‘Robo-calls’ target county tax hike
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
By Chad Selweski, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
A Macomb Township-based anti-tax group has launched an aggressive campaign in opposition to a pending county millage hike, but one county commissioner said the effort is off the mark.The Michigan Taxpayer’s Alliance is making hundreds of automated phone calls across the county, urging voters to call their commissioner and demand a “no” vote on the increase April 30.With the use of new “robo-call” technology, the person receiving the call can simply press 1 on their phone and a call will immediately be forwarded to that constituent’s commissioner.As a result, some commissioners have been inundated with hundreds of calls from angry taxpayers in just two days. Leon Drolet, chairman of the MTA, would not reveal how many commissioners have been targeted. But he said the campaign will continue until the final vote is taken by the Board of Commissioners on April 30, following a public hearing. One commissioner who opposed the tax hike during the initial vote last month, Carey Torrice, a Clinton Township Democrat, said she has received nearly 200 calls, despite her vote. She said the MTA-generated calls have been programmed to ring at her husband’s business office or on her private cell phone.”The funny part is that people aren’t just calling, they’re screaming in the phone,” said Torrice, who represents the northern section of Clinton Township. On Tuesday morning, she changed the voice mail message on her cell phone so that callers were informed that she voted against the tax hike when it was approved on a 13-12 tally by the board’s Budget Committee. Drolet, a former Republican county commissioner, said he is targeting “many who voted ‘yes’ in committee, but not all. And we’re not sending calls out to the districts of commissioners who we’re absolutely sure they will vote against the tax increase.” He said no Republicans have been hit with the robo-call tactics, but neither have Democrats who vocally oppose the increase. Torrice, he said, doesn’t fit into that category. But the commissioner insisted that she will not switch her vote and definitely will not support a tax hike during a recession.”I can’t be lobbied, especially for something like this,” she said. The phone message from Drolet’s group says property taxes will “skyrocket” by nearly 10 percent if the board vote stands. In reality, the 0.36 of a mill increase represents about a 9 percent increase in the county government levy but less than a 1 percent jump in a typical, overall tax bill. For example, the average Macomb County homeowner with a $150,000 home currently pays $2,540 in property taxes annually. The pending increase would raise that amount by $27, to $2,567. The Budget Committee consists of all 26 commissioners but when the 13-12 vote on March 25 was taken, one commissioner, Jeffrey Sprys, a Macomb Township Democrat, was absent. Republican commissioners maintain that next Thursday’s vote must achieve a 14-vote majority of the whole board, not just a majority of those present. With the help of the Michigan Association of Counties, they have obtained an old Attorney General’s opinion that supports their claim. If a commissioner is absent again on Thursday and the board agrees to adopt the new 4.56-mill levy with just 13 votes, Drolet said the MTA will file a lawsuit challenging the decision. The Macomb County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing Thursday, April 30, at 5:30 p.m. on the proposal to increase property taxes from 4.2 mills to 4.56 mills. The hearing will be followed by the monthly full board meeting at 7 p.m., where final approval of the millage increase will be up for a vote. Both sessions will take place on the ninth floor of the county Administration Building in downtown Mount Clemens, at Cass Avenue and Main Street.