Farmington officials finalize ballot language for 3 mill request

With one dissenting vote, Farmington city officials agreed Monday on language that will put a 3 mill levy question on the Tuesday, November 6 ballot.

Voters will be asked to increase their tax bills to help stem the tide of red ink in the general fund and to pay for badly needed repairs to sidewalks, streets, and other capital expenses. If approved, the new levy would provide 3 mills for 10 years, with at least half dedicated to capital improvements.

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As officials discussed the measure during a 6 p.m. special meeting, council member Joe LaRussa suggested adjusting proposed language to “at least half” for capital projects, so that officials could divert more funds if needed.

LaRussa first mentioned wanting 2 mills toward capital expenses, as did council member Maria Taylor. He said 1 mill would cover the general fund’s annual deficit.

Mayor pro tem Sara Bowman said she liked having the 1.5 mills for the general fund, because the future is uncertain. Taylor countered that locking in the 2 mills on the capital side would make the millage an “easier sell,” putting an emphasis on long-delayed improvement projects.

“The biggest thing I want to accomplish with this is to give people an easy way to say ‘yes’,” she said.

Murphy said while the city could “get by” on 1 mill, “that’s not putting any money into our fund balance, which council has said should be 25 percent (of expenditures).”

Council member Bill Galvin said that unexpected costs derailed the city’s budget. “We don’t know what the next ticking time bomb will be,” he said. “We need to leave that extra half-mill on the operational side to give future councils flexibility.”

Taylor said if the millage is approved the increased millage cap would give future councils the ability to raise taxes.

City attorney Tom Schultz pointed out that officials already have flexibility, because they can spend general fund dollars on capital improvements. The language makes their intentions more clear to voters, he said.

Galvin asked for a statement in the resolution to explain that the big issue driving the millage request is pension costs, which increased last year by about $1 million due to adjustments in actuarial tables.

Pensions as a whole, he said, “will probably cost more in the next 10 years than many of our other services.”

Taylor cast the lone “no” vote on the resolution, which was approved at the council’s 7 p.m. regular meeting. She said while she agrees with the 3 mill proposal, she favored having 2 mills dedicated to capital improvements.

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