City Council remains firm against new tax

By Charles Sercombe

City Manager Bill Cooper gave it one more try to convince the City Council to raise taxes.

Or in the latest case, allow voters to decide whether to raise property taxes by 5 mills in order to offset the cost of running the police and fire departments.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, the proposal was met with silence — not even a motion to allow the council to vote on whether the public should decide on their own in the November General Election ballot.

Cooper said the tax will raise $1 million a year – enough to at least make the projected $2.6 million deficit manageable.

“It could have put us in what I call a reasonable deficit,” Cooper said.

He added that while he expected the proposal to get voted down, he was surprised no one on council at least made a motion to allow a vote. Cooper said he wanted the city’s voters to at have a chance to decide.

There are two more regularly scheduled council meetings to reconsider the proposal before the ballot deadline.

Cooper said he won’t bring it back up and doesn’t expect any of the councilmembers – some of whom campaigned against new taxes – to reintroduce it.

Councilmembers Catrina Stackpoole and Shahab Ahmed have been supportive of raising the city’s tax rate to the legal limit, an additional 2.3 mills, but they didn’t show support for this proposal.

In an interview after the meeting, Stackpoole said she thinks both the police and fire departments cost too much.

“I would rather trim police and fire budgets,” Stackpoole said.

The police and fire departments are the most costly items in the budget – eating up about $8 million a year.

Hamtramck’s general budget took a serious hit in the last year because of a dispute with the City of Detroit – or more specifically, Mayor Bing’s administration over how much tax revenue both cities share from GM’s Poletown Plant.

Hamtramck usually gets about $2 million a year, but Detroit is insisting that part of the tax revenue sharing agreement has expired and now Hamtramck is owed only $1 million a year.

While both cities dispute the issue, Detroit has been withholding the $1 million it says Hamtramck is owed.

Cooper said that cut is too deep for Hamtramck to absorb. He said unless Detroit reverses its position, Hamtramck “will be broke by next January-February.”

And if Detroit remains firm, Cooper said he will have to alert Lansing Treasury officials that Hamtramck is about to go into deficit spending.

“Receivership is a reality,” Cooper said.

That would mean the state once again would appoint an emergency financial manager to run the city, which it didbefore in 2000. Cooper said he doesn’t expect to be appointed to that role.

Cooper has warned the City Council what will happen if taxes aren’t raised and Detroit continues to withhold tax revenue. The council has been steadfast in refusing to raise taxes in any form or shape.

If an emergency financial manager is appointed, Cooper said he won’t be surprised if the city’s tax rate is raised to the legal limit. He also said merging all or some of the city’s services – including police and fire – could be an option.

During the past few years, there has been talk on the state level for struggling cities – which includes just about every city in the region – to merge services in order to cut costs.

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