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Archive | City Hall Corner

Property Taxes and Proposal “A”

In 1994, Michigan voters approved the constitutional amendment known as Proposal “A.” Proposal “A” established Taxable Value as the basis for the calculation of property taxes, in place of the previous Assessed Value. Under Proposal “A”, increases in Taxable Value are limited to the percent change in the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index) or 5 percent, whichever is less for the year, in other words, your home’s taxable value never increases more than 5% each year and is often less. However, this does not apply in a year that the property is sold when the home’s taxable value is set at 50 percent of its cash value for the new homeowner.

Every year, prior to the March meeting of the local Board of Review, the Assessor will mail each homeowner a Notice of Assessment that includes information about each home such as the tentative taxable value, State Equalized Value, any exemptions and information related to any ownership transfers.  The notice will also include information related to the Board of Review, which is a local board of citizens that hears appeals regarding property taxable values and other property tax matters.

So, how do you know what your property taxes are going to be next year? The first place that you start is figuring out the current taxable value of your home. Thankfully, the City keeps that information online for you to look at any time through our BS&A software, just go to the City’s website and click on the “Click to Pay” button under “Pay Bill.” You then click on “Assessing Search” on the left-hand side and input your home address into the search bar, this will bring up information related to the assessed value, taxable value and tax bills for previous years. For example, a home with a taxable value of $56,220 could only see their taxable value go up $56,220 X 1.05=$59,031 maximum if it were to go up the full 5 percent.  However, the most recent Consumer Price Index was 2 percent so the home will likely see its taxable value increase from $56,220 X 1.02=$57,344.  Then, to determine the actual tax bill, you would divide the taxable value by 1000 and multiply it by the millage rate. The millage rate in the City is expected to increase approximately 3.4 mills next year due to the fire station vote, which brings the total millage rate in the City to approximately 47.5411 mills.  This means that a home with a taxable value of $56,220 that paid $2,378.37 in Summer taxes last year will see its taxable value increase to $57,344 and pay approximately $2,726 in Summer taxes next year.  This same math formula can be used for other proposed millage requests such as the recent school bond request, which purported to raise the millage rate 0.9 mills.  To determine how that would affect your home’s taxes, you would take your taxable value, divide it by 1000 and multiply it by 0.9 or in the case of the $56,220 home it would be 56.22 X 0.9=$50.60 tax increase for the year or under the estimated next year taxable value of $57,344 it would be 57.344 X 0.9=$51.61 tax increase.

As a side note, sometimes banks will increase your home’s required escrow payments to cover expected property taxes, PMI and homeowner’s insurance payments. Your bank’s estimate of escrow payments for the year could be high or low compared to actual costs and may result in a refund or a shortage bill at the end of the year, the City has no control over what your bank does with escrow payments.

As always, City Hall staff are happy to help try and answer any questions you might have related to property taxes, please call 616-696-1330 and we can assist you.

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The Devil’s lettuce

By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager

The City recently hosted a public forum regarding the issue of recreational marijuana this past November 15 at the Library. I used the forum as an opportunity to educate those in attendance about what the recreational marijuana law allows and doesn’t allow and also to ask for input from those in attendance about what types of businesses citizens might like to see be permitted in the City.

The main questions that I asked for input on and that I am still looking for input on are:

1. What types of marijuana businesses should the City consider allowing in the City?

2. In which zoning districts should we allow the various types of marijuana businesses?

3. How many of each marijuana business should the City consider allowing?

Due to time constraints there simply wasn’t sufficient time to enable each participant to both provide answers to these questions and also to explain why they chose that answer.

A fair argument can be made for or against each of the 8 marijuana businesses that are currently permissible under State law. Some might argue that a 2000 plant grower business is simply too big and potentially smelly to be in the City, others might counterargue that we should leave it to the business to determine if there exists a feasible property to operate the business and that there exists effective odor control technologies to prevent marijuana odor from leaving the premises. Some will say that a designated consumption facility will enable dangerous drugged driving in the City while others would argue that it would provide a safe and fun atmosphere for marijuana smokers to imbibe, similar to a bar.

There are also pros and cons to which zoning districts might be appropriate for each type of proposed marijuana business. For instance, a microbusiness would likely do well in an industrial zoning district because of the size of building required for the business but on the other hand, industrial zoning districts are less ideal for the retail customer business side of a microbusiness.  Allowing dispensaries in the B2 district would likely increase customer traffic to the downtown area but it would also be “in the face” of everyone who is against marijuana businesses. Allowing retail dispensaries or microbusinesses in the B3 district makes the marijuana less visible to those who don’t want to see it but it makes the business less accessible and could create parking problems at or near the business.

Finally, there is the question of whether the City should limit the number of any marijuana businesses but specifically should it limit the number of retail dispensaries and microbusinesses in the City. Some say allow as many dispensaries and microbusinesses as anybody wants to open and let capitalism weed out the bad ones and others who think we should limit the number to 2 dispensaries and 2 microbusinesses or 4 dispensaries or only 1 microbusiness or no dispensaries or microbusinesses at all.

Anyhow, all these questions and more will be discussed at the second recreational marijuana public forum on December 12 from 5:30 to 7pm at the Cedar Springs Public Library located at 107 N Main St. If you cannot make that forum please feel free to e-mail me your thoughts at manager@cityofcedarsprings.com.

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Vote Vote Vote

By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager

In the recent November 2019 election, voter turnout in the City of Cedar Springs was 19.34 percent and I know we can do better than that.  I won’t bore you with an argument about voting being a civic duty and simply say that voting is now easier than ever in Michigan. The voters of Michigan overwhelmingly passed Proposal 3 of 2018 by a 66.9 percent to 33.1 percent tally. That proposal enshrined several voting policies into the state constitution. Some of these voting policies were long-held practices that theoretically could have been revoked by action of the State government. Those rights are now irrevocable because they are written into the constitution. These rights include the right to use secret ballots and the right of military members to receive absentee ballots 45 days before the election. 

Other changes written into the proposal included the right to audit elections, extending the times that people can register to vote, making voter registration an opt-out option when getting a driver’s license or state-ID card and reinstituting the straight-ticket voting option that was outlawed by the State government in 2015.

What I think is the most exciting part of the changes included with Proposal 3, however, is the no-excuse absentee voting for 40 days before an election. Absentee voting used to be only available to persons who were 60 years or older, persons who would be out of town on election day or persons who were physically incapable of voting due to disability, religious tenet or incarceration. The new no-excuse absentee voting means you can skip the lines at the precinct if you hate waiting in lines and you don’t have to get time off from work to do it. It means you can fill out the ballot at home with your computer to look up the candidates you are considering voting for or what experts think about a particular millage proposal. It also means that you can pin the ballot to a board and vote by dart, put it on the ground and vote by “jumping to conclusions,” or vote with the assistance of 2018’s Proposal 1, not that I would recommend any of those options. 

The truth of the matter is that decisions are made by those who show up.  Voting is having your voice heard and directing the policies of your local, state and federal government. Starkly put, elections have consequences and your vote really does count.

If you have questions about the City of Cedar Springs’ elections or if you’d like to discuss absentee voting in the City please contact the City Clerk at clerk@cityofcedarsprings.org or by phone at 616-696-1330.

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You get a new road, you get a new road, you get a new road!

By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager

Well, not quite, though if wishing made it so. The City of Cedar Springs, like all communities, receives money from the State to spend on City streets from state fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, income taxes and supplemental appropriations from the State Legislature. Cities can also pay for road funding through road millages, general fund appropriations and special assessments, none of which Cedar Springs currently uses.  Occasionally, small sections of roads have to be demolished for other projects like water lines and sewer repairs, fixing those sections of roads are paid for out of the water and sewer funds as part of those projects.

The amount of money that the City receives for its streets each year is based on a formula whose primary factor is the number of miles of roads that the City maintains within its borders, some sections of road being maintained by the County. On a year-to-year basis, the City uses most of the money it receives on snowplowing and road maintenance such as filling potholes. City Hall saves what little that is leftover each year for larger projects such as emergency repairs, road replacements, and money for matching grant opportunities. It is much more cost efficient to do larger projects every couple of years versus smaller projects every year.

At the beginning of the 2019-20 fiscal year, the City’s Major Street fund had $260,000 in fund balance and the Local Street fund had $296,000 in fund balance. Those amounts get eaten up quickly however, with big projects such as the First Street, Maple Street and Ann Street paving project which cost approximately $170,000 total. The funds also contribute heavily towards the local match requirements of future capital projects like the 2021 Main Street bridge project and the 2023 Main Street repaving project which are expected to cost $1.5 million and $484,000 respectively.  Those projects will require local matching funds of approximately $176,000 combined.  These funds also pay back a certain amount each year to pay for the bonds taken out on previous road projects. The 2021 bridge project will replace the bridge over the creek and approximately a block of road north and south of the bridge. Then, in 2023, almost the full length of Main St., from Church St. north to 18 Mile will be “milled and filled,” which is what was just done on First St. last week. 

The simple fact of the matter is that the City just hasn’t received enough money to adequately maintain the roads or to replace the ones that need to be replaced.  There is no magic “slush fund” and every single dollar received and spent on the roads is meticulously accounted for. The numbers are all available in the yearly budget and in the monthly reports given to the City Council at their regular meetings.  At the end of 2016, the State’s gas tax went up seven cents per gallon, the first increase in 20 years.  Due to this State gas tax increase, the City is starting to see increased road funding money and is able to start planning for and paying for some of these long overdue projects.  The City is already planning to do another mill and fill project on Second St. next year along with several blocks of local streets. With Governor Whitmer’s stated priority of finding additional funding for roads, we are hopeful to continue the ongoing process of fixing and replacing roads into the future.  Finally, the roads that get milled and filled are chosen by the City Engineer based on many factors such as asphalt thickness, traffic counts, PASER ratings, expected future projects and cost efficiency amongst others. Many roads in the City need to be fixed and we’ll keep fixing them as long as we have the money to do so.

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The Resurgence of the Downtown Development Authority

By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is a government board composed of local business owners and citizens whose primary job is to work on improving the downtown area of the City. The older more walkable downtown areas of cities face an uphill battle compared to newer sections of cities that were planned with cars and driving as their focus. Back in the day, everyone lived within walking distance of the downtown so there was little thought given to wide roads or lots of convenient parking spots. So, the State allows for the creation of DDA’s, which are primarily funded by Tax Increment Financing (TIF’s).  

DDA’s use TIF money to reinvest in the downtown area following the DDA’s published development plans, which outline what the DDA will do with the TIF money.  This reinvestment helps to make the downtown more attractive and more useable and helps to promote a robust business climate in the downtown area. The best part of the DDA and the TIF is that it does NOT raise tax rates at all. The TIF is simply a reallocation of taxes that were already being paid and redirects a small portion of the taxes already paid to this reinvestment fund.  

The DDA’s development plan, which is available on the City’s website, details a number of projects to be accomplished by the DDA Board using TIF funds, including creating new parking areas, construction of parks, improving accessibility of the White Pine Trail to Main Street and the development of events to draw persons into the downtown area amongst other plans.

This year, the DDA focused on bringing a new parking area to the Heart of Cedar Springs park; improved parking signage at all municipal parking lots; new signage along the White Pine Trail; sponsoring the downtown flower-pot decorating contest; hanging flower pots and planting flowers along Main St.; and paying for the shoveling of snow off Main Street sidewalks throughout the winter.

If you have any thoughts, questions or concerns about the DDA or what projects it should focus on in the coming year, please attend a DDA meeting. The DDA will be holding informational meetings in October and November to discuss what the DDA does and what it plans to focus on in the future. Please attend if you want to learn more about the DDA or TIF. The next two DDA meetings are October 28 and November 4 at noon at City Hall.

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First dance with Mary Jane

By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager

In November 2018, Cedar Springs was one of the first communities in Michigan to “opt-out” of the new Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MRTMA).  The MRTMA was voted into law as Proposal 1 by Michigan voters at the Nov. 6, 2018 election and is commonly known as the Michigan Recreational Marijuana Law.  The City Council decided to pass ordinances prohibiting the commercial production or sale of marijuana in Cedar Springs at that time due to the uncertainty of the State of Michigan rules for marijuana sales that had not yet been written. The City Council agreed that it would consider reevaluating its position after the Michigan rules were written and released. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), which oversees the commercial marijuana rules in Michigan, released their “emergency rules” on July 3rd, 2019 and indicated that the State of Michigan would start accepting MRTMA license applications on November 1, 2019 with the first recreational marijuana sales expected to begin around February or March 2020 (sooner if LARA allows marijuana transfers to occur between the existing medical marijuana industry and the new recreational marijuana stores).

This means that the Cedar Springs City Council would now like to hear from the Citizens of Cedar Springs with their thoughts on various marijuana business topics, since license applications may start being applied for very soon. Before deciding whether any marijuana business should be allowed to open in the City, the City Council wants to hear citizen’s thoughts on the different types of marijuana businesses, where in the City the marijuana businesses should be allowed to open and operate, how many businesses should be allowed to operate and what reasonable restrictions the City should impose on marijuana businesses that may be allowed to open in the City.  

For instance, should the City allow marijuana growers and processors but not secure transporters? What about marijuana testing facilities? Should the City allow marijuana stores to open in the B-2 (downtown), B-3 (north of downtown) and/or HC (by the 131) zoning districts? Should the City allow marijuana growers to open in the industrial zoning district east of downtown or in the industrial zone in the southwest corner of the City? How many marijuana stores should be allowed to open? What about allowing 2 stores in the B2 downtown district and 2 stores in the HC district? Should the City be imposing reasonable restrictions on marijuana businesses, such as not allowing the use of a marijuana leaf image in their store signage, or requiring that marijuana stores prominently display signage inside the store against distribution of marijuana to minors under the age of 21 or requiring that stores close by 10 PM?

Finally, the City Council has asked me to hold a forum and discuss these questions with the public. That public forum will likely be held in the first week or two of November and will be advertised in multiple locations including the City’s website, Facebook page and posted at City Hall, so stay tuned if you’d like to be involved with that discussion.  If you have any thoughts or questions about the City’s current position on commercial marijuana businesses please contact me at manager@cityofcedarsprings.org or the City through the contact page on the City’s website.

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Water and sewer rates

By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager

Water and sewer rates are about to be raised and you deserve to know the numbers and why the rates need to be increased. If you’re like me, you don’t want it sugar coated and you want “just the facts ma’am.” The facts are that the City is changing a few things about our water and sewer billing practices and rates. 

The first is a minor rate adjustment of 3 percent on water and 5 percent on sewer.  The rate for 1000 gallons of water is now $4.70, up from $4.56 and the rate for sewer is now $7.05 per 1000 gallons, up from $6.71. Water and sewer rates were last adjusted in 2016. Since 2016, the State of Michigan has mandated new expensive testing and water safety requirements (Flint and PFAS) and the billing system has not accounted for the three years of inflation, which represents a 2 percent loss (approximately $35,000) in value each year.  

The monthly flat rate is going to be changed in two ways; we are converting from the Residential Equivalency Unit (REU) system of measurement to the Ready to Serve (RTS) system of measurement and the flat rate will also see the same 3 percent water rate increase and 5 percent sewer rate increase for residential customers.  This means that residential customers, those homes using a 5/8 inch water meter, will see their water flat rate go from $9.35 per month to $9.63 a month and their sewer flat rate go from $21.35 per month to $22.42 per month, changing the complete flat rate from $30.70 to $32.05 per month.  A family that uses an average of 6,000 gallons per month will see their monthly bill go up from $98.32 to $102.55, an increase of $4.23 per month or $50.76 per year. This means that the price of water to be pumped to your home and then cleaned after use increases from 1.638 cents to 1.709 cents per gallon.

The other part of the rate change is going from the REU system to the RTS system. The overwhelming majority of single family residential homes will feel no effects and see no additional changes to their bills due to the switchover from the REU to RTS system, which almost entirely affects businesses alone. The 2-3 single family residential homes that might be affected by this change will be contacted by City Hall to discuss what their best options might be moving forward. The basics of this change are that the REU system is very outdated and it set water rates for businesses based upon certain factors such as how many cash registers a restaurant had, how many square feet a warehouse had or how many exam rooms a doctor’s office had.  The REU system was the standard method of setting water rates for many years until the more modern method of charging by meter size (the RTS system) was developed.  Under the new RTS system, rates are set based upon the size of the water meter servicing the property. The RTS system is systemically more fair and levels the playing field for businesses. This change modernizes how Cedar Springs sets water and sewer rates and will ultimately be better for businesses and the community moving forward. 

If you have any thoughts, questions or concerns about these changes please contact City Hall at 616-696-1330 or you can contact the City online at https://cityofcedarsprings.org/contact/

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