GPWoods Truth: Headlee Override double-talk

Draft ballot proposal language decision due Monday at Woods C.O.W. meeting

 Mirroring the Woods' city council's anxiety over how much fresh tax money they can squeeze out of the city's 7,000 tapped-out residential property owners without putting their political jobs in jeopardy, the Woods' twin city attorneys have labored mightly and brought forth an expensive mouse.

Actually, expensive twin mice.

The Woods' taxpayers' new problem, of course, will be to sort out which of the two separate November ballot proposals that threaten to raise residents' taxes at least an extra $2 million a year for the next decade from special property levies smells worse than the other.

Or maybe neither will pass the smell test.

Responding to the new-found transparancy that private citizens' sponsored video recording of their meetings demands, the Woods' council last Monday night (May 7) spent a confused hour mulling over two substitute proposals designed to diffuse bitter opposition to the 4.5 mill, $2.1 million-a-year Headlee Override blank check "forever" tax increase they had hoped to pass in November, but now have been forced to scrap.

Like King Solomon settling the legendary debate over which of two moms owned the infant, Mayor Robert Novitke last week floated a solution that called for splitting the tax hike into two parts. He sent the city's well-paid legal braintrust - St. Clair Shores (?) attorneys Donald and Charles "Chip" Berschback - off to do the slicing and dicing and instructed them to be ready with two separate draft proposals for Monday night (May 14).

You've heard the old line about a camel being a horse that was built by a committee, right? Well, attached are the curiously "bifurcated" proposal drafts that our public officials will have before them for further endless deliberation during their Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday evening.

The proposed legalbabble (hopefully to be edited further) regarding the "Road Improvement Program Bonding Proposition" reads as follows:

"Shall the City of Grosse Pointe Woods, County of Wayne, Michigan, borrow the principal sum of not to exceed Ten Million Dollars ($10,000,000) payable in not to exceed ten/fifteen (10/15) years from the date of issue, and issue its unlimited tax general obligation bonds, in one or more series, to pay the cost of acquiring road improvements in the City together with all related appurtenances and attachments? The estimated millage to be levied in 2013 is x.xxxx mills($x.xx per $1,000 of taxable value) and the estimated average simple annual millage rate required to retire the bonds is x.xxxx mills ($x.xx per $1,000 of taxable value).

Since when did city government become an X-rated endeavor? And, if you'll excuse me, what in the world are the "related appurtances and attachments" that they will ask residents to bankroll as part of the $10 million in bonding? Sounds like something Wayne County Exec Bob Ficano would dream up.

My first impression was that this could be the most ridiculous draft ballot proposition language I've ever read. But then I read the proposed $1.2 million Headlee Override draft, to wit:  

                             MILLAGE PROPOSAL

Shall the limitation on the amount of taxes which may be imposed on taxable property in the City of Grosse Pointe Woods be increased by 1.85 mills ($1.85 per $1,000 of taxable value) for ten (10) years, 2013 to 2022 inclusive, in excess of the limitation imposed by the Headlee Amendment to the Michigan Constitution and Michigan Compiled Laws section 211.34d, to provide funds for municipal purposes, including [police and fire services, parks and recreation, and other public services]? If approved and levied in its entirety, this new additional millage would raise approximately $1,119,000 in 2013.

What, pray tell, happened to including the words "Headlee Override" in the Millage Proposal ballot copy's headline? They trying to hide what it really is?

This is just  a watered-down version of the blank check bailout that our ad hoch group of citizen taxpayers have been warning you about about for weeks.

"Funds for municipal purposes...?" "...other public services?" More buzz words designed to avoid specifics.

What they don't want to tell you is that the entire $1,119,000 goes straight into the General Fund, to be spent - or squandered - however the council and administration chooses. They point up "police and fire,etc." But there is absolutely no guarantee that they will spend 10 cents for either of those.

And Parks and Rec? Gimme a break. The Parks and Rec commission in recent years spent $1.3 million on a no-bid contract for a new swimming pool liner at Lake Front Park - money that ultimately had to be taken out of the city's rainy day stash to pay off the debt. That $1.3 million would have fixed a lot of neighborhood roads.

And the second shoe still hasn't dropped on that $1.3 million swimming pool liner deal, either. Might want to ask Mayor Pro Tem Vickie Granger about her role in that gigantic screwup sometime.

The council leadership proudly points out that they have included a "sunset" provision in each draft proposal. That supposedly is if the road bonds can be paid off in 10 years, I guess. As for the blank check Headlee Override proposal, no matter what term limit they propose, Woods' property tax money is likely to be "the gift that keeps on giving.

It is a cruel but undeniable fact that once perpetual tax windfalls like a Headlee Override are budgeted in, they are like the old British Empire: The sun never sets on them.










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Lisa Pinkos Howle May 15, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Finally! The residents can be heard. Thanks again to Gloria for all her hard work.
anthony neme May 20, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Would it be possible to contact similar cities in size and tax rates and see how they are doing it with their budgets? secondly, with the talent pool of successful business persons living in GPW, there has to be more than a few accountants who are quite capable of putting together a budget or have a few ideas of their own. Lastly, have the previous and or present city managers from GPW and the surrounding Pointes been contacted to see if any have suggestions on how to do more with less? I am really having a hard time grasping the fact that such a great city as GPW cannot be socially, politically, and have enough accountability as to run it within a budget. The days of going to "dads top drawer" for a $20 bill are over.
Arthur B. May 20, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Regarding the $10-000 country club dinner for the Mayor and his appointees, here is a verbatim from Bulletin for Audits of Local Units of Government published by Mi. Dept. of Treasury. RETIREMENT/RECOGNITION FUNCTIONS Retirement functions, gifts or plaques for employees or officials, recognition dinners for volunteer fire fighters or ambulance staff are usually not for a public purpose, therefore not an allowable expense. Travel and meals as part of the cost of training volunteers to perform emergency services within the township are deemed a public purpose, payable as an expense when properly budgeted, authorized and approved. " Bottom line is that it is an "unlawful purpose" and not an "alowable expense" to spend the taxpayers money to fete the Mayor and his appointees at the country club, to the exclusion of the public. if the whole town was invited it might be a different matter. Ditto for the beautification dinner. Unlawful to use the public money to buy coffee, donuts, dinner, or cocktails for a private, invitation only, recognition event. Woods is out of step with the other GP's, and here is a clear place to cut expenses and get on the right side of the law at the same time.
Lisa Pinkos Howle May 20, 2012 at 04:01 PM
@ Charles: We've already pointed this out.
Joseph Sucher May 21, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Malfeasance : The doing of an act which a person ought not to do; an illegal deed. source: - Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Charles, I think if what you are saying, the use of taxpayer funds for purposes of providing free food and drink for mayoral and Council appointees to committees/commissions is unnlawful, then I would think this definition would apply. Am I on the wrong track here?


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