By DANIEL HERATY
A number of decisions that could determine the future of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights are on the Nov. 8 ballot.
In Dearborn, a proposed millage raise aimed at reducing a $20 million budget shortfall, would potentially provide an additional $12.5 million for the general fund. The city has lost more than half of its property values since 1995, and officials say the increase is necessary to avoid further cuts to the budget.
Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said the millage will determine how the residents see the future of Dearborn by allowing for a new economic model without drastic cuts to essential city services.
He said that Proposal 2, which would levy a one mill tax increase and raise about $3 million per year for the city’s library system, is essential to helping offset the costs of the library system, which come out of the city’s general fund. The mill raise would allow the libraries to operate independently of the general fund.
“We have to have city services first,” O’Reilly said. “Those things we have to provide and if the cost is eaten up, then we can’t afford anything else.”
Residents also will be asked to vote on the future of the civil service commission which would be replaced with a Human Resources Commission.
In addition to the millage rates and potential elimination of the civil service commission, two seats on the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education are up for grabs, with Stephen Dobkowski Jr., Joseph Guido, Roxanne McDonald and incumbent Mary Petlitchkoff seeking four-year terms.
Dobkowski, a lifelong resident of Dearborn with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Michigan State University, said that the main issue in the election is the district’s lack of funds.
“We have to broaden the revenue base for the district,” he said. “We have to look at a different way to fund the schools other than property taxes.” He said that the district’s finances must be fixed.
“After a while, there’s nothing left to cut,” he said. “You have to face the music.”
Current board member Mary Petlichkoff said the most important aspect of the election is making sure students are well equipped to succeed after finishing school. She said in a statement that she hopes to keep moving forward with programs the district has undertaken.
“I will continue to contribute insight and direction to the many initiatives begun while I have been on the board,” she said. “My active involvement … provides a voice that reflects our varied needs and concerns.”
In an email, Roxanne McDonald, a former Dearborn Parent-Teacher Student Association president, agreed that focusing on student achievement is critical to the success of the district.
“We must challenge our students, get them excited about lifelong learning and always strive for excellence,” she said. “I believe that children will rise or fall to meet the expectations set for them.” She said the key is getting parents more involved with students’ lives.
“It’s no secret that children whose parents are involved tend to be more successful,” she said. “It is beneficial to both parent and child.”
Candidate Joseph Guido did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
In Dearborn Heights, residents are asked to vote on a proposed override of the 1978 Headlee Amendment, which limits the amount of revenue collected by the state during each fiscal year. It also prevents the lowering of state spending for local governments. The override would allow for a three-mill increase in the property tax rate, about $168 per year per resident, which would provide $3.4 million toward the general fund balance, which has a deficit of $5 million.
Mayor Daniel Paletko said without the override, there is no other way to make up the deficit and cuts to city services will be more drastic.
“The Dearborn Heights that exists now will be drastically different than if (the override) doesn’t pass,” he said. “There will be fewer police officers, fewer firefighters and we may not be able to keep city hall open even four days a week.”
City Clerk Walter Prusiewicz declined to go into detail about the proposed override, but said in addition to the proposal, the election covers issues that are important to the city.
If re-elected, Prusiewicz said he hopes residents will recognize the work he has done while in office, including instituting a program that exposes businesses that haven’t followed city ordinances and placing council agenda items online.
“Since April 1, we’ve pared down the staff (at the Clerk’s office) and we’re doing just as much business, if not more,” he said. “And the service has been just as good if not better.”
City Councilwoman Janet Badalow, also running for city clerk, said the impending 2012 U.S. Presidential election requires someone with experience running elections in the office.
“It’s going to be important to have an elected clerk again,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and the Presidential election.”
She said that she already has knowledge of the office and much of the groundwork already was in place after former City Clerk Judy Dudzinski retired in March.
“I have more seniority with the city as a whole,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that I already know, and I’ve always been interested in voting and testing.”
City Council candidate and 16-year Dearborn Heights resident Kathleen Abdel-Hak said bringing the budget in line and saving jobs are her main priorities.
“I don’t want to lose any more employees,” she said. “We’ve cut so much already, we’re down to bare bones. Before we cut employees, we need to look at other places first.”
Lisa Hicks-Clayton, who is also running for a council seat, has different ideas for the future of the city and said that going year to year will not work long-term.
“We need to look to the future, not just staying afloat for one year,” she said. “We need to start laying out a plan.”
She said that fiscal responsibility and accountability are keys to the city’s success. She also said that the future of the city is at stake with the Headlee Proposal.
“Property vales are down,” she said. “With the passage, we will still have a deficit, but the hurt will be less.”
She said her experience as a leader in schools and the City Beautiful Commission make her the best candidate for the clerk’s position.
“I know I’m a good community leader, and that’s what we need right now,” she said. “I have the proven track record – I have already provided for the city.”
Dearborn Heights City Council candidates Scott Craig and Ned Apigian, and Dearborn Heights District 7 School Board candidates Vickie Bracken, Robert Brown, Catherine Bunker and Velma Truitt did not respond to emails seeking comment on this story by press time.
(Daniel Heraty can be reached at [email protected].)