Your Voice: Farmington Hills resident says ‘no’ to road millage

TO THE EDITOR:

This is in response to the recent letter from the Farmington Hills Mayor and City Council regarding the ballot proposal to transition from a special assessment methodology of funding roads to a 2.75 mill tax dedicated to local roads.

In spite of the fact that I will receive a significant refund if the proposal passes, I voted no. Here are my thoughts.

Apparently the City determined after engineering studies were completed that over $11 million is needed each year for local roads to bring roads back to a satisfactory level over time. Of the total, $2 million will come from the 2014 millage and the remainder from the 2.75 mills. I’m not sure whether the City’s allocation of gas and weight taxes from the State of Michigan will go to local roads or major roads. So what is missing?

That’s right, there are no monies for roads from the general fund. The entire burden will be placed on the taxpayer. That’s not fair. I suggest a millage of 1.5 mills with the difference coming from the general fund.

The City would have you believe the only alternative if the proposal fails is to revert back to the directed assessment methodology. That’s not true. Simply come back with a more balanced approach at 1.5 mills.

The City plans to set aside $1 million to pave gravel roads if the majority of the residents on those roads favor the proposal. If those homeowners are currently on well water and a septic system, they should ask if sewers and water mains will be placed prior to any paving and if so, at whose expense.

You should also know that if you are in a subdivision with concrete roads, and the roads are replaced, there is no guarantee of a like replacement.

Did you know that if you are or were a resident of one of the 16 subdivisions currently subject to a SAD and you paid your assessment in advance or paid off the assessment at closing when you sold, the refund will go to the current owner of record on or after November 1, 2019. That’s right, unless you have an agreement in place, you won’t receive the refund. Is that fair?

If you were a resident or are a resident of one of the 16 subdivisions, a City Ordinance requires the City Manager to certify the actual cost of the project when complete. As far as I can determine this either has never been done or at least not done in the recent past. This is important because another Ordinance requires that if the estimated costs of a SAD exceed the actual cost by more than 5 percent, the entire excess must be applied to the unpaid balance of the individual homeowners or refunded in cash. I don’t believe the City has made these calculations. Each project included in estimated total cost an amount for contingencies, so it is important to compare estimated costs to actual costs.

No question about it that some roads are in poor condition and in need of replacement.

The voters approved 2 mills for roads in 2014 and that went into effect in July 2015. It is my understanding that each year $2 million of those taxes were to go to local roads.

With virtually no local road construction in the past two years, where did the tax dollars go? Are the funds in reserve or were they spent on so-called major roads?

With 58 percent of the roads rated as poor, one might ask how this happened? The Assistant City Manager is quoted as saying: “Over the last 15 years, the city has used virtually no general fund money to fund local streets maintenance or construction.” During that time the City has found $8.5 million to fund the renovation and addition of a new city hall and to purchase land to allow the completion of a new golf course that included a tunnel under Halsted Road. I presume during that same time period, the City has found ample funds to increase salaries and benefits for city employees.

Within the past three months, the City has entered into contracts for over $1.45 million related to recent purchase of Harrison High School for $500,000 as part of the planned $27 million repurposing of Harrison into a recreation and cultural center. Where will the funds come from to pay for the remainder of the $27 million?

If the transition to a road millage is a good idea and in response to concerns of the residents, why did the City choose to take legal action in July, 2016 in Oakland County Circuit Court against 80 homeowners in Independence Commons? The City lost and in spite of the concerns for the safety of all residents, virtually no new local subdivision road construction has occurred since 2016.

It is interesting the tax issue was brought up. No one wanted to address the issue in the past but yes a special assessment is not a tax. It is not deductible. But for those of you currently subject to a SAD, look at your property tax bill. There is a section for Special Assessments. But there is no breakdown between the special assessment principal and interest. Furthermore the total at the bottom of the bill includes the special assessment.

Be honest, did you remove the special assessment from the total or did you deduct the full amount as property tax? For those paying into escrow, my guess is the bottom line total was reported as property tax. Given the change in the tax laws to higher standard deductions and the limitation on deducting state and local taxes, the issue of deducting property taxes may be less of an issue going forward.

If the Mayor and City Council are truly interested in representing the interests of the residents, they should agree that if the proposal fails, they will do as the Farmington Public Schools did. Come back to the voters with a more reasonable request such as 1.5 mills. This will not delay the reconstruction of roads as the City appears to have ample funds in the general fund to fund construction until the 1.5 mills is levied. I would also suggest that a more equitable approach to refund monies be included in any new proposal. While it may be expeditious to merely refund amounts to owners of record, this just doesn’t seem fair.

And yes, the City can keep its number 1 rating by improving roads without shifting the entire tax burden to the taxpayers.

Tom DeWard
Farmington Hills