Winter tax bills reflect increase approved by Fraser council

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 3, 2018

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FRASER — When Fraser residents review their winter tax bills, they will notice a little extra that has to be paid.

As the city continues to work through an approximate $5.2 million budget deficit, local taxpayers will continue to pay more as a result of the Fraser City Council’s May 10 decision to impose a 9-mill police and fire assessment, expected to raise about $3.6 million.

The first 2 mills, worth about $808,170, were levied July 1 as part of the summer tax bills. This additional 7-mill levy, mailed to residents Dec. 1, is expected to raise about $2.8 million. One mill represents approximately $410,000.

A home with a $60,000 taxable value will see about a $420 levy this season.

Fraser City Manager Wayne O’Neal said he’s not entirely sure how residents feel about the 9-mill levy, enacted following two consecutive failed millage proposals. In actuality, he said, there is a need for 14 mills.

“We’re at minimum staff, below minimum staff in most of our departments,” he said. “We can’t cut our way to a balanced budget. We’ve cut, cut, cut for years. We’ve cut eight public safety officers. We’ve contracted out dispatch.”

He said there is nothing else for the city to cut, and cities aren’t allowed to run on deficits. The problem has dated back to 2006-07, he noted, and along with major cuts, has led to the deferment of capital improvement projects related to infrastructure.

“Without this millage, we won’t be on a right track,” he said. “Just as soon the City Council does not levy the mills that is enough to cover our operational costs, then you run a deficit. And when you run a deficit, that triggers a response from a state wanting a corrective action plan. The state could step in and appoint an emergency manager and do what is necessary.”

Finance Director Timothy Sadowski, in his 2018-19 general fund budget overview, said “the city is approaching financial distress,” resulting in aforementioned delays on capital improvement projects while budgeting zero dollars toward unfunded retiree health care obligations.

Following that May 10 meeting, Mayor Mike Carnagie said his goal was to say that the current council saved the city. More than six months later, he feels just as optimistic.

“I feel that we really made a lot of progress over the last six months. We definitely feel like we’re climbing the mountain,” Carnagie said. “We’ve actually paid bills we needed to do. We paid obligations that were due and past due. … Hopefully, with this tax increase, we’re gonna continue to do that to get us out of the hole.”

Moving forward, he believes the 9 mills will “really help turn things around,” albeit he acknowledges the discrepancies in terms of road fixtures, city staffing and difficulty in filling public safety positions.

After contracting dispatch services with the South East Regional Emergency Services Authority, Carnagie said, residents have personally told him they are “really impressed” with the change, adding that residents have said “it’s even better than what we were getting before.”

“Unfortunately, the taxes are an issue, but I’ve received calls from industrial people and homeowners, and they understand and know the goal and know we need to get back to a situation where there are no tax situations,” he said.

O’Neal maintains that the city is doing the right thing at the right time, saying that an emergency management situation would “decimate” property values.

“The money’s just not there and the can has been kicked down the road, and we got a 55-gallon drum of concrete,” he said.