Howell’s Headlee Override: What kind of community do we want to live in?

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I don’t know why anyone who lives in the City of Howell would vote against the Headlee Override on Nov. 6.

If you’re considering a vote against the override, look out the closest window at the beautiful, colorful fall display before us. The trees and their leaves are gorgeous, aren’t they? The question on Nov. 6 is, in small part, whether you value the city’s leaf pickup program enough to pay for it. If the Headlee Override goes down (and I don’t doubt that there’s a chance it will) we’ll be getting rid of our own leaves or paying someone else to do it.

It’s not just leaves. Do you value our police department and neighborhood patrols? Do you want our streets fixed? Should our infrastructure be brought up to the standards of the 21st Century? Do you like the brush pickup?

Sure. We like all this, and more, which means the choice before us on Nov. 6 is quite simple: What kind of a city do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a city that serves and protects us — and are we willing to pay for the service and protection?

For the owner of the average home in the City of Howell, the Headlee Override will mean paying approximately an extra 89 cents a day.

I believe you get what you pay for, and I am willing to pay 89 cents a day to keep all the services I moved here to enjoy. I like snow-plowed streets, leaf pickup, police protection, and more.

I also understand how we’ve gotten to this point. Since the Great Recession of 2009, the city has kept operations afloat by doing what the rest of us did: It tightened its belt, and it cut.

It cut personnel.

It scaled back services.

It consolidated operations.

It collaborated with other units of government.

It got concessions from workers.

The biggest thing it did to weather our financial meltdown was defer infrastructure work; today there is $18 million in critical projects that can’t be deferred any longer.

On Nov. 6, we need to take responsibility for the condition of our community, and we need to pay for the necessities, conveniences and services that made us choose Howell in the first place.

This is our city. This is where we choose to put down roots and live our lives. And this is what makes the Nov. 6 vote on the Headlee Override so important, and — at least to me —  so very, very personal.

So, let’s ask ourselves: What kind of community do we want to live in?

It’s a simple question that deserves a thoughtful response.

Because of what’s happened in the past when significant issues have gone before city voters, I predict a last-minute door-to-door delivery of rambling, wordy flyers on brightly colored paper — probably over the weekend of Nov. 3-4, just before the election — that claim city officials have either mismanaged the budget, or have stashed away somewhere deep in the financial bowels of this city a big pile of money they’re refusing to spend.

No matter what those flyers or anyone else says, it’s just not true.

City officials have been responsible in their handling of the city’s financial crisis over the years. I’ve looked at the numbers. While the economy has rebounded for most of us, and we’ve gained back most if not all of the property values we lost, the city can’t say the same.

The Headlee tax mechanism — named for its author, Richard Headlee — was put in place four decades ago during a nation-wide property tax revolt to protect Michigan homeowners from rapidly rising property values (and taxes). Headlee requires a local unit of government to reduce its millage when the annual growth on existing property is greater than the rate of inflation. The local unit’s millage rate gets “rolled back,” so the resulting growth in property tax revenue, community-wide, is no more than the rate of inflation. When voters pass a Headlee Override, they return the millage to the amount originally authorized by charter, state statute, or vote of the people.

While assessments rise however much they do, the taxable value of our homes is capped.

The result is that our city operates today on a budget 13 percent smaller than in 2008. After the devastating plunge in property values in 2009, there’s simply no way the city can catch up. The Headlee legislation was written with a continually growing economy in mind, and lawmakers 40 years ago never, ever imagined there’d be a collapse as deep and wide as that of the Great Recession.

Now that the State of Michigan isn’t doing much revenue sharing, this vote on Nov. 6 is all the more critical if we want to keep living in a lovely, safe and comfortable city.

To me, city streets, programs, and infrastructure are community assets, and the cost of them should be borne by us all.

This is the kind of community I want to live in.

Give me a good reason why you can’t afford 89 cents a day to fix our crumbling infrastructure, and I’ll raise you the price of a special assessment on your street, where you get to pay for all the work and the rest of us get to use it. With the cost of roadwork these days, that 89 cents a day versus special assessment is a bargain.

There’s more, a guarantee of sorts: This Headlee Override request is for just five years. If the override passes and you decide over its five-year lifespan that the city didn’t do a good job or keep its promises, you can vote down the next request.

Howell is a truly wonderful community. But it can’t stay that way without the support of its residents — we all need to pitch in.

That’s why I am voting YES on the Headlee Override.

Can you afford not to?


 

About Maria Stuart 101 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.

1 Comment

  1. Prior to the Headlee I saw a 52% increase in my property taxes in ONE YEAR. I don’t vote in Howell and I’m not sure what the override stipulations are, but people need to be aware of the details.

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