Raise to Washtenaw County's economic development tax passes in 6-5 vote
An increase of 0.01 mill to the economic development tax levied in Washtenaw County received final approval Wednesday night in a close vote from the Board of Commissioners.
The commissioners debated the resolution before voting 6-5 to raise the tax rate from 0.05 mill to 0.06 mill. Commissioners Dan Smith, Rob Turner, Ronnie Peterson, Alicia Ping and Wesley Prater voted against the increase.
Once the motion passed to increase the tax rate, commissioners voted 8-3 to approve levying the tax itself. Commissioners Dan Smith, Peterson and Prater voting against the tax in its entirety.
The board was poised to pass a renewal of the economic development tax at its current rate of 0.05 mill - levied under Public Act 88 - at its meeting two weeks ago after holding a public hearing.
But Commissioner Conan Smith then proposed an amendment to raise the tax after the public hearing, and the board then voted to bring the issue before the public again Wednesday night for comment.
Three people voiced their opinions to the board Wednesday; one did not want a raise to the tax rate, and two were for it.
Under the new rate, the millage would raise $838,578 per year, and mean a payment of $6 per year for a homeowner with a house with a taxable value of $100,000.
“It is a troubling economic time, but how do you build a strong economy? You build by investing in it,” said Commissioner Yousef Rabhi. “It’s hard to take a leadership position in times of economic stress and say, ‘We’re investing in our community.’”
The resolution included allocations for the money garnered under the millage. They include:
- $200,000 for Ann Arbor SPARK and $50,000 for its associated nonprofit SPARK East
- $100,000 for the Eastern Leaders Group
- $82,500 for the Michigan State University Extension 4-H Program
- $15,000 for the 4-H Youth Show
- $15,000 for the Food Systems Economic Partnership
- $15,000 to the MSU Extension for economic development in the local food system
The resolution for the 0.06 mill tax rate will raise $155,483 more per year than the 0.05 mill rate. The extra money will be used in part to pay out the county’s $50,000 annual dues for its participation in the Detroit Region Aerotropolis.
The remaining balance of $311,078 raised by the tax will be given to Public Act 88 efforts of the Office of Community and Economic Development, including heritage tourism, the Food Policy Council, Workforce Development Board and the Economic Development Corporation.
Commissioner Peterson voiced his strong opposition to the millage increase, as the Ypsilanti district he represents is currently facing economic struggles, and two broke school districts are on the verge of merging.
Specifically, Peterson objected to the intent of hiring staff with the millage money in the Office of Community and Economic Development with no clear plan before the board as to how many people would be hired and the pay rates of their employment.
“(Act 88) was meant for expansion of economic development, not hiring county employees at the administrative level,” Peterson said.
As many of the allocations in the resolution fund economic development efforts in the eastern half of Washtenaw County, Commissioner Ping raised concern that the district she represents in the western part of the county wasn’t receiving much benefit from the millage.
“Most of the western part of the county is on dial-up networks,” Ping said. “No business is going to put their business out there I think I would actually be in favor of doing something that didn’t continuously fund the same organizations over and over.”
Commissioner Rabhi spoke in favor of the millage increase by reminding the board that the specific allocations of the money raised by the millage could be changed at any time.
“If you don’t like Ann Arbor SPARK, then go in later and amend the allocation list,” Rabhi said.
Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. said he knew he would face some flak for supporting the millage, but said he sees economic development tax as important to the success of previous investments in communities in the eastern half of the county -- a statement seconded by Commissioner Leah Gunn.