Woods Headlee Override Town Hall Provokes Heated Commentary

The absence of a public comment period makes many Woods residents angry at last night's Town Hall.

The Grosse Pointe Woods Town Hall meeting began with City Treasurer DeeAnn Irby giving a presentation that outlined the tax increase proposals that residents will see on the November ballot. 

The Proposals

The city is asking residents to approve two millage increases in two separate proposals:

  • 1.85 millage rate increase for the general fund for 10 years
  • 2.14 millage rate increase to pay for up to $10 million in road construction bonds

Each mill equals about $600,000 in revenue for the city. For a property owner, a mill is equal to 1/1000th of a dollar so for every $1,000 of taxable value a property owner pays $1 in property tax.

For a home with a taxable value of $100,000, homeowners would pay $185 annually for the first millage request and $214 annually for the second millage request.

The council could have approved a 0.4 mill increase without voter approval, but instead decided that Woods voters must approve an override of the Headlee Amendment. The amendment, adopted in 1994, in part requires tax rates be rolled back if state equalized property values (about half of market value) are greater than the rate of inflation.  

The tax rate in the Woods has dropped below the maximum of 20 mills allowed by city charter to between 14 and 15 mills, and the city is asking  voters to return to or near the 20-mill level on the ballot in November.

Reduced City Revenues

During her presentation, Irby explained that property tax revenues have dropped $2.5 million since 2007 because property values have declined nearly 30 percent in that time. 

The City’s reduction of 19 full-time positions and six part-time positions, as well as no pay increases for all employees since 2009, are only some of the cost-saving measures the City has implemented, Irby said.

Of the Woods tax payer dollar, Irby said roughly only 34 percent stays in the City, with the majority (61.62 percent) going to Wayne County, libraries and education. (See attached .pdf)

No Public Comment

After Irby finished, City Manager Al Fincham introduced city department heads and council members who were seated around the room, surrounding the 60-some residents in attendance.

When Fincham announced that there would be no podium for public comment but rather that each person could approach the city staff member of their choice and pose their question directly, the crowd erupted.

“I’ve never been to a town hall meeting where there was no public comment allowed,” a resident who asked not to be named said.  “This is crazy.”

Indeed many echoed that sentiment loudly and several residents disregarded the mandated meeting format to shout their disappointment about decisions made by city leadership and accused the council of overspending (see attached video). 

Fincham defended the decision to eliminate public comment and have department leadership answer citizens directly by saying, “How often do our residents have an opportunity to meet department heads face to face.  Not very often I think…  You’re going to have people disagree no matter what format you choose.”

Indeed, many residents appeared as upset about the lack of public comment as they did about the issues surrounding the proposed millage increases and stormed out of the meeting.  Many others stayed to ask tough questions of staff and council members.

Contentious Issues

The Headlee Override has been met with strong opposition by many residents who have been critical of raising taxes when they perceive there is budget squandering like a for the 114 city commission members.

“This is recognition of their efforts once a year.  These volunteers save the City tens of thousands of dollars each year,” Fincham said of the volunteer reception.

Still other residents felt that the City Council and Mayor should give up their salaries as many of the other Grosse Pointes do not compensate their councils.

Councilman Todd McConaghy disagreed saying, “My time is worth something.  I don’t feel it’s unreasonable.  I put in about 20 hours per week and I use my stipend for my cell phone and email for City business.  I don’t charge the City mileage either.”

The City will hold another Town Hall meeting to discuss the Headlee Override Proposals at 10:00 a.m. this Thursday, Sept. 27.

Don Holman September 25, 2012 at 01:44 PM
I agree Christopher. When you say "senseless rants" that can only refer to Robert Lee!
Savvy Shopper September 25, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I have access to all my city council members and other city leaders either by going to city hall or seeing them out and about. Mostly, I see them out in the community running errands and being active in their community. I am always able to have my questions answered.
Gloria September 25, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Please do not confuse what you call... "senseless rants" with PASSION!
Chris K September 25, 2012 at 01:51 PM
While for the most part I am speechless as to what happened at this meeting, I think the "public body" did not convene the meeting. They were sitting around and showed up later at tables on the side of the room and no one was given notice that was the format of the meeting until after the presentation was concluded. I suspect GPW officials sidestepped the requirements of the Open Meetings Act but it speaks volumes about the authoritarian approach the council uses to engage in public discourse among residents . Residents should not want to override Headlee and give the city a blank check when its elected officials won't even face the to answer their questions. Divide and conquer was how it appeared.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods September 25, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Way to go, Gloria! All those people are lunatics? All of us, because we demand our public servants serve the public? That guy's nothing but a shill for the joke of a mayor and his hand-picked yes men on the council. Speaking of "Yes men," Council member Vickie Granger, the self-styled champion of taxpayers, the seniors, women in general was a no- show up AGAIN last night. Remember, she missed the council's budget session where dozens of people got up to speak and Mayor Budda Bob Novitke refused to answer any questions, then passed his bloated budget in 30 seconds. Vickie wants the best of all worlds. She wants to saddle taxpayers with more and more taxes, but when crunch time comes and she might have to answer a question about her egregious conduct she disappears. Budda Bob's no better. He just sits there stone-faced and ignores all comment and criticism. It's official: The Woods mayor, council and administration are a joke. An obscene joke, at that.
christopher September 25, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Gloria, the videos speak for themselves. The gentlmen made little sense if any and i'm not quite sure he even knew what he was talking about. I heard a sad rumor that he may even donted $10,000 to the cause. In 10 yrs he would not have even paid half of that. That list of cuts is so vague, who are these three that stand on their soap box and make demands that all three failed to do while in office. Mr.Sucher was head of finance, Mrs.Howle could of donated her money back at any time but never did and all Mr. Waldmeir did was vote along with the mayor until he got snubbed when something didnt go his way and turned to his bullying hateful rhetoric that this fine community is well aware of......
GP For Life September 25, 2012 at 02:21 PM
I agree, the Libraries do need to go. While we're at it, we should get rid of the schools and just home school. Imagine how much that would save! Then we could go back to farming and fur trapping and just trade with the natives.
Gloria September 25, 2012 at 02:25 PM
What you seem to be missing is the fact that the money he invested could save the people of this community millions! Sounds like a good investment to me! No one really opposes a year to year tax... However, TWO TEN YEAR tax proposals are much hard to swallow... As DeeAnn Irby kept saying... we may or may not use the money dedicated... then way ask for it all up front? Ask us each year... sounds more reasonable to me! Please feel free to start a community based dedicated fund for those in favor of these tax increases... you could always try that!
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods September 25, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Cut the vicious rumor mongering, Christopher or whatever your real name is. You want to be a shill, at least get your facts right. Nobody donated $10,000 to our campaign. We have a committee filed with Wayne County and the Secretary of State. All our finances will be reported at the same time that Kettles and the rest report theirs. The city council is illegally using taxpayer money to print materials that say taxpayers' "options" are (only) to APPROVE both ballot proposals. Not "approve or deny." I know it's difficult for drones like you, but check your facts. Read their handout from the alleged Town Hall meeting that was nothing but a propaganda session. The city can't spend OUR money to pay for ANY materials designed to have residents APPROVE a tax increase. It's not only misleading, it's illegal. "Bullying hateful rhetoric?" You sweet-talker, you. Why don't you cut the anonymous stealth attack and sign your real name. Coward? Or is it Vickie?
Chace Wakefield September 25, 2012 at 03:51 PM
That video was tough to watch. You can yell and scream all you want at meetings, but if you really want to talk, vote in November. Its a choice. Grosse Pointe Woods is a top teir desirable place to live. One way or another this passion displayed by residents can help it stay that way.
Frank Walshingham September 25, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Aren't elected officials supposed to be accountable to their constituents? The way the Woods city officials sat silently around last night and let the municipal employees do their dirty work shows how out of touch the current mayor and council are. If the mayor and council can't take the heat for the huge tax increases they want to pass on to us citizens, then they need to get out of the kitchen! City employees are hired to execute the policies determined by our elected officials, and should never have been put in the compromising position of trying to advocate for tax increases that will benefit themselves. And Pete Waldmeir is right on about the illegality of Noviitke and associates using public tax dollars to try to influence the outcome of an election. Are you going to followup and file a complaint with the state, Pete?
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods September 25, 2012 at 05:18 PM
We're working on it Frank. We don't have a staff of attorneys and other flunkies like they do who are on the city payroll to research and file complaints. They know that. That's why they're breaking the law and not acknowledging that they are. I challenged Irby and Fincham last night on the material the city was sending out telling taxpayers they had no choice but to APPROVE the two ballot issues. I said she was telling me to vote to raise my taxes. She looked at me with her blank look and said, "Oh, No. We say you have a choice to approve..." Brain dead? You bet.
Bob Frapples September 25, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Mr. Waldmeir, why is it that you mock "Christopher" for possibly using a fake name (assuming it's the lack of a corresponding last name) but yet you choose not to call out someone that seems to agree with your position, like "Gloria"? A last name or fake name doesn't give credibility; in a world where any nut job with Internet access can find out where you live and information about your family we need to be careful. You call it cowardly, I call it cautious.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods September 25, 2012 at 06:44 PM
If your real name is Bob Frapples, why do you use it? You're not a wimp coward hiding behind anonymity, that's why. I use my name. My picture was in the Detroit News for 40 years. My address is in the phone book. All I say is, Man Up. If Christopher (or is it Christine?) is gonna be insulting and spread vicious rumors, sign a full name or shut up. People like that disgust me. Re. Gloria, she's not spreading vicious rumors and slanderous accusations. I know her. It would take three of that wimp to even come close to being person enough to shine her shoes.
John Hetzler (Editor) September 25, 2012 at 06:57 PM
A reminder to everyone to please keep the comments civil and refrain from name-calling. Thank you.
Lisa Pinkos Howle September 25, 2012 at 07:28 PM
I just posted Proposed Cuts by Area (above). None of these cuts were reviewed or considered by this Council. If you'd like to see the detail supporting our proposed cuts, go to www.GrossePointeWoodsTruth.com. None of these cuts will impact the quality of life in Grosse Pointe Woods, but a ten year tax hike will. With the Headlee Override and the Road Millage added to the tax hikes already implemented by Council, you will be paying almost 7 mils more than you did in 2007 and your property is worth about half.
Jeff September 25, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Once again Pete great comeback, "If your real name is Bob Frapples". Its actually amazing how disrespectful of a person you are. All you ever do is try to intimidate people by calling them names and insulting their intelligence. Did it ever occur to you that Christopher doesn't want to give his last name out because he is afraid wackos like you are going to call him up in the middle of the night and scream and hurl insults at him. There is a difference between being a bully and being passionate about something and you clearly never learned the difference.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods September 25, 2012 at 07:41 PM
No Jeff, he's a wimp hiding behind an assumed name to slander and spread vicious rumors. This nonsense is made for people who want to be brave and accusative and not have to admit it. You have my name. I'm in the phone book. Go hide.
Pete Waldmeir, GP Woods September 25, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Hey Heltzer! What about Jeff insulting me? That OK, Mom?
Lisa Pinkos Howle September 25, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Just one additional note: According to the GPW audit report published online, GPW "Property Tax Levies and Collections” were as follows: 2011: $14,501,247 2010: $14,465,586 2009: $14,249,802 2008: $14,931,695 2007: $14,443,049 2006: $14,033,157 2005: $12,740,052 2004: $12,379,468 Now from July of 2011 until March of 2012 when the Council began asking for more money, revenues allegedly fell to $12,268,206 (or 2005 levels when things were pretty good). What happened between 2011 and 2012? It was not a steady regression as you can see. You can also see that it is possible to work with a smaller budget.
John Hetzler (Editor) September 25, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Pete, my comment was addressed to everyone.
GPW Resident September 25, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Neither party acted like grown adults last night. I was ashamed to be a GP Resident. I attended the meeting to gather two simple facts in regards to Proposals for Roads and Services. I expected a detailed breakdown of targeted road improvement projects outlined over the 10 year period if the millage was passed. Identifying streets and associated costs per project. All adding up to the $10M expenditure The city's other proposal asks for millage to fund services, wouldn't it have been appropriate to detail exactly what services the city would be funding? If approved? The bottom line is neither question was answered and no transparency existed.
Chris K September 25, 2012 at 09:04 PM
GPW Resident: Excellent questions but really, you are asking for an awful lot of transparency from GPW elected officials. The question I ask is why GPW elected officials did not convene a citizen group to review the NEED for tax proposals, a second set of eyes on the fiscal problems they have encountered , before deciding to place the matter on the ballot. Other forward thinking cities do these sorts of things. And, now, I have an answer. If Woods elected officials and administration are too intimidated to permit their residents to ask questions as a group, so all can hear the answers, they sure aren't going to want citizens looking at how they got where they did. As for concerns about "senseless rants" the conveners could have set ground rules; the chief of police was there and could have taken care of the wackos. The problem here is far more dire than a budget shortfall in Grosse Pointe Woods. It is a shortfall of the democratic process.
christopher September 25, 2012 at 09:42 PM
The city was out to avoid a shouting match and lets be honest, we all know thats exactly what would of happened and absolutely nothing would have been accomplished. The entire city staff was there to answer any questions on a personal level. How can it get any better then that? the people upset were the ones who wanted to grandstand and make a scene, they wanted a "mob rules" agenda and i commend the city for keeping it civil and having every single person out there for anyones questions.
Dex Boyden September 25, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Grosse Pointe Woods should secede from Wayne County. That would solve this whole problem. Our park is in Macomb county so SECESSION RULES!!
Dex Boyden September 25, 2012 at 11:07 PM
The irony is that Vicky Granger didn't show up at the town hall meeting!!! I say RECALL!!!
Erwin M. Fletcher September 26, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Ladies and gentlemen, here is exhibit A for why these millages need to pass. It may force GP wannabes like Pete Waldmeir out of the Pointes forever. I think we can all agree that is a most desireable outcome. I personally will chip in to pay for the moving company. Anyone else with me?
Erwin M. Fletcher September 26, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Jeff, thank you for joining me in my endless crusade to banish Pete waldmeir forever. He is a bitter, angry old man who was voted out of office for gross incompetence. Now his rage is directed at anyone who does not agree with his anti-GPW agenda.
Erwin M. Fletcher September 26, 2012 at 03:23 AM
How sad Pete, at one time you had dozens of readers in the Detroit News and parlayed that career into one term on the GPW council. Once you were tossed out you spend all your time attacking those who served with you. I think you are just bitter that you aren't in the club anymore. You don't care one bit about this city, only your pathetic agenda to smear hard working city officials. Please crawl back into your hole and go away.
John Hetzler (Editor) September 26, 2012 at 01:32 PM
We are closing comments on this article as the discussion has gone too far off topic.


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