Portage puts tax on ballot
Written by By DEBBIE ROGERS Sentinel Staff Writer
Tuesday, 02 February 2010 08:55
PORTAGE - Village council, with one new member, unanimously voted to put an additional 1-percent income tax on the May 4 ballot at Monday's meeting.
The tax, which will bring in $60,000 annually, is part of a five-year plan to get Portage out of state fiscal emergency.
"We need to get this out there and see what the people want to do with it," said Mayor Mark Wolford after the meeting.
In his brief "state of the village" address, Wolford said the survival of the village depends on the income tax.
The speech highlighted Portage's challenges from 2009, which continue this year. They include eliminating the police department, losing its lone traffic light and dealing with huge financial problems.
Four new council members, he said, will help him confront the problems.
Mike Schmitz, a 34-year resident of the village, was appointed Monday to fill the seat of Floyd Wilson, who resigned last month.
Schmitz, who is 59 and retired from Jeep, said he's a reluctant member of council and only applied because no one else did.
"I've been coming to council meetings for a long time and I know council can't function without the full membership," he said. "I hate to sound under-motivated. É The position needed to be filled."
Jolene King, who is 17, said she was interested in the position, but wasn't able to obtain a clear legal opinion about whether she could serve. She turns 18 on March 31. Council needed to fill the position Monday, or turn the decision over to the mayor.
Wolford asked for council members or the four residents in attendance to take the lead on an ad-hoc committee to promote the levy. No one stepped forward and Wolford asked council to do "homework" for the next meeting and think of ideas.
After the vote, Councilman Carl Crawford urged everyone to brainstorm.
"We as council really need to figure out what we offer these residents," he said.
The administration believes it will be an uphill battle to get the income tax approved since almost all services, including police, have been eliminated.
Council did approve a contract with Fresh Cut Lawn Service for mosquito spraying this summer. Each application costs $140 and there is a minimum of six. Council President Mike Brinkman said the contract should be approved, even though Portage is broke.
"It's one of the true remaining services we are providing to residents, along with plowing snow and mowing, and $840 for that seems to be appropriate," he said.
Crawford said there must be more the village can do for residents.
"We need to find a lot more that we can offer É so we can have the support," he said.
In April, the state put Portage into fiscal emergency. The village already has a 1-percent income tax, which council enacted in January 2009.
The latest financial reports, from December, had Portage even deeper in debt than expected. The financial supervisor for the state auditor's office reported the deficit in the general fund grew to $162,000. Earlier indications were the general fund deficit would be about $128,000.
If the income tax fails, the village's future could be in doubt, with Portage possibly being divided among two townships.