so, it’s coming down to where they stand on the ypsilanti income tax

This is going to be an enormous bore to the 90% of my audience that doesn’t find itself within the boundaries of Ypsialnti, but It’s still too hot to fucking blog, so I’m just going to cut and paste a few items from today’s inbox concerning the proposed Ypsilanti income tax. The first is a letter from our current, pin-wielding Mayor, Cheryl Farmer.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I hate the idea of a city income tax. Everyone on Council hates the idea of a city income tax. All of the Mayoral candidates hate the idea of a city income tax. So why are we still talking about a city income tax?

A city income tax is the only tool the state gives us that would be powerful enough to overcome our anticipated $800,000 budget deficit in 2007-2008.

The Blue Ribbon Committee on City Finances studied this issue at length last year. They recommended a number of additional budget cuts, which have been made. They recommended regionalization of some services, which we are pursuing. They concluded that a city income tax is the only tool the state gives us that would be powerful enough to overcome this predicted $800,000 budget deficit .

The Blue Ribbon Committee anticipated that it could be several more years before enough cities would be on the brink of financial ruin to force the state legislature to take action, and so suggested that a temporary income tax be put on the ballot for up to 5 years to give us some budgetary breathing room The members of this committee include Tom Biggs, Fred Davis, Peter Fletcher, Ingrid Kock, Dr. James Hawkins, Christian Overland, Steve Pierce, Timothy Robinson, Deborah Strong, and Paul Tait (Chair). You know these community leaders. Call them for details.

The present state tax structure rewards sprawl in the townships and fails to provide adequate funding for the older built-out cities that anchor them – to the long term detriment of both. I spoke to members of the State Legislature about this deplorable situation at the Michigan Municipal League forum on May 10, 2006, and have attached my remarks for your information.

As your Mayor, I do not have the authority to impose an income tax on us. Neither does any future Mayor nor Council have that authority. We the residents are the only ones who can impose an income tax on ourselves through a vote. No Mayor and Council will ever put an income tax issue on the ballot unless they think it is necessary in order to preserve the jobs of our tireless, dedicated city staff. We know how important their services are to our quality of life, and even to life itself.

Serious cuts have already been made to our police force, fire department, DPW and administrative staff. The only reason these cuts have so far been relatively invisible to you and me is because our remaining committed employees have worked their hearts out to pick up the slack and do more and more with less and less. This cannot continue indefinitely. Further staff cuts would be devastating.

The only way to avoid a terrible choice between a temporary 5 year city income tax and devastating cuts to services is to change the assumptions regarding anticipated revenues. If Visteon reverses its decision to close our plant; if we elect more Democrats and Milliken Republicans to the state legislature in November; if the state adopts the recommendations of the Governor’s task force to change the tax structure so that it is more equitable, if the state economy recovers, then we may be able to avoid this terrible choice.

Some candidates have been saying on the campaign trail that they totally oppose an income tax. They say that new residents won’t come to a city with a temporary 5 year income tax. Will new residents come to a city with inadequate police protection? Will current residents want to stay? They say new businesses won’t come to a city with a temporary 5 year income tax. Will new businesses come to a city with inadequate fire protection and higher insurance rates? Will existing businesses want to stay?

As you can see, this is a complex issue, not well explained or understood through sound bites.

If the assumptions regarding anticipated revenues don’t change, and if circumstances present us with two terrible choices in the next budget cycle, I hope we will have a Mayor and Council with the courage to put the issue to a vote so that the whole community has the opportunity to participate in the decision. Additional deep cuts or a temporary 5 year income tax? If it comes to that, let the people decide at the polls. Meanwhile, let’s continue to work to change the assumptions.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Farmer
Your Mayor

P.S. You may want to take a look at Peter Luke’s excellent article in today’s Ann Arbor News discussing the issue of taxes and services. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

The second letter comes from a Michigan Avenue business owner. (I should add that, unlike the first email, this one was not sent to me directly, but forwarded by mayoral candidate Steve Pierce. That’s why I’m printing it anonymously.)

The truth is that if these are the only choices then the income tax is still the wrong choice. I am an Ypsi business owner, real estate broker and have lived in or owned property in Ypsi since 1976. When I talk to people in the surrounding areas and tell them that Ypsi has the highest property tax rate in the county the reaction is “Why”!?!

My answer is “Beats me”?!

Then I say, but wait it’s going to get worse because now they want to impose a city income tax. The reaction goes from comical to utter disbelief.

Why would I start a business in Ypsi when the taxes put me at a competitive disadvantage even before I open the doors? I would be at a disadvantage with hiring, fixed cost of real estate, and most important the impression that the City is anti-business.

Now why would I buy a home in Ypsi when the property tax rate is the highest in the county and I have to pay a city income tax? Do you realize that the difference in taxes for a $300,000 home in the City vs. a $300,000 home in the township is $2,700 per year? Now add $500. for the income tax and I can move to the township and save $266. PER MONTH thank you very much.

Ms. Farmer you stopped by my restaurant 2 years ago and I explained the successful program that Fargo North Dakota has used to revitalize downtown and RAISE their tax base. You dismissed the idea without any consideration at all saying that I should research the idea and take to the city manager. You said that any temporary tax breaks would not work because the city couldn’t afford it. I tried to explain that it’s not a tax break but a temporary delay in the tax increase that would occur when properties are improved and thus increase in taxable value. You were not interested in the program at all.

It kind of reminds me of when the median was put out on Michigan Avenue. There was a big meeting to share the plan with local business owners. When we were shown the site plan the business owners at the meeting all had the same reaction. “Hey you can’t block all the left turns downtown, no one will be able to get to the parking lots!” The answer from the engineer hired by the city and the city’s representative was “well Mr. Brickley I ‘m not sure what you were told but this is already approved and construction starts in a month.”

Like my six year old says, OH GREAT!

I will say it again. My biggest request of local government is, if you can’t help me at least don’t hurt me. The delays in road construction, water main work and parking lots hurt us deeply. To the tune of $20-30K a couple of summers ago. Yes it had to be done but the process was slow and poorly managed. A city income tax will cause people to go elsewhere to live, to work to shop.

An income tax will add yet one more straw to the camels back. And the camels pretty tired. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Then if you follow this logic all we have to do is tax everyone 100% and we will be 100% civilized!!

(No one, you’ll notice, has acknowledged my “third way” – to immediately change our city’s name to “Googlanti” in desperate hope of attracting the internet giant away from Ann Arbor.) And, then there was this comment left here at MM.com today by Ol’ E Cross. Here’s a clip:

…The much maligned blue ribbon committee was charged with finding creative solutions and could only find the income tax. The chair of the committee was long-time Ypsi resident Paul Tait, the executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, our regional planning agency. SEMCOG’s role is to foster regional cooperation. SEMCOG runs the Center for Joint Public Services and gives out awards every year for the most creative intergovernmental partnerships. Frankly, if anyone in Michigan is qualified to recommend regional solutions to Ypsi’s problems, it’s Paul Tait.

So I’ll come out. I’m voting for Schreiber because, from my limited perspective:

1) he has the integrity/kahonies to speak the inconvenient truth and run for public office on a pro-tax platform

2) his public service was the difficult, glory-less assignment of overseeing public housing rather than appointments that appear linked to his economic interests

3) I don’t believe government should follow businesses’ example of downsizing. Their objectives are different. You don’t cut busses or public safety because they’re not cost effective.

Change is not, by nature, good or bad. (Change gave us George W.) The status quo isn’t always bad. (Maintaining busses is maintaining the status quo.) We could tweak it here and there, but by enlarge, I like Ypsi just the way it is. I’m a little freaked by candidates who offer vague solutions, promise no new taxes, and are willing to cut services until the budget is balanced. Joe Ohren, director of the master’s program in public administration at EMU said in Focus EMU: “The city, I think, is doing the right thing. It’s saying to the community, ‘If you want these services, the only way that we can provide these services is if we adopt the income tax.'”

Even renegade east-cross.com blogger turned candidate Brian Robb admits the city is decently run: “though I may bitch about inefficiencies in local government, the City of Ypsilanti is not mismanaged. … Ypsilanti is going broke through no fault of their own.” (11/11/05)

The question really is cuts or taxes. Schreiber is the only candidate who is calling us to look at the facts and make the sober decision. For that, he’s got my vote…

So, let’s say for a moment that we take Lois out of the mix and just look at the difference between Paul and Steve on this one issue – Paul being for the city income tax and Steve being against it — who gets your vote?

Much like a super-model, I’m too hot to think tonight, so let’s hear what you have to say for a change, OK?

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27 Comments

  1. trusty getto
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m voting for Steve, obviously.

    As I said on ypsi~dixit and on Out of the Woodwork:

    Balancing a budget in hard times shouldn’t mean sitting around frightened and depressed, with a focus solely on cuts. The term itself implies striking a balance. Perhaps if the city would bring more of its residents into the process and actually listen to what people have to say about what is important and what is not, it might learn a thing or two about how to attract residents, how to attract businesses, and how to do so without creating deterrents to moving here or opening businesses here. I realize listening to people who disagree is hard. I realize it is time consuming. But if the city can’t bring the community into what it’s doing, then it acts in spite of the community, not in leadership of it.

    People are overwhelmingly opposed to an income tax. Instead of stepping up advocacy, the city should be putting together its “B” plan. Instead of telling us what’s best for us and pushing it, there ought to be more listening going on and, dare I say it, more attention to the principles of Democracy. It’s time to relax the white-knuckled grip that the city seems have on the idea of an income tax.

    Given that there is no real movement to put this on the ballot in November, then it stands to reason that even if passed, nothing would be collected until 2008, which obviously means that an income tax won’t fix our troubles next year anyway. So to the extent people are claiming that we need this tax for next year, I don’t believe them.

  2. Skeptical
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Balancing a budget in hard times shouldn’t mean sitting around frightened and depressed, with a focus solely on cuts.

    Didn’t Pierce says something during the debates like, “I don’t call these cuts – I call this a balanced budget.”

    Hold the presses and call up Norquist, because we’ve got a new talking point! “That government isn’t drowning, it’s learning to hold its breath! In the bathtub! Because bathtubs are safe!”

    “Sitting around being scared and focusing on cuts” would seem to me to be vastly preferable to “sitting around feeling fine, focusing on cuts, and having no problem with those cuts.”

    If I was undecided before the debate, that line from Pierce was what made the decision for me – I hadn’t put much faith in the “Wasn’t he a Republican?” stuff before, but I think he outed himself pretty clearly. No, thank you, I think I’ll vote for Schrieber – at least he understands that budget cuts are bad and scary!

  3. trusty getto
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you very little, Skeptical, but I’m a confirmed Democrat, and I’ve been saying that for years. I guess I should include the rest of what I said on Out of the Woodwork:

    Our schools suffer precisely the same financial woes as the city for precisely the same reasons. We have cut almost $10 Million out of our budget in the last two years, which on average is approximately 10% of our budget. We’ve closed schools, laid people off, and been forced to do all sorts of unfortunate things.

    You know why kids aren’t leaving in droves? Because at the same time, we’ve remained true to our vision. We’ve enhanced the programs in key ways, we’ve come up with creative ways to solve many problems, we’ve explored regionalization, and we’ve brought our various stakeholders into the process (teachers, staff, admin, parents, taxpayers, business community) so that everybody knows what’s happening and has a chance to be heard. And when they talk, we actually listen. When they make requests, we do our very best to accommodate. We don’t assume we know better than those we serve, and we consider service to our community a privilege we’re lucky to enjoy, not a hassle to be endured. We keep our minds open and closely tuned to those we serve.

    The fall after closing two schools, we actually lost fewer children than we projected. It’s because we were willing to balance our budget, not just make cuts.

    What our community needs right now is some balance, not more polarization.

  4. egpenet
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Good business people do not make decisions based on taxes alone.

    Business people who offer the best products and services at a reasonable price are what we are looking to move into Ypsilanti … not ones that lowball and cheap out on quality for a low price.

    We can offer quality businesses clear signs of positive growth and potential for future growth, provided they have what WE want.

    A small scale example is the new Farmer’s Market … fresh, locally grown seasonal produce at a fair price. It’s a logical ecological concept we support, as well.

    Note, too, the influx of new, young homeowners … singles, couples and young families … who are attracted to the unique tone of this walkable/bikeable city and the services and ammenities we offer. We want the services continued and we’ll pay a price to keep them.

    The lifestyle of Ypsilanti is what people want: intimacy, inclusivity, diversity, affirmative action, unionism … all ideals we uphold.

    Our relatively high property taxes are no secret. And a properly structured and temporary income tax isn’t going to break the bank.

    In the interim, however, there is a lot we citizens hope to accomplish as we mobilize to kick butt at city hall, organize our neighborhoods, and to help grow Ypsilanti into something even more special for ourselves, our families, future visitors, and future generations.

    More regional solutions down the road? Sure. A miracle in Lansing? Perhaps. Water Street a success … you bet! A restored Depot Town Freighthouse? Damn right! More festivals and exciting downtown developments … absolutely! EMU involvement in our neighborhoods, schools and government … ‘Bout time!

    Get involved people! It’s OUR City. And we have an obligation to ourselves to keep the new mayor and council on track toward the future WE have envisioned for ourselves.

  5. ol' e cross
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    trusty g,

    Pierce said in the debate he had a plan but 2 minutes wasn’t enough time to cover it. He has a web site. Posting his plan for balanced budget would be the most persuasive, transparent thing he could do. See if you can pull some strings.

    FYI all, local campaingn finance statements are beginning to be posted to the county Web site. See who gave what to whom at:

    http://campaign.ewashtenaw.org/

  6. degutails
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Nobody seems to be mentioning that part 2 of the income tax proposal, designed to be a temporary measure, is that Lansing is supposed to save us in a few years – they will have to step in. That’s what Paul said at the debate the other night. I’m deeply unclear as to where that logic is coming from, since the legislature in Lansing can barely manage itself.

    Having been privy to many of the early meetings by community activists alarmed about the Water Street project (and I don’t think most people realize the magnitude of that fiasco – there should be protests in the streets), I’ve seen how the city government has handled issues of fiscal responsibility, and I was appalled. I’m not sure why anyone would vote for an income tax, or vote in someone beholden to the administration that got us into this fiscal mess. Holy crap!!!! I don’t give a rat’s ass what political affiliation Steve Pierce has – he’s our best hope. How many people reading these blogs spend much time downtown, as opposed to in Depot Town? Downtown is a mess, and it’s time to fix the city.

    It’s not that I would mind paying an income tax, because I wouldn’t. I used to pay one in Columbus, Ohio, and it was fine (and I was a starving graduate student). But their downtown was a mess, too, and the income tax did nothing at all to fix it. I am flabbergasted at the way the city is being run, with decisions being made and then announced, and the voice of dissent repeatedly ignored. Why would we vote in more of the same?

    Meredith

  7. Ted Glass
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    The campaign finance records are completely addicting. Thanks, Ol’ E.

    I don’t think it’s enough to sway my opinion either way, but it looks like Pierce cleaned up when it came to donations from local landlords. I also noticed that he had his t-shirts printed in Ann Arbor instead of Ypsi. And what’s this $500 to a company called “Robo Calling”? There’s so much stuff in here.

    And he shops at Sam’s Club.

  8. ingrid
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    About the Mayor’s letter. She glosses over the fact that there were two members of the Blue Ribbon Committee who voted against the income tax proposal, although Pierce and I did so for very different reasons. The proposal floated to City Council, which included a property milage reduction, constituted a regressive tax that would have caused low income tenants to pay a higher percentage of their income than wealthier home owners. For the record, Third Ward City Council candidate Brian Robb was instrumental in providing data and analysis to the Committee, and I hope he gets elected!

  9. ol' e cross
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Robo Calling is an android escort service, i.e., robot hookers.

    Either that, or it’s the telemarketing firm Pierce hired to leave automated stump speeches on citizen’s answering machines.

    I can’t remember which.

  10. leighton
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Pierce is a D.I.N.O. by his platform and shopping choices, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  11. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    DINO?

    You mean he’s this guy:
    http://www.dinoplayspiano.com/

  12. ol' e cross
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Ingrid,

    Then lets adopt an income tax that isn’t regressive.

    (For the record, the current property tax is often extremely regressive in application. There’s folks on my block who make 3x what I do, have homes valued at tens-of-thousands more, and pay less in taxes simply because they’ve lived here longer.)

    It’s also the lowest income folks who will be hurt the most by cuts in transit, recreation, public safety, code enforcement, etc.

    Could you support an income tax without a milage reduction?

  13. Ted Glass
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Wait, I thought that he was a C.H.U.D. This changes everything!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.H.U.D.

  14. ol' e cross
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, if he is a C.H.U.D.. it would certainly explain his Robo Calling service expenditure.

  15. ingrid
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Tony, I don’t think there’s a chance in the world that the income tax would pass in Ypsi. Its a useful political issue thats been handed to Pierce in the mayoral campaign, but its a pointless discussion.

    Also, the City would have to show more careful stewardship of our tax money for me to even think about supporting the income tax here. On the Blue Ribbon Committee, every time alternatives were raised, such as the fire fighter union’s proposal to engage in transport of patients to hospitals, we were told that the proposals didn’t raise enough money. The budget needs to be carefully deconstructed and reconstituted taking more citizens’ ideas into account.

    But, on a theoretical level, I’m not opposed to a non-regressive income tax. In fact, I pay city income tax right now, as do many other Ypsi residents who commute. It amuses me to see so many Democrats run from taxes in terror!

  16. Andy
    Posted August 1, 2006 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I was very interested in what Paul Schreiber was going to do different for the city. I then discovered he was supported by our current Mayor and the entire city council, minus Louis.

    I’ve heard no new ideas from Paul just that we’ll continue on the same path. In short, if you’re happy with the way things are going in Ypsilanti, vote for Paul Schreiber. Paul Schreiber’s supporters spend most of their time attacking Steve Pierce and no time supporting Paul. I thought that attack campaigns was a Republican thing, I guess not.

  17. ol' e cross
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I find it immensely depressing that Ypsi Democrats are running from taxes and that people may simply “vote their pocketbooks.” In our supposed liberal haven, no candidate supports the Keep Ypsi Rollin’ ballot proposal (neither do I … good intentions, bad policy) and none lists public transport as a core service. None, that I’ve heard, has promised to restore AATA funding. I’ve come to expect voters in Oakland County to flunk tax increases that benefit the common good more than their bank accounts. One of the main reasons I moved to Ypsi was that, by enlarge, the city (and county) funded public projects well.

    I find it more depressing that we’ve so bought into the “business knows best” mindset that a biz owner who says “beats me” to the question of “why high taxes?” can be more persuasive on public policy discussion than a PhD in public policy. (No offense to said bar owner, who pulls a great pint.)

    I don’t agree with every decision council has made, and I’m all for better stewardship. But, as I said in my original post, Ypsi’s still pretty well run. The right has fed us so much crap about government waste that if someone says the city paid too much for a bike rack a large segment of the population falls into kneejerk noodle nods to throw the bums out. I think Ingrid’s right that the income tax thing has been a distraction in the campaign; I hope she’s wrong about its chances of passing. I hope, at the very least, we elect a mayor and council that will support a vote on it rather than protecting the financial interests of landlords, who by and large, don’t live here. (My perspective.)

    For the record, I don’t know any of the mayoral candidates personally, and assume they’re all decent enough folks.

  18. trusty getto
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure we’re “running from taxes” so much as expressing concerns about that particular proposed solution. I’m all for trying to solve the problems, and everything should be on the table, but nobody has made a convincing argument in favor of the income tax, and nobody has provided objective data about what harm it is likely to cause. If we look at other cities, the results are mixed. We should have an idea whether factors particular to us will mitigate in favor of success or failure prior to considering voting on it. Unfortunately, nobody at the city level has provided much analysis about the potential unintended negative consequences, and until I see it, I can’t be for it.

    Also, if it were a permanent fix, that would be one thing, but even it’s proponents say it isn’t. And putting all this faith in Lansing to solve this problem for us is little more than a pipe dream.

    With regard to the campaign finance stuff, where is Schreiber’s? I’m posting this at 10:53 A.M. on Wed. August 2, and I thought the deadline was last Friday. Everyone else’s are up on the county site, why not his? Has he filed? Did he file late?

    Has anyone else seen them anywhere else? I searched multiple ways, but all I can find is his statement of organization.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  19. trusty getto
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Never mind. A call to the County established that he did miss the filing deadline, but that his disclosures will be up by tomorrow.

  20. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I noticed the same thing, Trusty, but I didn’t have the time track down an answer. Thanks for doing it for us.

  21. trusty getto
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    It’s up now:

    http://campaign.ewashtenaw.org/ex_docs.cgi?cid=C-2006-037&ctype=&office=&party=&cname=&ln=schreiber&inc=A

    He raise a bit more than Pierce, and they both individually raised more than 5 times what Richardson raised. The only striking thing about Schreiber’s when compared to the others is how much Ann Arbor money was contributed to his campaign. More than I, for one, would have expected.

  22. murph
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Yow – Steve & Paul’s finance documents together read like a who’s who of local real estate. Steve’s got a lot of big landlords and realtors, and Paul weighs in with Phoenix and First Martin.

    Steve seems to have many fewer, larger donors – Paul’s donations average somewhere around $70 each; Steve’s around $240 each.

    Data is so much fun!

  23. schutzman
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Can someone post links to the finance pages of Richardson and Pierce? If there’s an intuitive way to locate them on the county site, I’m afraid I couldn’t figure it out.

  24. trusty getto
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Sure. Richardson is at:

    http://campaign.ewashtenaw.org/ex_docs.cgi?cid=C-2006-058&ctype=&office=&party=&cname=&ln=richardson&inc=A

    and Pierce is at:

    http://campaign.ewashtenaw.org/ex_docs.cgi?cid=C-2005-039&ctype=&office=&party=&cname=&ln=pierce&inc=A

    All you need to do is go to the Elections pull down menu, select campaign finance, and then select search county database.

  25. schutzman
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, trusty. I kept getting error pages or else just the blank finance forms in pdf.

  26. Dale
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Just thought you might want to head over to Arbor Update, where we have a searchable spreadsheet for Ypsi mayor candidates’ fundraising, and maps of donors’ residence.

  27. mark
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Very cool stuff, Dale. I’ll get a link up on the front page… Thanks so much for including us here in Ypsi.

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