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Leader's editorials on ballot issues

July 30, 2014 - Vote NO on community rec. center

More taxes. More debt.

That's what the proposed Oxford Township Community Recreation Center boils down to and that is why is we strongly urge residents to vote NO on the $20 million bond proposal (to be financed through a 1.6-mill tax) and its accompanying five-year, 0.05-mill operating tax.

Now is most definitely not the time – when the economy is just beginning to slowly improve – to burden people with more taxes and more debt for a luxury item.

Make no mistake, that's exactly what a community recreation center is – a luxury. Supporters can keep telling people over and over again that it's a need, but it's not, it's a want.

Police, firefighting, emergency medical services, water, sewer and roads – those are genuine, basic needs and it's government's job to see to those needs.

Providing recreational opportunities for citizens is something government likes to do, but it's not something required by law nor is it something that residents cannot live without or find elsewhere in the private sector. Therefore, it's not a necessity. It's sauce for the steak, but it's by no means the meat.

If people want to exercise, there is a multitude of privately owned and operated fitness-related businesses in the Oxford/Orion area that offer a variety of ways to work up a sweat for a price.

It's not up to government to compete with those businesses by building a taxpayer-financed facility. If people want to stay healthy and keep fit, they can voluntarily pay for the use of a private facility as opposed to forcing everybody to build a publicly-owned one.

Our biggest fear is the fact this proposed community recreation center would rely heavily on memberships to finance its operations. This is by no means a guaranteed source of income.

Of the projected $913,000 operating budget, a total of $850,000 (or 93 percent) is expected to come from memberships paid by residents and non-residents.

Our major concern is what happens if the center doesn't yield that many memberships?

We understand the numbers are conservative estimates based on membership revenues generated at other community centers, but at the end of the day, they're just projections of what may or may not happen.

There are absolutely no guarantees.

Who's going to make up the shortfall if the build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy doesn't pan out?

To his credit, Parks/Rec. Director Ron Davis vowed to do everything in his power to seek alternative funding sources to make up for any shortfalls, should they occur.

Although Davis has an excellent track record of shaking money loose from other people's trees, even we don't believe he would be able to make up for a potential $100,000, $200,000 or $300,000 annual shortfall.

Our fear is it's going to be the taxpayers once again footing the bill.

We believe the parks and recreation department would ultimately have to either borrow money from the township's reserves or ask the voters to increase the center's operating millage. Neither of those options is acceptable to us.

This proposed community recreation center represents a huge gamble on a luxury item.

We don't believe government should be gambling with taxpayer money and we don't believe government should be dealing in luxury items.

We implore voters to look at the big picture when considering the community recreation center proposals.

Don't have tunnel vision.

Please consider how all the proposed tax increases on the August and November ballots will affect your budget and the budgets of your neighbors. Don't forget to take into account the large water and sewer rate increases facing Oxford Village residents.

And let's not forget all the other things that just keep increasing in price from groceries to gasoline, from clothing to healthcare. Factor those in as well when you're examining how much this community center will truly cost people.

Consider how all this will affect your budget. Consider how it will affect all the people in the community who are still struggling financially. Do we really want to be the sort of community that taxes people out of their homes?

Consider how all these taxes will impact local businesses and local prices.

It certainly would be nice to say 'yes' to everyone and everything all the time, but that's not at all practical, reasonable or logical. Sometimes the answer must be 'no' because what's being asked is wrong or has the potential to be economically detrimental to residents' pocketbooks.

One last thing, proponents of the community center say the 1.65 mills proposed to fund its construction and operation is not a tax increase because it's designed to replace the soon-to-expire 1.65 mills currently being levied to pay off the combined fire/library debt.

But it should be noted the fire/library debt millage will still be levied in December 2014 and December 2015, so if the community center proposal passes and the taxes for it are levied beginning in December 2014, then for these two years, the community center most definitely represents a tax increase.

Now, in December 2016, the fire/library debt tax will be gone, so it could be argued, as supporters contend, the 1.65-mill community center tax is simply replacing the previous debt tax.

We contend it's still a tax increase because replacing an expired debt with a brand new 25-year debt robs taxpayers of money they could have otherwise saved and enjoyed.

Why can't the taxpayers ever be allowed to just save money without government having plans to take it and spend it elsewhere?

For all the aforementioned reasons, we strongly urge Oxford Township and Village residents to vote NO on both the community center bond proposal and operating tax.

The proposed center is a timebomb waiting to happen. Please don't start the clock ticking with a yes vote. Please don't blow up our budgets for a luxury. – CJC

Vote YES on Addison's library, public safety millages

It's always so easy to support Addison Township millage proposals because the prudent local government requests so little of its taxpayers and generally makes the most of every single dollar it collects.

The 10-year, 0.25-mill tax increase being sought to help fund the Addison public library's operations and maintenance is no exception.

It's impossible to say no to such a frugal institution that consistently does so much to benefit its public in terms of providing materials and programs, and bolstering community spirit.

It's truly impressive when one considers all the things this small library has been able to accomplish and continues to accomplish given its limited resources and staffing.

For instance, when it was time for the library to finally transition to a larger space in 2011, officials didn't incur a single dollar of bond debt or request any millages.

Instead, they used a combination of existing tax dollars, donations and countless hours of volunteer labor to remodel and move into their new digs. It was a true community effort reminiscent of Addison's pioneer days.

We strongly urge Addison and Leonard residents to vote YES on the library's millage increase.

As for Addison's fire and police millage proposals, we support them as well.

They're simply tax renewals and we have no issues with either of them.

Addison's fire department continues to provide top-notch services and the Oakland County Sheriff's Office, as usual, continues to be a model of professionalism.

We strongly urge Addison and Leonard residents to vote YES on their police and fire millage renewals. – CJC

Vote YES on the NOTA millage

Very few government entities are as deserving of taxpayer support as the hard-working North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA).

The agency provides a vital service to Oxford, Addison and Orion's most vulnerable citizens and it's operated in a most efficient, frugal and admirable manner.

That's why we wholeheartedly support NOTA's request for a five-year, 0.25-mill tax to help cover its operating and capital expenses. We strongly urge residents to vote YES.

Unlike other local government entities, this is the very first time in NOTA's 13-year history that it's requesting voters approve a millage to help fund it.

That's because up until now, approximately 50 percent of NOTA's budget has been derived from federal and state grants. Unfortunately, those grants, which amount to $425,000, will no longer be available next year due to a change in federal transportation legislation.

Without this millage to replace that grant funding, NOTA will be forced to cut its services in half. NOTA will have to reduce the number of vehicles it puts on the road Monday through Friday from 13 to 7.

Given the types of folks that NOTA serves on a daily basis, that's totally unacceptable. NOTA provides low-cost transportation for senior citizens (age 60 or older), permanently or temporarily disabled individuals and low-income folks.

NOTA gives these people who cannot drive themselves for various reasons, the freedom to do all the simple things most of us take for granted because we can just hop in our vehicles and go.

Doctors' appointments, dialysis treatments, church services, grocery stores, therapy and counseling appointments, employment-related training, community events, hair appointments and the Oxford/Orion FISH food pantry – these are destinations for typical NOTA riders.

Last year, NOTA gave 37,427 rides. Numbers don't lie. A great need for this service exists in our area. We can't turn our backs on that need or our neighbors.

NOTA doesn't just give people rides, it gives them independence and dignity.

If ever there was a millage request that deserves to be overwhelmingly supported at the ballot box, it's the one for NOTA.

This agency does so much good for so many people and the amount it's requesting from taxpayers is so small, there's just no valid reason to vote against it.

NOTA does not have lavish facilities. NOTA is not top-heavy with overpaid administrators. NOTA isn't constantly asking for money. NOTA isn't looking to build a local empire for its own glory.

NOTA just helps people and now, it needs our help to continue doing that.

Vote YES on the NOTA millage. – CJC

Vote NO on Oxford library tax hike

Although the Oxford Public Library runs a tight financial ship, we just cannot see asking residents to approve a property tax increase when the institution still has reserves hovering around $1 million.

We don't believe in governments sitting on excessive savings accounts and we don't believe in the absurd notion that taxes should be increased so excessive reserves can be preserved.

For the time being, the Oxford library has enough – or in this case, more than enough – extra money to continue supplementing rising operational costs and dealing with the impact of lost revenue.

If the library had meager reserves or was facing the immediate prospect of completely draining its savings, we could get on board with a tax hike because we sincerely believe the library is a valuable institution.

But that's not the case at this point.

As such, we urge Oxford residents to vote NO on the library's request for a 10-year, 0.4518-mill increase.

Now, to be fair, the library, under the leadership of Director Bryan Cloutier, has done an absolutely stellar job of dealing with the loss of tax revenue since 2007.

Budget cuts were implemented. Salaries were frozen. Operational efficiency was increased. Sacrifices were made.

In short, the library tightened its belt and made due with less just like everyone else did because of the economic downturn.

We believe the library should be able to get by a while longer without a tax increase because of Cloutier's prudent leadership and tendency to watch the finances like a hawk, because of the staff's willingness to sacrifice and dedication to service, and because of those hefty reserves.

Things are slowly, but surely brightening on the economic front and the library, like the rest of us, must be patient.

Property values are beginning to rise. As values continue to increase, existing millage rates will generate more revenue.

New residential and commercial construction, both of which are happening in Oxford, will yield brand new tax revenue for local government entities.

Granted, reaping the taxable fruit of economic progress as it ripens is a much, much slower process than simply having voters agree to immediately begin handing over an additional $300,000 a year to the library.

But ultimately, we believe letting the economy do its thing is superior, at least in this case, to the instant gratification of asking beleaguered taxpayers to reach into their well-worn pockets and pay more.

We encourage Oxford residents to vote NO on the library's proposed tax increase.

By the way, the library's new checkout system, custom-made desks for the lobby area and new carpeting – all of which cost approximately $350,000 – are fantastic.

If you haven't seen it all, drive over and take a gander. It's spectacular. – CJC

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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