Ypsilanti City Council agrees to pursue City income tax and Water Street millage

It may not have been news to most folks, but, when I read on AnnArbor.com yesterday that our City Council was in agreement over the necessity of a City income tax, I was surprised. I knew that many of the folks on Council who were so anti-income tax a few years ago, when the subject was last raised, were coming around to that realization that it was our only way to avoid takeover by the state, but I didn’t know that consensus on the issue had been articulated publicly… At any rate, when I read the story, which was primarily about the debate between members of Council as to when the City income tax and the Water Street debt retirement millage should be brought before the people of Ypsilanti for a vote, I sent a few questions out the members of Council that I thought might respond to me. So far, I’ve only heard back from Paul Schreiber, but I thought that I’d share what he had to say here tonight. I will add the responses of others when/if I receive them.

MARK: From the article, it sounds as though there wasn’t much debate as to whether or not an income tax should be pursued. So, unlike a few years ago, when we had a contentious battle over the idea of an income tax, is it safe to say that all of our elected leaders are on the same page?

PAUL SCHREIBER: All City Council members see the need for more tax revenue. A cuts-only budget will not preserve our city as we know it.

MARK: It sounds as though the only real debate is over when we should put this to a vote, with four members of Council calling for a special election in May, and the other three suggesting that it be put off until November. As I understand it, budgeting would easier going forward if we knew the results of the election in May. The down side, however, is that it doesn’t give you much time to make the case to the voters. This seems to me to be especially worrisome, as the big “Stop the City Income Tax” campaign is still somewhat fresh in people’s minds. Do you think it’s possible to make the case to the people of Ypsialnti as to why this is necessary in less than four months, and overcome all the residual feelings from the last campaign?

PAUL SCHREIBER: Every election date has issues. The most important point is that Ypsilanti City Council is united in finding a fiscal solution now instead of waiting until the brink of bankruptcy. In general, people are much more aware of the revenue reductions to cities and school districts. City Council members feel that replacing the lost revenue from property value decreases will keep Ypsilanti more attractive to families and businesses by preserving essential public safety and municipal services.

MARK: As I understand it, there is also a cost associated with having a special election of this nature in May. Is that the case, and, if so, how much will it cost the voters?

PAUL SCHREIBER: About $15,000.

MARK: Regardless of what’s decided, would you agree that we need to come together around one date quickly, and then start making the case to the people of Ypsilanti as to why it’s important that they pay even more during these difficult financial times? Toward that end, I’d like to ask your thoughts on marketing. How do you intend to convey to the people of Ypsilanti that all of Council is onboard, and that this is in the best interest of the people of Ypsilanti?

PAUL SCHREIBER: The campaign will be a grassroots effort with flyers, meetings, and door-to-door.

MARK: According to the article, you will, as a part of this campaign, be promising further cuts in City spending. Can you speak a bit about what kinds of cuts we’re likely to see? Do you think it’s possible that the City employee unions will agree to cuts in pensions and benefits, which, as I think everyone knows, is really the big expense that is negatively impacting the City’s balance sheet. I mean, as much as we talk about the Water Street debt, it’s a fraction of what we’re paying in retiree health benefits, isn’t it?

PAUL SCHREIBER: Three union contracts are up on July 1. City Council has already discussed cost reduction strategies with staff for current employees and future retirees. However, current retirees are locked into the contract in force when they retired. City Council will cut costs where possible while keeping our core city services intact.

MARK: Back to how we market these tax increases, do you think it’s enough to say to people that this is our only chance to avoid takeover by an appointed Emergency Financial Manager? Fear is one hell of a motivator, but is that angle we want to take with this?

PAUL SCHREIBER: This is our opportunity to take control of our future and preserve our community despite the loss of state and property tax revenues. We can solve our fiscal problems by asking our residents, property owners, and workers to contribute a little more. We must take control of our city so that, as Clementine said, “it shall stay the way that it is”. We all have an investment in our city. Let’s preserve our investment.

MARK: What’s this likely to cost folks living in the City? Let’s say someone makes $40,000 a year, and is in a home worth $100,000… how much more will that person likely be asked to pay per year as a result of the income tax, and the Water Street millage? (Is there consensus around an income tax structure yet? Will it be .5%? Will it be 1%? Will it be less for people who live in Ypsi but work in cities that already have income taxes?)

PAUL SCHREIBER: The simple answer to your question is that the tax increases will affect people differently… The first reading of the income tax ordinance is on February 7. We won’t know specifics until the income tax ordinance is passed by City Council. In general, many property owners have paid less tax in recent years through property value reductions and state and federal tax reductions. The state and the federal governments have cut taxes and shifted the service burden to cities. The city income tax and Water Street Bond will replace these tax reductions and the cost must be weighed against the cost of inadequate police, fire, and public services.

MARK: You know that some people, especially people with financial resources, are going to fight this. They’re going to say that an income tax will force businesses out, and that it will keep people from buying homes here who otherwise would. What would you say to them?

PAUL SCHREIBER: The revenue increases will stabilize Ypsilanti’s fiscal situation. Business loves stability. A stable city will continue to attract businesses. Without stability businesses will go elsewhere.

MARK: Is there you’d like to say?

PAUL SCHREIBER: The city of Ypsilanti is a great city. Let’s keep it great by preserving the public safety and city services that we depend upon to keep our neighborhoods and businesses thriving.

I neglected to ask what, if anything, we might be able to do to influence change at the state level, where the policies of the Snyder administration have adversely impacted older cities, like Ypsilanti. And, it may be too late to for us, but might now not be a good time to wage a coordinated state-wide campaign in support of increased revenue sharing for Michigan’s cities? And, how about an open, honest discussion about the role that the Headlee Amendment and Proposition A have played in all of this? I’m sure that all of these things questions, and many more, will be asked as well-run but struggling cities, like Ypsilanti, start to fail. For our sake, though, I hope that conversation begins now.

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  1. Posted January 13, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    “The campaign will be a grassroots effort with flyers, meetings, and door-to-door.”

    If the mayor — the city’s top elected official — is leading the campaign, that is not grass roots. Low budget/high manpower, maybe, but not grass roots.

  2. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    The election is in May to have low (the base?) turnout…it would not pass in Nov with larger turnout. Also less time for the opposition to get it together.

  3. Kristin
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I’m in the township and a bit of a squatter, but don’t you have a super high property tax rate in Ypsilanti? I know homes have been devalued but high property taxes plus income tax gives me the willies. I don’t dispute that the city is suffering from lack of funds, but eew.

  4. gary
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    didn’t the mayor lead the last income tax compaign?

    he sucks at leading campaigns.

    is there anyone else who can lead this? maybe occupy ypsilanti? or the dreamland theatre people?

  5. Glen S.
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    During the 2007 income tax campaign, neither side disagreed that Ypsilanti was facing a long-term structural deficit; the only disagreement was about how to address it.

    Now, we find ourselves in year four of the “Great Recession,” having endured the 2008 financial crisis, a near-collapse of the American auto industry, and a real estate bubble — and subsequent foreclosure crisis — that has caused an unprecedented drop in property values. If that weren’t enough, we also now have a Governor and State Legislature that are openly hostile to the needs of Michigan cities — particularly older, urban communities with large minority populations.

    The fact that our Mayor, and our City Council (many of whom were initially elected on an anti-income tax platform) now agree about the need to pass both a City Income Tax AND a Water Street Debt Reduction is a measure of the seriousness of our current financial situation — and the urgent need to take responsible action to address it.

    Nobody likes the idea of paying more taxes, but the alternatives are unthinkable:

    According to the latest estimates (without any additional revenue) keeping the City financially solvent will require painful (and ever-deeper) cuts in each of the next five years. And since, as most people know, the City has already cut most “non-essential” programs and personnel, the next rounds of cuts will inevitably result in a gutting of “core” services like Police and Fire — making our community an undesirable place to leave, and leaving our citizens vulnerable.

    OR … if folks prefer, we could decide not to make these cuts — and instead face the appointment of an unelected, unaccountable “Emergency Manager,” who would basically usurp all decision-making powers from our democratically-elected representatives; and have virtually unchecked powers to slash (or eliminate) City services, break contracts, and sell off key community assets (including our parks, the Freighthouse, Rutherford Pool, etc.) to the highest bidder.

    At this point it is clear that nobody else is going to save us. Washington D.C. isn’t going to save us, and Lansing *certainly* isn’t going to save us. If we’re going to save our community, we’re going to have to do it the same way we always do things in Ypsilanti: By rolling up our sleeves, and making it happen, ourselves.

    Again, the fact that the Mayor and THIS City Council have come together to support these two ballot measures is remarkable — and the clearest signal yet that the time has come for Ypsilanti residents to unite behind this opportunity to protect our community’s financial integrity, to preserve core public safety services such as Police and Fire, and to make sure we keep local decision-making in the hands of our locally-elected, and locally-accountable, representatives.

  6. Edward
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    This may be naive, but might it be possible to get some concessions from our retirees?

  7. JC
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Get some concessions from our retirees?

    How about, get some concessions from those who robbed from our state in the first place: the ruling class, and corporate America.

    One small first step is for every Ypsi resident to walk together in the MLK Day march on the governor’s house on Geddes. If we can show we absolutely disagree w/ state politics as such, and the EFM legislation specifically, we can fight for the possibly of rendering the whole notion of receivership moot.

    Retired workers have nothing to do w/ this, and if you think they do, you’ve been force-fed a talking point of big business.

  8. EOS
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    An EFM would help the taxpayers by revealing (and eliminating) all the non-essential expenditures that city councils have hidden from the voters over the years. An EFM could significantly reduce bloated personnel costs. Does anyone really think a City Manager needs 6 digits to manage 3.5 sq. mi.? An income tax will merely accelerate the demise of the city and to add an additional Water Street tax is the nail in the coffin. Renters will flee in droves.

  9. Demetrius
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks for trolling EOS … For every bit of right-wing nonsense like this you post here, I’m pledging another $5 toward the “Yes” campaign!

  10. Brainless
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Well, at least the nails in the Ypsi coffin are neon bright pink now and can be seen from space. I can’t think of anything that will attract new citizens more than the joy of paying extra taxes for the privilege of living in our stunning little hamlet.

    But fuck all, we need to “preserve our city as we know it” because it’s such a fucking gem in its current state.

  11. EOS
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Would someone tell Glen that the City’s key community assets have already been sold. Rutherford pool and the Freighthouse, among others, have been sold to the lowest bidders – typically $1. So much for good stewardship.

    Demetrius – It doesn’t surprise me that you’ll be donating to the Yes campaign. Anyone who thinks sound fiscal practices are right-wing nonsense has confirmed his ideological blindness.

  12. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    @Edward…how f***ing insulting to think the retirees should give up the income they live on. You are talking about our hero neighbors that went into burning buildings and visited all the nastiest of the nasties, every time for their whole work lives. And the notion that any “occupy” would favor taxing ourselves into the poor house for all the fat cats that take all our hard earned taxes and keep them, from Washington to Lansing…unbelievable. Looking at my 2011 taxes…all on the upward climb…my grocery bill, my insurance bills, my health care costs, gasoline all on the upward trajectory…

  13. Edward
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    In self defense, I wasn’t suggesting that we not pay our retirees. I was, however, suggesting that they may consider at least all getting on the same health care plan, which would save us an unbelievable amount of money. To date, they’ve been unwilling, but I thought that perhaps, given the situation we’re now in, they might be more receptive to the idea.

  14. Andy C
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Due to all the foreclosures and housing losing value, hasn’t our property taxes gone down in the city? I wish there was another way to get taxes from EMU. That is what this is about right?

  15. EOS
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    No. EMU is an educational facility and cannot be taxed. They don’t even have to comply with State laws.

  16. Glen S.
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    @ Andy C.

    Because of the complexities of “Proposal A,” each individual’s property tax situation is different — but, overall, many Ypsilanti homeowners have seen a reduction in their property taxes, roughly corresponding to declines in property values.

    For example, my own property taxes have gone down considerably over the past few years. As a result, even if the City Income Tax and Water Street Debt Retirement pass, I would still be paying less than I was three years ago — which seems to be a good deal to me, considering it also means we’ll also be able to maintain a strong Police Department, Fire Department, etc.

    And yes, since a City Income Tax would capture some additional revenue from the many folks who work, but don’t live, in Ypsilanti — it would also help to support the cost of providing additional services made necessary by EMU, etc., while also helping to equalize that burden, somewhat, between residents and non-residents.

  17. YpsiWanty
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I could probably get behind the income tax this time around if they were not trying to sneak it in on the May election. Why not wait till November when there is a bigger turnout so the whole of Ypsi has a voice? Pretty sneaky.

  18. Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    This is exactly the position we were predicted to be in when the last income tax proposal was defeated. The pie in the sky opponents then–will still oppose it today. With all the rabid anti-tax rhetoric over the years, I can’t imagine it passing this time (people feel much poorer now than 4 year ago). Does any one recall what the vote was like last time?

    EOS–the city still owns those assets, as well as our park lands–I wonder how the EFM will dispose of assets like the parks which contain other assets like the Sr. Center and the pool. I think there is a couple of other assets the EFM could liquidate–we won’t need a fire house or police station and since we’re not likely to have much of a public works dept. we could also get rid of the property down by the river. come to think of it, why will we even need a city building. If it goes like Pontiac, there will be fire sale pricing.

  19. karen
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    glen brings up an interesting point.

    in the past 3 yrs his property taxes have gone down 1170 dollars, but wetdolphinmissles’s taxes have gone up over 800 dollars.

    glen is nearly two thousand dollars ahead of wetdolpinmissle. no wonder he’s willing to pay more.

    this is going to be ugly.

  20. Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Found the last results “The tax was defeated 2,240-1,096”


    Alan Warren, The Ann Arbor News Steve Pierce, who lobbied against a proposed city income tax, raises his arms in victory after announcing the final results on the vote at Pub 13 in Ypsilanti Tuesday. To his right is David Palmer of Ypsilanti.

  21. Eel
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand any of this. Steve Pierce told me that everything was going to be OK without an income tax, and that no police or fire personnel would lose their jobs.

  22. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    And so Eel for 5 years it has been eh? And there is a surplus…but also and always was lurking the Water Street Debacle. I wonder where the money would have been spent and how if we had passed the income tax back in 2007. I know we would still be in the very sucked position as a city.
    @Karen my property taxes went up $300 not $800, but I had not heard of anyone else going up…Should have gone to the tax tribunal I guess.

  23. Posted January 14, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    It hadn’t even occurred to me that the May date could have been chosen due to the fact that there would likely be much lower turnout. Lack of sleep has been screwing with my brain.

  24. Posted January 14, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Is there an organization that looks out for the interests of Michigan’s aging cities? As a number of cities are facing the same fate, it seems that we’d be working together on a coordinated response. Is that happening?

  25. Glen S.
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    @ Mark

    There are potential advantages and disadvantages to holding the election in either May, or November — but that’s not really the point.

    The real headline here is that the Mayor and the entire City Council finally seem to be in agreement about not only the scope of the City’s budget problems — but also about how to address them.

    There are plenty of reasons why people on both sides of the 2007 City Income Tax election might want to point fingers and place blame, but we don’t have time for that, now.

    Whether the question goes on the ballot in May or November — if it were to fail — City Council would not be able to place it back on the ballot again until 2014. By then, according to the City’s best budget projections (about which the Mayor and City Council now seem to be in general agreement), we will be either two years into a series of devastating budget cuts; or, instead, on the fast-track to having an Emergency Manager appointed by Lansing.

    Without being overly dramatic, I think a vote on these two issues sometime THIS year is our last, best chance to keep the Ypsilanti “as we know it,” for the foreseeable future. And, I think the unanimity you are seeing on the part of our city leaders (some of whom probably have plenty of reasons *not* to want to work together on this) only serves to underscore this urgency.

  26. Posted January 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Glen, I agree, and that’s why I posted this. I thought that it was important to note that everyone on Council was in agreement.

    My last comment wasn’t meant as any kind of attack. I wasn’t saying, as I think another person further up in the thread had done, that Council wanted to do this in May because there was a greater likelihood of sneaking it through. I was just noting that the possibility hadn’t crossed my mind.

    Regardless of when this comes to a vote, I think it’s going to be a hell of a fight. It’s true that most folks are paying less in property taxes these days, but it’s also true that everyone is feeling economically vulnerable. Even those of us who have jobs are concerned that they may not last. And, as I mentioned, I don’t think it helps that the last campaign was so divisive. I think it’s going to be an uphill battle. It certainly helps that Council can now speak with one voice, but I’m afraid that might not be enough.

  27. Elvis Costello
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Once again, I ask, why not consolidate services? Get the WCSD for a cheaper rate than police and contract Ypsi Township for Fire services, or merge them as they did in other communities. It’s not a perfect solution, but you should be able to close a building, move YPD/ WCSD to the MSP post and reduce command staff and administrative staff positions, putting more “feet on the street”. Waterford just contracted to provide fire services to Pontiac (after an EFM), and the Pontiac firefighters were offered positions there. If reductions are needed, they can be negotiated with early out agreements or through attrition, also one chief would be needed, one fire marshal, etc…I’m sure other consolidated services, short of merger or Ypsi City giving up it’s charter, could be found; building, assessing, treasurer, etc…I know that the Township would not take on the Water Street debt, but the City would not take on Seaver Farm Bond liabilities either. The old resentments about who screwed who over in the past needs to stop, and an Ypsi Area solution needs to be found. Like it or not, both communities are joined at the hip and the failure of the city will spill over to the Township…BTW, I was born in the City, at Beyer,spent much of my teen years in the city (at the Masonic Temple, and my first job was at a store on Michigan Avenue and Washington) and lived most of my life in the Township.
    I have no dog in the fight these days, but would like to see the communities thrive.

  28. Paul Schreiber
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate Elvis Cosetllo’s comments. The Washtenaw County Sheriff Department is a fine organization, but it is approximately the same cost as the Ypsilanti Police Department. The YPD has the added benefit of reporting locally to the Ypsilanti city manager.

    The city of Ypsilanti is moving slowly toward a regional fire department by implementing a box alarm system with Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, and Ypsilanti Township. We must continue to move toward the regional system. It’s good for everyone.

    Along with the YCUA, the library board, the Urban County, and the Washtenaw Corridor Improvement Study (Reimagine Washtenaw), Ypsilanti city will continue to collaboarate with Ypsilanti Township.

    I also would like to see all of Washtenaw County thrive.

    Paul Schreiber

  29. lorie thom
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    as a resident in a neighborhood that was recently plagued by series of break-ins, response time, transparency and access to information top my list of requirements for police services. That ain’t the sheriff’s department by any stretch on any day of the week.

    However, based on that criteria, maybe HVA can do the medical pickups and we do something regional for actual fires. HVA has arrived first for the two medical issues in our neighborhood this year – first by several minutes.

    Again with the emergency manager talk…what cities are better off with EFM’s -Benton Harbor? Does anyone consider the EFM as success at the Detroit Schools? I ask because from what I see, EFM’s are great with the GOP political agenda of bashing unions and denying people their vote but not so good with the debt, structural deficits, and customer service aspects of running a city. Data doesn’t support the claimed results or the stated reasons for the enacting the law.

  30. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    so why isn’t anybody asking is this going to pay for it all? The answer I received is no…in fact w/ both the income tax and a millage we will back in the red by 2017…so why should all of us pay more for a losing battle?

  31. Paul Schreiber
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    If property values stop falling, then the city budget will be stabilized. We all must keep investing our time and energy into our city to stabilize our property values. We must continue to make investments of all types (in no particular order): the Beer Fest, Heritage Festival, East and West Cross Streetscape, Shadow Art Fair, Spur Studios, SPARK East, mix, mix marketplace, Puffer Reds, Model Cave, the Rocket, Depot Town, Hamilton Crossing, Rutherford Pool, downtown loft apartment renovations, West Cross (aka College Town) retail and loft apartment renovations at the former Campus Drugs, Water Street property development starting with a Washtenaw County Recreation Center, Senior Community Center, Crossroads Music Festival, EMU College Place and Pease Auditorium renovations, Mittenfest, Woodruff’s, Corner Brewery, YMCA summer camps, Parkridge Community Center activities for youth, Michigan Ladder expansion, Cafe Ollie, YDDA/Eastern Leaders Group facade renovation grants, B-24’s, Sidetrack, Aubree’s, Tower Inn, Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra, Corner Health Center, Hope Clinic…

    Feel free to add to the list!

    Paul Schreiber

  32. Pete Murdock
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Not sure who your source is, but thesse revenue proposals are part of a five year plan that the City Council and staff have been wrestling with for nearly a year that eliminates a $20M to $24M deficit over those five years. The five year plan is balanced in total and in year five (FY 2017) is in the black.

    Pete Murdock

  33. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Paul, (and Pete)

    If investing in Ypsilanti, and its festivals and activites, is a top priority, why did council pass the “Park capitol improvements fee” last year? Charging our festivals an extra $1000 a day is hardly a good way to support them, in fact, its created a huge obstacle to producing festivals in Ypsilanti. City fees are already very high for any festival trying to do business in Ypsilanti; fees for police, fire, and DPW services, as well as park rental fees, are usually a hefty budget item for any festival, and this tax (lets face it, that’s what it its) has added $2-3k to that bill. That’s at least two weeks of advertising in the Metro Times, or two years of ads on mm.com; literally, ways to promote Ypsilanti as a destination. Its that much less money being invested in Ypsilanti, using private money to try, even in a little way, to promote Ypsi and try to help stabilize the tax base, and being used instead to try to plug the leaks. There wasn’t even any accounting for how the city would spend that money; capitol improvements were never defined and, according to members of council, could include basic maintenance, something which some of these same members swore we could afford just a couple of years before. And let’s not forget, to add insult to injury, a coalition of festivals came forward asking to develop a new fee schedule with the city, only to have this measure rammed through without any heed to those discussions. Not a very good way to endear yourselves to people who give you lots of money in order spend lots of their money trying to bring people to Ypsilanti, to spend money. You have to be willing to give up a little here or there in order to go for the larger reward.

    So there’s that. And I’d like to see someone, anyone (lets face it, we’re looking for Murph here) to produce evidence that a consistent pattern of raising taxes and cutting services has stabilized the tax base of anywhere. I would propose instead that we need to be smarter, to invest our meager resources into projects that have a chance of turning the tide on the tax base. Peel off a little of that DDA money, forgo a little of that fee money, in exchange for promotional and cultural capitol. Make the process easier to bring events to town. Think big. Its will bring much more reward than nickel and dimeing everyone right out of town. If we are to be an arts and entertainment destination, put some teeth behind that statement.

    Which brings me to say “thanks” to council for getting the ball rolling on the Water Street Rec center. Its an example of taking a risk, gambling a portion theoretical future tax revenue, in order to try to create the same. No, not a sure fire win, but a risk worth taking at this point. I can’t stress enough how much this and the Water Street – Riverside Pedestrian bridge are going to change the face of our community, making it possible to walk from Forest to Spring St. without ever leaving a park. It provides a way to link Depot Town to Downtown, a connection that makes Water Street a relevant site for retail or housing. And lets face it, with no other interested parties, its our last best shot at getting something going down there. Just get the county to pony up for building out River, Parsons, and the utilities and we can call it a big big win.

  34. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and for what its worth, I don’t know how the income tax is going to pass, as stated already, given how strongly the opposition was organized last time. And as happy as I am to have Washtenaw and the city moving forward on the Rec center, the timing couldn’t be worse. I feel like we could have gotten one, likely the Water Street Millage, passed. People are resigned to that by now, I think. But two at once, I don’t know how that’s going to work.

  35. Glen S.
    Posted January 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    A taste of what we can expect if we, as a community, fail to make the right choice:


  36. Posted January 17, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    After talking with my wife, I think Andrew is right on target. One of the proposals might have a chance by itself. By putting two taxing proposals on the ballot together, it is guaranteed that both go down to defeat. Renters will vote for the property tax millage while homeowners vote against it, while the anti-income tax folks have already demonstrated they out number the pro-income tax folks 2 to 1. I just don’t see that number changing dramatically enough for an income tax victory. Most people just don’t realize that you (at least you used to be able) reduce your property taxes when you pay a municipal income tax (I’ve worked in both Detroit and Lansing).

  37. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    So council men/women and mayor show us the numbers…how much will we be paying if both proposals pass? And how will it cover the deficits?
    Wobblie there will be only added tax…no rollbacks this time around. I watched the sad Pontiac story… I see that income tax worked for them too.
    I am not too worried about selling off our assets…there does not seem to be any glut of buyers.

  38. Glen S.
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    @ WDM

    Although both cities face many of the same underlying issues, Ypsilanti is *not* Pontiac.

    Unlike in Pontiac (and some other cities now facing Emergency Managers), Ypsilanti’s looming crisis is not a “surprise.” We’ve seen this coming, and have been making cuts and other adjustments for YEARS in order to try to stave off this worst-case scenario.

    Also unlike Pontiac — which, through a lack of foresight and general mismanagement, sort of “stumbled” into having a State takeover — we actually have the opportunity to take control of our own destiny by voting to support this combination of increase that will keep Ypsilanti solvent (and independent) until at least 2017, and potentially, even longer.

    To those who have suggested, “why should we approve this if we can’t be guaranteed it will keep us solvent indefinitely?” I say this: Over the next few years, dozens of Michigan cities (and some townships, and perhaps counties) will be headed for fiscal crises much like ours. At some point, there will be a critical mass that requires the State to fix our broken system of funding local government services. Until then, our primary goal MUST be to keep our community solvent (and independent) … in effect, to make sure we’re in the back, not the front, of the coming wave of “failing” Michigan cities.

  39. Erika
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Can someone who knows something about the employee retirement plans please explain a few things to me? Someone on another discussion mentioned that the current employees are still operating under a “defined benefit” plan as opposed to a “defined contribution” plan, as many private companies are now doing. The current crisis that we are facing is in large part due to the costs of the retiree benefits (which I support because they were promised these benefits). Is it reasonable to ask that the current/future employees have “defined contribution” plans from now on, or would that not work for some reason? I’m just trying to understand this and I know that there are going to be some people who will oppose the income tax because they feel that issues like this one need to be resolved before we can ask for more taxes.

    Also, I believe that all of the revenue/expenditures, line by line, are currently available for public view on the city website, so I guess I’m confused about the above suggestion that the city is hiding non-essential expenditures. Can someone explain that to me? My neighbor went briefly through the line by line budget and pointed out a few places he thought things could be tightened up (like with costs for software or IT or new computers or whatever – he’s a computer guy) but he didn’t really see any glaring expenses – no $1000 screwdrivers or toilet seats.

    I just feel like I would like to be able to have an answer to the “learn to live within our means” or “eliminate waste” arguments that will inevitably come up. Have any of you looked at the budget and said “Well, we could do without that item right there.”?

    Also, is it true that once an income tax is in place, it is pretty much there forever? Or can it be eliminated in the future, or even be a temporary sort of thing with a fixed end-date? Just curious.

  40. j
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink


    Converting from a defined benefit to defined contribution for current employees is nearly impossible even for the strongest organization. Right now we are paying the defined benefits for a whole lot of retirees. Moving the current employees to defined contribution means we’d be paying the defined benefits for retirees AND the defined contributions for current employees at the same time. Over time the number of expensive retirees with defined benefits would decrease and the number of retirees with plans we no longer contribute to would increase, but in the short term we’d have one hell of a bill.

    Ideally the City would have been saving enough money to meet it’s defined benefit obligations, but it seems that has never really happened. The problem with defined benefit plans is that they require long term thinking that no one is apparently capable of. GM fell under the weight of the underfunded health and pension promises it made decades (and billions in cash dividends to investors) ago.

    I have gone through the budget a couple of times and agree that there isn’t much there to cut. A couple thousand here or there that might be unnecessary if scrutinized carefully, but nothing that would materially change our situation.

  41. Ale Roka
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    While in once sense I appreciate all the suggestions of how to fix the problem … really, Brian Robb’s flaw isn’t that he isn’t smart, deep diving and ready to cut fat.

    My pained bemusement at the last round of opposition to a city tax was that there were a bunch of ignorant (sorry, it’s true) suggestions on how to solve the problem (anyone remember the suggestion we simply ticket overweight trucks?).

    Robb’s flaw is that he thought he was so much smarter than everyone else (including the president of SEMCOG and PhD public policy profs) that he thought he could fix it. I call it a flaw, but I’ve never doubted that Robb was well-intentioned.

    My point is this: Brian Robb (and perhaps others on council) is smart. He has a ton at stake at reversing the position he ran on. If there was another alternative, can a few of us agree that smart, obsessive Robb, would’ve found it by now?

    It should be clear that the fact that if THIS council is proposing a tax we really have three choices:

    -pass it
    -preempt receivership by self-inflicted auctions of everything.

    Sorry. I just can’t stand another cycle of “maybe if we replaced police with armed squirrels” suggestions. If you have a real suggestion, take the time to research it. If you don’t, it’s not real.

    This time, can we please talk about what’s real?

  42. Paul Schreiber
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    j is right. The city of Ypsilanti has two retiree defined benefit plans. The police and fire pension has been requiring increased taxpayer contributions for years. The current levy is 6.3 mills and will keep increasing into the future. The other defined benefit plan is MERS. It is fully funded, has not required a city contribution for years, and is working well.

    Moving to a defined contribution plan will reduce the pool of current employees paying into the remnants of the defined benefit plan. The difference would be charged to the city in addition to the cost of a new defined contribution. This is where the changeover costs are very high.

    We’ll know more about the costs of the city income tax and Water Street bond levy to individuals after the ordinances are passed by city council.

    Paul Schreiber

  43. Meta
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    For those that won’t follow the East Cross link above, here are Councilman Brian Robb’s comments on the income tax.

    Mr. Roka,

    In less than 250 words you demonstrated why this proposal is dead on arrival long before we’ve even put it on the ballot.

    This election is nothing like the 2007 election. The issues aren’t the same. The budgets aren’t the same. The plans aren’t the same. They aren’t even close. This election isn’t about me. It’s not about Pete Murdock. And it’s certainly not about Steve Pierce.

    But you’re already trying to frame the debate that way by fighting the 2007 election all over again.

    This election is about Ypsilanti and whether or not you want to invest in it. It’s strictly an emotional issue. This has nothing to do with graphs and charts or “educating the voters” as some would have you to believe. This is only about whether or not you want a City of Ypsilanti. If you want to invest, you’ll vote yes. If not, you’ll vote no. Simple.

    But since you want to question my decisions regarding the 2007 CIT, let’s examine them.

    I make my decisions based on the information I’m given. Back in 2007, our City Manager presented Council with his budget projections. He projected that without an income tax we’d have revenues of $15.8M in FYE 2012 and $16.1M in FYE 2013. He also projected that with an income tax we’d have revenues of $19.1M in FYE 2012 and $19.5M in FYE 2013.

    Let’s put that in perspective. The budget we adopted for FYE 2012 had $13.7M in revenues and in FYE 2013 we are now projecting $11.1M.

    The difference is $2.1M in FYE 2012 and $5.0M in FYE 2013. Those numbers are insane. If we actually had that $2.1M for this year and the $5.0M for next year, we’d be putting swimming pools in everyone’s neighborhood.

    For the sake of absurdity, let’s run the numbers for the entire life of the 2007 CIT.

    We were given revenue projections of $15.0M in FYE 2008, $14.4M in FYE 2009, $14.9M in FYE 2010, and $15.8M in FYE 2011.

    What we really ended up with was $14.9M in FYE 2008, $15.6M in FYE 2009, $14.6M in FYE 2010, and $14.0M in FYE 2011.

    If you do the math on all six years, the shortfall from projections is a whopping $8.1M. Another insane number. I would have never predicted that, but I don’t recall Paul Tait or Joe Ohren predicting that either. In fact, with an income tax, they were counting on an additional $26.6M of revenue over those same years.

    Twenty-seven million dollars? I’m sitting here at my desk at work and I can’t stop saying that out loud. Twenty-seven million dollars.

    And I have flaws?

    I’d love to tell you all the awesome things we’ve done in the past five years, but you’ve already tricked me into starting to fight the 2007 election all over again. That’s simply a waste of time.

    And here’s the a comment from Ale Roka that he’s responding to.

    While in once sense I appreciate all the suggestions of how to fix the problem … really, Brian Robb’s flaw isn’t that he isn’t smart, deep diving and ready to cut fat.

    My pained bemusement at the last round of opposition to a city tax was that there were a bunch of ignorant (sorry, it’s true) suggestions on how to solve the problem (anyone remember the suggestion we simply ticket overweight trucks?).

    Robb’s flaw is that he thought he was so much smarter than everyone else (including the president of SEMCOG and PhD public policy profs) that he thought he could fix it. I call it a flaw, but I’ve never doubted that Robb was well-intentioned.

    My point is this: Brian Robb (and perhaps others on council) is smart. He has a ton at stake at reversing the position he ran on. If there was another alternative, can a few of us agree that smart, obsessive Robb, would’ve found it by now?

    It should be clear that the fact that if THIS council is proposing a tax we really have three choices:
    -pass it
    -preempt receivership by self-inflicted auctions of everything.

    Sorry. I just can’t stand another cycle of “maybe if we replaced police with armed squirrels” suggestions. If you have a real suggestion, take the time to research it. If you don’t, it’s not real.

    This time, can we please talk about what’s real?

  44. Ypsi Watcher
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Has Steve Pierce indicated whether or not he’d be waging another campaign to stop the income tax? As Pete and Brian are for it this time, my guess is that he won’t fight it, but you never know.

    A photo of a triumphant Pierce, with David Palmer, having defeated the city income tax.

  45. Ypsi Watcher
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I made my first internet meme. Did I do it right?


  46. Brainless
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    What do you bet no one has the guts to make this a temporary tax? God forbid we ever END a tax. No, they just start and start and start. Once put in place, the powers that rely upon it for their livelihood will circle the wagons and never allow a repeal.

    An income tax will not pass. You wanna know why it won’t pass? Because you will awaken beasts like me who have zero desire to participate in politics – and it infuriates me. But I have no choice now. You are reaching into my income, my pocket – a place in which this tiny little burg has no business mucking around. I guarantee you that I can find many other folks like myself who are more than willing to give a few hours to stopping this travesty.

    I’m sorry the city’s out of money. I’m sorry someone who isn’t me fucked up Water Street. I’m sorry a bunch of other people who aren’t me moved away. I’m sorry the regional economy is shit. I’m sorry you want to hang on to a bunch of unproductive land and give entirely unproductive retirees better benefits than folks who actually work. I’m sorry for all that. But life’s a bitch. It’s really fucking hard for everybody who isn’t filthy rich right now. But as has been stated here many times: It is an undisputed fact that an income tax SOLVES no problems – it just puts them off.

    This is NOT a solution. It’s a punt. It dooms the next group of elected officials to actually fixing things. It’s a completely chickenshit way to go about business. You’ve picked a fight with with the wrong people over the wrong issue and you’re going to lose.

  47. Eel
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Ypsi Watcher, you’re doing it right.

  48. Demetrius
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    @ Brainless

    I appreciate your honesty in choosing a screen-name that matches your general point of view.

  49. Demetrius
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    So, Brian Robb hasn’t posted on his blog for two years, but decides to fire it up just to respond to a comment left over here?

    In the process, he declares “dead on arrival,” a pair of pending tax proposals that he and his colleagues haven’t even yet voted to put on the ballot.

    Not sure yet if this plan is DOA or not, but it surely will be if this is how Robb and company plan to “campaign” for it.

  50. Posted January 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Brainless, you are right on. This is exactly how 2/3 rds. of Ypsi folks will respond to the income tax proposal. Every body is broke—we are going to need much more creative solutions.

  51. Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Just a thought. We have demonstrated that we can solve some of our recreation problems through voluntary community action (Rutherford Pool). Why can’t we have a “professional/volunteer” police and fire department. Their are plenty of residents (I would bet) who would volunteer to do public safety duties at traditionally slow times (we have years of data to draw upon). With some training a “community public safety force” might be created. Every time I go by the fire museum I am reminded of the strength of our volunteer tradition in the City of Ypsilaniti.

    What would be the insurance rating effects etc. of a move to a public safety organization that was supported by volunteer efforts. We of course would maintain some full-time public safety professionals. But I witnessed the Parkridge fire a couple of years ago where two children died. The lack of sufficient fire fighters on the scene was the direct cause of there deaths. If a dozen Ypsi city residents trained in fire fighting, but who were volunteers had showed up on the scene, the deaths would not have happened. Just a thought about what kind of solutions we need to be looking at.

  52. Posted January 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    The fire I meant to reference was the Paradise Manor fire

  53. j
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I went to one of the council planning meetings in the fall and Robb was wearing his “NO” tshirt. Guess the doom and gloom of budget realities got to him since then.

    So I will be voting yes provided council doesn’t pass something truly braindead, but I’m not convinced the income tax is a good idea. I’m usually a pessimist, but the projections that necessitate an income tax seem overly conservative. If property values drop so far that an income tax is absolutely required, there might not be any income in the city to tax. An end date to the income tax would be helpful when selling it to voters. Either property values rebound and we no longer need it, or an EFM takes over a city with just 6 homeless people and a few stray cats.

  54. kjc
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    “An end date to the income tax would be helpful when selling it to voters. ”

    i agree.

  55. Brainless
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Demetrius, you’re flat-out wrong – and you’re a fool for calling anybody who disagrees with an income tax “brainless”. I’m spot on in what I wrote. An open-ended income tax is a horrible idea, will not solve anything and will not pass. (Notice how no one actually commented on the fact that it’s well known that this is a patch, not a solution.)

    The fact remains that we simply can’t have what we used to. No matter how you cut it, the past is done and gone, folks. It will never be 1997 again. We simply won’t be that rich for the foreseeable future. LET IT GO.

    I also can’t get over all the doom and gloom around here. As if it’s an outright guarantee that getting our financial house in order with the money we have spells the end of “ypsi as we know it”. Talk about a malaise. Remember when the city stopped supporting the pool and “oh my gawsh, where are all those sad little kids gonna swim?!” Whadda ya bet we wouldn’t be getting a new pool if the city continued to support the old one? Whadda ya bet we wouldn’t have a county rec center coming on Water Street unless we simply had nothing to lose with that turkey?

    (And don’t even get me started about the “brilliance” of our elected leaders over the past couple decades. You might want to hurl “brainless” at me, but then what horrible things must you be saying about them?)

    Get over yourselves and look to the future for a change. You all sound scared shitless of the unknown, so you’re willing to throw a ton of my money to keep from experiencing it.

  56. Posted January 20, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    There are a couple of other options. You could completely deplete the coffers hoping for the economy to get better and then apply for an emergency loan from the state, or you could stop paying the Water Street bills, get sued, and then add the judgment to the tax rolls. We do it in Hamtramck all the time. Or, you could dissolve your city charter and then reincorporate a much larger area.

  57. Ale Roka
    Posted January 21, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink


    I guess since I posted here, I’ll respond here. You say, “starting to fight the 2007 election all over again. That’s simply a waste of time.”

    I heartily agree. That’s what I’m trying to avoid.

    I don’t want to debate, again, whether an income tax is regressive, drives away business, penalizes students, and whether we can cut tons of gov waste and maintain essential services.

    I apologize for suggesting you had a “flaw.” I’m fine with presuming the Ypsi resident president of SEMCOG and the esteemed polici prof had it wrong. You had it right. (Yes, a bit of residual sarcasm, but I really am not trying to reopen 07.)

    What I hope you note, is I unsarcastically called you “smart, deep diving and ready to cut the fat.” I truly believe that you are those things. I also believe you have Ypsi’s best interest in mind, whether or not we agree on a particular issue.

    Why the comment, then?

    As I concluded, I don’t have patience for another round (note: you didn’t author the discredited axle tax solution) of (I’ll be aggressively blunt) stupid, vague suggestions on how to fix this, like the comment by political hopeful AJ Clock :

    “I would propose instead that we need to be smarter, to invest our meager resources into projects that have a chance of turning the tide on the tax base.”

    Sorry Clock, but that is as empty and vague as it comes. It’s opportune. It’s vacuous. Please explain, in numbers, how to be “smarter” investors and how that will solve the fiscal crisis. Smarter people can usually explain how they’re smarter. If you have a smart solution to balance our budget without cutting essential services, please, please share.

    Or, how abouts the brilliant suggestion to look for “creative solutions.” Wonderful idea! Got one? Again, please share!

    Best yet, the old meme, “It’s water street’s fault.” Okay. Insightful. So how does that keep essential services going or are you just going to take satisfaction in screaming “water street” when things decline into receivership.

    Brian, my reference to you was because you were/are a respected source of anti-tax, hard critical thinking, budget diving, policy making. For people who don’t know Brian, he is really not a fan of the income tax.

    My point is that if you (Brian), of all people (I mean that in a good way), are ready to put an income tax on the ballot, then all other possible avenues have been exhaustively explored and we’re left with no palatable other option.

    I simply don’t want people getting elected on completely empty promises of “innovative partnerships” (oooh, maybe we should try that!) or “volunteer police/fire force” (do I get a free gun!!) .

    Summary for readers:

    -If Brian votes for this, it’s dire, vote for it too. (Not Brian, though, although brilliant and flawless, he eats puppies and won’t comment on this blog).
    -Please reserve inane, vague, unworkable suggestions to entertain your family.
    -AJ Clock just reached the top spot of my shit-o-meter.

  58. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 21, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Gee, Ale, I’m so glad I can be included in you character assassination of the moment. All the suggestions you’ve offered to help get Ypsi out of this mess are… oh, wait, you haven’t offered anything but snark and criticism, have you?

    It is pretty funny to me that you chose to tear down Brian and I in the same post, given that Brian, as a general rule, won’t even look me in the eye, let alone talk to me. But really, you are just talking shit about you neighbor with out adding anything to the conversation here, aren’t you? Well, I guess your brilliant summary of our three choices in this tax issue is your contribution. How would we have ever known what our fate would be without you? Oh, and the shit-o-meeter! I would never know if anything I write here gets through to anybody without that!

    Maybe you have reading comprehension issues, but I did more than make a feelgood statement, I backed it up with some ideas, ones that involve supporting statements made my council and residents with action. If we are to be an arts and entertainment community, support it with DDA/CVB joint programs designed to help drive people to our arts and entertainment. Repeal the festival tax and let the people who put on events use that money to promote Ypsi as a destination. Plenty of things to be done to make city services, limited as they my be, more responsive and customer service oriented. In other words, maximize small investments to make our city as attractive as possible to visitors and potential residents. Nope, its probably not going to solve our debt issue, but I am pretty sure cutting and taxing alone won’t do that either. You seem to agree, though you also make no statement about what you actually think will help.

    I know that these meager suggestions pale in comparison to your amazing plan to save Ypsilanti, but we can’t all be as brilliant as you. So, please, don’t stop now. If you insult enough people, if you use enough words while avoiding any actual ideas, I’m sure you’ll have us out of this mess before any of us know what happened.

  59. Posted January 21, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    It is not about fighting the 07 battle all over again. We had an opportunity to change the cities financial trajectory back in 07, 2/3rd of the voters rejected that idea. The fact that our city counsel is unanimous about the future finances of the city without an income tax and a millage is good, but I don’t see it changing the minds of over 1000 voters. For example, started my morning off by reading how our good Governor is going to raise my vehicle registration tax (average $60 a vehicle) and the gas tax .09 cents a gallon. I have the misfortune of needing 4 vehicles to support my families activities. So my taxes are going to go up at least $240 to support Synders agenda of give aways to the richest corporations plus the additional cost of gasoline.
    When I worked in Lansing and paid their city income tax (I had a pretty good job) I paid about $240 a year. Synder has figured a way to take that money from me (no longer work in Lansing) and transfer it to state coffers (though I no longer have the income I had when I paid Lansing’s city income tax so my effective tax rate will go up considerably) . I think that was part of what Jenny did too–raised our registration fees, probably back in 07 or 08.

    The plan in 07 (after the income tax was defeated was to kick the can down the road in the expectation of better times in the future. Sometimes when you are kicking cans you come to the end of the road and there is no place for the can to go except into a ditch.

    Ale Roka, we already use volunteers to back-up our fire department, and without the huge volunteer effort for our festivals we would be unable to police them. Being dismissive and patronizing to those who made this city some times special is no way to move forward. So if you are a licensed gun owner, and are willing to take the necessary public safety and policing courses so that you would be an effective volunteer–then yeah, why not? Though I suspect we could get Homeland Security to give us a bunch of tasers instead, but that would require creative thinking. My stratagem is always plan for the worst, and hope for the best. We will soon see how the strategy of hoping for the best while doing nothing that changes the trajectory of heading towards the worst works out.

  60. Brainless
    Posted January 21, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I love the general tone of all the posts here that, if our beloved Ypsi government doesn’t get a bunch of money, it’s all gloom and doom for the lot of us. Not a single one of you has a clue how any of this will turn out. YOU DON’T KNOW. So, stop acting like a bunch of damn know-it-alls.

    What we DO know is how much money we have coming in and how much things cost. It ain’t rocket science, people. Balance the damn books and let the chips fall where they may. If, in the future, we discover we need to change course, then we will do so. If people don’t want to live here, it was never meant to be. (I guarantee you no one will move here because we have an income tax. They will only move her in spite of it – with with gritted teeth, no doubt.) But all this “if this, then that” prognostication is a bunch of hooey. I don’t trust a single one of you to know how to plan a meal, let alone the next couple decades of city governance.

  61. Demetrius
    Posted January 21, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I agree with Brainless: Since nobody can predict the future, there’s no point in making any plans, at all.

    Let’s forget trying to pass an income tax and just “let the chips fall where they may.”

    If we end up losing our police force and fire protection, so what?

    If Ypsilanti becomes so unsafe that nobody wants to open a business or live here, who cares?

    If we end up going bankrupt, and Snyder appoints an Emergency Manager to make all of our community’s decisions without any local citizen input, while charging taxpayers (us) for the privilege, does it *really* matter?

    This “future” business is complicated and scary. I say we just wait and see what happens. I’m sure it will all work out, somehow …

  62. Posted January 21, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Some of you demonstrate an energy and level of desire for change that dovetails w/ Occupy Ypsilanti’s budding mission. Consider coming to check things out: uur next meeting is tentatively at the Parkridge Community Center, January 28, 3 p.m.

  63. Ale Roka
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    AJC, it’s not that your ideas aren’t without merit (I’ve often appreciated your ideas and initiative, I’m just not ready for you to mess with the tax), it’s that, as you say of your suggestions:

    “Nope, its probably not going to solve our debt issue.” That’s what we’re talking about here. When you challenge Murph “to produce evidence that a consistent pattern of raising taxes and cutting services has stabilized the tax base of anywhere.” It sure comes across as opposing the income tax. When it’s followed by “what we need to do,” it seems like you’re offering that as an alternative solution. Am I not comprehending correctly? What, exactly, is your position on the tax? Do you support it? (If you respond to anything, that’s what I’d most like to hear.)

    I apologize if I’m overly suspicious, but one route to council is opposing a tax while suggesting other avenues of income/savings.

    If it hasn’t been clear, the tax is the solution I’m going with. It will cost me. It won’t solve everything so we’ll need ongoing input (like yours) of how to add efficiency and revenue. But we need the dollars, and it’s fair.

    As wobblie insightfuly noted, one tax goes down, another cost goes up. Here’s the effect: you make 20K a year. Your neighbor makes 100k. The state drops a tax drops a percent. The cost of a local permit goes from $60 to $120. The current tax restructuring is simply shifting the cost from income to use. The result is people who earn less, pay way more. The people who earn more, pay way less in terms of percent of income.

    The recession hit a lot of folks in town hard. With a system based primarily on income tax, they would have found some relief. (Unemployed=no income tax.) Instead, they have higher costs for services, and no reduction in property tax (except for property value decline which ain’t great for them either).

    Brainless is right. We can’t predict the future. No one knows it all. I might decide not to show up to work anymore and maybe my employer won’t notice and keep issuing me paychecks. Or, maybe a long lost aunt will leave me an inheritance. Maybe, if I cut my throat, I’ll find out I’m actually an invincible alien life form. Anything’s possible.

    While we can’t “know it all,” we can use our brains to figure probability. While not always, our brains are right a lot of the time.

    My chips are actual children and a deeply invested life.

    I wake up every morning much more ready to cut throats than let those “chips” fall where they may.

    I’m voting for the income tax, again. If people aren’t, they at least should be honest about what that means.

  64. Lynne
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Mark, re: “Is there an organization that looks out for the interests of Michigan’s aging cities? As a number of cities are facing the same fate, it seems that we’d be working together on a coordinated response. Is that happening?”

    I am pretty sure that the Michigan Municipal League does lobby Lansing for policies that are good for all of Michigan’s cities, including the aging ones. I don’t pay close enough attention to know what they are specifically lobbying about at the moment but I am sure it is available on their website: http://www.mml.org/home.html

  65. Lynne
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    As for the city income tax. I voted no last time but probably can be persuaded to vote for it now. I agree with brainless that putting a time limit on it would make it easier to swallow. I absolutely hate it that we can’t raise revenue another way. I would much prefer to see an increase in property taxes but I get it that isn’t much of an option. When faced with the available choices, the income tax is the least terrible.

  66. Mark Higbee
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Hey Lynne — Like you, I voted against a city income tax in 2007, but think it’s necessary now. The city’s income has greatly dropped, and nobody is coming to the rescue. Our city isn’t in as bad shape as some older cities, and I’d like to keep it that way!

    However, I don’t think there’s a good case for making a city income tax temporary, not unless one thinks that the city’s expenses are also “temporary.” If the 2007 tax proposal had passed, it’d temporary feature would have made it expire this year, I think.

    The real crisis now is from the huge drop in revenue due to declining property taxes. But police and fire protection remains a real need!

  67. Lynne
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I would hope that in the next decade, the value of our houses will increase and thus the amount of revenue from property taxes will increase too. I was thinking of making it temporary as in having it expire after five or ten years so that the voters can reassess how necessary it is at that time. What concerns me is a situation where we have the income tax and then property tax revenue goes up and then the powers that be find some way to spend the money on something dumb. I agree that police and fire protection is very important and that is why I might be willing to vote for an income tax but I also really don’t like income taxes and hope that in the future we can meet our city’s needs through property taxes only.

  68. Glen S.
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m open to the idea of considering making any new tax temporary. On the other hand, it’s worth remembering that, under “Proposal A,” any future property tax increases will continue to capped at the rate of inflation (in 201o, only about 1.5 percent). So, even if there were an economic miracle, and Ypsilanti’s property values suddenly snapped back to where they were pre-crash, it would still take many years for that increased value to translate into substantial new revenues available to fund City services.

    (The flip side, of course, is that Prop A has no such safeguard in place to account for FALLING property values. That is why *many* homeowners have been experiencing falling property taxes rates — which, of course, is major factor fueling the City’s budget crisis.)

    Of course, the real solution would be to scrap “Proposal A” as part of an overhaul of Michigan’s completely broken system of funding local government services — but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  69. Glen S.
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, not falling tax “rates,” but falling property taxes, overall.

  70. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure yet how I will vote on a city income tax, but looking around the state, the results of income taxes are mixed, to be generous. Take a look at the list of cities that impose income tax in Michigan:

    Albion, Battle Creek, Big Rapids, Flint, Grayling, Hamtramck, Hudson, Ionia, Jackson, Lansing, Lapeer, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac, Port Huron, Portland, Springfield, Walker, Grand Rapids, Highland Park, and Saginaw.

    Income tax hasn’t kept EFMs out of a number of those cities. You’ll also note that none of the cities that have had success with income tax are metropolitan, they are almost universally the main hub of an isolated area. Many of the more urban cities have seen their populations plummet. If you work in Grand Rapids, there is pretty much one choice if you want to live in an urban area, Grand Rapids. If you work in Detroit or Highland Park, even Lansing, you’ve got choices. Same goes for Ypsilanti.

    Young families, young professionals, and artists. Over and over, that’s who we say we need to get to move to Ypsilanti. Putting an income tax in place is going to be another obstacle to luring them here. Come to Ypsilanti, where not only do we have a bad reputation and the highest property taxes in Washtenaw county, but the only income tax! We have a lot of property left to redevelop here, but so do the surrounding townships. We’re making ourselves stand out in the wrong way. At least we all have to deal with the same troubled schools, until you get to Ann Arbor.

    The Water Street Debt Retirement is something we absolutely have to do at this point, and probably should have done already, when it became clear that we were headed for trouble. Its time to admit defeat, pay it down, and hope that the value the County is going to invest in the Rec Center, B2B trail and Riverside pedestrian bridge make it pay off in the long run. That’s a fair bet. I’m just not convinced an income tax is.

    My big question: are we really going to see a net gain from and income tax, or are we running the risk of significantly damaging our ability to repair and grow our property tax revenue? Why build next to the Rec Center on Michigan Ave, when you can build a couple miles down the road and have much less tax liability? Why buy that foreclosed house in Prospect Park, when a couple block over, a similar house in the township means your tax bill is halved?

    I’m not living in some fantasy land where I we turn Ypsi into an artist commune, throw parties in the park, and the money just comes, man. What I am saying is that we have to be absolutely sure that we are fully invested in rebuilding and expanding our existing tax base in whatever way we can before we start talking income tax, and I’m not at all sure we’ve done that. If we do pass an income tax, we better figure out a way to make living here, as oppose to Ypsi or Pittsfield Township worth it to current and future residents.

    I’m urging caution and careful consideration. Clearly, we are in big trouble and we need to come up with a funding solution. But we better be real sure that an income tax is the only solution, and won’t just add to the problem in the long term, as it has in so many other Michigan cities. I still need convincing.

  71. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Oh, and for what its worth, I do think that our current city government has done a much better job overall with budgets than a fair number of cities on that list I posted above. I think there is more to be done to maximize potential for growth and redevelopment, a lot more. But no matter how many times I bury my head in my hands at something I hear said at council, I at least think “Well, at least its not a total clown show like Detroit City council”.

  72. Ale Roka
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Hey AJC,

    First, thanks for being willing to maintain eye contact here. Good stuff. According to my last check, three cities in Michigan have both an income tax and an EFM: Flint, Hamtramck, and Pontiac.

    One has an EFM and no income tax: Benton Harbor.

    Nineteen others have an income tax and no EFM (WTF?): Albion, Battle Creek, Big Rapids, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Grayling, Highland Park, Hudson, Ionia, Jackson, Lansing, Lapeer, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, Port Huron, Portland, Saginaw, Springfield and Walker.

    Most other cities, for the moment, have neither: Romulus, Ecorse, Birmingham, Inkster, Ann Arbor, Munising…

    Blame whomever one will (state policy, amendments, mismanagement, a third of taxable land being held by the state, or all of the above+…), but the fact is. we aren’t any of those cities. There isn’t a city in the state like ours. That’s why I, and presumably you and many other neighbors, live here. I can’t afford to live anywhere, but I can easily afford to live elsewhere.

    Living here, with all its accoutrements, is one of precious few things my cheap ass is willing to pay for. I don’t have cable. I don’t have a new car, iPhone, disposable wardrobe or income. I have a decaying historic home, in an insolvent city, surrounded by amazing people of every age. And parks, variation on the norm, and a pretty decent river. In short, everything I want is here, and I’ll be damned if an EFM is coming in as a short-order cook to auction it. Ypsi is the last place in Michigan reserved for creative non-fiction.

    It’s funny. When you look around town, you see bumper stickers and t-shirts brimming with Ypsi Pride. When you visit Garden City or Grosse Pointe…, how much local pride do you see?

    Someone else (forget who) mentioned, I think, the “Ypsi Luxury Tax.”

    I’m down with it. I’m living in the lap of it.

    I could move to Pittsfield, easy cheesy.

    Big Savings.

    Bid Lots.

    Pay for what you love.

  73. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    I dare say almost all of us living here are willing to pay “Ypsi Luxury Tax”. I’m more worried about convincing new people to do the same. If we can’t bring in new businesses and residents to redevelop Water Street as well as all of our other vacant/abandoned property, we can have all kinds of new taxes and still not get anywhere.

    We have been so busy trying to solve this financial crisis, that we haven’t made any plans for the future besides cut and tax. We need a plan to build and grow as well.

  74. Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Ale – your list of cities w EM vs income tax is missing a few: Ecorse does have an EM; River Rouge does not have an EM, but it is under a consent agreement with the state — the other track set up under the EM legislation to give the existing city leaders additional specified powers to address fiscal issues.

  75. Posted January 23, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Andrew – I’ll agree that we need plans to grow and build in addition to plans to survive long enough to see the fruit of those efforts.

    I can understand your concerns about an income tax serving as friction to any plans to recover and grow, but you don’t seem to see the same effect from further property tax?

    One argument I see for an income tax (as a first choice, if we get to pick either/or) is spreading the tax base: additional property tax keeps hitting you and I, as the folks in town who live in taxable property, while continuing to ignore the 40% of the property in the city that’s not taxable. An income tax, yes, I would still be paying that, but so would the 2000 employees of EMU’s campus, so would the hundreds of County and State employees out at Towner (and other offices around town), so would employees of the school district and the city. (Note that many of these major employers in town are public sector — in effect, an income tax addresses some of the regional disparities I’d mentioned.)

    According to the Census LEHD dataset — which summarizes W-2s and similar records to look at commuting patterns — there are 6,919 city residents who work outside the city, 647 city residents who work within the city, and 5,914 people who work within the city limits but do not live here. Additionally, the people commuting in are more likely to fall into higher income brackets than people who live here. (Using 2009 data, most recent available, for primary jobs.)

    I see a lot of merit in the income tax as an option that draws 6,000 new people into the equation of helping us with our budget — especially since we’re simultaneously broadening our tax base to cover many of the tax exempt properties in town, via their employees.

  76. gary
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    does anyone even know what an income tax + new millages is going to cost? i know 1% of income, but how much are property taxes going to rise?

  77. EOS
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    And those 6000 new people who would be required to pay income tax even though they don’t live in the city will still be paying local taxes in their own communities. And being non-residents, they won’t even be able to vote and express their opinions.

  78. Eel
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Yeah, EOS, it’s kind of like being a black person in Michigan. You pay your taxes, but your votes don’t count.

    How does it feel?

  79. EOS
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Why don’t black person’s vote count?

  80. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink


    I understand the reasons for a property tax as they relate to the structure of our community. And higher property tax would likely have a similar negative impact. What I’m more interested in is growing the property tax base through redevelopment, and I’m not sure an income tax moves us toward that goal. If you disagree, I’d like to know more about your reasons. (Yes, it would make our services more stable, I know that’s the chief benefit for growth potential.)

    The only city that seems to have been really successful with an income tax is Grand Rapids, and if I’m not mistaken, they used it as part of a plan that lowered property tax. We’re talking about adding to our already highest in the county property taxes via the Water Street debt millage AND adding the only income tax in the county. I’ll say it again, a lot of us are here because we want to be, and we’ll pay. Getting people to bring new development in? That may be another story. That’s not even accounting for the folks who claim this tax will be the one that pushes them into foreclosure.

  81. Mark Higbee
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink


    I don’t think the best way to assess whether city income taxes are valid is to ask which cities that have them are “successful,” but rather to ask whether such taxes are the best option available to given cities to sustain local government services. Far as I can tell, there’s no better option now for Ypsilanti than a local income tax. Other options? Cut police and fire? Hope for money from heaven?

    The numbers are grim, and very different from those projected in 2007. But Ypsilanti’s employers’ payrolls (including mine, EMU) have a large number of workers who do not now contribute to the city’s revenues. We can and should tap that potential revenue source, with a city income tax, which will produce revenue to sustain the city’s services that those workers depend on. (I work and live in the city).

    Thanks as always, Murph, for the detailed, clear analysis!

  82. gary
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    of the new revenue how much comes from residents and how much comes from non? 50-50? 30-70? 15-85?

  83. Glen S.
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    @ AJC

    I don’t want to discount anyone who’s claiming the additional tax will push them into foreclosure. However, I think it’s worth repeating that, because of how the income tax would be structured (standard deductions, exemptions for Social Security income, those with physical disabilities, etc.), many folks with more modest incomes would end up paying nothing, or very little. In fact, one one of the things I actually *like* about the income tax (compared to property tax) is that it will fall largely (and more equitably) on those most able to pay — those with substantial, taxable incomes, including many folks who work, but don’t live, in Ypsilanti.

    Regarding the need for new development to generate additional revenue, I couldn’t agree more. However, to think that — in the middle of the worst economy since the Great Depression — there is some magic formula that will lure legions of cash-rich developers to Ypsilanti is a bit unrealistic. I think the best we can do right now is to continue the slow, steady work of preparing for the time when the economy does improve (by continuing the Water Street cleanup, etc.) and plan to be “ready to go” if and when things finally turn around. However, even if this happens,, as I pointed out above, it may still take a decade or more for new development(s) to begin to generate considerable new revenues.

    Last, I’m not going to argue that increasing taxes may have a negative impact in terms of some folks deciding not to open a business, or move to Ypsilanti. However, I have to weigh that against the much larger threat I see coming from cuts to deep Police and Fire, failing to maintain basic infrastructure (parks, etc.), or worse yet — a fiscal collapse, and appointment of an Emergency Manager, etc.

    I agree that *some* people may choose not to move to (or may move away from) Ypsilanti if we pass these measures. But really, is *anybody* going to want to move (or stay) here if Ypsilanti becomes unsafe because of increased crime? Is any developer going to seriously consider investing in a City that is constantly in the headlines regarding a budget crisis and/or State takeover?

    Our economy is in terrible shape. Michigan’s system for funding local government is completely broken. We lack leadership in Washington D.C. and Lansing. All of these things have left us in bad shape — and all of our options are bad.

    At this point, I’m in favor of what I consider to be the least bad option.

  84. gary
    Posted January 23, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    didn’t council already say they were cutting $650,000 in the next budget? isn’t that going to be cutting cops and firemen? aren’t we going to be unsafe because of increased crime well before an income tax even goes into place?


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  2. […] of the financial industry, and the closing of our local factories), evaporating state support, looming bond payments (for the unfortunately-timed Water Street land speculation boondoggle), and the fact that working […]

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