Center Line to vote on public safety millage renewal in March

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published January 17, 2020

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CENTER LINE — A 10-year tax increase to support public safety in Center Line that passed by a huge margin in August 2011 is coming back to the ballot for a renewal in March.

The request to extend the maximum levy of 7.5 mills for an additional 10 years, stretching from 2022 to 2031, will be on the ballot for the presidential primary election March 10.

“It was a 10-year millage and it expires at the end of the 2021 tax season. We’re trying to get this thing renewed ahead of time so we don’t have to worry about it down the line,” Center Line City Manager Dennis Champine said. “Our goal is to get our taxpayers on board to support it and maintain the millage rate as it’s currently placed. Right now we’re anticipating that it’s probably going to be closer to 7.48 (mills).”

For tax purposes, a mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value.

Center Line Treasurer Mark Knapp said the 7.5-mill continuation would cost the taxpayer of property with an assessed value of $80,000 and a taxable value of $40,000 about $300 annually.

“Remember, this is not additional cost. It is not a new millage, but rather a renewal of an existing one,” Knapp said.

The original millage to support police and fire services in Center Line was passed by 81.3% of the city’s voters during a special election in August 2011. The request came in the wake of the Great Recession and the real estate market crash that decimated property values and left municipalities with fixed operational costs strapped for cash to pay for services. Even though property values in most areas have rebounded to varying degrees, tax revenues — barring reassessment after a property sale, for example — are slower to recover due to the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A.

“That’s how it (the public safety millage) became part of the city budget in the first place,” Knapp said. “That drop in taxable value just obliterated a good chunk of revenue the city was going to get. There were layoffs and cutbacks all over the place. This was put in place to salvage as much as they could and keep a Public Safety Department at the same time. It’s still an essential part of our budget.”

Knapp said the millage accounts for roughly 25% of the city’s $4.6 million budget for public safety.

Center Line currently has 20 full-time employees in the Public Safety Department. That includes dispatchers, officers, detectives, lieutenants and the director. The city also has more than 25 reserve public safety officers and 25 paid-on-call firefighters.

“I guess it’s important to stress that this is a good portion of funding for the department,” Champine said. “The residents and the taxpayers have been receiving this service that may be impacted if the millage is not renewed.

“If it’s not renewed, we may try again. We have time to give it a couple shots. If the taxpayers choose not to support it, it could result in cuts. I say that tempered, because the reality is I have no idea what the elected officials would want to go with. If the taxpayers choose not to do it, I’ll be tasked with following the direction of the elected leadership,” Champine said.

Center Line Mayor Robert Binson said he thinks most residents are happy with the services provided by the city’s first responders.

“We’re hoping that people understand the importance of the Public Safety Department and the importance of the renewal of the millage. I would be very surprised if it did not pass,” Binson said.

If the voters reject the renewal, Binson said it would be “a blow to the city.”

“We would definitely have to take a pencil to the Public Safety Department and other areas that we’ve actually been able to expand in,” Binson said.

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