By GABRIEL GOODWIN
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE — Wyandotte was the first of four cities to approve the Downriver Consolidated Assessing authority to enter into an agreement to consolidate assessing services.
This initial agreement would include Wyandotte, Riverview, Southgate and Woodhaven. Wyandotte City Assessor Tom Woodruff said the authority would deliver a strong organization and fiscal responsibility by combining the departments into a single location to provide a streamlined service to better serve residents of all cities involved now and in the future.
He said other cities in the area soon could follow in similar cooperative agreements or propose joining into the DCA.
“This agreement would be a very positive thing for us, those cities joining us, and the downriver area as a whole,” Woodruff said. “It would set a precedent not only for the area, but for the state in assessing and how it is done in the future.”
Anthony Fuoco, appointed city assessor for Southgate, Melvindale and Woodhaven, will be hired to provide assessing services to the four cities in the DCA.
Fuoco said he was approached with the proposal by Wyandotte because the city recognized there would be an absence of a certified assessor in the next election and the DCA would provide savings for the city while providing qualified and certified help.
Woodruff does not hold any certifications in assessing. State law mandates a city assessor have a level 3 or level 4 certification to sign the tax rolls for residential, commercial and industrial properties within the city and represent the city at Michigan Tax Tribunal.
If a city does not have a qualified assessor, the city is required to hire an outside individual or the county can provide assessing services to the city. Woodruff is only
one of six elected city assessors in the state.
The city of Riverview became interested in the DCA because Wayne County was already doing some of the city’s assessment duties, Fuoco said, and this agreement would save a lot of money over what the county is charging.
Woodruff said the proposal for the DCA came in December while Colleen Keehn was in office, but regardless of whether it was him, Keehn, or someone else in office, the DCA was “already in the wind” and would alleviate many issues in the Office of the Assessor of the cities taking part in the interlocal agreement.
He said some offices close around 2 p.m. which doesn’t accommodate residents as it should and combining offices would allow consistent service during normal business hours.
“Sharing resources is the direction a lot of cities are going now,” Fuoco said. “It cuts down on the salaries and the benefits needed to perform the necessary duties.
“This is definitely something different for all involved. Typically, each city negotiated its own contract. It isn’t usually a combined effort.”
The Wyandotte City Council held a special study session Monday to discuss the details of the DCA. City Assessor Todd Drysdale presented the facts at the meeting.
“I believe we are getting much more value for our money than just hiring a part-time person to certify the rolls,” he said responding to Councilman Daniel Galeski’s concerns over the DCA. Drysdale said the board and staff for the DCA will be in Wyandotte to serve the residents to the fullest capacity, and locate as much service in the city as they can.
“There will be $21,000 in savings regardless of its location, but it was a fair trade to keep them in this building rent free,” he said. “Having a dedicated staff located in Wyandotte is a big advantage for the city.”
Galeski said his concern was that the power would be taken away from the elected official, but the council moved to have the language changed to make their assessor a member of the DCA board.
He said the situation needs to be addressed correctly because the city is without the necessary personnel with the appropriate levels and he wanted to address more alternative solutions. Galeski said the best solution would not include forfeiting local control, building new offices, and using competent but unfamiliar faces.
“Why can’t we run the assessor’s office with the present elected assessor, current deputy assessor, and the possible hiring of a part-time employee that would be able to certify and sign the tax rolls and represent the city at Michigan Tax Tribunals when necessary?” he said. “I do not believe the citizens of Wyandotte elected me to dismantle our city’s assessor’s office and compromise our city charter.”
Galeski said this alternative would give the current official time to learn the ins and outs of the office, while the assessor has time to achieve the required credentials.
“The voters in our city elected Tom Woodruff,” he said. “Voters didn’t vote to appoint the Downriver Consolidated Assessing and/or Anthony Fuoco Assessing Inc. I believe the voters feel defrauded by selling our city and signing a perpetual contract. This is an attempt to make a mockery of our city council, dismantle out city, and strip the powers of our city council.”
The proposal was passed at during the May 3 city council meeting by a vote of 5-1.
Woodruff said regardless of the outcomes in the other cities, they will proceed in working with Fuoco in some capacity if not through the DCA.
Woodhaven City Administrator Mark Kibby said the proposal was tabled for discussion at a study session, scheduled for next week, during the June 4 Woodhave City Council meeting and said the council likely would take action at its June 18 meeting.
The DCA proposal was not addressed at the June 3 Riverview City Council meeting. The city administrator’s office said it will be scheduled for an upcoming study session, but action will not be taken until the June 17 meeting at the earliest.
Southgate City Council unanimously accepted the proposal to join into the agreement, City Administrator Brandon Fournier said.
“The city is excited about the collaboration,” Fournier said. “It was certainly the right decision moving forward.”
(Gabriel Goodwin can be reached at [email protected])