Sterling Heights City Council puts millage renewal on Nov. ballot

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 7, 2019

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights voters will decide the fate of the Safe Streets Millage renewal proposal during the Nov. 5 election.

At its June 4 meeting, the Sterling Heights City Council voted unanimously to put a proposal on the ballot to renew the millage, which pays for public safety staffing and local street repairs.

The original six-year millage, which voters approved in 2013, devotes 1.7 mills toward police and fire staffing and 0.8 mill toward local streets. Its expiration date is June 30, 2020.

At the council meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool blamed inadequate state road funding and inadequate state revenue sharing for making the local millage necessary. He also said the state’s Headlee Amendment effectively limits property tax revenue gains to the inflation rate.

He said the original Safe Streets Millage came about after a 2012 survey.

“The community clearly said they did not want to have any additional layoffs in police and fire,” he said. “Seventy-four percent responded such. Only 11% said they wanted to pursue additional cuts in police and fire.”

Once the millage passed in 2013, Vanderpool said, the city was able to keep 45 police officers and 20 firefighter/paramedics employed. It also made the Fire Department’s advanced life support transport service possible, Vanderpool said.

He also tied the millage to the Police Department’s development of the Community Outreach and Engagement Program, as well as to adding school resource officers to city high schools. In addition, 152 neighborhood roads have undergone repairs over the millage’s time span, he said.

Vanderpool said the City Council needed to consider putting a renewal proposal on the ballot this year “in order to keep the momentum moving in a positive direction.”

“While the accomplishments realized between 2014 and ’19 are significant, the underlying challenges necessitating the original Safe Streets proposal continue to persist,” he said.

For instance, Vanderpool said that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s current road proposal, as is, would actually decrease funding to Sterling Heights.

“So we can’t count on the state to bail us out for road funding, and thus the continued need for Safe Streets,” he said.

The millage renewal proposal is a bit longer than the original one: 10 years instead of six. Also, the millage is slightly smaller, at 2.45 mills instead of 2.5.

According to Vanderpool, the new millage would devote 1.65 mills to police and fire protection, raising around $7.5 million in its first year toward that. It would also raise 0.8 mill for local streets, raising around $3.5 million in its first year toward repairs. He said the millage has been responsible for funding around 80% of the city’s local street repair program.

Without a renewal, the city could either make major cuts to police/fire staffing, or burn through the general fund’s reserves over a limited number of years to keep the staff while canceling plans for local street fixes, Vanderpool said.

During public comment, resident Mary Marcinak wanted to make sure that the millage would eventually sunset, and that the millage’s road funding would be strictly for “plain old roads” and not “custom artsy-fartsy road stuff.”

Afterward, Councilman Michael Radtke said he ran for office on a platform of hiring more police officers. He said that he moved to Sterling Heights from Detroit in 1997 for safety reasons, adding that his mother was mugged in the driveway of his old home.

He praised the Police Department response times and called police protection “our No. 1 necessity.”

“I ran on this. I believe in this. I think this is what sets Sterling Heights apart,” he said.

Radtke also addressed the 10-year length of the proposed renewal.

“It gives us budgetary certainty,” he said. “The hardest part would be to go to our police officers and tell them, ‘I might have to lay you off. Or I might have to lay you off again in six years.’”

Mayor Michael Taylor said he supports the renewal idea and hopes residents will give it “strong consideration” when it’s on the ballot.

“We have the best police and fire in the state of Michigan. We’re slowly getting to have some of the best roads in Michigan, and it’s because of investment like this,” he said.

For more information about Sterling Heights, visit www.sterling-heights.net or call (586) 446-2489.

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