Source: Sherman Publications

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My Way
Perpetual millage plus large fund balance equals ‘no’ vote

by CJ Carnacchio

June 13, 2012

When it comes to property tax proposals, believe it or not, I've tried to keep an open mind over the years.

For some, I've written impassioned pleas urging voters to approve them.

Others I've fought tooth and nail to fail.

That being said, there's just no way in the world I can in good conscience vote 'yes' – or urge anyone else to – on the Oxford Public Library's proposed 0.4518-mill tax hike.

First of all, the millage increase does not have an expiration date.

If approved, the increase would be levied in perpetuity. I don't believe in giving any government entity – no matter what it is or what it does – a blank check and that's exactly what a perpetual millage is.

Perpetual millages are property taxes that don't require renewal through ballot proposal and voter approval.

The library's two operating millages – which currently total 1.3982 mills after Headlee rollbacks – were originally approved in perpetuity back in 1984 and 1995.

Now, the library wishes voters to approve this proposed 0.4518-mill increase in perpetuity, so that the total amount of millage it collects will be equal to the maximum voter-authorized rates combined, which is 1.85 mills.

Call me crazy, but I believe all local millage rates should have an expiration date. With the exception of the public library and township government's operating millages, all of them do in Oxford.

To me, a good way to keep government officials directly accountable to the people is to hold the purse strings.

Voting on millages every few years for services ranging from fire and police to parks and recreation, gives the taxpayers a clear way let officials know how they're doing and what we can or cannot afford.

If you think a department is doing a poor job or it can get by with less money, then you can vote 'no.' If you think everything's fine, you can vote 'yes.'

A perpetual millage robs taxpayers of that crucial power. Therefore, I'll never vote for one as long as I live. It's a fundamental philosophical issue to me and nothing can change my mind on this point. You can't ask a man to vote against his conscience. Perpetual millages are wrong, period.

My other big problem is the fact that the library has a fund balance – or savings account, if you will – of $1.46 million. That's a hefty sum. It represents an entire year's worth of library expenditures, plus another $400,000.

I really don't care about plans to use some of this reserve money for upgrades, replacements and repairs to the facility and its amenities.

I really don't care that fund balance money traditionally isn't used for day-to-day operations. That tradition has been broken and battered time and time again by just about every local government in Michigan since their revenue streams went kaput when the real estate market crashed.

I really don't care about strategic plans, service plans or reaching future goals.

The fact is the money's there right now and I see no need to grant a tax increase to an entity that's sitting on a massive pile of my cash, your cash, everybody's cash.

I have an abundance of faith that between prudent use of these significant reserves and further budget cuts – in government, there's always room for more reductions – the library can get by until local property values and housing sales begin to rebound.

It's not like the Oxford library is in any danger whatsoever of permanently closing its doors. Far from it. From where I sit, even with the threat of further revenue decreases looming, it's still in pretty darn good fiscal shape and more than capable of continuing to ride out the current economic troubles without increasing our already considerable tax burden.

If the Oxford library needs inspiration, it need only look to its frugal country cousin to the east – the Addison Public Library.

Those folks wanted and desperately needed a new library facility. But they didn't ask for a bond or seek a millage increase.

They simply used existing funds – plus tons of volunteers, donations, elbow grease and ingenuity – to create a new one.

Addison employed the pioneer spirit that made this nation great. The spirit of "We can do it!" – not "We can tax you!"

Want some ideas to save money at the Oxford library? Eliminate that unnecessary quarterly newsletter that's mailed to everyone. Ditch the massive aquarium, which I'm assuming is costly to maintain. Use more volunteers and unpaid interns to fill in staffing gaps. Look for creative ways to raise private funds.

Tax increases should be a last resort after all other avenues and options have been explored and exhausted.

The Oxford Public Library is nowhere near that point – not with $1.4 million sitting in the bank and a community full of people still struggling to make ends meet.