Sunday, February 5, 2012

It is time for a better idea

My city is suffering through the economy like many others.  Property values are expected to decline 13.2% next year with a corresponding reduction in revenue since property taxes are the major source of municipal funding.  It is estimated that my city will run a deficit budget, that is revenues will be less than expenses, for another 3 to 5 years or longer and in that same time the city reserve funds will be used up to pay for the losses.

One suggested remedy is to raise taxes which seems like a bad idea when people have less money and their property, which is generally their biggest investment, is declining in value.  Other suggestions have been to add or increase fees, reduce services, reduce expenses by cutting costs, sell assets, and so on.

While these are the normal suggestions, they hardly seem like good ones as not one of them will improve my city or make it a better place to live.  Higher taxes, higher fees, less service and even less local control hardly seem like things that will encourage people to stay or new people and businesses to come.

My suggestion is a radical one but as it says at the top of the page, Big Ideas for Small Towns and my town is small, 1/2 square mile with a population of 882.  We are a city surrounded by a larger township that provides most of our government services including water, police, fire protection, and library.  We cannot vote in the township, do not vote on our taxes unless somebody wants to increase them, and other than a part time government we are provided little other services.  My local government often has great difficulty meeting the minimum requirements of state law and often ignores the City Charter, local ordinances and City Council resolutions.  The supporters of this say we must maintain local control.  I respond that we control very little and do a poor job at it.

So I say get rid of the redundant local government that only duplicates the government we use for our essential services.  Let us vote for our services and taxes, like they do in the surrounding township.  Negotiate, legislate, dictate, or otherwise create protection for the assets we have, and make positive moves to make this a better place to live.

I have suggested making it friendlier for bikers, walkers and the elderly.  The city has not  acted on this and will not talk about it.  I am working with others to create a venue for theater, artists and musicians in the historic downtown area.  It is not funded or sponsored by the government so it really doesn't matter who is in charge.  It would add vitality, interest, art and culture which will attract people to the area, help local businesses, and provide a reason for others to stay.  I am encouraging better regional planning and sharing so that it is done collaboratively instead of each municipality repeating what the other one is doing, or not doing anything at all.  So far my city has done little with this idea but continues to pay for services by others and is not a voice in the decision making process.  Hardly what I would call maintaining local control.

The laws governing cities, villages and township in Michigan are over 100 years old.  Much of the economic policies are probably as old and many laws and regulations have changed in that 100 years.  The law for being a city or not being one has unfortunately not changed.  It is time to face the fact that today's economy is the one we will have to live with for many more years, that the old economy is not coming back and the old rules for economic recovery will probably not work.  Others more knowledgeable than I have already said this.  It appears my elected officials do not believe it.  I think my solutions have a far better chance at success, they would make my community a better place to be and they would not tax us out of existence.  

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