Detroit cop seizes the bullhorn used by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition outside Bank of America during a demonstration calling for a freeze on all foreclosures and evictions. The demonstration took place on September 1, 2010. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Raise Detroit property taxes by 8 mills to pay for more cops? No way, City Council says
1:57 PM, August 7, 2012
By Matt Helms
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
The Detroit City Council this afternoon roundly rejected a proposal brought by the city’s Board of Police Commissioners to raise property taxes to pay for more public safety workers in the cash-strapped city.
The council voted 7-2 against putting the proposal before voters on Nov. 7. The measure would have raised property taxes by 8 mills, raising $56 million a year for five years to hire hundreds of additional police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers.
“I have not gotten one call ... that says you better put this on the ballot so I can pay more money for more police officers,” Councilman Kwame Kenyatta told members of the city’s police commission and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr, who strongly backed the proposal. “I’ve gotten plenty that say I can’t take anymore.”
Council President Charles Pugh and Councilman Andre Spivey were the only two votes in favor of the ballot measure.
Council approval -- required to put the measure before voters -- was in doubt from the beginning because the city has the highest property tax rates in the state yet provides substandard public services. Detroit’s financial crisis prompted a financial stability agreement with the state that prevented appointment of an emergency manager in exchange for major state oversight of city finances.
Backers said they do not have enough time to mount a campaign to collect signatures to put the proposal on the ballot in November so the council’s decision kills the idea for this year. But they could revisit the proposal for 2013.
What support there may have been among council members appeared to have been undermined by an opinion released by the city’s Law Department warning that the city could have risked losing state revenue sharing commensurate to the amount the public safety millage would have raised.
Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel Dennis Mazurek said there was some gray area surrounding the issue, but the millage increase could, if approved by voters, prompt the state to reduce its revenue sharing to Detroit under state laws governing local taxation.
The Rev. Jerome Warfield, a police commissioner, said that without a major infusion of police officers patrolling the streets, the city’s battle against violent crime is akin to trying to remove water from a sinking ship with a thimble.
“This weekend alone 32 people in Detroit got shot; 7 of them died,” Warfield said. “We need a surge of officers. ... The cost that goes on if we do nothing is far greater.”
Referring to Detroit's population loss, Warfield said residents are “not leaving Detroit because of property taxes. They’re leaving Detroit because they feel it’s unsafe.”
Godbee, stung by criticism from Councilman Ken Cockrel Jr. that the police department could better manage its response to crime and deployment of officers, said after the council meeting that his officers are stretched thin amid staff reductions, a 10% pay cut and other work-rules changes Mayor Dave Bing’s administration recently imposed on the force.
"You have to reinvest in this police department,” Godbee said. “Any city across the country that you look at that is successful, they make a significant investment in public safety. The only question that was asked was give the citizens an opportunity to say yes or no.”
The millage would have cost the owner of a home with a market value of $25,000 about $100 a year; it would have added $200 a year to the tax bill on a home with a $50,000 market value.
The city this summer slashed $75 million from the Police Department's 2012-13 budget, now at about $340 million a year.
Contact Matt Helms: email@example.com, @matthelms or 313-222-1450 .