Last night our church played host to the Troy city staff so that they could answer questions about the upcoming property tax millage election. A millage is 1% per $1000 of value. With housing values decreasing, tax receipts are decreasing, thus, in order to make up the deficit and continue to provide services to the city, the city council has proposed a 5 year 1.9% millage increase. For most home owners, this millage increase will mean little if any actual tax increase -- because the value of the home has decreased. Now, my tax statement for the year arrived yesterday, and the taxes have decreased a little over $400. With the increased millage, I might pay as much or a bit more, but will retain the services currently offered (whether or not I use them). For information on how all this works, the City Assessor's Office provides an explanation -- click here for that information.
Back to the meeting -- there was a relatively small crowd. It may be that most have had their questions answered -- this was, after all, the final town hall. With icy roads and a those tax assessment statements arriving (stating that taxes had decreased), maybe people were now comfortable with the election. I don't know exactly. The decision had been made to take written questions, and that worked out well. It kept the night from being a debate, and the staff were able to explain the cost cutting measures already taken, those that were being anticipated, and what would happen should cuts be made too deeply.
One of the questions that continually came up last night had to do with pay and benefits. It appears to be the sentiment that our city employees are paid too much. Comparisons are made to private sector, but such comparisons are faulty, because we're comparing apples and oranges, for the most part. I don't begrudge city employees a good wage and benefits. We have high quality folks here. The Police Satisfaction rating stands at 98% -- that compares with the 77% satisfaction rating that the Rochester Hills folks give the sheriff's department. Now as the Police Chief made clear last night, the folks at the Sheriff's department do a great job, but they simply aren't empowered by the county to be as attentive to the needs of the community as is ours. Remember we are one of the 3 safest city's in Michigan. During the recent snow storm, the subdivisions were plowed within 24 hours, while the county takes much longer. As they say, you get what you pay for and the city of Troy has an extremely lean budget.
One of the issues that has come up in this debate over the millage is the amount of increase. Opponents latched on to the idea that this was a 29% tax increase. They did some simple math, taking 6.5% and subtracting 1.9 and they get 29%. This simply misrepresents the facts, as the City Manager and the City Assessor have pointed out. I'm not all that good at math, but I understand that sometimes we need to move beyond simple math to do a bit of algebra. The opponents equation is appealing because its simple, but that doesn't make it right. There simply is no 29% tax increase. To continue making this case is to misrepresent things. I won't say that this is an intentional effort to mislead the community -- though that is my suspicion. Finally, even with the millage increase, the Troy millage rates will remain among the 3 lowest in the country. The revenue is larger here, simply because the assessed value of the city is higher.
Again, as John Szerlag, the City Manager, pointed out. The question before us is -- what kind of city do we wish to live in. When I moved here not quite 2 years ago, I was told that this was a very desirable city to live in, among the most desirable in the state -- because of its services (including quality of life services). Do we really want to let this go, for the price of a few latte's a month?