Millage Talk Dominates Public Comment at Council Meeting
Pro- and anti-millage supporters speak on May 3 ballot proposal in Ferndale.
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter barely said "call to audience" when more than a dozen people shot up and formed a queue behind the podium.
Ferndale is a week away from a millage proposal on the May 3 ballot which Coulter called a "defining moment" for the city. Almost everyone in the queue wanted to talk taxes. About 20 people, the most so far this year, had something to say.
Call to audience gives residents three minutes to address council on items not on the regular agenda. The period typically lasts 30 minutes but seeing the number of residents who wanted to speak, the mayor opened it up again after the Council completed its agenda items.
Ferndale is facing a projected $2.3 million shortfall this year and, over the next four, an estimated $16 million shortfall in the city's general operating fund. This fund covers police, fire, general government operations and portions of the department of public works.
About half of the revenue the city collects for the general fund comes from property taxes, which have been declining and are projected to continue to decline. The other big chunk of city revenue comes from state revenue sharing, also expected to be a sliver of what it was last year. In 2009 city revenue came in at about $19.5 million. This year revenue is expected to be about $15.1 million.
Residents will have a chance May 3 to vote for or against a millage increase. An increase would raise the general operating fund 3 mills this year and up to 2.45 mills over the next four years. The increase to a total tax bill would be 6 percent this year and about 5 percent over the next four.
Council appointed a 12-member Financial Planning Committee in August. Each member came from a voting precinct in Ferndale and the 12th member was a Ferndale businessman. The committee met for 14 weeks and in January presented its unanimous recommendation of a tax increasing measure called the Headlee Override.
Council adopted the recommendation. Since then campaigns have formed in favor of and against the millage proposal. On Monday night, the last Council meeting before the May 3 election, supporters from both camps came out to be heard.
The yes side said a yes vote is a vote for police, fire and the future of Ferndale.
"We can't cut our way to a solution and we can't tax our way to a solution. … And we can't do it with two or three spaghetti dinners," resident Mary Shusterbaurer said. "I'm voting yes on May 3 because I don't want to see my investment go down the drain. I urge the other citizens of the community to do the same."
The no side believes the millage is unneeded and voting in favor of it would be too much of an increase.
Resident Al Richards said there is a "big ol' white elephant" sitting across from City Hall called the Ferndale Public Library. "See that," pointing in the direction of the library, "close it down. Close down city hall two more days. … Let's cut to the bone."