Our economy must be given the opportunity to recover. Our business community and real estate market must be allowed to thrive. The proposed income tax and millage will impede Ypsilanti’s progress and should be rejected.
For the first time in over a decade, Ypsilanti’s economy is slowly but steadily improving. Downtown Michigan Avenue is near capacity. Vibrant, successful businesses line both sides of the street. Depot Town is shining with success stories.
No matter what the time — day or evening — people from near and far are choosing to visit the professionals, restaurants and retailers in our local business community. The “secret” of how great Ypsi is — the secret residents have always known — is getting out.
Ypsi is now becoming what I expected to see when I moved here over a decade ago. Then, due largely to the legendary mistake of Water Street, which was originally intended to stimulate a renaissance, Ypsi’s economy stalled. Michigan’s and later the country’s declining economy further impaired Ypsi’s progress. Businesses sputtered, and many failed. Residents lost their jobs, and sadly, many lost their homes.
Despite the significant influx of taxpayer money from the federal government and generous spending by our Downtown Development Authority, Michigan Avenue’s vacancy rate remained troubling.
Flash forward to today: Ypsilanti’s economy is improving in leaps and bounds, but there is still much progress to be made. Yet, in the face of this early economic renaissance, the imposition of ever higher taxes on the already highest tax rate in Washtenaw County poses the risk of destroying what has already been accomplished.
While our goal should be to make Ypsi an attractive locale to purchase a home or to open a business, an income tax communicates precisely the opposite to those who would otherwise be interested in locating here. If a prospective resident could pay substantially less in taxes simply by purchasing outside the city boundary, why wouldn’t they? If a prospective business could pay less, simply by locating on the other side of the city line, why wouldn’t they? If a prospective employee is offered the same pay at two businesses — one inside the city and one out — why would they take home less?
The “Save Ypsi” campaign cannot answer these questions. They merely think, without basis, that a tax and millage is a price taxpayers must pay to bail our city out of poor decisions made over a decade ago. They provide no objective measure, no historical model — absolutely nothing reliable upon which to conclude that higher taxes will “Save” Ypsi. Instead, they resort to political rhetoric, polarization, and improper attacks on the character of the good citizens and residents of our community with whom they disagree. As the “Save Ypsi” group kicks the can down the road (city council has already admitted its “plan” won’t fix the problem), they ubiquitously complain that those against the tax have no plan.
The fact of the matter is we do have a plan. It’s time for local government to get out of the way of Ypsilanti’s economic recovery. It’s time to reject this tax and let our community thrive freely without the burden of what will be by far the highest tax rates in the county. Last time, we were told we “needed” this tax or our community would fail was prior to the economic collapse of 2008, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We weathered that storm with an impressive degree of tenacity and resilience. Now, we are more fiscally sound and stable with a more vibrant business community than in 2007, before the crisis. Despite the rhetoric, we did not “need” a tax then. We don’t “need” one now.
The last time residents of Ypsilanti followed their government’s lead on a decision of this magnitude, Ypsilanti was burdened by the now legendary mistake of Water Street — a mistake that has hampered Ypsi’s economic viability for over a decade. I remain amazed that the very former City Council persons and mayor who voted in favor of the Water Street debacle all appear to have “Save Ypsi” signs in their yards. Given that history has reflected so poorly on their judgment then, their endorsement now of the “Save Ypsi” campaign alone should give residents of this community pause.
I urge you not to allow our local politicians to burden Ypsi’s fragile economic recovery with another colossal mistake that will undoubtedly remain a burden for decades to come. If this income tax is enacted, it will never be “unenacted.” It will weigh upon our community in ways that are likely to eclipse anything we’ve seen yet as a result of Water Street.
Ypsi needs to be saved FROM these taxes, not by them. What we need is a vibrant, continuing economic recovery. What we need is the return of value and equity to our homes so that a stronger real estate market will increase the tax base, not the tax rates. What we don’t need is a massive, taxpayer funded bailout of Water Street. I urge you to vote NO on both the millage and the proposed income tax on May 8.
Cameron Getto is an attorney who represents non-profits in litigation. He lives with his family in the Depot Town neighborhood of Ypsilanti.