Farmington city council members on Monday approved a June 18, 7 p.m., budget public hearing date, with plans to hold the operating millage steady for one more year.
They also plan to put a 3-mill tax increase question on the November ballot.
City Manager David Murphy said that officials asked him to make a recommendation for the 2018-2019 millage. Council members had not been able to reach consensus over the outcome of two community financial forums in April and May.
Given the choice between significant service reductions and a tax increase, the majority of those who attended the forums said they preferred the latter. Participants favored a 1.5 mill operating millage increase, which officials could enact without voter approval, and a 1.5 mill capital improvement millage on a future ballot.
Farmington Voice brings you daily news without a paywall to ensure that everyone has access to local journalism. These stories take time, energy, and resources to produce, and we increasingly rely on support from our readers. If everyone who reads our work and likes it will also help fund it, the future of Farmington Voice will be much more secure. Support Farmington Voice and join our community.
During Monday’s council meeting, Murphy and city treasurer Chris Weber proposed holding the operating millage steady (14 mills) and putting a 3-mill question on the November ballot. The ballot would specify a split: 1.5 mills for general operations and 1.5 for capital improvements
“It still leaves the council with that cushion (from the current 14 mill levy to the approximately 15.6-mill cap),” Murphy said, adding that the cushion shrinks each year due to Michigan’s Headlee Amendment. It will shrink more slowly if voters approve the 3 mills.
“I always think it is good for the voters, who are going to have to pay this millage, to vote on it themselves,” he added.
Council member Sara Bowman agreed.
“I believe it is important to bring any millage increase to the voters,” she said. “I think that it’s also important that we continue to pursue splitting it in the one ballot measure… so that it doesn’t become confusing.”
City attorney Beth Saarela said nothing in the law prohibits officials from having two purposes for the millage, though it is unusual.
Council member Bill Galvin supported the recommendation because “it gives our community time to be more engaged in that potential tax increase conversation. I do not want to disable or cause problems for future city councils… when they may need to levy taxes in a short period of time. We don’t know what the future holds.”
But council member joe LaRussa, who proposed a 15-mill 2018-2019 tax, felt waiting a year to collect the additional property taxes from a voter-approved millage puts the city even farther behind. He said officials have the discretion to lower the millage rate after the public hearing, but cannot increase it without another public hearing.
LaRussa asked Weber a series of questions that revealed most other local taxing jurisdictions levy their maximum, but have apparently suffered no bond rating downgrade. He added that future councils would still have .6 mills to levy in case of emergency.
“This proposal puts us in a position to arrest a pattern of downward trend on our fund balance. If we set the amount lower, we lose any opportunity to act now,” LaRussa said.
‘…we’re not at the edge of a cliff’
Mayor Steven Schneemann also felt that voters should make tax increase decisions.
“The good news is, we’re not at the edge of a cliff, we’re not in a crisis,” he said. “We also realize that something needs to be done. We do have time to figure this out and do it right.”
Officials voted 4-1 to stick with the 14 mills; LaRussa cast the lone vote in opposition.
Later in the meeting, Taylor said that even though she ultimately supported the final motion, she was in favor of council raising the millage and putting the capital request on the ballot. She said she seconded LaRussa’s motion because it left officials with more choices.
“If we’re serious enough that we felt the need to talk about this to the community… and we’re serious enough to spend city resources toward a facilitator and city staff hours on presentations, then it’s serious enough to continue the conversation and not take that option off the table,” she said.
Farmington Voice live-streamed the Monday meeting, and you can watch the full broadcast on Facebook.