News Story

City: Vote 'Yes' On Tax Hike or You May Die

Vote “yes” for our tax hike or you may die of a heart attack or your house may burn down.

That’s the message implied by mailings sent out last fall by the city of Rochester Hills to promote a property tax hike labeled as being for public safety.

Yet the mayor of that city is one of the local government officials complaining about a new law that restricts their communications before an election to increase property tax rates.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett spoke out against the legislation in a Lansing press conference in January. He also was critical of the law in another publication.

Barnett didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

The city’s mailings had many claims that one resident considered overboard.

"There are always trade offs in life but this one can mean the difference between life and death as seconds matter in fire department response times," one mailing read.

One mailing read: “This one graph says it all. When a person is suffering a cardiac arrest, or a home is on fire, the goal is to arrive on the scene in less than five minutes. Our Rochester Hills Fire/EMS Department can not meet that goal often enough.”

The flier states that to fix the problem the City Council is asking voters “to approve” the millage and states the tax increase would cost “less than 1 cup of coffee per week.”

“With public safety, every second counts," the flier states.

The flier claims that due to a growing population in the city and more emergency calls, fire and EMS response times are slowing down. The city’s population was 68,825 in 2000, and increased by 4,300 people to 73,125 in 2014, according to the U.S. Census.

Rochester Hills resident Tom McMillin, a former state legislator, said he received the three large glossy, expensive mailings before the public safety millage was approved last fall. He called it an abuse of taxpayer dollars.

McMillin rejected the idea the city was neutral and its mailings were only for informational purposes.

“Using phrases like, ‘Why do we need a millage increase?’ and the tax hike will ‘cost less than 1 cup of coffee per week’ and passing the millage ‘can mean the difference between life and death’ — no one in their right mind doesn't think these taxpayer-paid mailings are clearly supporting the tax increase,” McMillin said in an email. “These mailings alone are exhibit A for a clear reason why the language stopping this abuse in SB 571 was very needed.”

The provision restricting local electioneering was added to Senate Bill 571 in December. The measure became Public Act 269 of 2015 when it was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on Jan. 6. It prohibits schools and local governments from sending communications to residents that reference an upcoming local ballot question within 60 days of the vote.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.