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Posted on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 7 a.m.

Save Ypsilanti by voting no on both the proposed income tax and millage on May 8

By Guest Column


Downtown Ypsilanti's once-troubling vacancy rate has eased and Michigan Avenue is nearing capacity, says guest columnist Cameron Getto. Approval of a city income tax would threaten that recovery, he argues.

Steve Pepple |

Related: After cutting to the bone, Ypsilanti needs a city income tax and Water Street millage

Our economy must be given the opportunity to recover. Our business community and real estate market must be allowed to thrive. The proposed income tax and millage will impede Ypsilanti’s progress and should be rejected.

For the first time in over a decade, Ypsilanti's economy is slowly but steadily improving. Downtown Michigan Avenue is near capacity. Vibrant, successful businesses line both sides of the street. Depot Town is shining with success stories.

No matter what the time -- day or evening -- people from near and far are choosing to visit the professionals, restaurants and retailers in our local business community. The “secret” of how great Ypsi is -- the secret residents have always known -- is getting out.


Cameron Getto is an attorney who lives in the Depot Town area of Ypsilanti.

Ypsi is now becoming what I expected to see when I moved here over a decade ago. Then, due largely to the legendary mistake of Water Street, which was originally intended to stimulate a renaissance, Ypsi's economy stalled. Michigan's and later the country's declining economy further impaired Ypsi's progress. Businesses sputtered, and many failed. Residents lost their jobs, and sadly, many lost their homes.

Despite the significant influx of taxpayer money from the federal government and generous spending by our Downtown Development Authority, Michigan Avenue's vacancy rate remained troubling.

Flash forward to today: Ypsilanti's economy is improving in leaps and bounds, but there is still much progress to be made. Yet, in the face of this early economic renaissance, the imposition of ever higher taxes on the already highest tax rate in Washtenaw County poses the risk of destroying what has already been accomplished.

While our goal should be to make Ypsi an attractive locale to purchase a home or to open a business, an income tax communicates precisely the opposite to those who would otherwise be interested in locating here. If a prospective resident could pay substantially less in taxes simply by purchasing outside the city boundary, why wouldn't they? If a prospective business could pay less, simply by locating on the other side of the city line, why wouldn't they? If a prospective employee is offered the same pay at two businesses -- one inside the city and one out -- why would they take home less?

The “Save Ypsi” campaign cannot answer these questions. They merely think, without basis, that a tax and millage is a price taxpayers must pay to bail our city out of poor decisions made over a decade ago. They provide no objective measure, no historical model -- absolutely nothing reliable upon which to conclude that higher taxes will “Save” Ypsi. Instead, they resort to political rhetoric, polarization, and improper attacks on the character of the good citizens and residents of our community with whom they disagree. As the “Save Ypsi” group kicks the can down the road (city council has already admitted its “plan” won't fix the problem), they ubiquitously complain that those against the tax have no plan.

The fact of the matter is we do have a plan. It’s time for local government to get out of the way of Ypsilanti's economic recovery. It’s time to reject this tax and let our community thrive freely without the burden of what will be by far the highest tax rates in the county. Last time, we were told we “needed” this tax or our community would fail was prior to the economic collapse of 2008, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We weathered that storm with an impressive degree of tenacity and resilience. Now, we are more fiscally sound and stable with a more vibrant business community than in 2007, before the crisis. Despite the rhetoric, we did not “need” a tax then. We don't “need” one now.

The last time residents of Ypsilanti followed their government’s lead on a decision of this magnitude, Ypsilanti was burdened by the now legendary mistake of Water Street -- a mistake that has hampered Ypsi's economic viability for over a decade. I remain amazed that the very former City Council persons and mayor who voted in favor of the Water Street debacle all appear to have “Save Ypsi” signs in their yards. Given that history has reflected so poorly on their judgment then, their endorsement now of the “Save Ypsi” campaign alone should give residents of this community pause.

I urge you not to allow our local politicians to burden Ypsi's fragile economic recovery with another colossal mistake that will undoubtedly remain a burden for decades to come. If this income tax is enacted, it will never be “unenacted.” It will weigh upon our community in ways that are likely to eclipse anything we've seen yet as a result of Water Street.

Ypsi needs to be saved FROM these taxes, not by them. What we need is a vibrant, continuing economic recovery. What we need is the return of value and equity to our homes so that a stronger real estate market will increase the tax base, not the tax rates. What we don't need is a massive, taxpayer funded bailout of Water Street. I urge you to vote NO on both the millage and the proposed income tax on May 8.

Cameron Getto is an attorney who represents non-profits in litigation. He lives with his family in the Depot Town neighborhood of Ypsilanti.


Chase Ingersoll

Mon, Apr 30, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

The link is the Campaign Finance Report for Save Ypsi Yes. What I find interesting is that the largest contributor (15%) is a retired attorney and former development commissioner member who lives in DeWitt. There are actually very few contributors to the Save Ypsi Yes campaign, so the obvious conclusion is that it is financed by a small minority who have some sort of tie to the city government and want this "refinancing" solution to go through rather than to have other measures taken that might continue to expose the mess that they made. Frankly, I think that this should be required reading if you are going to comment on this subject. Chase Ingersoll

Georgina Susan

Mon, Apr 30, 2012 : 12:02 p.m.

In reference to Mr. Getto's discussion of the last income tax campaign (quoted below): Please remember that state support of cities, revenue sharing, has declined drastically since then. Saying we didn't need it then and we don't need it now is putting apples with oranges -- the financial relationship of the city to the state is profoundly different and so the tax discussion merits a fresh look this time around. Those who opposed the 2008 proposal, should be careful about believing that this is the same thing all over again. "Last time, we were told we "needed" this tax or our community would fail was prior to the economic collapse of 2008, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We weathered that storm with an impressive degree of tenacity and resilience. Now, we are more fiscally sound and stable with a more vibrant business community than in 2007, before the crisis. Despite the rhetoric, we did not "need" a tax then. We don't "need" one now."


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 10:32 a.m.

Dig deep, Ypsi. Ann Arbor voted down a millage proposal a year ago, and the "vote no" campaign was largely funded by a wealthy property owner who would stand to pay much more in property taxes. Tons of commercials, websites, and signage. Dig deep into who is leading the "vote no" campaign.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 11:08 p.m.

Right on, Cameron! The so-called plan is based on assumptions about property value trends that the City had not articulated, and does not consider in the least the downward pressure on total taxable value that might occur precisely because of the new taxes. We are already scheduled for a dramatic increase in taxes to cover legacy pension costs without these taxes, which will chase away investors, employers, and future home buyers. The "no" side has a plan. Sorry, it is more complex than "raise taxes," but you can hear it any time by calling SCIT to ask. I did. Nonetheless, the burden of proof is on the proposers of this policy, who have yet to demonstrate the viability of a proposal that could instead set off a self-defeating downward spiral in property values. The same "cut to the bone" argument, almost word for word, was claimed in 2007, the last time the income tax failed. Please nod in thanks for the thousands of dollars that the "no" campaign saved you over the past four year. Sometimes doing nothing is better than something.

greg, too

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 4:37 a.m.

The other major issue is "what happens if it passes?" What are their plans after that? They have the money in the coffers that they asked for, how are they going to improve the city from there? What happens if people do flee taxes or if values drop even lower? All of the pro tax plans end of May 8. What about the day after? How is this same government, the one that ran on an anti tax platform back in the day, going to fix the ills of Ypsi? They do not want to leave it to the market to do it, so what is their plan? How are they going to sell the land? And if they sell the land, how are they going to pay the difference between the amount the city owes and the pittance they will get for it? Give us a plan that goes past increasing taxes, please.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 9:26 p.m.

The vote should still be a NO vote until the City demonstrates further commitment to solve the problems at hand before asking for more money. First, the Mayor needs to go, not that he will, but he should go. He is ineffective and provides no leadership whatsoever. He is should be the City's number one cheerleader while in reality he has become the number one embarrassment. Second, let's wait to see how responsibly the City Council handles the hiring of a new City Manager. Without a competent, engaged City Manager, does voting YES make any sense at all? A nice but inexperienced City Manager is not the answer, especially in these times. Remember that the complexity of City management goes up with an income tax so we really need competency here. Third, let's see a real plan of action on Water Street. Creating a "war room" that meets weekly would be a good first step and would show commitment to solving this nightmare. Fourth, cut more waste. Sell the Riverside Arts Center, the Freighthouse, the Rutherford Pool and whatever else is available, City Hall too for that matter. It is time to get really lean before asking citizens for more money. Fifth, spending $100K+ per year on DDA staff when the DDA barely met in the first quarter of this year, how is this responsible? Small amounts add up, not that $100K is a small amount. Got to clean up the problems one by one. Sixth, the word is that the Police leadership have all submitted their intentions to retire within the next few months. Isn't this an opportunity to be addressed before asking for more taxes? Let's see, the City Manager left, the Police Management team is leaving, where is the quality we all demand going to come from? So I say vote NO until more positive actions are undertaken. We can wait a year, see what the City Council can accomplish as there is enough money to get by until then, and then determine if it makes sense for a mileage and an income tax. But in the meantime, vote NO!


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 12:11 a.m.

I like many of your ideas. I wonder, however, what kind of 'opportunity' will be created by eight or ten or more 20+-year police and fire employees withdrawing all the contributions they've paid into the pension fund at the same time. Not a positive opportunity. The more employees paying into the fund, the less money the city has to come up with. A million dollars or more in employee contributions being paid out of the fund at the same time doesn't help the city, and losing the 10% or more of their wages that is currently being paid into the fund also doesn't help.

Adam Plomaritas

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

I grew up in this city. My parents grew up here. My grandfather was born here and his parents immigrated from Greece to here. I moved back to the old neighborhood when I got married. I can't believe I'm questioning that decision now. Our property taxes are the highest in the county already and they will up there with the highest in the state if this tax increase passes. Obviously, a high tax strategy hasn't worked. And the idea that higher property taxes are okay because property values are so depressed might be a plan, but it's a bad plan. I would love to sell my house and upgrade even in the city. All the equity that I had is gone. Also, it's not all that great that my township neighbors across the street pay substantially less in taxes and for what difference in amenities and services? I'm voting no on both. Is there an expiration on either the income tax or the millage increase? I've been told there's not by the kind supporter of the new taxes that came to my door. If there were some expiration dates, I might consider it. If the city was SO efficient would they need such high tax rates? Do better. Attract people to your city. Don't trap the good people who are already here with no way to sell there home. So figure something out. I don't want fire and police to be cut or my tax rates to go up and depress property value and business incentive in the city.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

With the new business you speak of make me think that Ypsilanti is a nice place to visit, but I'm sure glad I don't live there.

Martin Church

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

You want a plan. first a constitutional amendment that guarantees the level of sharing requiring of the state. Second another constitutional amendment that requires the state to pay for infrastructure where state assets are maintained. (namely the state colleges) Our problem is we have been lead by people with no vision for how the working man/woman can keep their hard earn wages in their pockets and not the government. secondly we need a city charter change that allows all citizens regardless of party membership to determine the representatives on the council and mayor's office. three determine when it is no longer viable to be a city. If business are leaving and homeowners are leaving. we need to examine what is going on and correct not turn our community over to section 8 housing commission. I am an owner of the city, I expect better management, not continual request for more money. If I did this to an employer I would be out of work. It's time the city was run on a family budget not a Congressional expense account.

Duc d'Escargot

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 4:18 p.m.

I share Mr. Getto's enthusiasm that the word is getting out about all that Ypsilanti has to offer. However I take strong exception to his claim that the Ypsi's economy stalled "due largely to the legendary mistake of Water Street." Ypsilanti and adjacent communities were as hard hit by the recession and plummeting property values as most areas; those factors, not Water St., are among the several causes of today's municipal budget problems. I'm sorry to note that Mr. Getto also exaggerates the economic vitality of downtown and Depot Town. It's great to see businesses opening up, but we are not seeing the kind of economic activity that will offset the steep declines in tax revenues of the last several years. How I wish the opposite were true!


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

"Then, due largely to the legendary mistake of Water Street, which was originally intended to stimulate a renaissance, Ypsi's economy stalled." Ypsi's city budget is 'hand-cuffed' by pension and water street payments. This is not the same thing as the city economy. Ypsilanti's economy stalled because it was dependent on several dying manufacturers and its inability to attract young, professional families in large numbers (i.e. increase the tax base). Ypsi has had public-perception problem for at least 15 years (Ypsitucky, ghetto, Ypsiyucky). But even now, as the city has a lot to offer--cool business, affordable housing, walkability--many people disregard Ypsi as a place to set down roots. There are good reasons not to--too high a crime rate and too bad of schools (the crime is moving in the right direction, the schools still need work). So, adding to Ypsi's public perception problem (bankruptcy, EFM) or weakening public safety (fire, police cuts) is not good. That said, the city council did nobody any favors with proposing a fluctuating water street-debt millage. I also don't agree with charge two different income-tax rates (but do understand the need for a different revenue stream). But tweaking badly written laws is what referendums and city council are for.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 3:57 p.m.

Wow - all the no voters are just copying and pasting their comments now. This just gets sadder and sadder.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 11:40 p.m.

I agree. A few are even re-posting falsehoods and misinformation that has been refuted with undisputed facts in the other places they posted it.

John Q

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

"If a prospective resident could pay substantially less in taxes simply by purchasing outside the city boundary, why wouldn't they? If a prospective business could pay less, simply by locating on the other side of the city line, why wouldn't they? If a prospective employee is offered the same pay at two businesses -- one inside the city and one out -- why would they take home less?" Most prospective residents or businesses looking to locate in Ypsi are doing it for reasons that have nothing to do with taxes. If they only cared about tax rates, they would never be looking at Ypsi in the first place.

John Q

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Ypsi is never going to be a low-tax community. Anyone who wants that isn't going to be looking at Ypsi no matter what happens.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 10:36 p.m.

Most responsible people would look at the area they want to live in and what it will cost them, unless they have money to burn and don't care how they spend their money. But that is not the reality. The reality is this, in our economy most people ARE looking to live for less.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

The author makes a well articulated presentation, but I'm left wondering about his suggestion to solve the problem. No Water Street millage and no income tax. Ok. Now what?


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

I intend to vote no on the property tax increase, at least until it is reworded in such a way to tell me what I am actually voting for. I think it's foolish to give anybody a "blank check", which is what giving the city council the authority to levy a millage of their choosing is. Maybe the millage could be reworded for the November election in such a way to spell out exactly what the increase would be, but it's been my experience that politicians with extra money never return it to the taxpayers; usually they start bickering about how to spend it - for the good of the community, of course.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

Too late to be reworded. It's set in stone for this election.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 1:59 p.m.

My only comment is perspective "Downtown Michigan Avenue is near capacity. Vibrant, successful businesses line both sides of the street." Right now, perhaps. But any examination of downtown knows businesses come quickly and a once vibrant downtown is just scraping by. Mongolian BBQ, Elbow Room, Pub 13, TC Speakeasy, Bombadills - all gone and only some are replaced. Just as downtown gathers momentum, it falls back. Tose closures impact current businesses because the less there is to offfer, the fewer people will show . There are numerous reasons for this but it is simply a fact. Even staples like the Wolverine Grille struggle and close (and reopen) and it seems like these changes happen week to week. So while I am in the middle on the tax issue, my position is that claiming downtown is vibrant is hyperbole. Let's see if Red Rock BBQ is here in 2-3 years before we claim it a success. Same with the others. A vibrant downtown stands on its own and needs no one to trumpet its success.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

Wrong lumberg, we should all trumpet any success achieved in Ypsilanti! It is never only by one, it takes customers too.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

Is the Martha Washington Theater still thriving? ;)

The Black Stallion3

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

If you want public employee's to have a pension and health care for retirement, something most tax payers do not have, then by all means vote yes, But, if you feel that these public employee's should share in these hard economic times vote NO. It is us the tax payers that are paying for all of these benefits they are unwilling to give up so it is up to us if we want to continue funding them. When the public employee's are willing to come down to the same level as us hard working tax payers I will consider voting for more taxes, however they should not be necessary if we can save all the benefit money.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

The thing is BS3, we have changed things for the future, it is the past that will bite us in the future. And no EM can change it. We will help pay for the retirements of past firefighters, police officers and their chiefs and their administrators as well as Water Street.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

Exorbitant taxes are not the answer. Water Street can be paid for directly than "the 5 year plan". Giving awaythe store to any council majority of 4 is ludicrous. Vote No on both May 8th.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

Typical Republican wannabe against taxes. See how "freely" we thrive without basic city services. This is about what I would expect from an attorney who represents insurance companies.

The Black Stallion3

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

Vote No


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 12:40 p.m.

Its always nice to claim a plan however, Ypsilanti is recovering BECAUSE of a strong plan already in place BECAUSE is has one of the most efficient city governments in the state. We to come together to support it. I have never seen such a thick fog of utter rubbish than what SCIT has claimed throughout this debate. Over estimating tax implact, utter refusal to give details. Gag. Their claims of having a plan when they dont - it just doesn't make sense. The bogus tax calculator. The over-emphasis of Water Street as "the" problem instead of looking at failures at the state and federal level to support cities, high crime and low property values. The state in particular has renigged on just about every promise its made to cities for revenue sharing. Structural problems require structural solutions - including bringing ALL of the consumers of city serivces onto the tax rolls. This is a fair way to support the vital city serivces. Ypsilanti has an opportunity to preserve its vital city services like police protection. We should do this little bit. We are worth it - our city is worth it.


Fri, May 4, 2012 : 12:14 a.m.

Attend the LINE ITEM meeting to get the facts and the real numbers ,A pie can be cut and it alsways comes out round, it is the corners of the budget that needs attention


Fri, May 4, 2012 : 12:10 a.m.

Yes there are Big building in ypsi that donot pay property taxes! And I cannot find the owners of that building ,it is not recorde in the Taxassesers Office! With that building not paying Taxes, we Senior DONOt get a homstead/RENTREFUND from the STATE of Michigan,So you see we Senior already pay>>No name taxes <!


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 10:42 p.m.

I will repost my comment in whole. I spent about 3 hours testing to come up with these results. I have no dog in this fight and no axe to grind. I took the time to test both calculators. I looked at both homestead and non-homestead. I read the supporting material from both and I went the Ypsi city web site and pulled the documents referenced. I double checked the numbers in the references against what the calculators were using. Unfortunately both Calculators are accurate. The underlying assumptions, calculations and the results are all correct. How can it be you ask? Simple - one (the City's) looks at 2013, the first year the taxes would be in effect. The second looks at 2017 - the last full year in the City's 5 year plan. Now the SCIT calculator uses the projected tax rates in the 5 year plan, not the numbers being used by the "YES" folks. I don't know who is right, but mathematically both are correct. Both reflect real numbers and both are based on what the ballot initiatives would ALLOW. As I said, I have no opinion on the matter, I leave it to the people who live in Ypsi to make up their own minds. I can only verify that both calculators are providing accurate numbers based on the assumptions their creators used.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 5:49 p.m.

Go read DonBee's post toward the end of the comments section on Monday's article by Tom Perkins. It explains how both calculators are right in language you might be able to comprehend.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

The bogus tax calculator is bogus. No one has shown it to be otherwise. SCIT has done nothing but distract, mislead and lie. I'm sick of it.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

The so called "bogus tax calculator" has already been shown to be correct by a different poster on another column. The city's calculator shows the taxes in year one of the five year plan. SCIT's shows the taxes in year five. And your post does nothing to address the unfairness of doubly taxing property owners.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

I'm as anti-tax as the next guy, but here again, we have a column supporting "no", with no alternative solutions offered on how to fix the city's fiscal issues. As noted by commenters above, "Get out of the way" and "increased value" are not plans, but rhetoric.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Raising taxes is not a solution either. It only delays finding the real solution by a few years.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

"The fact of the matter is we do have a plan. It's time for local government to get out of the way of Ypsilanti's economic recovery." with all due respect that isn't a plan that addresses the problem. The problem is a broke Government. So present a plan to solve the problem. All we know is your 1/2 a plan doesn't include increasing revenue. So logically it must include slashing Government to reach a balanced budget. "Get out of the way" doesn't address the problem at all. A strong real estate market to increase the tax base is a possible long term solution but its a now problem. So what isw your solution to balance the budget? Where are your proposed cuts?

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

spencer , what services do want to cut? I'm just asking what the plan is. Ypsilanti needs a balanced budget yes? What do want to cut to get there? I'm not calling for "big government" I'm asking you and Mr. Getto what you want to cut to balance the budget?

John Q

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

For people who care about tax rates, you'll never cut taxes enough in Ypsi to attract them to move there.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

Craig, The reality is this: government doesn't solve problems. If the taxes in Ypsi were lower, more people would move to Ypsi, therefore generating more tax revenue then what we have. We can not rely on government to solve every problem. People and businesses are the best solution to any problem. You said it yourself " the problem is a broke government". By cutting taxes it will actually increase tax revenue, maybe not right away, but over the long run it will.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : 11:30 a.m.

Considering the numbers, even a drastic "economic recovery" can't cover the Water Street problem. Property tax increases are capped at the state level, not much to do there. I keep hearing that the plan is "increased value" but how is that going to magically appear? The anti-tax group keeps saying that the pro-tax groups numbers are "guesses." At least they have some numbers! Step up and show me something other than a vague notion that lower taxes will lead to an economic boom.


Fri, May 4, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

ON Taxes increase from the State level Gov. Synder beat the city .HE RAISE the taxes on the pension etc .check it out on his website.


Thu, Apr 26, 2012 : 1:29 a.m.

I agree that the "NO" group has not offered any numbers but would disagree with the sentiment that "at least they have some numbers...the "YES" group that is. They do have numbers but even they have said it does not solve the problem but gives us a few more years of the same old policies. When will someone show real innovation and leadership? Pass or not pass if we continue doing the same things we will wind up with the same outcomes.


Wed, Apr 25, 2012 : noon

One other thing to consider here...Ypsilanti ALREADY has a higher property tax rate than the surrounding communities--it has had this high rate during the recovery that the author cites. So, if high taxes will scare away development, why haven't they already? My guess (having recently purchased property in Ypsilanti) is that the "bang for my buck" factor is still very good. Lower property values offset the higher tax rate. After the great real estate market collapse, I've come to believe that there is great interest in preserving over-inflated home values. I guess I'd rather put my money into buying adequate police and fire protection, than paying mortgage fees to my bank.