By Tran Longmoore, www.thesalinepost.com
Saline City Council took another step closer to putting a five-year, one-mill tax for road construction on the ballot in the November general election.
At a special meeting June 17 at city hall, council polished language of a resolution to add a section to the city charter allowing for the tax. Roger Swets, attorney from Dickinson Wright, provided language for city council to consider.
Swets’ resolution, approved by council, the electors and the state, would have done two things. It would have given council the ability to approve tax hikes in the future without such a complicated process. The second part of Swetz’ resolution dealt with the five-year, one-mill levy Mayor Brian Marl is proposing to improve the city’s network of roads.
But citing concerns about confusing language and public optics, council instructed legal counsel to strike the first option. Mayor Brian Marl said he agreed with the concerns of Councilor Dean Girbach, who was absent from the meeting.
“Flexibility is important, but optics are more important. The first part (of the resolution) is more convoluted and hard to understand is less apt to earn the support of the electorate,” Mayor Marl said. “At the end of the day we’re looking for public approval for a proposal that will help us make very important improvements to the quality of life in the City of Saline.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Linda TerHaar and Councilors Jack Ceo and Heidi McClelland agreed with the mayor’s point.
Ceo said that because of the state’s handling of the road funding issue, people are skeptical of government.
“I understand the public skepticism. So, I am in league with Mayor Pro-Tem TerHaar and Mayor Marl. We should keep the issue as simplistic as possible, so the voting public doesn’t think we’re trying to pull a double whammy,” Ceo said. “It should be straight forward.”
Councilor Christen Mitchell appeared to lend a voice to the other side of the issue, saying flexibility can be important because the city doesn’t know what road materials might look like in four years.
One mill is expected to raise about $430,000 in the first year. The mayor’s plan calls for using that money, along with county road millage money, ACT 51 money and other grants to spend about $800,000 a year to improve the city’s roads over the next five years.
Councilor Janet Dillon did cast some doubt over whether the city would actually be able to collect the full $430,000 in the first year because of the city’s TIFA and LDFA districts, which collect mills levied on the growing taxable values in those districts. Attorney Swets suggested the city’s LDFA and TIFA boards could agree to exempt this millage from that capture.
Mayor Marl reiterated his support for the proposal.
“Putting this proposal on the ballot will allow us to finance something that will improve the quality of life in the community,” Marl said.
Marl concluded by saying he hoped council would provide unanimous support for the millage when it votes on ballot language at Monday’s regular meeting. Marl said unanimous support from council would go “a long way to helping us sell this proposal” to the public.