To the editor:
At the Dorr Township offices recently, there were a bunch of phone calls, either angry, frustrated, or confused with the general question being ‘Why are you guys doing this to me?’ In all sorts of flavors and degrees of heat.
It wasn’t until one gentleman came in to the office that the Office Manager found out what had set off this tempest of questions.
Dorr Township Trustee John Tuinstra had issued an encyclical on his favorite subject — his fellow board members were once again conspiring to waste your money.
Starting with the headline “How about a 45% Increase in Dorr Township Operating Tax.” Mr. Tuinstra, a retired teacher, knows how to grab the audiences’ attention, plus I’m pretty sure he knows how much innumeracy there is on the subject of economics and budgets. He probably can guess that like those teenagers he taught years ago people have not learned to be enthused about math as they became adults.
So having planted a 45% increase in taxes with his headline his readers remember paying about $750 in taxes this summer and another $1,250 last winter — so the Aha! moment cranks out $900 in new taxes before they get to the second paragraph.
At the last Township Board meeting, the board was warned that throwing out 45% figures was sure to lead to misunderstandings. And apparently Tuinstra took the warning to heart. Because in the second paragraph he does acknowledge that it is really a small amount. Good. But then he gives an example that gets most things wrong. And I quote:
“… if passed, for a typical residence, increase the tax bill at the bottom line by about $33 per year. (This assumes a $200,000 true cash value, times ½ to determine taxable value, times 0.3276 for the millage rate increase.)
And we are introduced to new vocabulary and working with fractions and mixing in multiplication by decimals to four places.
True Cash Value — not found any place on your tax bill. It is a rough substitute for Market Value, which is also not really part of the tax system. You do not have to multiply anything by ½ as that number is on your tax bill — State Equalized Value (SEV). It is in the top left corner of the tax bill, right under Taxable Value. Which is not mentioned in the formula. And if you did the formula this would result:
200,000 times ½ (= 100,000), that result times 0.3276 ( 100,000 x .3276 = $3,276), well I hope you can guess that’s wrong. In more ways than just bad math.
Taxes are calculated on (some of you are probably ahead of me here) Taxable Value. The only time the SEV is equal to Taxable Value are those new homes bought in December.
Now I have one advantage as the Monday Morning Quarterback in that I have some real stats, not guesses. Given that the $200,000 True Cash Value should be the Assessed Value (used interchangably with State Equalized Value) of $100,000 for a typical house, I checked the data. Searching for values between $98,000 to $102,000 we find 54 taxpayers. They have an average SEV of $99,933 so we’ve got the right target. And they would be faced with an increase of $22.94, not “$33 per year.” (Does that make the flyer estimate off by 43.9%?)
Why is the flyer so far wrong? Because those 54 taxpayers have an average Taxable Value of $70,075. Only six of the fifty-four are in the neighborhood of $33, because they recently purchased. Most Dorr residents and businesses have a significant gap between Assessed Value (average = $115,162) and Taxable Value (average = $81,502) an average difference of $33,660. As I learned in programming at GVSU, Garbage In = Garbage Out.
Enough math! How about the rest of the flyer?
Past Pattern. In this section Trustee Tuinstra lists all of the things that he perceives as what? Accomplishments? Reckless Spending? Just an info list? A lot of items John voted against, some he voted for, and some that came before his time on the board.
• “New Township Hall” — really? It was built in 1990 and did not come from the General Operating Fund.
• “…large flat screen TV,” now almost seven years old and seems to be appreciated by those in the hall. It was purchased from the General Fund.
• “New Fire Department building” — that was news to the Fire Chief.
• “Sewer extensions and treatment plant expansion” — none from Operating or Special Millages.
• “Downtown Development Authority” spending — again not from Operating.
And on it goes listing things that most people praise. Case in point, Veterans’ Memorial, and again not from the Operating Fund. Paid for by donations.
“B. Present Assets: Adequate money on hand, and adequate money coming in.”
The flyer throws out that ‘total for all accounts of $2,549,000.’ Not stating that $1,608,624 are for Restricted Funds. For example the Road Funds of $833,710 can only be spent on Roads. By leaving this off the flyer misinforms the people who read it.
The point in this section is that we have all the money we need. Adequate is the word to be debated. We have adequate road money? In the next five years we will collect $4,500,000 to $4,800,000. Road needs are anywhere from $10,000,000 to $51,000,000 so what is adequate? And John has voted yes for every road question.
And I just had the Maintenance Manager in asking about what’s being written about his department?
Does Adequate = Make Do?
The flyer writes about the growth in Dorr will provide these dollars. Ignoring the increased costs of a larger population. Which leads to C. Future Needs.
“Many suggestions have been made but the board has not approved any of these.” Only guessing here but some of the big ticket items that might be some of these ‘suggestions’ — the clerk has proposed expanding the Township Hall Offices (or buying another building).
A long on the list of things for the Parks is the Splash Pad, a walking trail, dog park, resurfacing tennis and basketball, paved parking lot, volleyball courts, etc.
How about a place to store our maintenance equipment at the parks?
Dorr Cemetery has no lots to sell. To add spaces land needs to be purchased, and then plans drawn by engineers, and then construction.
The Fire Barn will someday need to expand. FD has been replacing their trucks, but sometime they will have to add additional trucks for added houses. That means adding land as well as building space.
The current Township Budget (approved by the Board) has a deficit of $80,000. Inadequate? Repaving the parking lot at the hall has been put off for six straight budgets.
The reason the board has not approved any of these (or even started saving for them) is the board knows the current funding is INADEQUATE.
A step in the right direction would be to restore the millage rate to where it was years ago when we were much smaller. The increase would add $97,125
And the cost is about 20% less than the flyer says it would be — $26.68 is the average increase.
— Jim Martin, Deputy Dorr Township Supervisor, retired Dorr Township Treasurer