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Candidates mixed on city taxes



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October 23, 2013 - Clarkston residents receive several services including police, firefighting, and library from Independence Township, but pay about a third more in property taxes.

Candidates for Clarkston City Council, Richard Bisio, Eric Haven, Thomas Hunter, David Marsh, and Sharron Catallo have mixed feelings about that.

"In some aspects they are too high, in others perhaps too low," said Bisio. "Prudent long-term budgeting could allow at least a temporary tax decrease to effectively refund to the residents the accumulated surpluses from previous years."

"I don't know anyone who doesn't think taxes are too high," said Marsh. "Our goal should be to show our residents their money is being spent wisely and conservatively."

Incumbent candidates Bisio, Haven, and Hunter, and challenger Marsh are running for three, two-year seats on the council. Catallo is running unopposed for a one-year seat.

Hunter also said taxes are too high.

"It would be beneficial to be able to reduce them," he said.

However, a tax cut isn't feasible now, he said.

"It would have to be accompanied by a reduction of services that the residents need and expect from the city," Hunter said. "If in a few years some of the city's bonded indebtedness has been retired and property values have climbed back to the levels that were enjoyed before the recent recession, a reduction in property taxes may well be workable and should be pursued."

"We are still paying off debt from improvements, such as roads and water," Catallo said. "In the near future those additional amounts will no longer be on the taxes."

Haven said the city has a good balance between taxation and the value of living here.

"To think in any other way at this time would be to erect a straw man, idealistically out of touch with the reality around us," he said. "It is so much easier to get a hearing, in the micro, rather than the macro. Clarkston has since cityhood preserved an intimate community by its own self government. This is a blessing not experienced by many municipalities today."

Clarkston residents receive from the city snow removal service on local roads, city park, and preservation of the historical nature of the city, Bisio said.

"City taxpayers pay higher taxes than township taxpayers and some have questioned whether city residents receive correspondingly better services," he said. "In many instances, such as police, fire, and library, the services are the same. In other instances, because of economies of scale, the township can provide more cost-effective services."

The general overhead of operating a separate city government is also spread among fewer taxpayers in the city, and the city's tax base has proportionately less valuable commercial property and new construction than the township, he said.

"This results in a greater tax burden for city taxpayers," Bisio said. "That is a cost of having a separate city government."

The benefit of a separate city government is a more localized and responsive government that serves about 800 residents as compared to the township's 35,000 residents, he said.

"A consolidation of some services with the township could reduce the tax burden. On the other hand, if residents want more intensive police coverage, that will likely require additional funds in the form of a law enforcement millage," Bisio said.

The council should provide oversight of the operations of city government, particularly on budgeting and taxation, he said.

"I believe it has improved during the time that I have served but that there is still room for additional improvement, more transparency, and better communication," said Bisio.

Hunter said winter snow removal service is much superior to nearby areas.

Staff writer
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