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Wednesday, July 28,2010

Millages all around

by Andy Balaskovitz

If the CATA millage doesn’t pass Aug. 3, about 42 percent of its $39 million operating budget will go up in low-sulfur diesel smoke. Sandy Dragoo, executive director of CATA and self-proclaimed pessimist, is preparing for the worst: a hollowed bus fleet, skeletal employment and thousands of local residents without a ride.


If it weren’t for a small change to the state Constitution in 1978 called the Headlee Act, CATA would be asking for a straight renewal for what has been levied since 2006. But due to rising property values at that time, the act required that the millage be reduced to stay consistent with inflation. Property values have since tanked, but the same reduced rate is still applied, Dragoo said. That explains the .0362 mill “increase” (or a return to the norm, if you ask Dragoo), which is an extra $1.81 per year on a $100,000 home. If approved, the CATA millage is expected to generate $18 million in its first year and will last five years.


A separate millage proposal requests an increase of 48 cents per $1,000 of property value, generating about $3.6 million in its first year to go toward elderly transportation improvements in Ingham County.


The city of Lansing is asking city residents to renew a millage of $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value to upgrade and maintain parks and recreation areas within the city. Taxpayers have paid the parks millage since 1990, which generates about $2.4 million annually, but not everyone believes that money is being spent properly.


Citizens Against This Bond treasurer and Lansing City Council regular John Pollard filed a complaint with the Michigan Bureau of Elections on June 16 saying parks millage funds have been misused since 2006 because they were not meant to go toward “maintaining” the parks or covering operating costs, but rather for upgrades called “capital improvements.”


Lansing City Attorney Brig Smith said this year’s ballot language includes the term maintenance and that the proposal “is perfectly legal,” he wrote in an e-mail. A line item document for the 2010-'11 fiscal year showing how millage money will be spent this year indicates funding is split nearly down the middle for maintenance and capital.


Murdoch Jemerson, director of the Lansing Parks and Recreation Department, said millage money for the parks system is important because the state will match whatever taxpayers raise. Over the past five years, the state gave Lansing $4.2 million in matching funds for the 114 parks (including cemeteries and a golf course) in Lansing.


Lance Werner, director of the Capital Area District Library, worries the CADL millage won't pass. “I swear on my father’s grave that if this doesn’t pass, we will close, lock the doors and turn off the lights,” he said, in reference to the ballot proposal renewing about $10 million annually for the next four years. Taxpayers fund 90 percent of the CADL’s roughly $12 million annual budget. CADL includes 12 branch locations besides the downtown Lansing library and saw roughly 1.5 million visitors in 2009.


Two ballot proposals for Delhi Township residents seek continued funding for police, emergency medical response and fire services. Each are for four years and together would create an estimated $2.2 million in the first year for those township-wide services.


“We are just trying to maintain that minimal level of public safety services,” Delhi Township Manager John Elsinga said. Decreased state revenue, the out-migration of Michiganders and lower property values are the three main reasons Delhi Township is asking for the money.


If the millage fails to pass, Elsinga said the police and fire staff would be cut in half, from 18 to nine and 12 to six, respectively.


The Eaton County Transportation Authority (EATRAN) is looking to triple its existing millage agreement with Eaton County residents to transform its level of service. Despite troubling economic times, EATRAN Manager Donna Webb said a new structure will benefit riders in the long term. EATRAN provides only on-demand services with no fixed routes (people call in when they need a ride), does not operate on weekends and does not service outside Eaton County.


Should the millage pass, EATRAN would run on weekends, a fixed route system would operate in tandem with a shrunken ondemand service and routes would connect Grand Ledge, Charlotte, Eaton Rapids and Lansing. The millage would generate about $2.5 million per year, starting in 2012.

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