A key lesson to be learned from our present circumstances is that democracy is not a spectator sport. Watching from the sidelines simply isn’t an option because too much is at stake. At a time when our attention is understandably focused on surviving the coronavirus pandemic, on creating a more just and equitable society for people of color, and on the frightening prospect that our nation may literally come apart at the seams if Donald Trump is reelected, it is still worth paying heed to legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neil’s oft-repeated maxim that “all politics is local.”
Toward that end, the Aug. 4 primary election ballot features three important local millage questions, each of which asks voters to approve a special property tax levy to fund certain government services. Two of the proposals seek the renewal of existing millages, one in support of Ingham County’s 911 emergency telephone and dispatch system and the other to support the City of Lansing’s parks and recreation system. The third proposal is a new county millage that aims to enhance funding for support services for the elderly. All three millage proposals deserve voters’ support.
911 Emergency Telephone and Dispatch System
Ingham County’s special millage for 911 emergency services was first authorized by area voters in 1996 and has been renewed every four years since. The ballot proposal renews the existing 0.85 mills for 10 years and is expected to raise about $6.5 million annually. If approved, the owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 (taxable value = $50,000) will continue to pay about $43 per year. That’s a small price to pay to maintain a robust emergency response system that is essential to the health and safety of all county residents.
City of Lansing Parks and Recreation Millage
Lansing is the envy of many communities for its extensive system of parks, trails and playgrounds that provide residents with abundant opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic is crushing municipal budgets, threatening the city’s ability to provide essential services, the dedicated millage for parks will continue to provide critical resources that help maintain a high quality system of parks and recreational programs in Lansing. The ballot proposal seeks to renew one mill for five years and is expected to generate more than $1 million per year. If approved, the owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 (taxable value = $50,000) will continue to pay about $50 per year. Lansing’s parks millage has been in existence for more than 30 years and has often been used to leverage additional grant resources to help pay for capital improvement projects. The Beacon Field Soccer projects, Hunter Park Pool renovations, expansions of the River Trail and other significant projects have all benefited from funding generated through the parks millage.
The second Ingham County millage proposal would establish a new property tax levy to support services for the elderly, which the proposal defines as people over age 60. While we’re not a fan of the semantics — we generally don’t think of 60-year-olds as elderly — it’s not a deal breaker. The ballot question seeks 0.3 mills and is expected to generate $2.5 million annually to fund in-home care, meals on wheels, crisis response and other needed services over the next four years. If approved, the levy will cost the owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 (taxable value = $50,000) about $15 per year. As the older segment of our population continues to grow, demand for essential services tailored to senior citizens is expected to increase. The proposal is timely for another reason: seniors are much more vulnerable to COVID-19 than younger people and need to be isolated from the virus as much as practicable for the foreseeable future. Additional funding will allow the county to eliminate waiting lists and expand in-home services to seniors, keeping them safer until the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
Skeptics may argue that Ingham County has an unhealthy addiction to millage requests. Rather than making the tough decisions to reduce spending, the argument goes, county commissioners frequently ask taxpayers for more money through millage proposals. Continually asking voters to approve new millages could also lead to “millage fatigue,” which can impact neighboring jurisdictions who plan to put millages on the ballot.
While we are sensitive to the need to keep taxes at a reasonable level, we have no problem with millage requests that clearly align with community needs and priorities. If they are worthy of support, voters will approve them. If and when voters tire of them, they will exercise their democratic franchise and turn them down.
It’s never been easier to vote — or safer — thanks to the constitutional amendment that allows no-reason absentee ballots for people of all ages. If you haven’t received your absentee ballot application, reach out to your local clerk’s office to obtain one. Whether you vote by absentee ballot or at your polling place, all three millage questions are deserving of your support in the August primary election.