WarrenAugust 21, 2012
Fouts says ‘I’m done’ with millage requests
By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer
WARREN — After three millage requests in three years, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said he’s “tapped out” when it comes to asking taxpayers for more money.
In total, he personally backed millage increases that totaled 10.92 mills since August 2010.
Each time, Fouts and members of his administration said the requests were necessary to maintain services residents have come to expect. He said “yes” votes would keep libraries open, fix crumbling roads, shore-up pension accounts, fund sanitation and keep first responders on duty.
The mayor put his own name behind the requests, and voters overwhelmingly approved them.
But now, Fouts said nothing short of an economic cataclysm would put another tax increase on the table.
“I’m done,” Fouts said on Aug. 8, hours after learning that Warren’s latest millage proposal, a five-year, 4.9-mill request he pledged to use to retain the city’s current levels of police and fire services, passed by a landslide: 65.4 percent to 34.6 percent. “I’m all tapped out, and more importantly, I know the voters are tapped out.”
In August 2010, 65 percent of Warren’s voters supported a 20-year, 0.85-mill proposal to support Warren’s libraries.
Last November, 56.6 percent voted in favor of a five-year, 2.1-mill residential streets millage.
Passage of the public safety millage came after the City Council approved the administration’s request to increase the city’s sanitation and police and fire pension millages by 0.9132 mill and 2.16 mills, respectively, in the 2012-13 budget. By law, those millage hikes did not require a vote because the city had not levied the maximum amount needed to recoup related costs.
In total, the 10.9232 mills in new city taxes levied since 2010, either by administrative request or voters’ choice, will cost the owner of an average home in Warren — one with a cash value of about $67,000 — roughly $365 more a year, or about $1 more a day.
Of course, owners of more expensive homes will pay more.
The root cause, Fouts and other officials said, is plummeting tax revenue resulting from falling property values. Properties worth less on the market are, of course, assessed at a lower rate and generate less in taxes for the city.
Fouts said that, and decreased state funding for municipalities, has stretched the city’s budget for personnel and other operational costs thin.
At the same time, administrators argued that most residents still have seen their tax bills fall with their property values, even with the recent millage increases.
Though he admitted the most recent millage was a bitter pill to swallow for taxpayers besieged by ballooning costs, Fouts thanked them for their support.
He also credited members of the city’s police and fire unions, and members of the City Council, who came out to support the proposal.
“We hadn’t planned this until we started looking (at the budget),” Fouts said last week. “There was no strategic thinking here. Ideally, we probably should have gotten this passed a few years ago.
“This could only have passed with a team approach. We had a City Council who was united in supporting this. This, I hope, is the last millage request I will put before the voters. This is it,” Fouts said.
Public Service Director Richard Sabaugh, one of Fouts’ top administrators, a member of his campaign’s inner circle and a fixture in local politics since the 1960s, said the mayor’s political clout and reputation among Warren’s voters was key to the passage of all three millage proposals.
“It’s unprecedented that three millages passed. The fact that he endorsed all three of them accounted for their huge margins,” Sabaugh said.
On the same day the streets millage went to the voters in Warren, Fouts beat mayoral challenger Kathy Vogt by more than 61 percentage points — a colossal win of 80.7 percent to 19.3 percent — to win a second, four-year term at City Hall.
What’s more, all seven candidates he endorsed for Warren’s new-look, seven-member City Council won.
“No ifs, ands or buts about it: He’s positively the most popular political figure in Warren’s history, and I go back to 1967,” Sabaugh said. “This is a deep recession. We got three millages passed in three years. It’s a testament to the mayor’s popularity.”
Former Warren City Council member Mary Kamp had been endorsed by Fouts in the past, but was spurned by the mayor in the run-up to last November’s election.
A former top vote getter in the council race, Kamp lost her bid for an at-large seat last year to incumbent Council member Scott Stevens and first-time challenger Kelly Colegio.
Both Stevens and Colegio were heavily supported by the mayor and his team.
“I would say he (Fouts) was a direct factor in the election. I think he has enough popularity with people and such a long, developed history,” Kamp said. “My name recognition and my reputation were still strong. It definitely made the difference enough to make it so it was a negative outcome for me, personally.”
While Kamp said Fouts’ endorsement made the difference for candidates running on his slate, she said the fates of the millage proposals were tied to other factors.
She said the mayor’s endorsement of them played a role, but not necessarily the deciding role in establishing their ultimate appeal with the voters.
“It’s a testament to the fact that people are willing to invest in their communities, to do what they can to stabilize the tax base and hopefully attract investment,” Kamp said. “I think they are making an investment in themselves, and I think they are realizing the things that make a community strong.”
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