Howell’s Headlee Override: Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it

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Had the 1997 Street Millage in Howell passed, we wouldn’t this day be facing the Howell Headlee Override.

Had the 1997 Street Millage in Howell passed, the money it raised over its dozen-year lifetime would have rebuilt virtually every street in the city — with proper sub-base, curbs and gutters — and it would have upgraded the storm sewer system.

One of Howell’s teeny-tiny roundabouts.

Instead, here we are, 21 years later, in much the same spot, except our storm sewer system is that much older, and the streets that have been rebuilt featuring swails and mountable curbs, a helter-skelter smattering of bump outs for cars, and some streets with parking on one side only, and, of course, everyone’s favorite neighborhood swerve-abouts.

You see, It was the pummeling of that Street Millage at the polls in 1997 that put the city on its patchwork path of one-project-at-a-time infrastructure work, completed whenever there was enough money.

The 3.5 mill, 12-year levy of that 1997 Street Millage — which would have cost the average Howell homeowners about $210 a year for a total of $2,520 over its lifetime — would have raised about $8.8 million, with the city kicking in another $6.8 million, for a total of nearly $16 million.

At the time, it sounded like a wise community investment to me.

But not everyone agreed

The measure failed nearly 3-to-1; of the 836 votes cast (a 12 percent turnout), 224 supported the measure, and 612 opposed it.

Just about smack dab in between that 1997 Street Millage and today came the Great Recession of 2008. Factor in the Headlee Amendment, which rolls back taxes to the rate of inflation and caps increases, “full service” communities like Howell were devastated. And for Howell, it was an especially huge hit: the city lost the most in property value in all of Livingston County. With the State of Michigan not meeting its revenue sharing requirements, Howell is losing an additional $450,000 a year.

The city deferred $1 million a year in infrastructure work to make it through those tough times. Work was done to address repairs and resident concerns in the least expensive way possible to stretch each and every dollar.

So, if you were a Howell resident in 1997 who voted against the Street Millage, don’t complain about how awful you find the swerve-abouts, or the swails, or the narrow streets. Just don’t.

We have the chance to correct our 1997 short-sightedness on Nov. 6.

We need to ask ourselves: Do we want good property values? Do we want a great city? If we do, let’s fix the streets; let’s fix the storm sewers. Let’s support this Headlee Override.

If we get a repeat of 1997, a few years down the road, the work that needs to be done will be even more extensive and expensive.

Remember that we are being asked to make an investment, not pay a penance.


As I researched the 1997 Howell Street Millage, I found the endorsement from the Livingston County Press.

Wed, Jul 30, 1997 – 20 · Livingston County Daily Press and Argus (Howell, Livingston, Michigan, United States of America) · Newspapers.com


About Maria Stuart 109 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse.

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