(Editor's Note: Saline City Councillor Lee Bourgoin submitted this letter, partly in response comments made by Saline Mayor Brian Marl and City Councillar Dean Girbach. Council crafted a quick policy on requests from information from city staff after Girbach complained Bourgoin was wasting staff's time.)
The entire community benefits when we use the Saline City Council Guidelines. They specify that Council members should ask for clarifying information, that Council deliberations should focus on issues rather than on personalities, and that the City Council will have a transparent and accessible decision-making process based on accurate information. The City Council does many good things when it can deliberate with true and accurate information.
My comment of back-room discussion should instead have said that Mayor Marl met with the City Manager in their offices in the back rooms of city hall prior to the Mayor saying he intended to schedule meetings about an August 2014 ballot issue for a tax increase due to no remaining street funds. Once again seeing inaccuracy I said there is $1.3 million for streets in the next two years, unless taken by TIFA if TIFA no longer pays for industrial park projects.
Other than my comment on back-room discussion, I saw Mr. Marl’s and Mr. Girbach’s emotional personal attacks at the end of the last meeting as wrong and untrue. These were attacks on the democratic process. I had reminded Mr. Marl of a prior request made through him and the City Manager for the 1987 sewer project cost, reported as $8 million by staff. What the Council chooses for the depleted utility reserves plus the recovery time will enable economic development plus determines new customer costs. On the annual recreation center memberships, any business would want to know there were 50% higher sales in 2000 and 2001 than in all other 15 years.
The annual audit has revealed true and accurate information. The city’s General Fund including the pass-through for fire protection had a carry-forward surplus fund balance on 6/30/13 of close to our 20% maximum target. Prior to the June tax increase the City Council was told “. . . the city will be in dire straits . . . fund balance . . . depleted . . . to stave off disaster . . . ”, the staff projections of a General Fund year end surplus went into the red at negative $323,069 by fiscal year 2016, then “ . . . seeing it drop to 5.77% . . . ” by 2014 and “raising millage rate to stem deficit”. Money was kept to the side rather than fully balancing the budget and staff denied the structural change of improvements (from annual city debt payoffs, ending excessive legal costs, plus the obvious housing price recovery). When the current audited figures had to be entered, the October staff projections suddenly now show $2 million more surplus for 2016 than in March.
All year I have sought accurate information to come out of the offices in the back rooms of city hall for the Council to accommodate tax-reducing economic growth by developers. If not held back a couple of years prior, growth may soon have provided annual revenue about equal to the tax hike plus in two or three years hence could benefit the community at twice that amount.
Total government taxes plus fees can consume more than half of citizen incomes. Recent findings show that wages plus benefits are a small fraction of the cost of local government. Statistically accurate information on taxpayer preferences on bigger government spending versus economizing is very important for us to know. Taxpayers might not want to go back to the 8.6 mills of 1985, but even halfway back below the current 16.28 mills city tax on a $120,000 house over 45 years would boost a taxpayer’s retirement account over $89,000 at an investment return equal to the city retirement fund (or more if higher home value or less if a lower return). If they see enough value in more government spending beyond essential services, then they could choose to pay more.