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Monday, March 18,2013

Election clarity

How much would really be generated by the 4-mill property tax increase? Questions, answers and a protest regarding the May 3 ballot proposal

by Andy Balaskovitz
Friday, March 25 — In the past few weeks, opposition to the proposed 4-mill property tax increase on Lansing residents has claimed city officials are being disingenuous about what the millage really asks for.

John Pollard, a City Council regular and treasurer of the anti-millage No More Taxes Committee, points out that the millage will generate $8.9 million — not the $8.5 million that is stated in the ballot language — if approved. And that $400,000 will go to TIFA and brownfield funds, which are economic development tools used to make property improvements based on increased property taxes.

“In order for voters to make informed, intelligent decisions, they must be given the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; not half truths, misinformation and lies,” Pollard said in a news release.

The TIFA (Tax Increment Financing Authority) and brownfield funds collect a portion of property tax increases for property improvements located within those areas of the city. TIFA funds generally go toward core downtown improvements, while brownfield funds go toward cleaning up contaminated properties or demolition. TIFA money has been used for Washington Square improvements and the Lansing Center, while Brownfield funds have gone toward cleaning up the former Ottawa Power Station, the Stadium District and the Demmer Motor Wheel plant.

City Assessor Maria Irish confirmed that the millage, if approved by voters, will actually generate $8.9 million. Still, the ballot language is correct, which says $8.5 million will go toward police, fire and road services, she said.

“Like any other millage that is applied, once the brownfield and TIFA is established, an increase in taxable value is captured into those plans,” she said, confirming that it would be about $400,000 if the millage is approved. “The (ballot) language is written to reflect monies received just by the General Fund. The ballot language is correct.”

City Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar, who worked with Irish on coming up with the ballot proposal, said the information about the brownfield and TIFA tax capture was left out so as not to confuse voters.

“It was phrased that way so people would understand that ($8.5 million) is what’s generated for the General Fund,” she said. When asked if she thinks voters will be surprised to find out some of the revenue will go to these funds, Dunbar said “no.”

“It’s not unique to this millage. It happens with every property tax increase in the city,” Dunbar said. “People who live within those (TIFA and brownfield) zones know their taxes are being used for that.”

Meanwhile, Loretta Stanaway, another Council regular, announced this week a protest outside of City Hall Monday evening before Mayor Virg Bernero introduces his proposed fiscal year 2012 budget.

Stanaway said the protest is not about the election itself — she likes the idea the Council decided to go to voters for a tax increase — but of the notion that there needs to be a tax increase at all. She thinks Lansing’s potential $20 million budget deficit can be remedied with a cuts-only strategy.

“It was my idea based on input from the public that they wanted a way to express their frustrations,” Stanaway, a Lansing resident, said.

Stanaway said she expects about “three to four dozen” people to show up before the Council meeting Monday. “If there’s more I’ll be pleased and surprised.”

The protest is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.; the Council meets at 7 p.m. Stanaway also presented her own budget during the public comment period of Monday’s Council meeting. Her idea suggests an all-cuts budget that would trim about $10 million off of the deficit through across-the-board salary cuts and operating costs. While recognizing that doesn’t completely eliminate the potential $20 million deficit, Stanaway said she is “certain more cuts can be made than what I proposed.”

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