The Water Street Millage… back on the ballot August 8

This past August, by an incredibly slim, 39 vote margin, Ypsilantians decided not to pass a 2.3 mill tax that would have raised approximately $10,006,548 over 14 years in order to pay down debt related to the City’s purchase almost two decades ago of 38 acres of riverfront property, referred to collectively as Water Street. Well, as the debt still remains, and as the folks behind the campaign to kill the millage back in 2016 never made good on their promise to come forward with an alternate solution, a volunteer group has stepped up to give the millage another shot. And, here, with an op-ed about the campaign, is one of the people behind the initiative, Adam Gainsley.

I’ve been working with Citizens for Ypsi for the last several months running a campaign in support of a Water Street debt retirement millage. This is a citizen driven effort. We’re currently collecting the 848 signatures needed to put this proposal on the ballot Aug 8, 2017. We’re asking everyone to Vote YES on Aug 8.

The history of Water Street, leading up to the need to ask for this millage, is long and complicated. The current situation with Water Street, however, is quite simple. We are currently paying nearly $1 Million per year in bond payments for the property. That’s money that’s coming out of our general fund. The reason this is an issue is that our general fund currently has a balance of under $6 Million. That means we’re on the hook for nearly 20% of our current general fund every year for the next 15 years. It doesn’t matter what you think of the property, the decisions that lead to us owning it, what you think of taxes or Ypsi’s tax rates. What matters is that this is a very frightening fiscal situation for a city to be in and it has direct impact on our quality of life as citizens.

I can’t do much better, in terms of putting this in perspective, than the two following graphs. Both show the trend of our general fund over the next several years as well as our committed balance, total general fun revenue and general fund expenditures. The first shows these trends without the millage and the second is with the millage in place. These paint a pretty stark picture showing that if we don’t pass this millage deeper and nastier cuts are in our immediate future.

To date the city has done the best they can making one difficult decision after another while minimizing the impact on our community. But the impact is still there. We’re operating below national recommended levels of police who must work with aging and insufficient equipment. Our parks department continues to operate with effectively zero budget. We’ve had to cut city funding to some of our most important community features – Rutherford Pool, and Parkridge Community Center. The list goes on but as the graphs above show our budget does not.

This is an especially opportune time to pass a millage to service this debt. Last year the city refinanced the debt bringing the combined principle and interest to $14.5 Million down from $20.6 Million and saving over $400,000 in annual payments. Again, no matter your opinions of the property or its history, this is debt that must be paid. No matter how much we wish we were, we’re not voting on whether or not to be in debt. We’re voting on whether to be proactive and manage this debt, or let it sink our city.

Our community supports this proposal. This has been made clear by the support we’ve been receiving during our ongoing petition drive as well as the support a similar proposal garnered last year. Last year a proposal put on the ballot by Ypsilanti City Council lost by only 40 votes. This was despite very little campaigning and outreach and being out-fundraised ten to one. The question we get asked the most often is not “Why is this proposal a good idea?” but “How can we make sure it passes?” This is why I’ll be voting YES on August 8th.

[I know things may have changed a bit, but, if you’re looking for background, I’d suggest going back and reading my coverage of the 2016 debate, which does a pretty good job of laying everything out.]

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18 Comments

  1. EOS
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    If you pass the 2.3 mill increase, your expenditures will again exceed the revenue as soon as 2021, but you’ll still have 11 years of payments left on your debt. Deeper and nastier cuts will still be in your future and there’s no long term sustainability for the city. The first step needs to be a realistic reduction of expenditures.

  2. Joe M.
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I wonder if the pro-millage people’s version of “our community” includes the largely African American community of Ward 1, who strongly voted against the millage last time. Or is this just another case of generally well off white neighborhoods saying their vision of the city is what is best for Ypsilanti?

    Regardless of making fun of the worst found on the NP/CH pages, no one acknowledges the millions in remediation and cleanup required after the millions in Water Street debt is paid off. I am for responsibly paying off the Water Street debt, but then what? We have a paid off radioactive plot of land. Do we extend the additional millage another decade just for cleanup?

  3. Lily
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Great article! There are a lot of questions about the future of Ypsilanti that will need to be answered, but I am convinced that passing the Water Street millage is a necessary first step in ensuring a successful future :)

  4. Posted April 7, 2017 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    One thing to consider is how local government spending might affect property values which, on the larger time scale, changes the math considerably on how much revenue those 2.3 mils generate. If Ypsi continues under-investing, it could create a downward spiral where fewer people want to stay (or move) there, holding down property values and limiting the overall value of the tax base.

  5. murph
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    @Joe M — as far as I know, “radioactive” has never been on the list of Water Street’s issues. Gonna guess that was just metaphorical.

    As far as the remaining contamination areas of concern on the site, I believe the plan is still to use brownfield TIF to clean up those hotspots in tandem with development, with the remediation costs financed as part of the development. This would mean a few year lag between when development happens on the site and when it begins fully paying into the city’s general fund, but it means that the cleanup costs don’t need to be paid upfront / out of pocket.

  6. Kerri
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Well said, Adam!

    @Joe M. – For what it’s worth, I’ve been canvassing for signatures in Ward 1 and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

  7. Murf
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m confused…have they reached the required number of signatures so it is officially on the ballet or are they still trying to reach 848?

  8. Kerri
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    We are still in the signature collecting stage. The deadline is next week. Anyone who is interested can sign the petition at the First Fridays event at Beezy’s tonight. You can also sign it at The Eyrie in Depot Town anytime they are open.

  9. Kim
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    The signatures don’t seem to be a problem. With a week to go, they’ve almost got all that they need. Hopefully out elected officials work harder at it this time.

  10. Alex Pettit
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    To the point of higher taxes – If I’m not mistaken, isn’t there an existing millage that will expire when this new one is proposed to take effect? If so, the net difference in dollars taken out of your pocket from tax bill to tax bill is zero. There are all kinds of philosophical discussions that can occur re: tax increase or not, but that’s separate from the math facts. Someone please support or correct re: expiring millage

  11. murph
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    @Alex Pettit – That is correct, the city finishes paying off bonds for past road reconstruction this year, and that millage will end. So this will replace an existing/ending debt retirement millage with a new debt retirement millage of about the same rate.

    (Note, we actually had two road debt millages; one had the last payment last year, the other has the last payment this year. Just in case anybody wonders how the same “replaces an existing millage ending this year” thing works in two separate years.)

  12. Janette Rook
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Can we pls have a Bridget Jones-like street fight over this? I’ll throw the first awkward punch if that will get my idea off the ground

  13. Maria
    Posted April 8, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this information. Our family loves this community, and after a lot of study of the situation we are very much in favor of this effort (so much so that as formerly quiet, apolitical people we have been out on multiple occasions canvassing for signatures – incidentally, the proportion of positive responses has been great!) Taxes and debt relief are not terribly sexy topics, and Headlee and Prop A put Michigan communities like ours in an interesting situation even in the absence of factors like Water Street, but we are very optimistic about and excited by so much of what we see happening in the city, and we truly believe that getting this debt off our plate is a step in the right direction.

  14. Dave Strenski
    Posted April 9, 2017 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m for the millage, but it would be nice to have some assurance that if I’m paying off Water Street, I’d like to have some say in what development happens there. Sure would hate to have the citizens pay it off only to have a cheap strip mall installed. If we’re having a vote for the millage, can we also have a vote in the future for what development happens there?

  15. Paul Schreiber
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    A vote for the millage gives the city council budget leeway to make better long-term development decisions on the Water Street property instead of looking for a short-term cash infusion.

  16. Pete Murdock on Facebook
    Posted April 13, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    PETITIONS TO PLACE WATER STREET DEBT ISSUE BACK ON THE AUGUST 8 BALLOT FILED TODAY

    Adam Gainsley of Citizens for Ypsi filed petitions with over 1,000 signatures to place the Water Street debt millage back on the August 8 ballot. 834 valid signatures are needed. Dozens of volunteers collected the signatures in the 90 day window. The issue will be on the City Council’s May 4 agenda to place on the August 8 ballot. The issue is the same as the narrowly defeated debt proposal of last August. It would levy ~2.3 mils (~$700,000) exclusively for Water Street debt. It would be replacing a 2.3mil debt millage that expires this year. Contact info for Citizens for Ypsi is below.

    https://www.facebook.com/citizensforypsi/
    http://www.citizensforypsi.com/

  17. ypsidoodledandy
    Posted April 19, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The first question re: new taxes, is whether the existing city tax revenue is being well spent. I have seen no evidence that it is. What I have seen in on MLive and in person suggests to me the city is very poorly run at present. I would support a Citizens Committee on the Budget (without City Hall) to go through everything line by line, dollar by dollar, to see if we are being prudent, efficient and effective with our existing revenue.

  18. Mike
    Posted August 8, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I havent lived here very long but the city leaders seem to be stuck on stupid,there is a long history of asking for tax increases to solve budget issues and equally as troubling is that they take on projects like the railroad and water street and other things which there isnt money for while lobbying for section 8 housing/apartment’s/projects all of which lower property values. I will be showing up as a guaranteed no vote.

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