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.