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 An ambulance idles at Madison Heights Fire Station No. 2 earlier this summer, unstaffed due to a personnel shortage in the Madison Heights Fire Department. Following the successful passage of Proposal MH Nov. 5, the city plans to hire more firefighter/paramedics and police officers, as well as another 911 dispatcher.

An ambulance idles at Madison Heights Fire Station No. 2 earlier this summer, unstaffed due to a personnel shortage in the Madison Heights Fire Department. Following the successful passage of Proposal MH Nov. 5, the city plans to hire more firefighter/paramedics and police officers, as well as another 911 dispatcher.

File photo by Deb Jacques

Madison Heights voters narrowly approve tax increase

Proposal MH passes by a margin of less than 3%

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 5, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — By a difference of less than 3%, Madison Heights voters approved the passage of Proposal MH in the general election Nov. 5. As a result, taxes will be indefinitely increased to support public safety and quality-of-life initiatives in the city.

The breakdown was 51.41% (2,490 votes) in favor and 48.59% (2,353 votes) against. That’s a difference of just 137 votes, or 2.82%.

On the surface, the proposal would appear to be for a 6-mill increase, from 10 mills to 16 mills. However, it is actually a net increase of roughly 3.3 mills. This is because the city plans to consolidate four millages into one, and two of them — the library millage and the millage restoration millage — are expiring in 2020.

For a household in Madison Heights with a taxable value of $38,020, the millage increase will cost an additional $130 in taxes during its first year.

While the millage will not expire, the City Council sets the actual tax rate each year through a public hearing, meaning the city could levy the approved amount or less, but not more. In addition, the tax rate will be adjusted down in future years due to the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A — two state policies that limit the amount of revenue a city can collect from its tax base.

The city will also continue to look for grants and other funding sources to cover items such as public safety. Whenever such funding is obtained for any period of time, the millage will be reduced.

There are five key areas the millage will support.

Public safety will receive 2.5 mills. This replaces the Advanced Life Services millage (0.25 mill) and increases funding for fire, police and dispatch services. Six new employees will be hired as a result of the millage: three firefighters, one emergency dispatcher and two patrol officers. This will increase staffing for emergency medical services and increase staffing at Fire Station No. 2. It will also address capital assets and infrastructure needs that have been deferred since 2009.

The library will receive 1 mill, replacing the expiring millage and resetting the Headlee rollback of the original approved millage. Another 1.18 mills will go toward millage restoration, and 0.75 mill will replace the current vehicle millage of 0.25 mill, funding vehicles and equipment.

Lastly, 0.57 mill will go toward quality of life. The items funded here will be prioritized with citizen input during the ongoing master planning process for parks and recreation, as well as the citywide master plan. Potential items could include new parks equipment, improved maintenance for parks and walking trails, the planting of trees, and other community features.

Melissa Marsh, the city manager, previously said that since the start of the recession, the city has cut personnel and services to bare minimum levels. She noted that most cities the size of Madison Heights have one code enforcement officer for every 5,000 to 7,000 residents, yet only recently did the city increase to two officers. She also noted that the low service levels are particularly concerning with regard to public safety.

“Since January, there have been 43 instances where emergency calls have been received and no one was available for immediate response,” Marsh previously said. “This means … no Madison Heights units were available, no (neighboring city) units were available and no private ambulance was available.”

The city’s emergency call volume has increased nearly 42% since 2009, while the city’s staffing has dropped more than 16% in the same period.

Marsh previously said that if the millage were approved, the Fire Department’s staffing levels would see an immediate increase, which would reduce the times that the fire engine or ambulance is unstaffed at Fire Station No. 2. The unstaffed vehicles occur when the daily staffing level falls below eight firefighters. In 2018, the average daily staffing level was 6.5 firefighters per day.

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett, who in the general election Nov. 5 won himself another term in office, was against Proposal MH.

 “I think the city has a responsibility to the half of the voters who were, let’s say, dubious about a new tax proposal; we need to do our best to act in a transparent manner and to get the best bang for our taxpayers’ bucks,” Corbett said the night of the election. “It’s a pretty significant tax burden that’s being permanently laid on the community. In order that it doesn’t turn out to be an albatross around our necks, we’re going to have to provide great service in an attractive environment in order to bring families and businesses to town.“

Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell — who in the same election won another term — said that Proposal MH passing is good news for the community.

“We’ll have more public safety across the city. You will see more fire truck and ambulance runs coming out of the south-end station,” Hartwell said. “I’d just like to commend the city manager for not telling anyone how to vote … but for helping voters understand the situation. I think there’s a trust factor when it comes to millage or charter proposals; there’s a breaking point when proposals become too complicated, and this proposal was very complex. But it was the only way to simplify city budgeting in the long term … making tax bills look cleaner with fewer millages. Still, it was very complicated to explain that, and there’s always some resistance when millages are complexly worded.

“There are also some people worried about the cost,” the mayor acknowledged. “But I would remind them that overall, we’ve lowered taxes the last couple years, and if there’s another recession, tax bills will drop dramatically again. We also help people with water bills — properties with more grass get lower water and sewer bills, which helps more homeowners than businesses.”