Iosco County voters should approve the operating tax levy increase for Iosco County, which would increase the millage rate of the county from 3.9129 mills to 4.500 mills.

The operating millage increase question first appeared on the Aug. 4 Primary Election ballot for voters, but was defeated by voters, and then subsequently put back on the ballot for round two by the Iosco County Board of Commissioners. This time around the millage should be passed by Iosco County voters, with some caveats, including county officials – and officials in general – taking a hard look at how they introduce millages to the public, and listening to the public’s desires at the polls.

But why does the county need to restore their millage in the first place? The county’s allocated general fund millage rate, allocated in 1976, was 4.5 mills, but was reduced over the years due to the so-called Headlee Amendment to the state’s constitution. 

The easiest explanation for “Headlee Rollbacks,” as they are known, comes from the Michigan Municipal League which states: “Headlee requires a local unit of government to reduce its millage when annual growth on existing property is greater than the rate of inflation. As a consequence, the local unit’s millage rate gets “rolled back” so that the resulting growth in property tax revenue, community-wide, is no more than the rate of inflation.”

The upshot of the amendment was to give Michigan taxpayers a break at a time when the rate of inflation wasn’t matching property values. Annual millage rates, since the amendment was enacted in 1978, have been lowered over the years, which is why the county’s operating millage rate is 3.9129 mills and not 4.500 mills.

In the 1990s, laws came into effect that would allow local governments to pass “offset millages” that would effectively be a second millage, or a new millage, that made up the difference the original operating millage was rolled back to. For example many school districts have offset millages, as their state allocated millages were rolled back to rates before Headlee.

Iosco County is asking voters to increase the county operating millage rate by 0.5871 mills ($0.5871 per $1,000 of taxable value), so they can once again levy 4.5 mills of operating millage. That funding will be used to make up budget shortfalls due to a variety of factors, including increased medical insurance costs, so that services will not be cut.

Iosco County Clerk/Co-Administrator Nancy Huebel recently gave an easy example of what the millage would cost a homeowner in the county. She said as an example of a home that has a taxable value of $50,000. She said the approved millage increase would make your tax bill for the county increase by nearly $30 ($50,000 divided by $1,000 x .5871 = $29.36). 

For less than $30 a year property owners can help the county better keep the lights on and supply essential services to its residents. The amount is approximately the cost of a dinner at a restaurant for two. By staying home, making a PB&J, and watching a rerun, you could help the county not have to layoff employees.

You’d be helping keep essential services, like public safety, the county system, deeds and vital records – as well as non-essential services – like the fair board, County Airport Services, MSUE, running, to name a few.

But voters did not bite the hook in August and the millage was defeated with 3,815 “no” votes, or 52.4 percent, to  3,461 “yes” votes, or 47.5 percent, just a difference of 354 votes. Of the 22,513 registered voters in Iosco County, a total of 7,276 weighed in on the issue, or 32 percent of registered voters. There were a large number of undervotes on the issue, 749, meaning that 749 people did not make a choice for “yes” or “no” on their ballot. There were three “overvotes” meaning voters voted for both approving and not approving the millage. 

According to state statistics for voter turnout in the primary, around 2.5 million Michigan registered voters participated in the election out of 7.7 million registered voters, or roughly 32 percent. Of everyone who voted in the county operating millage, there were many voters that could have meant passage, or failure of the millage. Voter turnout in August was a record in Michigan, and voter turnout this November is due to be a record as well, so giving the millage another chance, with even more representation of registered voters in the county, can’t hurt anything and would give voters an even truer chance to make their voice heard.

But that is where if the millage is not passed, county officials should not try to reintroduce it at the next opportunity. Two elections and two failures to pass it should be more than enough notice from voters that they do not want the operating increase. It is not out of the realm of possibility that voters in the county – cash-strapped themselves, possibly out of employment and in dire straights with medical costs of their own – simply can’t afford the extra money this would cost a year. Elected officials, not just those with county government, need to realize that in a lot of cases the act of paying $30 extra can sometimes make or break a person.

There is also the fact that the county has had decades to attempt to increase this millage rate. After all, the option to ask voters for Headlee offset millages was given in the 1990s. County officials should have increased the millage rate incrementally, a few tenths of percentage points at a time every few years to get the rate back up. In the end if the millage rate does indeed fail again, officials could look at a smaller millage increase for a shorter period of time, to keep the county afloat until financial situations improve in the future. 

In the end, county officials will need to come up with something different for voters, instead of again kicking the can down the road on the operating millage.

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