Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Talking about the future of Troy, MI

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?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why not compare yourself to the private sector? What's the fear? By applying private sector guidelines in pay and benefits, will the city workers leave for greener pastures? Where? Rochester, Royal Oak, Madison Heights? Do you really think those cities will be hiring?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Private sector jobs are of a different sort -- with a different set of skills.

We've heard that Wall Streets Execs deserve millions in compensation, because they're services are so valuable.

My point is this -- if our city employees are fairly compensated their focus will be on providing good services to the community (in ways that private sector companies probably aren't as concerned about)without having to worry about the health and housing of their families.

I don't think our city workers are getting rich. Most serve in the public sector not for the money but because they want to serve the community.

Glenn said...

It's interesting that the same people who complain that almost every public servant is overpaid and that the taxpayer never gets value for their tax dollars will unthinkingly pay $5 to $10 bucks for a Starbucks latte everyday and then defend to the death Starbuck executives right to multimillion dollar bonuses. I also never hear these people wanting to pay the governors, congressman and president million dollar salaries like private sector CEOs and top execs make. Just an observation.

Anonymous said...

Public sector companies don't have a 'well' to go to (ie; the taxpayers). In most cases they answer to the stockholders. If their product is bad, or it's bad management, or their forecasts are off, they have to suck it up, and react accordingly. A 5% pay concession is not even a blush at meeting eye to eye with what the private sector does. Something more than this 5% token gesture (and again, nothing in comparison to what happens in the private sector) sure would go a long way to convince people who don't support this, to support it.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Remember also that the private sector is not commissioned with the task of providing public safety either. Now you may think that the city is bluffing that they won't cut fire and police, but are you really willing to take the risk? Are you willing to take the risk of seeing your homeowners insurance go up when the city's insurance ratings go down? If so, that's fine -- but I'm not interested in that kind of city.

Remember a private company can pack up and leave if it doesn't like the economic climate -- municipal governments must be here through thick and thin.

Anonymous said...

Will they cut police and fire? Undoubtedly. Will it have the doom and gloom impact that they supporters are trying to get you to believe. No. Unless you want to shout from the mountain tops 'Hey, Troy has no more police, go commit crime there'...

Honestly, yes, I'll take my chances. Fires will still get put out, major crimes will still get addressed. Some shoplifting detail at Somerset, or Oakland mall? ... not good to lose it, but, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Anonymous said...

And just from a reference standpoint, you don't pay any property taxes for your church, do you?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

No, churches don't pay property taxes, but I do as a home owner. We hope, however, as a church to be of service to the community -- as we were last night.

Anonymous said...

The property taxes on your home are a pittance compared to what you would pay if your church property (where you also earn your living) were taxed.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

All that maybe true, the the law is as it is. So, I guess for now it's a moot point!

Anonymous said...

Goodness, you'd have another vacant building and lot to be mowed if you taxed the church. That part of the constitution still stands, so far. Think of it as a service. We pray for Troy all the time and give to many causes.

"6.5% and subtracting 1.9 and they get 29%"..um, maybe you mean (100%)1.9/6.5 = 29%? David Mc

Anonymous said...

Is mixing politics and religion a good idea, or 'The Myth Of a Christian Nation'

From quite some time ago, but certainly appropriate today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIWs_G4oJaA

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I try to keep the two as separate as possible. My opinions on the millage are separate from my church responsibilities. We hosted a forum, simply so that questions could be asked and answered -- as a service to the community.

Now, the other question is -- should religion be private? That is the European understanding. Say what you want within the building, but don't take faith into the public square. That isn't my view. We need to be present in the public square, but understanding that we are only one voice and that we cannot dominate the public square -- which some groups who push the Christian nation idea want to do.

Anonymous said...

I don't see too many other religious voices in the public square on this issue. You could have titled your blog other than 'Ponderings on a Faith Journey', and posted as 'Bob Cornwall' not 'Pastor Bob Cornwall '. There isn't much seperation here. It's apparent that you hope your opinion coming as that of a Pastor rather than just another resident will have more of an impact.

Anonymous said...

"Is mixing politics and religion a good idea?"

I think that's fine. Just don't mix government and religion.

You criticize Bob for the name of his blog. Are suggesting we keep religion and the internet separate? Sounds like you stole a PRC idea. David Mc

Anonymous said...

‘Private sector jobs are of a different sort -- with a different set of skills’

I am an IT professional out in private industry and I can’t imagine that there is anything so specilaized about a city employed IT professional’s skill set that makes it so different from my own skill set that they would warrant above industry pay. And I would be willing to bet that the same is true of most if not all city employees- from the clerks working in the city offices, to the administrative staff, the accountants, janitors, and the snow plow drivers…. What “different” skills set do they have that set them apart from folks doing those same jobs in private industry??

I think those jobs in private industry are different in one way – in private industry when a company has a budget deficit, you can bet that there will be salary cuts and layoffs.