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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Gloria May 13, 2012 at 12:03 PM
It will be an interesting meeting on Monday... I will attend... camera in hand. Thanks Pete for holding their feet to the fire!
George R. McMullen Jr. May 13, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Pete some interesting points. Question however.... lets assume for the "purposes of discussion" the council and the mayor haven't done anything correct in years. Let’s assume and again for the "purposes of discussion" that the pool deal cost over a million in squandered money ...it seems to me the barn door is all ready open and what is done is done. I would be interested in you feed back on a solution to the issues detailed above. A full article on your solutions would be some reading I would pay close attention to. As a disclaimer I'm in full support of council but always am willing to listen solutions....have a great Sunday G
Julie May 14, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Dear Mr. Waldmeir - Thank you for bringing these important facts to a source that GPW Tax Payers can easily access, the Grosse Pointe Patch. There is often so much confusion in the language of these millage proposals, that it's hard to figure out what is really being proposed. Thanks for the clarification, or at least the attempt considering the posibilty of city attorneys obscuring what is really going on. And, by the way, we all know curious George to be a YES MAN for anything the GPW council does. Go George Go !! In fact, Mr. Waldmeir, I am so grateful to you for your analysis I'm going to invite you to my $10,000.00 dollars "Eyes on GPW Council Christmas Party". Lol !!! J/K... About the $10,000.00 party. That would be ridiculous !!! Have a nice day !!
George R. McMullen Jr. May 14, 2012 at 10:01 AM
Again Julie still looking for solutions and suggestions. Like the solution or not… the councils will most likely recommend putting a tax and bond proposals on the November ballot. I am listening if there are other options. ...as a personal note to the curious George comment “never heard that one before very inventive" ..as a reminder politics is not personal we will be discussing the above issue until the November election and then let the voters decide and move on from there. Would appreciate when referring to me using my name as George without the extra descriptive words around as you did with Mr. Waldmer it but that’s up to you of course.
Edgar Smith May 14, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Here is a solution/suggestion George; I WILL BE VOTING NO, irregardless what the language reads on the November ballot. Pete: When is the soonest we will be able to put up "Vote No on Proposal XXXX? on our lawns?
George R. McMullen Jr. May 14, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Dear Edger thank you for your stance the only issue I'm concerned with is the results to our city. If the proposals are turned down what are the long term implications for the Woods. If the barn door is open and the cuts that could have been made haven't and the only solution are the additional tax money requests if turned down what will happen that's what I will be considering. I would be delighted to debate and really look into the issues please feel free to contact me by phone (313) 549-6363 thats the cell. I fairly busy this time of year with my day job so if I don't respond till evening I will be getting back to you, or you can approach me at any council meeting I'm always in coat and tie G
Joseph Sucher May 14, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Prior to the mayoral/council election, Grosse Pointe Shores created a "Blue Ribbon" committee to look at City finances, spending priorities and the like. Created by a sitting Council member, the resident led committee of a dozen or so was commissioned to study these issues and come up with recommendations. A Council member/liaison and the City Manager participated, providing information to the committee on an as needed basis. Prior to putting a tax increase on the ballot, I think the Council would be anxious to get more input on the need, type, size and duration of any tax increase, especially the Headlee Overide. Asking a committee to review and suggest a priority ranking of proposed expenditures would be helpful. Sadly the 12-13 budget will soon be voted on without residents having the benefit of on-line review, a benefit enjoyed by our neighbors, Grosse Pointe Shores, along with residents in many other communities, such as Berkely. However budgets can always be amended if needed after adoption. In my opinion, some of the expenditures in the proposed budget need to be highlighted and brought to the attention of taxpayers.
Chris K May 14, 2012 at 05:41 PM
George: Another solution/suggestion may be to initiate the recall of any city council member who votes for a Headlee override. The Grosse Pointe Shores Blue Ribbon Committee was an outgrowth of the narrowly successful recall campaign of the Mayor and city council members who voted to raise taxes the moment Grosse Pointe Shores became a city thereby raising their permissible millage rate to 20 mills. Unfortunately, recall campaigns or threats of such campaigns tend to encourage elected officials to remember they have an electorate to which they are accountable and whose input should be sought.
John Trombley May 14, 2012 at 06:35 PM
The agenda indicates the meeting will be held in the Conference room. How many people have to show up to get it moved into the Council-Court room?
Lisa Pinkos Howle May 14, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Hopefully many people will show up. It will take at least 4-5 extra people to have it moved. But it's not just that the conference room is unwelcoming and uninviting as well as crowded, it's the fact that there is no recording equipment to create at least an audio record that is factual and complete rather than the edited and summarized minutes provided by the clerk, usually with little to no detail. We are thankful that Gloria is creating a record of these meetings since this council refuses to do so.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 14, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Re. the Vote No sign, send me you address, Mr. Smith. Happy to oblige. I'm in the phone book. Last house at east end of Hollywood. Re. George, he's in denial. He's an appointee of Mayor Novitke's. He might lose his job on the assessment board of review sticking it to residents if he disagrees with the status quo..
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 14, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Julie: Forget McMullen. He's a plant. Why don't you contact Lisa Howle or me or someone? We're all in the phone book. Opposing this is going to take time and effort on all of our parts. But we're in it for the long haul and we can use all the grassroots help we can get. The council already spending our tax money to promote a "Yes" vote on the ridiculous and extravagant Headlee Override. Check the attorney bills. Fixing roads, I can see. But a Headlee Override blank check for Mayor Novitke and his lock-step cronies is nothing but picking our pockets.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods May 14, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Lisa: How many C.O.W. meetings have you and Joe and I and our citizens alike had to suffer through in that cramped, stuffy little conference room because Mayor for Life Novitke figures that the more uncomfortable people are, the less they are likely they are to want to participate in discussions and make him wait long periods between his cigaret breaks? I can remember one time having to sit in the windowsill when the room became so jammed to I gave up my council seat to a resident. I mean, I like all you folks. I just don't want to sit on somebody's lap when there's a huge council chamber across the hall sitting vacant.
George R. McMullen Jr. May 14, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Chris hope all is well as to your suggestion what if the members are recalled then a new election I'm not quite sure as to the timing but I would have to figure at least mid 2012 until a new administration was put in. Then what is the agenda they would run with. I freely admit I do attend a lot of council meetings and COW's but I'm in now way an expert on city finances. Lets say a new administration was put in place is the plan to take no tax increase and provide the services that are being provided now. Again a suggestion but what is the long term result. My point if the council has made mistakes what would be the results if a new Millage/bond was not passed or put to the voters for the next year or two I don't know hard to discuss over patch perhaps we can talk sometime...
George R. McMullen Jr. May 14, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Joe some good suggestions and some questions to ask
George R. McMullen Jr. May 14, 2012 at 09:22 PM
I would like to address a comment listed above. Currently I serve on the City of Grosse Pointe Woods Board of Review. I have taken an oath and I quote "George McMullen do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution of the united States of America, The constitution of the State of Michigan, the charter and the code of the City of Grosse Pointe Woods, and that I will endevor to secure and maintain an honest and efficient administration of the affairs of the city of Grosse Pointe Woods and will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of Board of Review of the City of Grosse Pointe Woods to the best of my ability" If anyone that comments on Patch or anywhere else does not think I'm living up to the above oath I encourage them to call write e-mail any political leader in my city and lodge a formal complaint. I take my duties and oath very seriously and any attack against either is unwarranted and out of bounds. Lets discuss the issues and keep the personal attacks out of this. Nuff said
judy sheehy May 14, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Hello George, might I ask what your qualifications were to be on the Board of Review?
George R. McMullen Jr. May 14, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Judy not part of the discussion please contact me by e-mail or phone and I will forward you the details ... my e-mail is george@grmcmullen.net phone is above
Lisa Pinkos Howle May 14, 2012 at 10:17 PM
@Joe: Regarding "budgets can always be amended" You and I have both heard that song before. How many times have you also heard: "This is a budgeted item" in order to quickly pass through an expenditure that had been debated during the budget process. In 8 years, I heard that line countless times and everyone rolled over and passed whatever expenditure was "budgeted." The time to cut is BEFORE the budget is passed.
Lisa Pinkos Howle May 14, 2012 at 10:30 PM
@ George: Do you know what percentage of the total number of appeals were granted at the Board of Review hearings this past March? Also, how many folks appealed their increased assessments. I suspect the number of appeals was quite high because while the city property values decreased over 2% most people I know in almost every "section" as drawn by the Assessor saw an INCREASE in their assessed value. I think that information is important. How can this be possible? Other Grosse Pointes freely disseminate that information. If you can provide these stats as a member of the board and as a member of the community, I think that would be helpful. I also suspect you will not be allowed to do that and we will be forced to FOIA the information to which we should be entitled. Just sayin'
judy sheehy May 14, 2012 at 10:49 PM
George, since this was a topic of discussion on this blog....just had a question I thought you might answer here..
judy sheehy May 14, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Great idea Lisa
George R. McMullen Jr. May 15, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Judy Hope I answered your question tonight good to see you and I'm sure our paths will cross many times over the next couple of months and then some :-)
George R. McMullen Jr. May 15, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Lisa any answer I give you would be a guess. I’ve been on for 4 years and it varies every year.. you would have to contact the assessor and ask. They might only have the % reduction and not the number of homes that were reduced. As a pretty good guess we see about 250 to 300 appeals a year out of I believe 6400 homes and a few commercial on top of that not many hope that helps. wuld like to discuss board of review more with you as there are many more parts to it you might like to know lets talk soon.
Gloria May 15, 2012 at 02:59 PM
View PUBLIC COMMENT: 2015_05_14 Grosse Pointe Woods City Council Meeting COMMITTEE-OF-THE-WHOLE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gz-0xl1QpvA&feature=youtu.be
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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