 at 05:21 PM
No question the Farms approach as reported in the Grosse Pointe Times yesterday seems to show citizen concerns are a priority when considering solutions to fiscal challenges. Gov. Snyder wants municipalites to provide better financial information to their residents. It's all about transparency. The Frontier Group writes in a recent publication titled 'Following the Money 2012' , "The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending promotes fiscal responsibility, checks corruption and bolsters public confidence." To that end I congratulate Mark Wollenweber and his staff in the Shores for the wealth of financial information available on their website for all, residents and non-residents alike, to view. Today you can review their proposed 12-13 FY budget which will soon be coming up for Council approval. Their check register is posted monthly, listing every check written, to whom, how much and for what. Requests for the Woods to post similar data have not been addressed. It is reported that publication and availability of financial data has been resisted in the past. There is no question that citizens can more fully participate in the oversight of government spending given the proper information. Is the plan of limited access to information designed to keep citizens in the dark about how their money is being spent?
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 11, 2012 at 07:48 PM
City government in Grosse Pointe Woods has been run in a dictatorial manner for too many years. Joe Sucher, Lisa Pinkos Howle and I all served years on a council that has been dominated by Mayor-for Life Bob Novitke and Council member Vickie Granger. We know that they believe that city's tax-and-spend administration is like a junk yard - make it too ugly to look at so that you can build a fence around it and do whatever you want in secret. A message to Woods residents: If you don't start paying attention to these abuses, you're going to pay heavily for your lack of interest. Demand transparency. Demand answers, not placebos.
Michael May 12, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Here, Here Pete! Please run for Mayor and bring back Lisa and Joe with an administration that sets the example for responsibility and treats the citizens with respect.
Lisa Pinkos Howle May 12, 2012 at 04:56 PM
For those of you who have a little time, here is the most current financial report that I could find. It covers the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. We should have access to 2012 budget information through the city website but we don't. Let's demand that these documents be made available online. I think it's important to note that Police and Fire, Public Works and Parks amount to around 9 million dollars while our taxes amount to 12.5 million. They need to cut unnecessary expenses before asking for more money. Also, according to the report, 184 retirees including Medicare retirees and their dependents pay NO contribution. http://www.michigan.gov/documents/treasury/822130GrossePteWoodsCity20111129_369978_7.pdf
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 12, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Lisa H. I tried to check the document you detailed above but was advised that the "file has been damaged and cannot be repaired." You don't suppose somebody's been messing with it, do you?
Chris K May 12, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Pete: Try the Grosse Pointe Woods web page. If you look at the left side of the page you will see a link for Documents. If you click on the folder for Finance you will find the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2007 and 2008. About the time they stopped fixing the roads in Grosse Pointe Woods they stopped posting the financial reports. I wonder if there is a connection between the two? Good thing Lisa was able to access the report by going to the web page of the State of Michigan. No wonder Gov. Snyder is making every community provide access to dashboards with key financial data. While these dashboards may not be as comprehensive as necessary, at least it's a start.

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