Saginaw County Ballot Proposal Aftermath

Posted In: Politics, , Taxes, Opinion,   From Issue 866   By: Robert E Martin

15th August, 2018     1

On August 7th a total of 44,592 (only 30.22%) out of 147,561 registered voters in Saginaw County went to the polls to approve three millage proposals for non-mandated services that will increase the amount of $41,446,079 in property taxes presently paid annually to Saginaw County by approximately $3,454,616. 

Over the five to 20-year expanse of these various millage approvals,  the total tax burden to property owners could amount to as much as $53,370,557 under the language of these proposals, all levied upon the shoulders of both owners and renters of 89,000 parcels of property in Saginaw County.

The Animal Control Proposal 18-1 is a tax hike plus early renewal tax that passed with 22,141 yes votes to 20,128 no votes. It will allow the construction of an $11.4 million new facility, expand staff and services, and the total expenditure from this vote could be $1,998,749 for 20 years ($39,974,980 total tax). The impact on my own home will only amount to an increase of $14.53 per year; but when spread equally across the 89,000 parcels in Saginaw County, it amounts to an increase of $22.40 per year or  $449 per parcel over the 20 year period.

The Commission on Aging Proposal was approved by a vote of 24,636 yes to 17.290 no votes.  Presently this entity receives $2,022,263.00 annually and with the passage of this millage it is estimated to generate $2,867,239.00 annually for five years. Because they also receive federal tax dollars, their actual budget is over $4 million annually. This $844,976 annual increase for five years will amount to $4,224,880 and for each parcel of property in Saginaw County represent a $47.47 annual increase over the lifetime of the proposal.

The 911 millage proposal  was approved by a vote 23,721 to 16,140 and in addition to the current per-phone surcharge which supports 911 service, it is an all NEW millage of 0.28 mils estimated to raise $1,316,822.00 per year for TEN YEARS.  $1,316,822/yr x 10 years =  $13,168,220 total tax.  Over the 10 year expanse of this proposal, it will impact each taxable parcel of property by $147.92.

We currently pay a surcharge on every phone (cell & landline) of $2.65/month collected by phone companies who return the money to the county with no audits or explanation of what they collect. Our 911 Authority currently receives from phone companies $6 million/year to operate; and while promoters claim this money is needed for new equipment, they also admit only 68% of the new money will actually go to equipment.

Saginaw County’s 911 Dispatch Center has a staff of 30 and five supervisors and covers all 810 square miles of the county, working with 22 fire departments and 16 police departments. The center handles about 350,000 calls each year. With the passage of this millage that breaks down to $20.86 per 911 call.

Ironically, this tax started out over 20 years ago as a ‘temporary’ tax on land lines to just replace consoles and towers and go from analog to digital technology. Previously it was run out of the city, county, or local entity and worked fine.  The original centralized transition that started assessing each phone line was supposed to be the solution to 911 funding, but obviously that is not the case. Additionally, MMR - the local monopoly and private for profit company, under this proposal, will now receive FREE state of the art radios from the taxpayers of Saginaw County.

All totaled the impact of these passages on each parcel of property (if assessed equally) will be $644.39 over the lifetime of the proposals; and this does not factor in the new $38 million jail that was given the green light by County Commissioners without voter approval; nor other millage requests that will likely also be appearing on the November ballot.

Our political establishment is aggressive and does not like to say no to increasing the government footprint. It is easier for them to increase taxes and budgets than to make hard decisions and to prioritize essential services over other desirable, but optional services.

The argument for collective spending through higher taxes is economy of scale and fair distribution of common benefits. The argument forgets that taxpayers cannot afford to pay unlimited taxes for unlimited “benefits” that many do not see as affordable or even sensible. There are limits to everything, and the scope of government is no exception.

Contrary-wise, the average tax payor has neither the time nor the money to fight over tax hikes every day in the way the tax eaters can and do. One tax hike at a time, individuals find it is cheaper and less trouble just to pay the tax than spend money to fight it. This dynamic explains how government taxing and spending gradually increase over time, in small increments that can each be explained as minor and compared to a cup of coffee, when in reality that is far from the case given the number of home foreclosures and businesses that have a rough time surviving in such a climate.

Attorney Greg Schmid has been a long-time critic of the burden that property owners and renters face when confronted with these escalating costs from government expansion. The day after the election, he had this reaction:  “Government should not operate government projects by millage. These projects should all be paid out of general operating funds if they are indeed important government priorities. These yes or no millage choices are not fairly presented through the legislative process of compromise - they are presented as stark choices.”

“Moreover, it is important to realize that accepting what has been decided by the people does not mean that the county commission has to build a new building or levy the entire amount approved by the voters - they could pare back this animal project, as one example, into something more manageable and affordable.”

Similarly, County Commissioner Kathy Dwan has also been a vocal critic of these millages, and offered this assessment:   “I think it may be time to discuss a change in the way these non-mandated services are paid for by taxpayers. I would propose that they should be paid for equally by every property owner - take the total tax request and divide it by the number of parcels who would pay so it equals the dollar-amount charged the same for everyone.   If they are so important to taxpayers then people should fund them equally.”

A solid point.   Indeed, perhaps the best summation came from a comment by a reader on The Saginaw News M-Live site, who wrote:  “The host of large tax increases wanted by the County of Saginaw is truly tax madness and shows a total disrespect for the taxpayer and businesses of the County and could lead to loss of jobs and loss of homes under the crushing debt these taxes will present.  People who vote "NO" should not be bullied, enslaved, or forced to underwrite the folly of people who are either too stupid and too blind to see that we are already wildly overtaxed.”



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