Berkley council approves general fund millage proposal for May ballot

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published January 24, 2023


BERKLEY — The Berkley City Council approved a millage proposal for a Headlee override to appear before voters in May.

The council at its Jan. 9 meeting approved a resolution to place on the May 2 ballot a millage proposal for the city of Berkley’s general fund.

According to the millage’s language, the amount of taxes that would be imposed on taxable property in Berkley would “be increased by 3.4581 mills ($3.46 per thousand dollars of taxable value), beginning in 2023 as new additional millage.”

City Manager Matt Baumgarten said the millage encompasses “pretty much everything that we do here in the city.”

“It’s the general operating millage for the city, which is utilized by every single department,” he said. “There isn’t a single department that we have that isn’t touched in some way by the general operating fund.”

Baumgarten said areas that would benefit from the mileage include public safety, public works and city infrastructure.

As to why the city is bringing forth this millage, Baumgarten said that, without it, Berkley would have to continue to cut and put off projects.

“I’ve worked with the rest of our administration, our department directors, on ways we can stretch out taxpayer dollars the best that we are able to do, so we can maintain a lot of these services,” he said. “As the council is aware, come budget time last year, we had to cut millions of dollars out of our (projects), and I say millions pluralized because it was a little bit over $2 million of things that we were not able to purchase or launch or do in this upcoming fiscal year because we had to prevent dipping too much into our fund balance. We still ended up … utilizing about $400,000 worth of fund balance in the most previous fiscal year. It’s not a sustainable track.”

Capital projects cited by Baumgarten that were affected include library renovations, Department of Public Works equipment and police vehicles.

“This is largely something that you will see repeated in community after community after community due to Michigan’s tax law,” he continued. “There’s an interaction between the Michigan Charter as well as Proposal A of 1994, and it essentially drives us down year over year. We see some updates, but by structure and by design of the municipal finance system, we are held back from just even the advancement of regular costs, and we can no longer just internally cut our way out of it or push back projects.”

The city has decided to bring the millage proposal forth now for the May election in order to start a dialogue with the residents, Baumgarten said.

Baumgarten also said that putting the vote on the May ballot will allow the city to levy the full millage for the next fiscal year in July.

“It has an immediate benefit to our community, and it has the full benefit to our community,” he said. “It will mean staff will have to work that much harder to make use of this, but we are up to the task, as we’ve proven time and time again.”

Because residents are going to have questions on how this will affect them as homeowners, Baumgarten said the city will be providing as much information as possible to homeowners, such as a calculator to let them know what their home’s taxable value will be, so they can go to the polls informed.

“We want to make sure that our residents are ready to have the conversation,” he said. “We’re certainly going to meet you as residents wherever you may be. Anybody that knows us knows that we love going to PTA meetings, holding informational meetings, wherever three or more people are, if they were invited to be there, we’ll come and give solid information as to why we feel like this could be good for the community, but we won’t advocate. We absolutely trust our voters to make whatever decision they feel is best for them.”

Resident Josh Hunter stated that, when proposals came before the city for capital improvements and a community center, there were citizen committees for each proposal. He felt there should be something similar in place for this so there is a plan in place if the millage doesn’t pass.

“You’re looking close to $400 a year for the average homeowner,” he said. “We need to have a plan of how this money is going to be used. … We should do that before it’s put on the ballot and socialize it with the community like we did previously.”

Baumgarten said he would love to see a citizens committee on the issue and advocating for the millage, though it couldn’t be something the city organizes itself. He also said Berkley knows how to put the money into action and how it will be invested in the community moving forward.

The council approved the millage for the ballot unanimously. Councilman Dennis Hennen felt that five months is a good amount of time for the city to educate the residents on the millage proposal.

“There’s plenty of time, but, you know, we have a lot of information to share, a lot of people to talk to and the time will go by fast. So we do need to move quickly, but I think we’ve got the start of a lot of good information here and I think there’ll be a lot more coming for the community,” he said.

For the full discussion, visit the city of Berkley’s YouTube page for the Jan. 9 meeting.