Commissioners Weigh in On Proposed Saginaw County Tax Increase

Posted In: Politics, Local,   From Issue 715   By: Mike Thompson

18th November, 2010     0

As a supplement to the article in Review Magazine’s Nov. 18 edition regarding a Saginaw County tax increase for public safety, following are additional notes.

Republican Commisioner Pat Wurtzel is opposed to a 1.5-mill hike. He says, “The Saginaw County Board of Commissioners have made no attempt to  act in a financially responsible manner. The County Controller presented a budget that eliminated 55 employees and substantially downsized county government. The majority of the board chose to ignore his recommendation, and seek higher taxes instead. In addition, on two occasions over the past two months, a 9-point plan has been presented to the Board. It has been turned down both times.”
     
Wurtzel says the Republican plan would provide the following savings:
     
     (1) Board of Commissioners benefits: $47,135.
     (2) Eliminate all board and employee conference travel $147,060.
     (3) Lay off a County Clerk staffer: $34,962.
     (4) Lay off a Sheriff’s Department grant coordinator: $77,962.
     (5) Eliminate an assistant prosecutor or two support staff: $99,224.
     (6) Lay off a Board of Commissioners support staffer: $77,040.
     (7) Freeze elected officials pay: $48,000.
     (8) Eliminate longevity pay: $2,800.
     (9) Stop driving county-owned vehicles home: $36,500.

    Wurtzel says: “The public will no longer accept the status quo.”

 

    Democrat Mike Hanley says:

“I will likely support a millage proposal of some sort related to public safety because I think it's a vitally important service, and because I think the public deserves to make the decision on a resource that we will likely have to reduce in the context of our very tough budget balancing.

“I think the August and November elections show that despite current headlines, the public is prepared to support millages that are justified.

“The taxing mechanisms that are available to us are far from perfect.  However, if a millage is placed on the ballot, rural residents will get to make the choice of whether they want to pay for service or lose it.  City residents who also receive service from the Sheriff's Department will get the same choice.  Although we don't not know the specific proposal at this time, the general question will be whether or not to support the County of Saginaw's level of resources dedicated to criminal justice.”

   Republican newcomer Kirk Kilpatrick says:
 
“Commissioners instructed the County Controller to prepare two budget scenarios for the fiscal year 2011/2012 in the event the millage fails. Now it will be up to the board to decide how to ask the question, when to ask it, and how much of a tax increase to ask for. It will then be presented to the voters of Saginaw County. I will stand with the voters’ decision. The statistics do show that our law enforcement services are making headway against all types of criminal activity in Saginaw County. A very good statistic to have when new employers are looking for a place to locate.

“The public's growing distaste for the growth of local, state, and national government and the redundancy it inherently brings is what has given birth to the Taxed Enough Already party.

How much effect these trends have on this particular question would purely be speculation.

“There are three levels of pay for our Commissioners. Twice this year the minority party (Republicans) have brought motions to eliminate benefits for all Commissioners, and twice the majority party (Democrats) have voted to keep their pay and benefit packages in place. I think it would speak volumes to the public and county employees if the Commissioners would lead on this issue. It could certainly help to show that we are serious about tackling Saginaw County's budget problems.”

   Democrat Eddie Foxx says:
 
“I will support placing a public safety levy on the ballot. This
will give the voting public the power to decide.

“(Consider that) if  there were no compensation for commissioners, we will not be
able to finance this issue from general funds.

Asked about communities that already pay local public safety taxes, Foxx said, “Saginaw City residents are being proactive with public safety, through millages and neighborhood watch groups. Saginaw City is not alone, seven of 27 communities in our county supports public safety through their
taxes.”

    Democrat Tim Novak says:
   
“It important to encourage people to vote yes, based on the information we provide that the county is struggling financially. Most people are willing to pay more for public safety.

“It’s going to depend a lot on the ballot language. I think we will need public education to explain why we need it, t he aspects isn’t going  to support. It’s not just for the officer on road patrol, we would also have to take a lot of beds out of the jail, and so officers would be writing tickets instead of processing people down at the jail, it would be like Flint.”

Republican Dennis Krafft says:
     
“I will always yield to the will of the people, and heartily agree with putting the issue of a tax increase in their hands.  This is especially true when the issue refers to focused support on something as important as public safety, which makes up over two-thirds of Saginaw County's general fund expenditures.  The crime rate in Saginaw is a detriment to future growth and peaceful harmony among its residents, and threatens quality of life when it impedes development and good will.

“I do not necessarily agree with a large millage as was suggested, of 1.5 mills.  Although this would make our jobs as commissioners much easier, I also believe we need to do more to cut the size of government in line with the economic constraints its citizens are feeling.  Yes, we have made many cuts already, but it is obvious that we should be scaling back even more, as the recession continues to affect revenues of all types.

“The commissioners had the challenge well analyzed with the cuts we laid out for the 2011 budget, which has already begun October 1 of this year.  But we lacked the collective courage to move forward with those cuts, and we are now spending out of our savings accounts to shore up over $6 million in excess expenditures.

“The 1.5 mill increase does NOT add one extra body to the police, prosecutor, or jail departments, but only continues a high payroll that will challenge future budgets as well.  Sheriff Federspiel used a scare tactic strategy to buff up the fears of the Saginaw County communities that police protection would be negatively affected in ways far greater than reality.  

The fact is, over 80 percent of Saginaw County residents are receiving more localized police protection through very effective departments.  It is really unfair to those residents who are already paying for those services to be tapped for even more services in order to preserve current protection which quite frankly, benefits those areas that have not taken on the responsibility of their own localized protection, either through their own departments or through contracted services from existing departments.

“Your tea party reference is interesting.  Right now, the tea party has gained fame only because the conservative voice in government is being drowned out.  And maybe not enough effort is being provided by conservative elected government officials like myself.  I am disappointed too, that belonging to one party or the other has not been effective in good government.  There is obvious frustration with how our government is communicating its actions to its people.  I firmly believe this has been the most negative result of term limits.  Why do we need these in place, when the voting public has been wise enough to remove individuals who have not honorably upheld representation on behalf of his constituents? This needs to be changed by elimination!

“On compensation, I am receiving an annual salary of $11,400, plus $50 per meeting attended, for representing my district.  If I were to calculate the time vs. wage by the hour, I am making in the vicinity of $20 an hour, give or take.  While it is certainly worthy of consideration, it is not the reason why I do what I do, nor is this the case with most commissioners.  Many of us love our communities and are committed to their  well-being, and this is how we contribute.  Yes, we do get criticism for the amount, but we are public officials and that makes us easy targets for those so inclined to take potshots, many done without identifying themselves through blogs.  They don't upset me, and I don't believe the general public does not take these criticisms seriously....

“To summarize, I believe government needs to shrink at all levels, similar to what the economy has forced upon the private sector.  This will mean hard working government employees will take the brunt, but how is that different from what has happened to the private sector, especially hourly wage earners.  

We have got to bite the proverbial bullet as citizens, and as commissioners, in developing a compromise of cutting overhead, and raising reasonable levels of revenue.  The latter will be the toughest, but let's face it, with reducing property values, all property owners are already paying less in taxes as a result.  We are just seeking to shore up that portion which we as government officials had before, so we can at least maintain some semblance of government services of which a big part is public safety.”

Prosecutor Mike Thomas says:
   
“I encourage a “yes” vote because the alternative the Board has left is to eliminate 110 Saginaw County employees next year, 80 percent  of whom are law enforcement related positions, and this will drastically compromise public safety in Saginaw County and increase crime in our county.

Ten positions alone would be eliminated in the Prosecutor's Office,including 5 full-time prosecutors, which would be one-fourth of my staff. These prosecutors have contributed to reducing murders in the County and City to a 50-year low and decreasing shootings in the City by over 60 percent since 2006. Saginaw remained America's most violent city in 2009 according to the FBI but is making substantial progress this year toward a safer Saginaw for 2010 and beyond. We can't turn back.

“Political trends always can influence election proposals but all law-abiding citizens want safety and criminal accountability in their communities. We have asked the Board of Commissioners to fund the Prosecutor's Office, Courts and Sheriff's Department including the jail at existing staffing because they are Constitutionally mandated services and commissioners decided to place this decision on the ballot for citizens next year.

“Saginaw residents pay 7.5 mills for public safety resources in the City. This tax is critical to the safety of Saginaw City and County citizens. Criminals do not commit their crimes only where they live. Part I crime in Saginaw County occurs outside the City as often as in the City. Passage of the Saginaw County Law Enforcement Millage will keep the Saginaw County Jail OPEN to hold Saginaw's offenders, will keep the Prosecutor's Office OPEN for business and will keep our Courts OPEN for justice.

“If the Saginaw County Law Enforcement Millage fails next year, Saginaw County will not be able to maintain the remarkable progress it has made in reducing murder and violent crime over these past 22 months, compared to Flint where reductions in police and prosecutors have resulted in 56 homicides and relentless shootings. Saginaw has only 4.”

Sheriff Bill Federspiel says:
     
“A majority of people have indicated in a survey that they would support a tax for public

“What about people who already pay a local public safety millage? That’s a question I’m asked all the time. My answer is, do you ever go to Sam’s Club of the Quad theaters or Chuck E. Cheese? When you leave your home community, you local police don’t leave with you and protect you. You relay on the Sheriff’s Department. We back up the police in communities that already have their own police, and we are primary providers for those that don’t.

“Without the millage we would have to shut down part of our jail, and no officers can do their jobs without an open jail.

“In Genesee County, people laugh at law enforcement because they know they will only get appearance tickets. We don’t want to have that in Saginaw.

“Why do we have three deputies on the metal detector at the courthouse? At any given time, there are 300 people in the courthouse. There are murder trials going on and gang affiliation trials. We could not protect all the people properly with only one deputy at the courthouse door.”

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