Campaigns Form in Fight over 'Life-Altering' Election
YES to Ferndale's Future is voting 'yes' and Ferndale Against Council's Tax is voting 'no.'
There's a fight brewing in Ferndale. No, it's not a fistfight. It's not a physical altercation at all. Some say it's a fight for Ferndale's future, a fight to preserve services and a quality of life Ferndalians have come to expect. Others might say it's a fight to keep their homes, to cut to the bone, to tighten the belts.
Two campaigns have formed on opposite sides of the Headlee Override millage vote on May 3. YES to Ferndale's Future, is campaigning for a "yes" vote, and Ferndale Against Council's Tax, or F.A.C.T., is pushing for a "no."
"This is probably the most pivotal election in Ferndale in the last 10 years," said Dennis Whittie, co-chairman for YES to Ferndale's Future, River Rouge police officer and longtime Ferndale resident.
Ferndale is facing a projected $2.3 million shortfall for FYE 2012 and an additional $3.4 million for FYE 2013. In order to fill this gap, the Headlee Override was recommended by a Council-appointed, 12-member Financial Planning Committee that met for 14 weeks, from September to January. Whittie was a member of this committee.
The committee comprised residents from each precinct, plus one nonresident from the business community. After its research, it unanimously backed the Headlee Override as the only option the city had to close the shortfall and preserve a similar quality of life.
The Headlee Override would raise the city's general operating tax 3 mills for the first year, or about 6 percent on a resident's total property tax bill, and 2.45 mills for the next four, or about 5 percent on a total tax bill. The millage would end on May 31, 2015. The revenue generated would go into the city's general fund.
The average tax bill in Ferndale for 2010-11 was $2,112 at the average taxable value of about $44,000, according to the 2010 Oakland County Equalization Report. This would be about $132 increase the first year and an additional $239 increase for the next.
This millage would be a stopgap measure but would allow the city to perform the services near what they are now, Ferndale Interim City Manager Mark Wollenweber said. If the millage fails, the city will have to look at cutting 20 to 24 more employees, on top of the 40 laid off from last summer, when the city had to balance a more than $3 million shortfall.
"This is a life alerting election," Whittie said. "(With a no vote), we won't see the results this year, maybe not in 2012, but by 2013, Ferndale could be a different city."
F.A.C.T. Is Voting No
For members of F.A.C.T., it's an issue of the tax increase. Co-chair of F.A.C.T., Sean House, said the main reason the group is against the Headlee Override is that Ferndale already has one of the highest tax rates in the county.
Ferndale's current tax rate is 48 mills, behind Lathrup Village's 55 mills, Madison Heights (Lamphere school district) at 53, and the Southfield (Southfield school district) at about 52, according to the Oakland County 2010 Equalization Report.
|City, Village, Township||School District||Average TV per Single Family||Tax Rate 2010/11||Average Tax Bill|
|Hazel Park||Hazel Park||$29,007||46.7779||$1,357|
|Oak Park||Oak Park||$43,056||48.0086||$2,067|
|Ferndale||Ferndale and Hazel Park||$43,941||48.0584||$2,112|
|Royal Oak||Royal Oak||$70,239||35.7338||$2,510|
|Huntington Woods||Royal Oak||$120,386||47.5802||$5,728|
|Bingham Farms, Village||Southfield||$188,789||42.9763||$8,113|
The overall 11 percent increase in property taxes if the Headlee Override passes is too much, say proponents of F.A.C.T.
"We pay a lot of taxes as a business and property owner and I want to fight to keep those taxes low," said F.A.C.T. co-chairman Dave Leonard, who owns Grand Central Self Storage in Ferndale. Leonard is a Bloomfield Township resident. "I feel the city hasn't done enough in cutting expenses."
House said that F.A.C.T. has formed its own committee that will meet for 14 weeks, just as the Financial Planning Committee did, and will present options that don't require a tax increase. This plan, House said, will be released on April 18, two weeks before the election.
"We want to look at the whole budget, not just the general fund," House said. Council charged its Financial Planning Committee to look only at the general fund, which is where the $2.3 million shortfall is coming from.
"I don't think personnel cuts have to be made," House said. "Going back 20 years ago, Ferndale still looked good. We can do little cuts here, little there, clean out city government."
House said specifics on what could or should be cut would be released when F.A.C.T. presents its April 18 budget plan, but he did discusse making the Downtown Development Authority and parks and recreation "self-sufficient." He said that there could be "structural changes" to government beyond the reorganization of City Hall that could close the gap as well.
"We're throwing more money at a problem … We don't need more money in Ferndale, we need to look at it the proper way, especially in these economic times," he said.
YES to Ferndale's Future is voting Yes
For YES to Ferndale's Future, voting yes on May 3 means preserving not only what Ferndale is, but what Ferndale can continue to be.
"If we didn't have such great services, I wouldn't be fighting to preserve them," co-chairman and Financial Planning Committee member Greg Pawlica said. "We risk losing that quality, we risk losing those services."
(To get an idea of what city government might look like with 15 percent to 20 percent cuts click here.)
Pawlica and Whittie both said that that without raising taxes to cover the shortfall, Ferndale would have to cut to the bone, which also would mean cutting police and fire, which make up 60 percent of the general fund.
"We spent over 1,000 hours going through the information out there to make a good decision on Ferndale's future, and it's in danger," Whittie said. "A no vote is going to cost the city its future."
Pawlica said that if the Headlee Override doesn't pass, Ferndale will see big cuts in parks and recreation, the Gerry Kulick Community Center would most likely close and grass wouldn't get cut in Ferndale, which would likely lower property values further.
"Within three years, 50 percent of the city staff would be cut, advance life support would be cut. We would have to contract EMS out, and that's not immediate to our city," Whittie said. "Private EMS units are glorified taxis. They are for profit, not for community."
Pawlica added: "Sometimes the truth is scary. It's not a scare tactic, it's reality."
Whittie said the most important thing a resident can do is look at his or her own situation. He said in some cases, even with the millage passing, residents might actually pay less because of the decline in housing values. Whittie said residents can contact him through the YES to Ferndale's Future website and he'll do the calculations to figure out how the millage will affect their property taxes.
"It really comes down to what services you value and what you're willing to pay for," he said.
Dates to remember
- April 11 (5:30-7:30 p.m.): There will be a Headlee Override presentation at the Ferndale public library organized by the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority for business owners in Ferndale to understand what the millage, passing or not, would mean to the city. Council will present overview scenarios for the millage passing and failing. Oakland County Assessor's Office will also discuss how Commercial Real Estate is assessed as well as the recent and predicted trends for property values in Oakland County. Finally, both millage campaigns, YES to Ferndale's Future and F.A.C.T. will present for five minutes each.
- April 23: Citizens for a fair Ferndale has organized a public forum for the Headlee Override at the library. Both campaigns, YES to Ferndale's Future and F.A.C.T., will be on hand to discuss its position and take questions from the audience. Starts at 2 p.m.
- May 3: Ferndale residents go to the polls to vote for the Headlee Override millage increase. A yes vote will increase the city's operating rate 3 mills, or about 6 percent, for the first year and 2.45, or about 5 percent, for the next four years. The Headlee Override, if passed, would sunset on Dec. 31, 2015.
- F.A.C.T. is having several Town Hall meetings; click here for dates, times and locations.