This week at the County Commission meeting, we focused mostly on the proposal to renew the millage for the Potter Park Zoo. First, we worked on perfecting the language for the November ballot. One issue that was raised is the language dealing with tax increment finance authorities (such as DDA’s). Under state law, these authorities create economic development and jobs, and can capture a small amount of all millages (general fund and special millages). Previously we have included the names of all of these authorities on the ballot, and this can be very confusing to voters. I have actually had people tell me that they decided to vote against a millage because they don’t understand this authority language (which really has little to do with the actual question). We recently found out that state law doesn’t necessarily require us to include this language on the ballot, so the County Services and Finance committees had taken it out. There was an amendment to add language to the ballot initiative saying that authorities can capture some of the money, but that amendment was defeated. While I understand the idea behind the language, I opposed the amendment because I believe that it makes the ballot question very confusing for voters who may vote against the ballot question because they don’t understand that additional language. I think they should be voting on whether or not they want to fund the zoo, which is the point of the question in the first place. Others also said that brevity is the most important part of a ballot question, and opposed the amendment. I also pointed out that other ballot questions on the November ballot don’t have this language, so there is really no inequality of the various questions.
After that discussion, the Board was reminded that it is an election year when a second amendment was proposed. One of the Republican commissioners (Steve Dougan) proposed an amendment to the millage language that would reduce the millage amount from .41 to .39. He said that he thought that we should reduce the millage by 5% to give voters a break. This really was just an election-year stunt and, as I am sure he knows, was not necessary and actually could negatively change the ballot initiative. First, as Commissioner Celentino pointed out, the millage has already been reduced. When it first passed, it was .46, but was automatically lowered to .41. Second, I pointed out that the Board of Commissioners can reduce the millage at any time on our own. We ask the voters for a renewal to keep up the operations of the zoo, and if we think it is bringing more money than needed then we can reduce the millage amount on our own without going to the ballot. Dougan knows that, yet he has never attempted to reduce the millage at the Board level. When I questioned him about that, he didn’t respond. Also, I asked what Dougan proposed to eliminate at the zoo in order to make up for the reduced funding. He also had no answer to that. Commissioner Bahar, though, had the answer. She and Commissioner Nolan both serve on the Zoo Board and know what these cuts would mean to the zoo. Commissioner Bahar said that the cost would equal a veterinarian or something equivalent. They both also said that only a part of the zoo is funded from the millage, and the rest is provided by contributions from the zoo society. This cut would negatively impact the zoo when the people have already said that they support the zoo by passing the millage four years ago (at a higher amount!). Plus, Commissioner Tennis pointed out that decreased property values have already lessened the amount that people are paying for the zoo. .41 mills brought in $3.1 million a few years ago. Now the same .41 mills brings in $2.9 million. So people are paying less property tax values and the millage is already reflecting that. All these reasons and more show that Commissioner Steve Dougan was just engaging in election-year politics, which is disappointing but not surprising. Finally, it was pointed out that this language would no longer make the ballot question a renewal. With the renewal language removed, some voters may think it is a new millage and oppose it. That would be disingenuous to the voters. The proposed amendment was defeated with the 13 Democrats opposing and the 3 Republicans supporting, and the resolution placing the millage renewal on the ballot as reported from Finance committee was passed. The Democrats all voted for it, and the 3 Republicans on the Board voted against allowing the citizens of Ingham County to decide if the zoo millage should be renewed or not.
Campaign Update: 6 more days left! I continue to campaign based on my record, which is getting tremendous response at doors and everywhere. I really appreciate the good wishes and great comments from my constituents in SE Lansing. My opponent continues to sling mud, though. He must not realize that it isn't working and the voters are not fooled. This week, he again accused me of taking a pay-raise (a lie), and a new accusation...he accused me of doubling my own Board pay per diem (another lie). The per diem has gone up $1, and this was done approximately 4 years ago. We have never doubled it. Where does he get this from? I appreciate that the voters see through these attacks and ridiculous claims, and want someone with a proven record and ideas moving forward.
If you are interested in helping me this week, please let me know. You can also go to this page for more info on how you can help, or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks everyone for your support. I am excited for election day to come and for the voters to speak!