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Berkley Meets at a Crossroads

Participants in a town hall meeting Tuesday night to discuss the Municipal Operating, Police and Fire Millage Proposal agree its fate will shape the city's future.

Editor's note: Berkley Patch will follow this story with a more in-depth financial report, as well as stories focused on supporters and opponents of the millage request.

There was one thing everyone could agree on Tuesday night during : The city of Berkley is at a crossroads.

Proponents of the millage proposal said the fate of city services and employees is in voters' hands Aug. 7, while opponents of the 3-mill Headlee Override said the measure's lack of a sunset provision would allow the tax increase to remain in place in perpetuity.

The Headlee Amendment, approved by Michigan voters in 1978, prohibits local governments from adding new taxes — or increasing existing ones — without voter consent. Berkley's proposed Headlee Override would cover operating costs for the , , , parks, sanitation and other services.

'We come to a crossroads'

City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa opened Tuesday night's meeting, which was held at the and attended by approximately 50 people, and then handed the microphone to Finance Director David Sabuda, who made the city's financial case for the proposal via a slideshow presentation.

Sabuda reviewed the city's operating tax history, outlined its current financial situation and made some projections about the near future. Much of the information is available on the city's website (or, see the attached PDFs).

After a brief address by Mayor Phil O'Dwyer, participants were invited to speak with representatives from each of the city's departments, who were stationed at tables around the room.

"The blizzard of numbers (presented by Sabuda) actually represent people," O'Dwyer said. "They're about us. They're about our town. Our . Our . Our roads. Our . The services that we enjoy in our town.

"Now, we come to a crossroads," he said. "We have cut and cut every year until we have come to a point where there is no more to cut. If you are asking me if we can balance the budget, yes, we can.

"We can close Parks & Rec. We can close the ," O'Dwyer said. "We can reduce our Public Safety Department by one, two, three, whatever."

But, he warned, such actions also would reduce property values and compromise residents' quality of life.

"Nobody wants to live in a community with all that shrinkage," he said.

Residents have mixed opinions

Donna Kelley, who has lived in Berkley for 24 years, said she came to the meeting to find out why the city is asking for a millage increase.

"I learned that it's necessary to maintain our services," she said. "All the nice things that make Berkley Berkley."

But Bill Walker, who has lived in the city for 26 years, felt differently.

"I'm for a small tax increase," he said. "I know what's going on. I see the numbers. But this going on with no sunset, I can't swallow.

"My neighbors are against this," Walker said. "They're furious. Unemployement is still high. What are we? Eight, nine percent? Unemployment is still high in Berkley."

Michigan's unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in June, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Walker added that he would have preferred a 2-mil increase for 2 to 3 years.

"Things are turning around," he said. "It would have been easier to swallow if there were a sunset."

The Headlee Amendment has a built-in rollback clause.

"Headlee requires a local unit of government to reduce its millage when annual growth on existing property is greater than the rate of inflation," according to the Michigan Municipal League. "As a consequence, the local unit's millage rate is 'rolled back' so that the resulting growth in property tax revenue, community-wide, is no more than the rate of inflation."

The 15-person Citizens Advisory Committee, whose members were appointed by the City Council and mayor, briefly disccused a sunset clause but decided against it in a close vote, committee chairman Marc Herron said. He was the only committee member who opposed the millage proposal.

Herron said he was disappointed in the town hall meeting's format Tuesday night, having expected a traditional question-and-answer session with officials that would have allowed him to gauge voters' mood.

The setup worked out for Tony Priemer, who was able to have a one-on-one talk with Finance Director Sabuda about why his taxes have gone up each year since 2002.

"I was thinking maybe I was the Average Joe," Priemer said. "And, if everybody's taxes go up every year, why are they asking for the money?"

But, he found out that he was among only approximately 25 residents in a similar situation, Priemer said.

"I can see the need for the services they want to keep providing and I don't mind paying for it," he said. "I love living here. I've been here almost 20 years. I have fantastic neighbors.

"I think we live in a real safe community and I guess I'm willing to pay a little more to keep that going," Priemer said. "I'm happy. I'm a happy resident. Just needed a little more information and I got it."

Millage Proposal Basics

  • What: The Municipal Operating, Police and Fire Millage Proposal would levy a 3-mill Headlee Override to cover operating costs for the , , , parks, sanitation and other services.
  • When: The millage request will appear on Berkley residents' Aug. 7 ballots.
  • Why: A 15-member Citizens Advisory Committee cited declines in property tax values and state revenue-sharing funds, as well as rising costs, when it recommended the millage request.
  • Cost: The proposal equals $3 per thousand dollars of taxable value, which the city estimates will cost the average Berkley homeowner an extra $175 each year. The millage would raise $1,362,000.
  • What else: If approved, residents would see the millage in their 2013 summer property tax bills. If the millage is defeated, the city will have to make cuts that could include leaf pickup, tree replacement, some street repairs, code enforcement, library hours and programs, programs and Public Safety officers.
  • More information: Visit the city of Berkley's website or call City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa at 248-658-3350.

? E-mail Berkley Patch Editor Leslie Ellis at leslie.ellis@patch.com.

Editor's note: A clarification of the Headlee Amendment's rollback clause was added to this story.

steve smith August 05, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Losey if you are so concerned about this maybe you need to go and find out about this asst. city managers job, or is that you don't want people to see who you are. You would rather complain on the website.
David Losey August 05, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Hey there Steve if you know so much go ahead and tell me
Daryl Benish August 05, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Just tell me Lianne, exactly where am I, and all the struggling residence supposed to come up with more money for more taxes? Don't avoid the question with more ranting. Please just answer it, the Mayor and City Council certainly don't care to. Their narrow-mindedness has prevented them from actually concerning themselves with this very basic problem.
steve smith August 05, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Why should i tell you. I have done the research. This telks me that you are lazy and would rather sit home and do nothing.
Lianne Mathie August 05, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Funny Daryl, talk about ranting.Like I said, you have your point of view and I have mine. I have to come up with the money too if it passes,that is why you get one vote and I get one. Vote how ever it please you, but don't rant at me.
Leslie Ellis August 05, 2012 at 06:23 PM
This has been a great, productive thread, with lots of civil discussion between people with different points of views. Let's keep it that way and not veer off into personal insults, OK?
Daryl Benish August 05, 2012 at 07:07 PM
@ Lianne, No...I will not let you or anyone imply that there are financially struggling people here to be simply my "point of view". It is not a point of view, it is a FACT, plain and simple, and there are clearly thousands in Berkley. It is also a fact that those who are supporters of increasing our property taxes chose to only consider Berkley's finacial struggles while ignoring those of the residents, which of course includes you.
David Losey August 05, 2012 at 07:10 PM
I have been active in Berkley since 1957
steve smith August 05, 2012 at 07:48 PM
I care about my city. That is why I'm voting yes.
Kurt Hite August 05, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Lianne obviously supports this because she cares only for herself and that she can afford it. Sadly many yes voters are the same way ...SELF ABSORBED. They think because they can give up one Starbucks trip a month and cover this tax increase that everyone else should be able to do the same
Kurt Hite August 05, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Technically it is a new position previously there was no "Assistant" it was just an office worker that happened to handle alot of the errands. This is a new fulltime position with a title. I bet they move a part time worker in there at some point.
David Losey August 05, 2012 at 08:27 PM
I care about my city too, thats why I've stayed here so long. I spoke with the finance director at the town hall meeting and he pointed out that I am one of the approximately 25 residents whose taxes go up every year with no end in sight.That's one of many reasons why I'm voting NO!
Lianne Mathie August 05, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Let me see Daryl and Kurt, because everyone doesn't agree with your point of view, then by default theirs doesn't matter, right? Between the two of you, you have two no votes to cancel out my single yes vote, is still not satisfying enough?What if? it gets voted down? Kurt and Daryl, I'm voting on this because not only willI have to potentially pay for every bag of leaves that I put to the curb, but I will also figure out how to pay someone because on a good day I can stand for four hours and on a bad, 10 minutes. The degenerating disks in my back cause my sciatica to bring me to my knees. From 30 years of standing at my job. Let me get this straight,I will not be able to count on either of you fine gentleman to come over and help,right?I thought so, oh, the irony. Hey, maybe you can fix my 21 year old car? hum? No, how about the compressor in my fridge?Not that either? I'm shocked I tell you! Hey, here's a better idea, blame ME for those two home runs Benoit pitched at the top of the 10th today, yep, that was me.I also wrote all of the language in to the millage.I was all 14 citizens votes that voted yes to put it on the ballot. Yep, it was all me, me, me, because that's ALL I can think about. Have a great day.
Steve Herrington August 05, 2012 at 11:52 PM
I care about my city and its residents, that's why I'm voting NO.
Daryl Benish August 06, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Thanks to Bob, a neighbor of mine, he wrote, "The Berkley and surrounding economy is hurting with bank owned properties, defaults, and high unemployment and underemployment. Realtytrac.com indicates that the 48072 zip code on 7-1-12 has 965 bank owned houses, 59 in default and 274 for sale. With an economy like this, the people of Berkley cannot afford a tax increase." I'm glad he researched the status of our housing market. It's a clear indicator of how weak our immediate economy really is. I urge all Berkley voters to vote "NO" to higher property taxes this Tuesday, August 7th.
Michael Baker August 06, 2012 at 02:58 PM
My comment is a bit anecdotal, and I don't want to paint too broad-brush, but the actions of at least a part of those who advocate for a 'no' vote are certainly un-ethical and, according to State & County law, illegal. On Sunday, August 5, 2012, a flyer was delivered to my home, the content of which attempted to convince me to vote no. What was upsetting to me is that the flyer was delivered to my mailbox, which, is a violation of Federal law. Mailboxes are for official USPS business, not for political propaganda unless paid-for and sent through proper USPS protocal. Second, the flyer contained no information about the individual or group that was distributing the information. This, again, is a violation of State and County law on canvassing. Groups or individuals MUST be registered in the communities in which they are distributing information. While I fully support the right of those who oppose the millage increase to have their voices heard, their apparent disregard for the legality of distributing information makes any reasonable voter call into question their motives for doing so. And the fact that they did not identify themselves in the material means that they were either un-informed about proper procedure, or acted in total disregard for the law. Not exactly ringing endorsements for their position.
Daryl Benish August 06, 2012 at 04:02 PM
@Michael Baker, I'm the first to admit that I know very little about the details and technicalities of the legalities you wrote about, but I was informed by a more knowledgeable person. With that said, I was told that individuals or groups ARE NOT REQUIRED TO REGISTER if their expenses are less than $200 to provide or distribute information to support their cause. The small group I'm aware of made their own signs and copies their fliers at work at no cost. There's nothing "un-ethical" or "illegal" as you put it about what they're doing. Perhaps you are somewhat "un-informed" yourself. I do believe you are completely correct regarding putting fliers in a mailbox. Whomever delivered a flier to your mailbox is un-informed. That doesn't mean every person opposing the attempt to increase our property taxes has a "total disregard for the law" as you put it. The small group I'm aware of doesn't do that. With the choice of words you've used, you did in fact "paint too broad-brush" that you stated you didn't want to do. In your third paragraph you've wrongfully grouped "those who oppose the millage increase" (which means ALL people that oppose it) into acting "in total disregard for the law". Come on Michael, please be more careful with choosing your words.
Joshua Hunter August 06, 2012 at 04:27 PM
That's unfortunate. Putting anything in anyone's mailbox is a big no-no and definitely illegal. But individuals going door-to-door don't need to register for anything, unless they want to sell something. But if I'm wrong, I'd really like to see that law since I could be in violation for leaving Christmas cards on my neighbors' doors or soliciting for a cup of sugar. The Pro-millage group had to register since they're a PAC with contributions in excess of $1000.
Kurt Hite August 06, 2012 at 05:22 PM
@ Michael Baker this is another responce for you and your "half truths" Oakland county election division ,12000 telegraph,Pontiac, they said a person can produce his/her own flyer, advertisement, etc, against a ballot proposal. Staying under $100, not $101.00 means NO NAME/address needs to be on the flyer. That person needs to spend less than $100, above that amount they needs to file paperwork with oakland county as a group. Also people can not produce same flyer, etc & distribute it-say 7 people distribute the same flyer then they would have to file as a GROUP. The flyer needs to be different. This would not apply to the YES group because you are a group that is obviously well funded. I do know of an individual who was handing out his own flyers. I will let him know. That they are to go into the doors. People involved in previous issues knew of this because the YES voters got a pat on the wrist for doing the same thing. But he is not a group he is one person.
Kurt Hite August 06, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Perhaps Michael Baker is the person in the YES group that got his hand slapped the last time? It is also possible he is lying and saying it was in his mailbox. He does support passing taxes with lies why not lie about where the document was placed?
Leslie Ellis August 06, 2012 at 07:26 PM
To correct a little misinformation: The assistant to the city manager position is not new. It was previously filled by an employee who transferred to the Parks & Recreation Department.
Leslie Ellis August 06, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Context on shared city services: Gov. Rick Snyder has encouraged local governments to consolidate services in order to qualify for statutory state-shared revenue funds.
Kurt Hite August 06, 2012 at 07:55 PM
This is known but what is also may not be known is that Berkley is giving away our services at cut rate prices leaving the citizens to carry the burden of the actual costs. Berkley been able to offer services to Huntington Woods that once supposedly cost 100k but is now doing so at 60k. Pleasant Ridge was able to get Ferndale to offer services at a discount price of 286k from only 1/2 mile away. Yet Berkley can come in and get them by offering them a deal of just 100k. Why is it we are being told that our services cost so much yet the other communities are able to get these blue light specials on services? Or another question is how much would it cost these communities to supply these services on their own? These cities are telling their citizens that they are great deals and will really serve them well with no drop in coverage vs previous contracts with other municipalities. It should be a simple task of looking at what it costs to operate/ maintain & staff our public safety buildings & vehicles vs what they are paying and see that it is the Berkley Citizens that will be paying the bill. Lastly if 60k is really what should have been charged for those services wouldnt they be pretty mad about being over-charged for so long?
M Kerby August 06, 2012 at 08:32 PM
You are correct sir! Are these other thugs supporters of yours? I took the time to hit your site and do appreciate you running for GOP delegate in my precinct. Just wondering the type of person I am voting for. I have little tolerance for people who reduce debate to personal attacks. You and Bill appear to stay above it.
Tim Coon August 07, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Joshua, I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but you keep misrepresenting this millage as a "21% tax increase." I believe you are mistaken. This millage represents about an 8-1/2% increase in our property taxes. If you're going to use numbers, they might as well be accurate. Thanks.
Joshua Hunter August 07, 2012 at 01:02 AM
I've met a lot of people around the neighborhood the past few months since my wife and I decided to run as precinct delegates. I don't know who exactly you're referring to, but I have met Kurt to get a "No" sign and he provided some facts about the city and the DDA I wasn't aware of. But I try not to argue too much over the internet (arguing doesn't help if you're running for something, lol). All I can do is give my view and any supporting facts. If people want to find out more they can ask. Thanks for visiting my page. If you have any questions just let me know.
Joshua Hunter August 07, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Tim, I think you're including city, school and county. I'm only talking about city taxes (like the city does in its Millage FAQ). The current city rate is about 14.49. 3 mills of 14.49 is 20.6%, so the increase in the city rate is about 21%. I think the total rate is about 35? So yes, the increase in total taxes is about 8.5%. I'm only talking about city taxes though. But thanks for pointing that out. I don't want people to think I'm talking about an increase in ALL property taxes. It's a 21% increase in just the city property tax rate. But that's still a ridiculous amount to demand without any plan, in my opinion.
Tim Coon August 07, 2012 at 02:31 AM
I understand, Joshua, I just think that when people read that they are going to see "a 21% increase in their property taxes," they probably just do the math on what they pay in the summer and winter and come up with a significantly higher number than what they will really be paying. Seems reasonable that people should make the decision based on the correct number. I respectfully disagree with you on the millage, but that's okay, that's why we're having the vote. Cuts have already been made and we will still be coming up short. I believe it is the responsibility of the city to not JUST provide the absolute bare minimum in terms of services and amenities, cutting each and every other thing that it can in order to survive. They need to at least maintain, if not enhance, what they offer, so as to keep existing and attract new residents. Thanks for the civil conversation.
Kurt Hite August 07, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Joshua I really like the way you have tried to approach everything. I hope that one day we see many more people that carry themselves in the same manner as yourself. Politics would be a much better place. I will continue to monitor your blog because I really appreciate the way you and your wife try to consider all the facts.
Paul Matthews August 08, 2012 at 10:37 PM
I voted around 6pm at City Hall. While I was in line, some man came in and loudly, and in a passive aggressive manner, complained to the election workers about how long the wait would be. Something about some changes were supposed to make the lines shorter. Everyone in line and in the voting area heard him. And he had not yet got in line! I am glad that in the United States, we even HAVE a line to wait in to vote. Thanks to all the election workers who are paid peanuts to sit and hear people complain all day!! Based on where he was when I left, he probably was there a full 15 minutes.

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