Friday, October 06, 2006

Leelanau County Operations Millage

Leelanau County heads towards an important crossroads in the upcoming election. Voters will be asked to approve a one mill tax increase to preserve our present level of county services. While the tax increase itself is modest, I am worried about this millage because many people just don't realize what is at stake and will either vote "no" on the general idea of taxes or will fail to vote on the proposals at all.

Here is what a "no" vote means:

Elimination of the following programs

  • 9-1-1/Emergency Management Services (EMS) staff
  • Public Safety: Marine Safety Unit, Narcotics Deputy (TNT), Animal Control Officer, Community Work Program
  • Human Services- MSU Extension/4-H/Master Gardener, Budgets for Parks &

Reductions in these services:

  • Law Enforcement deputies
  • Family Court direct service staff
  • Prosecutor's support staff
  • Staff for the Clerk, Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Equalization, Planning, and Administration

The nuts and bolt of these cuts is mind-boggling. County departments are still scrambling to come up with a Plan B in case the millage fails, but it's looking something like this:

We will still be able to call 911, but our current 911 dispatchers will be laid off and our calls may be answered by a dispatch center in another county. No more Marine Safety Patrol, no more Animal Control Officer. Fewer road patrols.

MSU Extension, which relies on matching funds from Federal, State, and County budgets, would be closed down. Even though Leelanau County funds less than 30% of Leelanau's Extension budget ($166,677 in 2005) , it will cease to exist without the county's share of funding.

4-H and all 4-H programs will shut down. No livestock clubs, no horse clubs, no chess clubs, no Fair. Our after school program, Kids Club, serving 200 kids at 5 county schools, would close its doors. Exploration Days, the annual opportunity for teens to experience a taste of college life on the MSU campus, would no longer be available to Leelanau teens. The Johnson Scholarships, nearly $100,000 a year for local college students, would be less accessible to our county's kids, since 50% of that fund is earmarked for 4-H kids. 4-H Youth Association scholarships (over $4000 last year for a wide variety of learning opportunities for kids of all ages and volunteers) will no longer be available.

A "no" vote means the loss of priceless things, as well. We can't put a dollar value on a quick response to a 911 call. Or on the over 200 people that volunteer with MSU Extension through 4-H , the Master Gardener program, and other programs. Or having a real person answer the Equalization department phone when we have a question about our taxes.

We can calculate what it will cost each of us to save these services, and the cost is surprisingly reasonable. The median residential parcel in Leelanau County has a taxable value of $59,000. Move the decimal point 3 places to the left to find out what the cost will be per year. The owner of a home with a $60,000 taxable value, the average homeowner, will pay $60 more per year, or $5 per month. That's not much, but our homeowner's monthly budget will also benefit from the expiration of the current 911 surcharge on their land-line phone bill. Your taxes go up by $5 per month, but your phone bill will go down by $2.12 per month.

That's less than three dollars a month for a whole lot of services. Three dollars a month for the programs that keep us safe, that care for our children, that define our community. Are we voting for our pocketbooks or are we voting for our community?

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