FOR THREE YEARS, CONCERNED RESIDENTS OF WASHTENAW COUNTY…
...HAVE BEEN ASKING the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to stop levying new tax increases on our families without first obtaining approval of voters as required by our Michigan Constitution.
The nine-member Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, the very people who took an oath of office to uphold our Michigan Constitution, have illegally taken away our ability to limit the amount of new or expanded taxes levied on our property each year.
A group of homeowners – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – has risked retaliation from Commissioners, tax assessors, and other County government officials. We’ve been testifying at Board of Commissioners meetings in Ann Arbor in defense of the 1978 Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment, which prohibits Commissioners from imposing new taxes or tax hikes without a majority vote of the people expected to pay those taxes.
The Commissioners are relying on County Corporation Counsel Curtis Hedger’s opinion that they have the authority to ignore the 1978 Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment that was PERMANENTLY voted into our Michigan Constitution by a statewide majority of Michiganians.
In 2013, all but three Commissioners approved a $972,635 annual countywide tax burden for “Economic Development”. The newly levied tax was predicated on Hedger’s legal opinion that Public Act 88 of 1913, an obscure and dormant State law once intended to promote the sale of County agricultural products, could be revived to override our successfully amended Constitution and still be used to levy anew taxes for:
• $423,135 for the Washtenaw County Office of Community & Economic Development
• $200,000 for Ann Arbor SPARK
• $50,000 for SPARK East
• $100,000 for Eastern Leaders Group
• $52,000 for Promotion of Heritage Tourism in Washtenaw County
• $50,000 for Detroit Region Aerotropolis
• $97,500 to Michigan State University (4H?)
That amount of newly levied taxation had mysteriously grown to $1.02 million in 2014 and was still higher last year.
This past fall, Commissioners again adopted an illegal annual $7.5 million Washtenaw County Road Tax without the constitutionally required approval of the majority voters. That was in addition to Gov. Rick Snyder’s $1.2 billion tax hike package for roads adopted by the State Legislature. County Commissioners have yet to determine if or when they might levy another tax increase in defiance of the Michigan Constitution. “We need more revenue to balance our budget,” is their usual battle cry.
Their continuously insidious money grabs from unsuspecting grassroot taxpayers is despite Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Opinion No. 7287 which addressed “Levy of property taxes in excess of constitutional limitations” and cited CONST 1963, ART. 9, Sec. 6 and CONST 1963, ART. 9, Sec 31, provisions of the Headlee Amendment. The Michigan Attorney General’s Opinion filed October 21, 2015 concludes on Page 11 against Washtenaw County:
Our Attorney General dutifully reported: Article 9, Section 25 in the Headlee Amendment section of our Michigan Constitution is on point.
“It is my opinion, therefore, that, without a vote of the county’s electorate, a general law county may not levy pre-Headlee taxes as authorized by Const 1963, art 9,sec 31 in excess of (1) the 15-mill limitation as allocated annually by the county tax allocation board under Const 1963, art 9, sec 6, or (2) its specific share of the 18-mill limitation as fixed by the county voters under art 9, sec 6.”
From our experience, the only way to stop the Washtenaw County Commissioners from routinely violating our Constitutional Right to vote on tax issues is to defend our Headlee Amendment/Michigan Constitution by suing the County Commission in the Michigan Court of Appeals.
When I was part of the 1978 team effort (Dick Headlee, deceased 2004, was Campaign Chairman; I was Campaign Director) we wrote an unusual provision into the Headlee Amendment that is useful for us today.
Michigan Constitution, Article 9, Section 32 states: “Any taxpayer of the state shall have standing to bring suit in the Michigan State Court of Appeals to enforce the provisions of Sections 25 through 31, inclusive, of this Article and, if the suit is sustained, shall receive from the applicable unit of government his costs incurred in maintaining such suit.”
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled on December 28, 1998 that the Lansing City Council “RAIN TAX” of $176 million over thirty years for disposing of wastewater from sanitary and storm sewers (CSOs) violated the Headlee Amendment requirement of a vote of the people prior to implementation. The Court found the storm water/sewer charge was unconstitutional, null and void, and ordered taxpayers to be reimbursed by the guilty City of Lansing for the years of collections resident families already paid, plus their legal fees.
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ILLEGAL BAIT & SWITCH TAX ASSESSMENTS
Since 2013, the seven Washtenaw County Commissioners have tried to get around the 1978 Tax Limitation Amendment voted into our Michigan Constitution by a majority of grassroots statewide taxpayers. By reaching back more than 100 years, County Commissioners attempted to fool Washtenaw families into thinking that laws adopted in 1899, 1909 and 1913 were pre-Headlee tax increases still in effect that didn’t require voter approval to be collected during the last three years. In truth, there is no public record of those three property taxes ever being collected in more than 100 years.
Commissioners have rephrased the wording and intent of each of these three Acts in order to impose what are actually new taxes on current Washtenaw County homeowners without their Constitutional Right to vote YES or NO on the $26 million in new taxes illegally being collected and spent by current Washtenaw County Commissioners to fund bigger County government.
Veterans Relief Fund Act 1899: