By David Fleet
Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-14th District) introduced legislation to allow cities, townships and villages in Oakland County to opt out of any joint endeavor their county government might try to establish under the Municipal Partnership Act. The bills are in response to calls by Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and others to raise property taxes for regional transit.
Earlier this year both Brandon and Groveland townships boards along with others from the Oakland County Association of Township Supervisors passed a resolution opposing HB 5229, saying Oakland County taxpayers could contribute “an estimated $2.9 billion with no discernible benefit to the Township taxpayers.” Currently, any taxes raised for a joint endeavor such as regional transit count toward caps on property taxes by a local government.
“We should not be asking people to pay new taxes for which we know they will get little or no benefit; that is a basic American principle of fairness,” said Johnson. “This legislation (Senate Bill 795) will give local communities a voice and allow them to decide whether or not they want to participate in a joint endeavor like the one being proposed for regional transit.”
Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, communications director Bill Mullan, responded to the challenges in Lansing.
“Senate Bill 795 puts the cart before the horse because it presumes a plan that does not yet exist,” said Mullan.“HB 5229, which was introduced by Republican leadership and has bipartisan support, if approved, will give us another tool in the toolbox for creating a new transit plan. It will enable the Board of Commissioners to draw the transit footprint in a way that serves the needs of everyone in Oakland County.”
In 2016 voters in Brandon and Groveland townships joined Oakland County voters rejecting an regional transit plan. Brandon voters dumped the plan 2,299 yes to 5,057 no, while Groveland voters tallied 811 yes to 2,033 no
“I applaud Senators Ruth Johnson and Jim Runestad for introducing Senate Bill 795 which would allow local governments the opportunity to opt out of a large county joint endeavor proposing a tax,” said Kathy Thurman, Brandon Township supervisor. “Not all municipal jurisdictions would benefit from all joint endeavors between counties. Specifically, the revisions proposed by HB 5229 to amend the ‘Municipal Partnership Act’ (PA 258) removes any local control from the act. Our new county executive along with Detroit, Ann Arbor and big businesses are trying to execute a money grab from us to expand and pay for a failing transportation system that would not be of any benefit to our Township.”
“Please help Johnson and Runestad by contacting your friends and family in other Michigan communities,” said Thurman. “ Ask them to contact their State Senators and Representatives and urge them to support SB 795 for local control.”
Johnson’s bill, would give the governing bodies of Oakland County’s cities, townships and villages at least 30 days to pass a resolution opting out of any proposed joint endeavor by the county if they feel it is not in the best interests of their residents. The county could not impose any new millage against property in opted-out communities related to the joint endeavor, even if passed by other voters in the county.
“It’s a blatant rob of money from residents,” said Bob DePalma, Groveland Township supervisor. “It there is not an opt out they will do what they want. We estimate the RTA will cost township residents $6 million over 20 years and not get anything out of it.”
Under the bills, if communities choose to opt out of a proposed joint endeavor, their residents would not be required to vote on any related millage.
State Rep. Andrea Schroeder introduced a similar House Bill 5498.