By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald
MARINE CITY – Residents had more than a few words for Marine City Commissioners during the Thursday night meeting.
While the public hearing on an up to 5-mill tax increase through a special assessment to fund public safety was canceled, residents used public comment to get their point across.
Marine City resident Janet DeMist spoke during the 40-minute public comment session, where she asked commissioners to “stop throwing taxpayers under the bus.”
“We cannot handle tax increases,” she said. “We learned the meaning of a budget in grade school. Please review the budget and be frugal.”
The commission scheduled a special meeting at 7 p.m. May 20 for a public hearing on the special assessment that was attached to the proposed budget.
The meeting was scheduled by a vote of 5-2 with Commissioners Lisa Hendrick and Raymond Meli voting against it.
“We are asking you to invest in your city,” said Commissioner Dianne Lovett to more than 25 members in the audience. “There has been less and less coming in for the city. We have been cutting and cutting and cutting. There is no money in the budget. I personally enjoy having our own police force.”
Meli addressed the crowd after the public comments, saying he was not in favor of the special assessment because crime has gone down and felt an added police shift was not needed.
“I want a quote from the sheriff’s department on policing our area,” he said. “I don’t think the city has to pay for its own police department, let alone another shift.”
Mayor Raymond Skotarczyk said he doesn’t believe the special assessment will put anyone in the “poorhouse.”
“We are trying to keep this city moving forward. As a homeowner I don’t want increased taxes either,” Skotarczyk said. “But this is necessary. I wouldn’t do this unless I thought there was a major benefit to plug the hole in the bucket.”
Commissioner Hendrick said she was happy with the amount of people that showed up and hoped this will convince the rest of the commission to make cuts.
The special assessment had been discussed by the city commission, but at a lower rate than listed in the public hearing notice.
In early April, the commission included in its budget a 3.045 mill special assessment for public safety; a 2 percent raise for most city employees; and a 5.15 percent increase in water and sewer rates, as well as $100 a year ready-to-serve fee for water and sewer.
That $2.9 million budget is still set for a May 21 public hearing.
The 3.045 mill special assessment included the cost of an added 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift in the police department.
Some residents called for a third party to come in and take a look at the budget.
Heather Warner, a Marine City resident who started an informal petition against the special assessment, asked commissioners to cut the 2 percent raises and to not include the additional police shift.
“I’m asking you make cuts on the budget,” she said. “I attended the town hall meeting last month. I feel there were great ideas discussed. I feel we were heard but not listened to.
“Take this into consideration before casting your vote. We will take this to a legal level if the commission passes the increase.”
Residents like Robert Blanchard thanked the commissioners for their service, but felt there was more to be done within the proposed budget.
“I realize budgets are tight, but I don’t think going forward with this PA33 is the answer to the problem,” Blanchard said. “I’ve worked for three different counties and each one has had to take budget cuts.”
Police chief and acting city manager Don Tillery was not present for the meeting, as he was attending his son’s graduation.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 8, 2015)