Brighton City Council members spent the better part of their retreat at city hall this weekend discussing the revenue picture and the difficulty of gaining major new revenue sources, short of a Headlee override. An override would mean that, if passed, the Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment would be superseded and voters could be asked to approve “up to 20 mills” - which is the limit under the city charter.

At present, Brighton property owners pay 15.27 mills in city property taxes. However, the amount raised this year in city property taxes was about $500,000 less than it was in 2008, just before the recession hit. At that time, property values declined dramatically, and they’ve only recently begun to rebound.

City Manager Nate Geinzer says the problem with Headlee is that although property values can spiral downward fast, when the economy improves, property taxes can only rise by 5% a year, or even less, if the cost of living increase is lower.

Mayor Jim Muzzin tells WHMI council has looked thoroughly at every possible way to raise revenues to meet the demands of a full-service city, and it doesn’t look as if there are any other alternatives than a Headlee override – if given voter approval.

If passed, a Headlee override would raise $1.85 million the first year. And even that wouldn’t be quite enough to meet all of the city’s needs. Muzzin says the city actually needs $2.5 million per year in order to get to where it needs to be. Geinzer says the city’s excellent financial record is deceptive. He says the city has had to cut expenses to the bare bone to maintain a healthy fund balance and still be able to meet the public’s expectation for services such as sewer, water, road maintenance, snow plowing and salting and leaf pickup.

Geinzer says the city is forced to keep putting off street maintenance and upgrades because the funds simply are not there. He adds that if no new revenue sources are found, Brighton’s fund balance will drop to zero in a few years.

Geinzer adds the city has received no help at the state level. According to the Michigan Municipal League, state revenue sharing to local municipalities has been cut by $6.2 billion over the past 12 years. However, unlike the state, Muzzin says the city has few ways to raise revenues. Discussion of a Headlee override, with possible action, will be taken up again at the first or second meeting in January.