Saline City Council heard from a county commissioner advocating for the mental health and public safety millage on the ballot Nov. 7 ballot.
The eight-year, 1-mill proposal would raise about $15.4 million in its first year, with 38 percent going to the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health Department, 38 percent going to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, and the remainder going to local governments with police agencies. The millage would generate about $160,000 for the City of Saline, for example.
The owner of a $300,000 home would pay approximately an additional $150 a year in property tax if the millage is passed.
County Commissioner Andy LaBarre, representing the east side of Ann Arbor and Chair of the Board of Commissioners, appeared before Saline City Council to speak about the proposal. LaBarre was joined by Washtenaw County Administrator Gregory Dill.
LaBarre told council it was a complex millage question, “matched only in its complexity by the needs it is asked to address.”
In July, the county commission voted to put the millage on the ballot. LaBarre said the millage proposal seeks to address three things. First, it address public safety challenges at the county and local level. It addresses mental health challenges faced within the county.
“The City of Saline and its residents, like every other municipality in this county, face those challenges on a daily basis. You understand the funding situation we face and the shortfalls we’re up against,” LaBarre said.
The third portion of the millage returns money to the seven municipalities in Washtenaw County that have their own police agencies, including the City of Saline and Pittsfield Township. LaBarre said this component of the proposal has drawn the most consternation and confusion.
The $160,000 that will go to the city comes with no strings attached.
“We do not, as the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, have the legal authority to dictate to you as a body what to do with that money. That will be a policy choice that you and the other six municipalities will have to make on your own,” LaBarre said. “The thinking is that you already have a police department … and this millage would fund some activities that you already take on your own shoulders. The millage is designed to help give you the flexibility to try and meet the direct challenges of public safety or mental health.”
LaBarre said the cost of policing continues to rise at a rate the states, counties and communities can not meet. At the same time, he said, the need for policing hasn’t decreased and may be increasing.
“We think with this millage, should it pass, we can continue to provide that level of service at an amount that municipalities can afford,” LaBarre said – speaking of the communities that contract with the WCSO for police services.
He pointed to the Village of Manchester, which he said spends 70 percent of its general fund on public safety.
In terms of mental health, LaBarre painted a similar picture.
“We face an increasing demand and diminished resources, both in terms of the aggregate numbers we receive and the policies the state attaches in how we can spend that money. So we have less money with more constraints to meet greater need,” LaBarre.
The only question from city council came from Councillor Christen Mitchell, who wanted to know more about the mental health aspects of the proposal.
LaBarre said the big focus will be on jail services for people with mental health issue, services to stabilize people, crisis funding, and an effort to return the county’s mental health apparatus and capacity to where it was before the state cuts began.
Mitchell asked LaBarre where she could find specifics about the plan – but LaBarre, perhaps afraid of some kind of campaign rules, said he could not advertise the specific webpage where the plan might be found.
He did say the county commission adopted an ordinance referring to the millage.
Council didn’t address LaBarre’s presentation, but city resident Mary Hess did.
“As the City of Saline has its own police department, we kind of get to pay two taxes. We pay for our Saline police force and we pay for the county police force,” Hess said. “I wonder how many times the city has been called to assist the county for help, or in lieu of them coming out.”
The millage is one of several questions being posed to Saline area residents. Washtenaw residents are being asked to approve what amounts to an eight-year renewal of the special education millage.
Saline Area Schools district voters will be asked to approve the sinking fund millage and CARES Millage. Neither are technically renewals, since they are being re-set at their original, pre-Headlee rollback rates.