Books, Taxes, Parks and Pot on Ballot in Pleasant Ridge
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 14, 2014)
CORRECTION: A previous title picture listed the date as Oct. 20. It is actually Oct. 22. Sorry for any confusion.
Voters in Pleasant Ridge have four proposals on the November 4 ballot. One is to renew funding for the library contract with Huntington Woods. Two is a general operating fund millage. Three is to improve parks. And four, which was placed on the ballot by a citizen initiative, is to add pro-marijuana language into the city charter.
The City is hosting informational open houses on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 to share information about the millages. The meetings will take place at the Community Center beginning at 6:30pm. A presentation will begin at 7pm that will last about 20 minutes, then there will be time for questions and mingling afterward. There will be stations set up with information about each proposal, and there will be coffee and cookies for attendees. According to Mayor Kurt Metzger, the City Commissioners will attend as well as the City Manager, City Clerk and Recreation Director/Assistant City Manager.
Fact sheets will be available at the events and can be downloaded any time online at http://www.cityofpleasantridge.org/.
Commissioners have been supportive of the millage proposals. “As a resident of the city, I personally support all three Millages to retain the quality of life I moved here for,” said Commissioner Ann Perry. “The City Commission has been out knocking on doors in the city, making sure people are aware of the upcoming millage proposals on the November ballot. It’s been great getting the chance to speak with neighbors and hear their thoughts and questions. The community is really engaged in this process. They like seeing that the requests are very specific and targeted to clear budget needs and projects.”
Mayor Metzger provided some additional background. “Unlike last year’s tax proposal, ours have been heavily vetted, are quite reasonable in their amounts (2.9 mils for general, .75 for recreation, and .5 library renewal), are well explained, and, most importantly, have the unanimous support of the Commission,” he said.
Proposal One renews the library millage. Pleasant Ridge recently renewed its contract with Huntington Woods to provide library services to residents. This service works out to a cost of $16 per capita, and renewing the millage will not raise taxes. A fact sheet can be found at http://www.cityofpleasantridge.net/documents/2014%20millage/Library%20Millage%20Renewal%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.
Proposal Two is a millage for the operating fund. Metzger explained “The 2.9 mil general operating millage increase is made up of two parts – 2.1 mils will be used to offset administrative costs that presently are tied to our utility bills – covering water and solid waste. This will allow us to decrease our water rates by 12.5 percent and cut our solid waste charges almost in half. The additional 0.8 mils will generate about $108,000 and will help us get closer to where our revenues stood before the housing bubble burst (while Prop A and Headlee combined to prevent us from rebounding with the turnaround in housing).” A fact sheet on the millage, found at http://www.
Proposal Three is a millage for park improvements. “The Recreation millage ask of 0.75 mils will be used to help us realize the Recreation Master Plan that was created last year. The PR Foundation is donating up to $150,000 to the recreation of Gainsboro Park on the city’s Eastside. The Master Plan calls for slightly over $1 million to realize the full plan to connect all Eastside parks with a walkway, to reconstruct the fence along the railroad tracks, refurbish the tennis courts, add equipment and much more. In addition, there are plans for adding picnic facilities and improving the recreation area behind the community center. Passage of the millage will allow us to realize the plan in two years’ time by taking out bonds and paying them back through the tax receipts. This is a truly transformative opportunity for all segments of our community – young and old alike,” Metzger said. More information on the proposal can be found at http://www.cityofpleasantridge.net/documents/2014%20millage/Park%20Improvement%20Millage%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.
Proposal Four is a Charter amendment that would declare enforcement of marijuana possession for personal use a “lowest priority” of law enforcement. This is on the ballot as the result of a citizen’s petition that was circulated in the early summer. The Safer Michigan Coalition has successfully passed local ordinances and charter changes in multiple communities to change local laws on personal use of marijuana. Other cities with laws reducing the penalty for marijuana possession include Lansing, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Jackson, Grand Rapids, Ferndale, Jackson and Flint. Initiatives also passed in Oak Park and Hazel Park in August. On Nov. 4 voters in Pleasant Ridge, Huntington Woods and Berkley will have their say.
In most cities, the initiatives sought to change existing local ordinances against marijuana possession. Pleasant Ridge is somewhat unique in that it does not have any local laws on the books prohibiting it, though people could still be charged under state and federal laws. “Since Pleasant Ridge’s charter contains no reference to marijuana they charge offenders under State law, we simply ask that the police force treat marijuana violations as their lowest priority. According to legal council this is the only option in cities that lack a specific prohibition. We wanted to include them because we wanted to decrim the entire district,” said Debra Young, who circulated petitions in several cities including Pleasant Ridge. 150 voters in Pleasant Ridge signed to have it on the ballot.
City Manager James Breuckman spoke about the proposal at the Aug. 12 Commission meeting. “As a practical matter, when you look at all the enforcement over the past three years, marijuana was down at the end. Most of the time it’s a tag-along in conjunction with a traffic stop or something else that happened,” he said. Noting that because cities cannot supersede State law, he said “ultimately it’s symbolic.”
Commissioner Jay Foreman expressed concern that the change was being made to the Charter and not to the Code of Ordinances.
“To me it’s communicating that marijuana is very important to Pleasant Ridge, is kind of what [adding it to the Charter] says to me. I’m not really sure that’s a message we want to be sending out. The Charter is this foundational document. To me it’s like the Constitution of the City. To add something in, all this complicated verbiage, dedicated to marijuana, just does not seem appropriate to me.” He said that in the end it will be “up to the voters to decide, do they support this symbolic measure, and do they support it in the form that has been proposed. In our Charter.”
Those who circulated the petition went for a Charter change rather than a Code of Ordinance change, because doing so required fewer signatures. For the full ballot language see http://www.cityofpleasantridge.org/documents/2014%20millage/publish-prop%20charter%20amendment%2014.pdf.
For complete information on all four proposals, see the City of Pleasant Ridge website at http://www.cityofpleasantridge.org.
Overall, Mayor Metzger is hopeful that voters will turn out regardless of where they stand. “We will do everything we can to get out the vote on November 4. Pleasant Ridge always turns out in high numbers and usually competes with Huntington Woods for highest turnout in the region. These tax issues, coupled with races for Governor, Senator, etc. should bring out at least 70 percent of the electorate. I would love to see it even higher and will do everything I can to get those numbers as high as possible,” he said.
Books, Taxes, Parks and Pot on Ballot in Pleasant Ridge