As readers of this site know, the Water Street debt reduction millage failed at this polls earlier this month by a mere 30-some votes in large part because of ballots cast in Ypsilanti’s first ward, where folks on the anti-tax side of the debate concentrated their “vote no” efforts. [First ward voters cast their ballots against the initiative 160 to 29.] Well, as the election was so close, and since we’re now facing even deeper cuts into City services, our Mayor, Amanda Edmonds, has let it be know that she and members of Ypsi City Council are exploring the possibility of putting the issue before voters one more time. Here’s what Edmonds posted to social media a few days ago.
So almost half of you — 39 shy of half, in fact, voted YES on our millage last week. We lost, just barely. It means $700,000 more in cuts after years of cutting to the bone. Have heard from a lot of people wanting to put it back on the ballot in November. If you’d like us to consider that, please drop a line. The only way that could work is if we had people step up as leaders and participants on the campaign committee — talking to people, raising money, knocking on doors, etc. There are lots of things to consider whether this is a good idea or not. We have a deadline very soon to decide, so if you have thoughts on this — yay or nay — or would be interested in helping if it went forward can you please message me and share? As we consider we need to know that people are ready to step up. And if you think it’s not a good idea, message me and let me know why — as well as where you suggest $700K in general fund cuts come from/and or how to make that up in new revenue.
Personally, I’m skeptical. While I suppose it’s technically possible that voters could come out in November and pass the millage, my sense is that it’ll be an uphill battle, given the fact that two other millages will be on the ballot, and that most folks coming out to cast their votes in the general election probably won’t be as educated on the issue. No, I think that, if we’d really been serious about wanting to pass the millage, we would have just expended more time, effort and money prior to the primary, when we had a better shot at it. With that said, though, I think it’s worth exploring the possibility of giving it another shot, seeing as how, without it, we’ll very likely descend into receivership. And, if we don’t take our shot now, we won’t have another opportunity at passing a millage until 2018, unless, of course, we wanted to hold a special election, which would cost us more.
So, given all of that, I guess I’m on board for giving it another shot, assuming I can be assured of a few things. First, I’d like for there to be one point person running the campaign. I think part of the reason the millage lost last time is that no one really took ownership of it, and I’d like for one person to come forward to take on the responsibility. And, I’d like of that person to have a strong, dedicated, diverse committee behind them. Second, I’d want to be convinced that our elected officials are truly onboard, especially our representatives from the first ward, where the last race was lost. I know everyone on City Council said that they were in favor of the millage, but how many of them actually knocked on doors and got out the vote? If we’re going to do this again, and if I’m being asked to contribute toward the printing of yard signs, and everything else that a real campaign requires, I want to be assured that my elected representatives are invested. And, third, I’d want some assurance that a real plan exists – a plan to raise money, mobilize people, and do the mailings that are necessary. During the primary, when this was last on the ballot, I don’t think I saw a single “pro millage” yard sign, no one knocked on my door, and I didn’t receive a single piece of literature at my house. And I’d especially want to know that plans existed to get the word out in both ward one and the more student heavy areas of town, where most of our new voters will likely be coming from from. [In the primary, if I’m not mistaken, only about 20% of registered voters cast their ballots. That number will likely double this time, given the presidential election, and I’d want to be sure that a comprehensive plan exists to reach those people and educate them on the subject.]
If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. Let’s have a web presence. Let’s have clear and consistent messaging. Let’s have a public list of people who have signed on to “save our city” and support the millage. And let’s make better use of social media.
Even if we were able to do all of that, though, there’s still a very real possibility that it wouldn’t pass. We live in uncertain times, and people, for good reason, are hesitant to pass new taxes, especially in communities like ours, where public services have been in decline for decades, and, quite frankly, people don’t see a lot of value for their tax dollars. An additional tax, even if it comes to less than $100 per household annually, could be an enormous burden on some in our community, and we have to recognize that. The sad truth is, however, if we don’t pass this millage, and an emergency manager is dispatched to Ypsilanti from the Governor’s office, whatever they do is probably going to disproportionately effect these very same people who are struggling the most. [Just look at what the emergency managers have done to Detroit Public Schools and cities like Flint.] And, of course, it probably doesn’t help that, just yesterday, the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission voted to kill the development of the new rec center on Water Street. [Yes, the one positive thing we had to look forward to on Water Street is now gone.]
But, given the fact that deep, severe cuts are looming thanks to our outstanding Water Street debt, and my strong feeling that an emergency manager should be avoided at all costs, I guess the “pro millage” folks can count me in. I’m ready for the fight if they are… How about you?
For those of you not familiar with the Water Street debt reduction millage proposal, and its intended purpose, the following clip comes by way of an article written by Tom Perkins for MLive this past April:
The city of Ypsilanti took the next step toward asking voters to pay off around $10.6 million in Water Street debt.
That represents about half of the $20 million Ypsilanti owed at the beginning of the year.
Officials are proposing a 2.3-mill tax that, if approved, would mean a homeowner with a property assessed at $50,000 would pay $115 annually, or $9.53 a month, for the next 14 years.
At its Tuesday meeting, council unanimously approved the language calling for the millage, which will appear on the Aug. 2 primary ballot.
Council Member Pete Murdock noted that a 2.3-mill road tax is coming off the books in 2017 so residents wouldn’t see a net tax increase if they approve the proposed Water Street millage…
In February, the city took advantage of low interest rates to save around $3.7 million by refinancing the debt. That, combined with a $2.2 million payment from its savings, knocked out about a third of the approximately $20 million in principal and interest Ypsilanti owed.
The city also plans to continue making payments out of its general fund over the next 15 years to cover $2.8 million of the remaining debt. City Manager Ralph Lange said he is planning to find another $700,000 to pay toward the debt by the end of this budget year, and that will save the city an additional $300,000 in interest. Additionally, Michigan Economic Development Corporation converted a $3 million loan into a grant…
By a wide margin, voters rejected a proposed Water Street debt retirement millage and city income tax increase in 2012, but city council members say this proposal is different.
The previous measure included an accompanying income tax and a 4.94 mill Water Street tax. The new proposal doesn’t include an income tax and the millage rate is less than half what city leaders asked voters to approve in 2012…
One last thing that bears repeating… The local landlords who have been bankrolling the “no new taxes” campaigns these past several years, and all of the small government, anti-tax folks who stand behind them, have been asked repeatedly what they’d cut in order to keep us out of receivership. And, instead of answering, they’ve just reiterated their talking points about how our City’s leaders are secretive, inept and wasteful. Regardless of whether or not they’re right about that, though, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re facing $14 million in debt, and we need to find a way to pay it. Again, I can understand why people wouldn’t want to increase their tax bills, but math is math, and we don’t have the money in our current budget to pay the debt that we owe, and no one, to my knowledge, has come forward to point out where we might be able to find an additional $700,000 a year. Given that, I don’t see as how we have any choice but to buy our way out of the Water Street debt and move forward together as a community.
Oh, and speaking of what this is likely to cost us, it was just announced that, among other things, we won’t be filling the three open positions we currently have for police officers, as all local spending has been frozen for the foreseeable future.
[Still want to know more about the history of Water Street and the debate over the millage? Click here.]