Wixom millage debate: counterpoint
While it was believed in 2012 that the city’s property tax revenue would significantly recover and that extension of the special operating millage would be unnecessary, this has not occurred. Much of this is due to provisions of Proposal A, which limits property value and tax increases to the rate of inflation or five percent, whichever is less, and the Headlee Amendment.
From the city’s meetings with our financial advisors and Oakland County Equalization, it now appears that property tax revenue may not return to 2007-08 levels until sometime in 2024-25. Meanwhile, the city is faced with deciding how it will pay to provide services upon which residents and businesses have come to depend.
The expiring special operating millage provides the city with about 31.7 percent of the general operating tax revenue that pays for the operation of the city. Without this income, the city will be forced to further decrease services as a result of the elimination of personnel and contracted services.
Today, the city’s regular charter millage only pays for a little more than the operation of the police and fire departments which are sometimes overwhelmed due to the calls-for-service they receive. Currently, the fire department has only two full-time employees and a cadre of paid-on-call firefighters to keep costs low. The police department has 1.45 officers per 1000 residents; within Oakland County the ratio is 1.72 officers per 1,000 residents, and statewide the ratio is 1.87 officers per 1,000 residents; other communities have more on average.
Elsewhere in the city, staff has been already reduced by 14 employees, or 23 percent, since 2004 and by three employees, or 11 percent, since 2013. This is despite fulfillment of the city’s special operating millage pledge to increase police staffing, which it did by three officers.
While some have argued and believe that the special operating millage has been unnecessary because the city has accumulated savings in its budget stabilization fund since 2012, this is not true. The city has accumulated $3.16 million that it deposited into its budget stabilization fund from the hard work of department heads who limited spending and returned $1.29 million to the city from what they had been allotted to spend. Additional savings of $1.67 million were realized from unanticipated revenue, mostly from building permits and increased commercial and residential building that will end within the next few years.
The purpose of creating and depositing money into the budget stabilization fund has been to provide for shortfalls in revenue, and this fund has served its purpose well. It has enabled the city to plan for decreases in income and to protect other savings, i.e. general fund balance, that provide for unexpected emergency expenses and protect the city’s bond rating.
Should the special operating millage be renewed by the voters, then the city manager’s office will embark upon discussions with city council to use part of both of these funds to plan infrastructure and facilities repairs and replacements. The projects before the city are many, and include repair and replacement of most city roads south of Pontiac Trail ($22.3 million), repair to city facilities, parking lots, and equipment ($9.6 million) and cost-sharing with funds already set aside for water and sewer repairs and improvements required by law ($10 million).
I think the city has done an excellent job managing its expenses and delivering services. In my 17 months as city manager, 16 years as police chief and director of public safety, and more than 36 years of service to the City of Wixom, I have not noted many other communities that demonstrate the same commitment to controlling expenses and avoiding costs as in Wixom.
While property tax revenue has increased no more than 2.4 percent as a result of Proposal A and the Headlee Amendment since 2007, staff and city council have controlled expenses and continued to deliver excellent service to the community, despite the cost of goods and services obtained by the city increasing 14.7 percent due to inflation.
While continuation of the special operating millage will cause the continuation of its expense to the city’s resident and business communities, I believe this additional funding provides immense value for the community at a reasonable expense. The special operating millage will cause the average homeowner to spend about $283/year. While some have suggested that most homeowners will save $800 - $1,000/year should the special operating millage not be renewed, this is untrue.
The proposed millage renewal, if approved, will provide up to 3.50 mills of additional funding (i.e. about $350/year for a household with a taxable value of $100,000) and will provide funding that will enable the city to remain the wonderful place that it has been, to live, work, and raise families.
Voters should remember that of their total tax bill each year, the city receives only 37 percent; the remainder goes to the state education fund and other special school and other millages. A decision to vote for the special operating millage will not result in any additional taxes or a tax increase. A vote to continue the special operating millage will result in every homeowner’s taxes remaining the same, and increasing only due to inflation, during the next four years.
As the Wixom city manager and a person who has served this city in various capacities for the past 36 years, I encourage residents to vote for renewal of the special operating millage and to continue Wixom’s history of excellence and being the best place to live, work and raise families.
I wholeheartedly believe that the residents and businesses of the community receive immense value for their precious money given to the city in taxes. The city appreciates the trust the residents place in it when they do so, and will continue to hold as precious that relationship and will remain committed to delivering services as economically as possible, and with recognition that residents have parted with hard-earned dollars when they pay their taxes.
Residents with questions or concerns may contact the Wixom City Manager’s Office at 248-624-0894 or firstname.lastname@example.org.