Additional tax only enables poor practices to continue. Rejecting the Water Street Debt Millage will force Ypsilanti City Council to focus resources on basic city services and infrastructure, not feel-good or “legacy” projects.
The best way forward for Ypsilanti is to manage the budget and take advantage of favorable economic conditions. This is reasonable, given that the proposed debt millage represents only about 2% of the overall budget.*
Property values are growing. In the downtown alone, value increased by $8.2 million in the past 5 years (62%), and shows no sign of slowing. This trend is seen citywide. Good real estate turnover brings in new property owners at higher taxable values, meaning more revenue for Ypsilanti. The Water Street millage would derail this momentum. We are enjoying a virtuous cycle, and would be wise to ride it out.
There are other revenue sources as well, such as grants. City Hall says these have dried up, but new opportunities arise every day. Redirecting staff-hours and political resources from ill-advised development projects would allow us to exploit them. Ypsilanti could also sell its unused real-estate assets – even at bargain basement prices – to put them on the tax rolls and bump revenue (eliminating maintenance cost at the same time). And, Ypsilanti has enjoyed great success in improving quality of life in cost-free ways, through community-spirited volunteerism, such as maintenance of local parks and recreational facilities. People resources are key.
If revenue growth is not enough, city officials can do what responsible adults do when managing personal finances: do not spend money you do not have, and cut costs where necessary and appropriate.
Some approaches to optimizing resource expenditures might include:
- Put non-essential projects on hold, including “matching fund” projects that cannot be afforded.
- Reconsider the Development Authorities, which transfer general-fund money to special-interest projects.
- Adjust public-employee benefits, by adopting the cost-efficient models used by most companies.
- Coordinate the duty schedules of public-safety personnel for maximum efficiency.
- Consider professional-supported part-time or volunteer firemen, as used in other cities of similar size.
- Allow police-supported private security at major events, to reduce labor costs.
- Seek regional cooperation in providing public-safety, for savings from economies of scale.
- Eliminate functions not essential to city operation, such as directing economic development.
The alternative to higher taxes is to allow revenues to rise naturally, and manage the resources we have. This will create a virtuous cycle of property-value and revenue growth, while protecting people of limited means.