November 1, 2014

Three of four countywide ballot proposals approved Aug. 5

County officials react to millage results

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ARENAC COUNTY — Millage renewals for countywide senior citizen and ambulance services overwhelmingly passed Aug. 5, while a new county road millage was approved by fewer than 200 votes and a Headlee override for the county’s fixed millage was voted down.

The 0.5-mill ambulance millage renewal, which was approved for four years 1,584-468, funds services from Mobile Medical Response in Arenac County. MMR Director of Operations Matt Holcamp said MMR is pleased to have the community support from voters.

“It appears that it passed at nearly a four-to-one margin, which as a company, it makes us feel good,” he said. “It helps us understand that what we do in the community every day is being supported by the taxpayers.”

MMR currently has three ambulances on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Arenac County, with ambulances housed in the MMR ambulance station in Standish, and one in Alger at the Moffatt Township Fire Hall and another in Au Gres at the Au Gres-Sims-Whitney Fire Hall, Holcamp said.

“The monies that are generated from that millage are paramount, and without it, services in that community would have to be adjusted accordingly,” he said.

Karen Pitylak, executive director of Sunrise Side Senior Services in Omer, echoed Holcamp’s sentiment.

“The millage is ultimately important,” she said. “Without the millage it would be — I don’t even know where we would be. We would be in a much different state. We wouldn’t be able to provide even half the care that we do now.”

The senior citizen millage is for 0.75 mills and renewed for six more years. Pitylak said it helps pay for the 250 meals served at the Omer senior center or delivered to homes on a daily basis. The senior millage was renewed 1,468-507.

While ambulance and senior services were overwhelmingly supported by voters, the new millage on the ballot — a one-mill, five-year road millage — narrowly passed. It was approved 1,102-934.

Arenac County Road Commission Superintendent Blair Dyer said the results were surprising. With the millage being passed, Dyer said drivers can expect to see millage revenues being put to use starting next year.

“This year might be minor, but the following years you can expect a mixed bag of heavy maintenance, like chip seals and service maintenance to protect our better roads, but we can also line up some bigger projects,” he said.

The millage will also allow the road commission to match townships on more local road projects, Dyer said. He said in a couple of years it would be apparent that roads in the county were improved due to the millage.

“Maybe not in front of your house — but if you go for a ride around the county, you’re definitely going to see some change,” he said.

“The trick is to put money into them gradually,” Dyer said. “The maintenance programs, the chip sealings, the thin overlays — that’s what saves your roads.”

According to an email from the County Road Association of Michigan forwarded to the Independent from Dyer, Arenac County is one of four counties that approved a road millage Aug. 5. Six counties had a road proposal on the ballot.

While the road commission, MMR and Sunrise Side Senior Services were enjoying the success of the millages that affect their budgets, Arenac County’s Headlee override ballot proposal did not bring good news for the county’s operating budget.

The Headlee override, which would have rolled the county’s fixed millage collection up to 5.2 mills from 4.9 mills, failed by 85 votes — with 1,040 voters casting no votes and 955 voting yes.

Arenac County Treasurer Dennis Stawowy said he believes that at times Headlee override proposals can come across as confusing.

“I don’t think people understand that we’re only asking for that 3/10 of a mill,” he said. “They think that we’re asking for the whole 5.2 again.”

Missing out on the additional $157,000 of operating revenue the override would have generated can cause the county to forego grants, Stawowy said.

“We can’t even afford to accept grants because we don’t have extra money for the match,” he said. “That’s what we’re going through for the parks grant.”

Stawowy explained that the Headlee rollbacks, combined with a tax cap included in Proposal A of 1994 that restricts property tax increases to the rate of inflation, makes it hard on the county to keep revenue up.

To illustrate the issue, Stawowy explained that there is a specific property in Arenac Township with a state equalized value of $27,100 that only has a taxable value of $23,000, due to the cap from Proposal A. Stawowy said if this property was taxed at 5.2 mills without the cap, the county would generate $140 from the property. Because of the cap, the amount dips about $20 to $120, he said. Factoring in the Headlee rollback to 4.9 mills decreases the levy by another $23, according to Stawowy.

For the property used in the example above, the county collects $97 rather than $140, he said. He said that seems relatively insignificant, but it happens across the county.

Stawowy said he would recommend that the county try for the override again in November.

“I would encourage them to,” he said. “It’s up to the county board, of course. If it can’t go on here, the next logical time would be two years from now during the presidential election.”

One mill is equal to $1 per every $1,000 of taxable value on a property.

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