By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – The millage that will appear on the November ballot looks a little different than one the City Council voted on a few weeks ago.
The council voted on and unanimously passed Monday a resolution to place on the November ballot a general fund millage proposal for 1.75 mils, which if passed could generate $1 million each year for three years to help combat a $1.4 million budget shortfall for the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. A mill is one-tenth of a cent of assessed value of property.
The vote replaces one conducted July 18, in which the council approved placing on the same ballot a proposal for 3 mills, which would have generated about $1.5 million each year for three years. The vote passed 4-2 with councilors James DeSana and Sherri Sutherby-Fricke dissenting, but, according to a letter to the council from Mayor Joseph Peterson, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office was prepared to decline approval of the vote, as it failed their definition of the required 3/5ths majority vote.
The office counted the mayor as a voting member although by charter he cannot vote except as a tie breaker. By the Attorney General Office’s definition, five votes are required to pass a resolution.
During the original vote, DeSana and Fricke cited lack of information on the budget as their reasons for dissenting. In the weeks since that vote, most department heads had presented budget hearings and each member of the council had received a copy of the proposed budget.
But to some residents, the dissenting votes seemed less like lack of information and more like a refusal to let them vote on the millage issue.
In a packed council meeting, many residents came forward to voice those thoughts. A group of protesters made up of firefighters and other residents demonstrated with signs on the curb outside of City Hall before the meeting and wore T-shirts reading “We the People Deserve the Right to Vote.”
Two firefighters and three police officers could be laid off under the new budget.
“We’re not trying to get the people to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a millage,” protester Terry Whitman said. “We’re trying to get the millage on the ballot.”
Firefighter Rich Malinowski, who said he is one of the firefighters being considered for the layoff, urged the council to put the issue on the ballot.
“If this millage goes forward and the citizens reject it, at least I can stand high,” he said. “It’s going to be tough. I’m probably going to lose almost everything I have. But at least it goes forward the right way.”
Councilman Leonard Sabuda told the crowd he believed the dissenting votes were based on a lack of budget information, not a wish to deprive the public of their right to vote.
“The image you have in your mind about us trying to prevent you from voting on it is absolutely incorrect,” he told the crowd.
Peterson responded, saying when the vote was read, it included the wording “to let the citizens vote.” He also said Sabuda should let the residents speak for themselves.
“I don’t know how you can tell them what they’re thinking,” he told Sabuda. “I am saying I think it’s right for you people to come here and speak your mind and let us hear it.”
Fricke voiced her support of the resolution at the meeting.
The millage would cost the owner of a house worth $100,000 about $85 per year.
Peterson called the new millage proposal a “happy medium” that he hoped would inspire councilors who may have been unsure about 3 mills to reconsider their vote. He also added he hopes the city can face the shortfall through employee attrition, not drastic cuts in services.
“We’re being forced to cut deeper and we all have the knife in our hand,” he said. “But are we going to cut our throat? No.”