WAYNE COUNTY, Michigan – Efforts by Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak were instrumental in preventing a county tax increase proposal from getting on the November ballot.
Commissioners at their Aug. 28 meeting considered asking voters to approve a new property tax of just under one mill to raise $39 million to go toward the operations of the Sheriff, Prosecutor and Department of Children and Family Services. It was being termed a public safety millage.
The meeting was held just hours before the deadline for submitting items to the county clerk for inclusion in the Nov. 6 election.
Under the county charter, putting any new or increased tax before voters required a two-thirds vote of the 15-member commission. After lengthy debate, it became evident that proponents would be just short of the required 10 votes, so the matter was sent back to committee, a procedure that killed the measure.
Woronchak, D-Dearborn, said the proposal was “rushed,” having first been brought up less than three weeks before the final vote. He also pointed out that it “takes advantage of taxpayers’ generosity,” since voters just three weeks earlier approved a renewal of the county’s jail millage for an amount similar to the proposed increase.
“It just seems wrong to come right back and say, ‘thank you,’ but we need even more money,” Woronchak said in remarks made at the meeting.
He also noted that voters in his district already had plenty of new local taxes to contend with. Dearborn voters last year approved an additional 3.5 mills for city services and 1 mill for libraries. Meanwhile, voters in Allen Park will decide Nov. 6 on a 4-mill increase critical to the operations of the city.
“More and more is being asked of our taxpayers,” he said, “and there comes a time when you have to draw a line.”
Woronchak acknowledged that the county faces significant funding problems, with tax collections down 30 percent from just five years ago, from $380 million to $270 million, due to falling property values.
“Some say there’s no way out of this without higher taxes. I’m not convinced of that yet,” Woronchak said at the meeting. “A tax increase is the easy way out. It keeps Wayne County from making the hard decisions that reflect the new realities of our tax base.
“I’d rather we work really hard and make an earnest effort at cutting and restructuring county government, do that first, and then, after we’ve really done our best, if necessary, go to the voters and say we’ve done all we can and ask for more revenue.”
One mill collects $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. Taxable value – the amount that is multiplied by the millage number (tax rate) to determine a property tax bill – is roughly one-half a property’s market value.
In very approximate terms, the owner of a home worth $100,000 would have paid $47 per year more if the tax proposal was put on the ballot and approved by voters.