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.]