Tax hike OK’d by County BoardCarey Torrice
By Chad Selweski and Mitch Hotts, Macomb Daily Staff Writers
The Macomb County Board of Commissioners late Thursday voted in favor of a 9 percent county tax increase by a 16-10 tally with three Democrats who initially opposed the measure changing their choice to cement the verdict. It will be the first county millage increase in 27 years. Commissioners Susan Doherty of Warren, Dana Camphous-Peterson of Harrison Township and Bill Crouchman of St. Clair Shores all decided to support the boost, which will cost the average homeowner about $27 a year. Doherty said the “tipping point” in her decision was the fact that union leaders had agreed to make concessions at the bargaining table coupled with the impact of the recent swine flu outbreak on depleted resources at the county health department. “I know this is probably political suicide for me,” Doherty said. “I guess that’s the way it has to be.”If the tax increase had failed, officials predicted the elimination of many non-mandated services and the elimination of up to 700 jobs. But opponents decried those projections as “scare tactics” and said not only would layoffs be implemented, but further tax increases would be on tap in the future because the board had failed to address underlying issues such as pension and health care costs. “Until we make those reforms, we will be in the same boat time after time,” said Commissioner Don Brown, R-Washington Township. The vote followed more than three hours of impassioned public comment from dozens of members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), anti-tax advocates, and homeowners on both sides of the issue. Following the vote, Leon Drolet, head of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance which opposed the boost, said a recall campaign against commissioners who voted for the move likely will be initiated. “This commission has put jackpot pensions and lavish benefits for government employees ahead of suffering taxpayers in Macomb County,” Drolet said. The millage hike amounts to a 1 percent increase in the average Macomb County homeowner’s property tax bill. For example, a typical homeowner with $150,000 house would now pay $2,567 a year, instead of $2,540. However, under the complicated provisions of the Proposal A property tax law, 45 percent of Macomb County homeowners would still receive a tax cut this year despite the board’s action due to rapidly declining home values. The alternative would be to eliminate services that are not mandated by the state by wiping out 12 or 13 county departments and agencies. That would save the county between $14 million and $20 million, but would also result in the loss of up to $54 million in state and federal funding to Macomb. The departments and agencies that could have been on the chopping block are: Martha T. Berry, the Community Services Agency, Senior Citizens Services, the Animal Shelter, Macomb/St. Clair Employment and Training, Planning and Economic Development, the Substance Abuse Council, MSU Extension, the Research and Reference Center, the Juvenile Justice Center (formerly the youth home), MSU Extension, Emergency Management, Community Corrections and Judicial Aide. With the passage of the millage, an estimated $11.5 million in new revenues will be generated. That would give the county a $1.2 million surplus this year but, due to plummeting property values, 2010 would bring another shortfall and more budget headaches. The red ink would be about $8.9 million. If the tax hike failed, according to Finance Director Dave Diegel, the county would have faced a $10.3 million shortfall this year and $19.8 million next year. Here is a breakdown of the millage vote:Democrats in favor: Frank Accavitti of Eastpointe, Michael Boyle of St. Clair Shores, Brian Brdak of New Baltimore, Ed Bruley of Clinton Township, Dana Camphouse-Peterson of Harrison Township, Bill Crouchman of St. Clair Shores, Susan Doherty of Warren, David Flynn of Sterling Heights, Joan Flynn of Warren, Paul Gieleghem of Clinton Township, Irene Kepler of Roseville, Ken Lampar of Sterling Heights, Rob Mijac of Sterling Heights, Toni Moceri of Warren, Marv Sauger of Center Line and Kathy Tocco of Fraser. Democrats who voted against: Phil DiMaria of Eastpointe, Andrey Duzyj of Warren and Carey Torrice of Clinton Township and Jeffery Sprys of Macomb Township.Republicans who voted against the millage included: Don Brown of Washington Township, Jim Carabelli of Shelby Township, Keith Rengert of Richmond Township, Sue Rocca of Sterling Heights, Ed Szczepanski of Shelby Township and Kathy Vosburg.