Public safety millage, changes to city charter on Park ballot

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 3, 2016

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — This year’s hotly contested presidential race might be what sends people to the polls, but city leaders in Grosse Pointe Park want voters to make sure they don’t forget the end of the ballot.

The city has several proposals — including a request for a Headlee override, to raise funds for public safety — that residents are being asked to consider when they vote Nov. 8.

Because the city has been at its Headlee cap for a number of years now and can’t raise its millage rate without voter approval, the city will be asking voters to approve a Headlee override of up to 2.75 mills for 15 years, starting in 2016. The millage, which would be dedicated to public safety, would be levied at 1.5 mills for each of the first two years, which would raise an estimated $855,000 in new revenue for each of those years.

“The public safety millage request will allow us to maintain the staffing levels of public safety and update and acquire needed new equipment,” Mayor Robert Denner said. “Public safety is a terrifically important function of the city.”

Like many other cities across Michigan, the Park was hit hard by the housing market crash and recession. Although property values have rebounded since then, state law limits property tax increases to the rate of inflation or 5 percent — whichever is lower. This year, state officials determined the cost of living adjustment to be 0.3 percent, giving the Park a property tax revenue boost of less than $30,000 compared to last year.

City Manager Dale Krajniak said that if the city had gotten just a 2 percent tax increase since 2008, the city would have more than $1 million in additional annual revenue today.

Unlike some other cities in the area, the Park never maintained a large reserve — also referred to as a rainy day fund — meaning that the city didn’t have lots of cash to draw from during the lean times.

Because the public safety millage, if approved by voters, would be coinciding with other millages that are coming off the books in the next couple of years, Denner said residents wouldn’t see much of an increase on their tax bills from it.

Several charter changes are up for a vote this year too.

Proposition No. 2 deals with the number of regular monthly meetings held by the Park City Council. By charter, the council is supposed to meet at least twice a month, but officials say they haven’t been doing that for more than a decade now. Instead, the city usually has canceled one of its two meetings each month. If this provision is approved, the council would be required to hold only one regular meeting per month. City leaders would still be able to schedule additional or special meetings, if needed.

Proposition No. 4 pertains to the salary range for the city’s municipal judge, a seat currently held by Carl Jarboe. Although the judge’s salary is something that’s approved by the City Council, the range is set by the charter. That range, which was last amended in 1988, sets a minimum annual salary of $6,000 and a maximum of $15,000. If voters approve this proposal, the minimum would remain the same but the maximum annual salary would increase to $30,000. Denner said the council came up with this number by looking at what $15,000 would be equal to in 2016 dollars.

However, voting yes on this proposal doesn’t mean that the judge’s salary would immediately — or ever — rise to $30,000.

“Approval of the charter amendment doesn’t change the judge’s salary,” Denner said.

Fellow Park officials have echoed that sentiment.

“It’s basically a cost-of-living increase,” City Councilman James Robson said during a June 13 City Council meeting. “He makes $15,000 a year now. He may continue to make $15,000 per year indefinitely. This just permits the council … to raise that salary (in the future).”

Krajniak acknowledged that some of the proposals “are just housekeeping,” addressing portions of the charter that are now obsolete. That’s the case for Proposition No. 1 and Proposition No. 3. 

If approved, Proposition No. 1 would remove the section of the charter that refers to “Merit System; Department of Personnel,” which is no longer applicable because of collective bargaining. Proposition No. 3, if approved, would eliminate a portion of the charter titled “Supervisors,” which likewise is no longer needed because it relates to representation on the Wayne County Board of Supervisors — a board that has since been replaced by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

It’s a lot for voters to consider, but council members have said that they wanted to place these questions on the presidential ballot because that is when the greatest number of residents would be participating in the election.

“It’s a very long ballot,” Denner said. “Be sure to get all the way to the end to vote on the proposals.”

To read the full proposal language, see the Grosse Pointe Times' voter guide. To see the entire Grosse Pointe Park ballot, visit the city’s website at www.grossepointepark.org.

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