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Local elections take place next week as fewer tax dollars flow to Michigan's cities and towns

City hall in Jackson, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)
City hall in Jackson, Michigan

Jackson, like other Michigan cities, will hold an election next week. And like in other cities, those elected will face the reality of how they will choose to spend a declining amount of tax dollars.  

Both candidates for mayor of Jackson are realtors. And both bring a ‘realtor’s optimism’ when they talk about their city’s future. 

Incumbent mayor Karen Duniganand former mayor Martin Griffin disagree on the best way to run city hall, but both concede Jackson faces its challenges. Tax revenues landing near the top. 

Griffin served as Jackson’s mayor for 12 years before serving a brief stint in the state legislature. He said like other Michigan cities, during a decade of recession, Jackson’s property values have declined and its population has decreased.

“All you have to do is go online to the city’s website…pull up the list and you can see what anybody, any property in the city is paying in taxes…and it goes back three cycles and you can see that it’s dropped," said Griffin, "And if its dropped for every house in your neighborhood by a hundred dollars…you start adding that up….by every street in the city and its big.”      

Add to that Jackson, like other Michigan cities, is getting less help from the state.  

Incumbent Mayor Karen Dunigan said the city’s been forced to cut its budget, laying off police officers and closing two of the city’s three fire stations.    

“You know, one time we were at 370 employees. Now we’re at 220. That is substantial. Just that alone has really helped the city and relieved a lot of the stress on the budget," said Dunigan.   

Eric Lupher is with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.   He said people living in Jackson, and other cities, have to come to terms with local governments that can no longer provide services they’re gotten used to.  

The governments we see coming out of this recession aren’t going to be the governments we saw go in to (the recession)," said Lupher, "They are going to be much leaner. Much lower levels of service. And I think we as residents need to look into the mirror and say what do we want from our governments.”    

Lupher said state revenue sharing peaked in 2001 at $900 million. This fiscal year the revenue sharing pie has shrunk to little more than $200 million. Legislators are also talking about eliminating the personal property tax.  

Local communities like Jackson could lose a significant life line if the billion dollars generated by the tax goes away.   

Dunigan said they are already planning on a future with fewer tax dollars coming from the state, though she’s thinks its somewhat unfair.  

“My problem is they keep taking our revenue away from us….I understand the state has the same problem the city has, though their’s is far larger than ours.  And there are just limited resources.   But however…you can’t take all that off the backs of citizens in the communities," said Dunigan.  

Former mayor Martin Griffin agrees with his opponent that Jackson has little recourse except to plan around the state slowing the spigot of tax revenues to local governments and its going to continue to hurt.   

“We cut back. We’re cutting back again.  We’ll probably have to cut back more," said Griffin, "But it is a resilient community.  It will bounce back."   That’s a sentiment that many cities and towns in Michigan share. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.