Sterling Heights seeks new millage for walkway, tree and park projects

Sterling Heights voters will decide in November whether to approve a separate millage rate that would fund tree, trail and park projects.

“We are taking a holistic approach to truly project our city into the 21st century,” said Councilman Mike Radtke.

City officials are proposing to amend the city charter to allow for a special 0.95 millage for a variety of initiatives. They include a pickleball complex, two park projects, natural trails, sidewalk improvements, city reforestation and open space preservation. The projects are part of the city’s Visioning 2040 strategic plan, which the City Council approved in April.

The council on Tuesday approved placing the Visioning 2040 ballot on the Nov. 5 general election by a vote of 7-1, with Councilman Henry Yanez dissenting. If the proposal is approved, it would cost residents an average of $95 a year, according to City Manager Mark Vanderpool.

Vanderpool said some may not be in favor of the proposal.

“And that’s fine,” he said. “We want everyone to have the right to vote on this on November 5. That’s the action the City Council took last night, let the voters decide. It’s not the City Council that decides.”

Vanderpool said the community helped the city create the Visioning 2040 plan. Sterling Heights voters approved another special millage rate for parks and recreation in 2016, which Vanderpool said was “the largest quality of life investment in the history of our city.”

“None of us were happy to vote yes on that, those who did vote yes,” he said. “I mean, no one likes to raise property taxes, but if you understand what the end goal is, and if there’s a good plan that you fully understand, you’re more likely to recognize its importance and value. Sterling Heights, we have a very solid track record of providing cost-effective city government.”

What the millage would finance

Vanderpool said there are five key initiatives in the Visioning 2040 proposal. The first is trajectories. The city wants to give residents access to the Sterling Heights Nature Preserve by building a walkway.

The city also plans to spend some of the money on repairing sidewalks and filling potholes. Sterling Heights offers residents the option to replace a sidewalk themselves or participate in a special assessment program where they pay the city to replace it. Under this ballot proposal, the city would eliminate the special assessment program and instead use millage money to pay for the work.

Another initiative would create a year-round pickleball complex at a location yet to be determined, Vanderpool said. The city is also planning two park projects, and the millage would pay for some of the costs. One involves the Rotary Park area, and another would create Red Run Park in the southeast part of the city.

Reforestation is also an important part of the voting proposal. Sterling Heights plans to plant about 15,000 trees in the city over the next few years, which would be paid for with the millage and grant money, Vanderpool said.

The millage would also help the city preserve open space. The city wants to set up a land bank to buy vacant or underused parcels.

“So often we hear from residents: ‘Should every inch of the city be developed?’” Vanderpool said. “And the answer to that is, no, it doesn’t, but in order to preserve the open space, the city has to own the property.”

What some council members say

Yanez was the only dissenting vote on Tuesday. He said the city should have picked a few priorities and funded them through its regular budget processes. The council adopted the budget for the 2024-2025 financial year last month. He prefers that reforestation and land acquisition be funded from the taxes the city already collects.

“I kind of object to us just passing this on to voters and saying, ‘Hey, if you want to raise your own taxes, that’s fine,’” he said.

Radtke said adding sidewalks to the city’s tax rolls will allow Sterling Heights to “repair and repair more sidewalks faster.”

“I can tell you that besides people complaining about speeding, I get more complaints about bad sidewalks than anything else,” he said. “Isn’t that what you notice when you walk through your neighborhood?”

Radtke said Sterling Heights lost many of its trees along the streets due to the invasive emerald ash borer. He said better tree cover would increase home values.

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