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County Taxes

Illegal County Taxes?
The so-called Headlee Amendment to our State Constitution requires that new taxes be approved by voters and requires that a county that seeks to exceed the millage limitation in the Constitution can do so only with approval of the voters.
The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has circumvented the requirement that taxes be approved by the voters by claiming that laws authorizing tax increases that were in effect before the Headlee Amendment was passed allowed increases without placing the issue on the ballot.

According to information reviewed in conjunction with your request, the County Board of Commissioners approved by resolution the levying of three mileages in December 2014. The first was for 1/27th of a mill to be levied under the Veterans’ Relief Fund Act, 1899 PA 214, MCL 35.21 et seq., for the County’s Veterans’ Relief Fund. The second was for .07 of a mill to be levied under the Advertisement of Agricultural Advantages Act, 1913 PA 88, MCL 46.161, for the promotion of agricultural and economic development in the County. The third was for .5 of a mill to be levied under the Public Highways and Private Roads Act, 1909 PA 283, MCL 224.20, for use in maintaining public roads and streets.

The County BOC asked its corporate counsel for an opinion on whether the three levies needed to be placed on the ballot. In a February 11, 2015, corporate counsel advised the BOC that it need not place the tax levies on the ballot. (Click here for opinion)
On October 21, the Michigan Attorney General issued an opinion about the County's failure to place the taxes on the ballot. He found that while a pre-Headlee law could authorize a tax levy without voter approval, if the levy caused the County to exceed its maximum millage of 4.5493 mills, the taxes needed to be approved by the voters.

In summary, although the County Board of Commissioners’ approval by resolution of the levying of three mileages did not violate art 9, § 31, the levy violated art 9, § 6 if the levy caused the County to exceed its allocated mills as approved by voters. It is the County Board of Commissioners’ responsibility to ensure that the limitations of art 9, § 6 are met. OAG, 1989-1990, No 6654, p 363 (August 16, 1990). If the County wishes to levy a millage in excess of its constitutional and voter-approved limitation, it may do so through a vote of the people under the 50-mill/20-year provision of art 9, § 6.
Click here for Attorney General Opinion 7287.

Part of the revenues collected under the Act 88 levy are designated for SPARK:
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners approves the following awards totaling $830,250 in 2016 grant funding to the following projects as recommended by the Act 88 Advisory Committee:

• Ann Arbor SPARK – Business Development Services ($500,000)
Click her for the full resolution.

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