Government and Law

Court rules in favor of city on street-tax vote

March 20, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Grand Rapids City Hall announced today that the Kent County Circuit Court has overturned a suit filed to block the May 6 special election on street and sidewalk repair, determining that the city had followed proper procedures under the law in scheduling the election.

“We can now answer the question of fixing our streets and sidewalks without distraction,” Mayor George Heartwell said.

The Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association, which has ties to the Americans for Prosperity political group, filed suit March 7 to block the election, claiming the city had failed to meet a legal deadline for certification of ballot proposals, thus making the special election invalid.

Jeff Steinport, an attorney representing the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association, said today the group would be filing an appeal.

The May 6 special election will ask voters to extend the city income tax increase that was approved in 2010, through 2030. The 2010 vote raised the tax rate on corporations and city residents to 1.5 percent of their income, from 1.3 percent, and to 0.75 of a percent for non-residents, up from 0.65 percent.

The revenue from the tax increase will be dedicated to the repair of Grand Rapids streets and sidewalks, because the state of Michigan no longer provides enough revenue-sharing funds to adequately do the job, according to city officials. The May 6 vote, if passed, would also repeal the old city ordinance making property owners financially responsible for the repair of sidewalks.

The City Commission scheduled the May election in response to a request from the city’s Sustainable Streets Task Force, which spent two years developing recommendations for returning city streets to at least a 70 percent “good and fair” condition over the 15 years of the extended income tax increase. Their recommendations also call for elimination of property owners’ responsibility for sidewalk repair.

According to the city, without action, the task force found that streets would deteriorate further to an 87 percent “poor” condition by 2019.

“We have work that must be done. Our transformation journey has been full of obstacles and our record shows that we have navigated each one successfully. Now we move on to the real issue,” Heartwell said.

“We appreciate the careful and thoughtful deliberation of the court and the quick response to this matter,” added Heartwell.

The case was heard by Kent County Circuit Judge George Buth.

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