Candidate Interviews

An Interview with Steve Calley

October 29th, 2009

1. Please provide background information and relevant experience.

    I am a long term resident of Ionia County.  I have lived here nearly all of my life except for the years that I attended Michigan State University and when my father was in the military. I have a master’s degree from MSU and have held positions in state and local government, Michigan State University, and in the private sector.

2.  Why are you running for a position on the Portland City Council? I believe that the city is headed in the wrong direction.  We are now at a crossroads. This is a rare opportunity with four council seats needed to be filled to change the spending priorities of city government. Unfortunately, there is a vested interest in the status quo but the status quo has been a raw deal for the average taxpayer. I  believe that strong leadership is needed if the taxpayer is going to be represented on the council.  If elected I will make sure that you are represented when the city decides to spend your money.

3.  What are your thoughts on the current state of the City of Portland? Many families in Portland are struggling just to make ends meet and yet they still carry the highest tax burden in Ionia county.  Houses are being foreclosed on and the Portland School district is losing students. There is currently a subdivision development called Rindelhaven that has sat vacant for years. Families are having to leave Portland. The cost of living is simply too high for the average family in Portland. We need to level the playing field with other communities and make Portland a city that is more inviting to raise a family. The best way to do that is to address the current tax structure in Portland.

4. What are your thoughts regarding the city income tax? The city income tax should be phased out. Period. This tax has both lowered property values and stifled economic growth. This was intended to be a “temporary” tax to fix and pave the roads. It was projected to last 10 years. After 10 years the city was suppose to start budgeting for road repairs in its general fund and either repeal the income tax or give property owners an 8 mil reduction in their property taxes. It is now going on 27 years and the citizens have received neither. The people acted in good faith when they voted this tax in, that there would be a sunset and it would eventually be repealed. It is past time for the city to honor that promise made 27 years ago.

If eliminated, how would you suggest street repairs and maintenance be paid for?

Phasing out the city income tax will not be easy. That is why it is imperative for the next council to start prioritizing between needs and wants.  Too much money is being spent out of Portland’s general fund chasing grants and making unnecessary cosmetic changes downtown. This money should have been budgeted for infrastructure and roads. We budgeted for a new city hall, the river trail, and the boardwalk. We can budget for our roads out of the general fund, we just need the discipline to do it. Some will have you believe that it is impossible to maintain our roads without an income tax. Remember, Portland is one of only 22 cities in Michigan that levies an income tax on its residents yet we are not the only city with paved roads.

5.  What do you see as the challenges facing Portland in the near future? The biggest challenge facing the next council will be maintaining our streets and infrastructure without an income tax. Right now we need to upgrade the city’s waste water treatment facility. This has been known for quite some time yet unfortunately was never budgeted for. Now there is discussion of raising water rates or fees to pay for this. According to city manager Tom Dempsy, we are planning on spending over $160000.00 dollars out of general fund to expand the river trail. I think we should hold off on the river trail expansion and use those funds to offset some of the cost of upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment facility and any corresponding fee increases.  A river trail is a nice idea but it should not take precedence over infrastructure needs.

6.  If elected, what issue or issues would you like to address?

The salient issue of this election is the phasing out of the income tax. This cannot be done overnight but it must be done.  It is also critical that we restore trust and accountability in city government.  We should  have more transparency in spending decisions. The city budget and all expenditures should be readily available online at the city’s web page. Finally, we need to do a better job of promoting economic growth in Portland.  What we have done in the past is clearly not working. Our local businesses do not need another boardwalk, river trail or maple street project, they need  customers with more discretionary income. The best way to do this is lower the tax burden carried by the highest taxed citizens in Ionia County.

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Brian Devlin – Portland Review & Observer Portland City Council Candidate Questionnaire

October 29th, 2009

1. Please provide background information and relevant experience.

Portland Government and Community Activities:  Portland City Council; member 2001-2005, elected Mayor Pro Tem by fellow council members, 2003-2005. Portland Planning Commission; 1998-2001, Chairman 1999-2001. Habitat for Humanity/Portland, Inc.; board of directors 1991-1996, President 1994-1996.  Portland resident; 1991-present.  Wonderful children; 3.

Extensive State Government Legal Experience:  Practicing attorney 27 years; Michigan Assistant Attorney General 1984-1999 and 2005 to present, Deputy Legal Counsel to Governor John Engler 2000-2002, Michigan Office of Regulatory Reform, Director 2003-2005.  State Bar of Michigan Administrative Law Section; board of directors 2000-2009, Chairman 2006-2007. 

Adjunct Professor of Law:  Taught “State and Local Government Law” and “Administrative Law. University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, 2005-2006.

2.  Why are you running for a position on the Portland City Council?

The recent economic down-turn has forced a new set of priorities.  Just as we must show greater restraint and wisdom in our personal spending, city government must show better judgment in its own budgeting. 

I have a proven track record of getting things done in government, and of being open to new and innovative means to accomplishing difficult tasks.  I am committed to hearing all sides, but equally committed to taking decisive action.

I offer the city my experience in government and my willingness to explore creative solutions as a means of guiding us through these tougher times. 

If the people of Portland desire these qualities in a councilmember, I would be honored to serve.

3. What are your thoughts on the current state of the City of Portland?

Times are tough. At rates never seen in our lifetimes, Portland is experiencing unemployment, housing foreclosures, and widespread economic stagnation.

Portland has the highest combined income and property taxes in the county, and our families and wage earners are suffering for it.

Portland must adjust its taxing and spending priorities.

We are not without hope.  We have a strong, cohesive community and citizens brimming with talents and resourcefulness. 

As individuals we have adjusted our priorities, tightened our belts, and lent our hands to help our neighbors in response to our times.

We should expect no less of Portland city government than we expect of ourselves.  It must utilize our resources and abilities to pull us through difficult times, and build for our children’s future. 

4. What are your thoughts regarding the city income tax? If eliminated, how would you suggest street repairs and maintenance be paid for?

Twenty-six years ago, Portland’s citizens voluntarily accepted an income tax upon Council’s assurance that it would be a temporary measure; all the roads would be paved within 10 years, or the people would receive income or property tax relief at a time of their choosing. 

We now know that Council’s assurance was both legally and factually wrong.  And after 26 years, it is indisputable that the income tax has proven to be 1) an unnecessary impediment to economic growth, 2) detrimental to property value within the city limits, and 3) a regrettable incentive for poor economic prioritization by a Council that still hasn’t managed to pave all the roads

Here’s how we can eliminate the income tax:

Compare Tax Structure of Similar Cities:  Portland is the smallest of only Michigan 22 cities that impose a personal income tax.  Obviously, many successful cities - bigger and smaller - are able to manage their finances and keep their streets paved without an income tax. Let’s learn from their experience.

Plan a phase-out, not an immediate elimination: Prioritize and complete current projects, budget for the future. City property values will immediately improve – ask your realtor.

Improve Planning Tools:  Better government is a direct result of better planning and greater openness.  Begin triennial budgeting and the open posting of all city contracts and spending information (discussed below) – reforms I will champion

5.  What do you see as the challenges facing Portland in the near future?

Paving streets without an income tax:  Can be achieved through a simple, logical plan (discussed above).  But don’t be mislead by those who have never before worked on a city budget - this will not be easy.

Adjusting to the Loss of State Revenue Sharing Dollars:  Like all Michigan cities, Portland will lose state money.  After a decade of unprecedented public spending, we must prioritize to make the most of decreasing payments.

Providing Sound Fiscal Management:   Our individual and collective financial well-being requires better management and lower taxation.

6.  If elected, what issue or issues would you like to address?

Income Tax – Must be phased-out over a reasonable period of time.

Triennial - or three-year – budgeting: A great success in Oakland County, it promotes long-term planning, giving more time and opportunity to avert a financial crisis.  

Transparency, Accountability, and Public Participation in Budgeting:  City government is your servant, not your master.  Council publishes informative pages, like the recent income tax mail inserts, only when challenged.  I’ll make all contracts and all budget information readily accessible, so that you can control how your money is spent. 

Promote Economic Growth:   Whether through public or private means, we should develop underutilized city assets, such as our lands and recreational facilities. Portland could be a sports and recreation center for west Michigan, with benefits for all. 

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Tom Manting’s Answers to the R&O

October 29th, 2009

Please provide background information and relevant experience.

I’ve made Portland my home for 15 of my 45 years and I care deeply about the way the city spends our tax money.

I’m Manager of Finance at Tri-County Electric Cooperative where I’m responsible for the financial well-being of a $30 million dollar organization. As a senior staff level employee I work closely with the board of directors, and in my 20 years at the cooperative I’ve gained experience in strategic planning, management, and budgeting. The City and Tri-County are very similar organizations as they are both not-for-profit entities governed by a representative democracy and I believe my work experience will serve the City well.


Why are you running for a position on the Portland City Council?

My interest in city government started when the city spent over a million dollars to purchase a piece of farm land on the outskirts of town. Like many city residents I feel city hall is not making wise decisions when it comes to our tax money and I’m running for city council to end the wasteful and frivolous spending habits the city has developed. I want to bring fiscal responsibility back to city government and ease the tax burden of families suffering from the economic downturn. I will work to make sure the money we entrust with city government is spent where it should be: providing essential city services, not engaging in land speculation or “gold-plating” the downtown area.


What are your thoughts on the current state of the City of Portland?

Many residents are outraged by the way the city spends our tax money and I believe the city council has lost touch with the average Portland resident. As the community with the highest combined income and property taxes in Ionia County, it is certain that many families have moved outside of Portland for no other reason than because of the high taxes. Sure, we’re a “cool city” and we have a lot of “cool stuff”, but the families who live and work here are tired of paying for “cool stuff”.  We want well-maintained roads, clean water and a safe place to live. When we provide the essential services at a competitive price, families will move back to Portland.


What are your thoughts regarding the city income tax?

Employed Portland homeowners are the highest taxed people in Ionia County. We can phase out the income tax over a couple of years and still preserve Portland’s “quality of life.” Our quality of life will actually go up when families get to keep more of their wages. In 1983 the voters were promised that we would get to choose whether to keep the income tax, but now we know that the only way to get rid of the income tax is to elect a city council with the will to do so. Also, rescinding the income tax does not have to be permanent. If city spending can’t be reined in, voters can always enact a new income tax at a later date.



If eliminated, how would you suggest street repairs and maintenance be paid for?

The choice is not between the income tax and good roads. Rather, the choice is between the income tax and “cool stuff.” Through judicious spending cuts and wise financial management we can eliminate the income tax and still have good roads. I’ll start with the city budget and analyze it the same way most families in Michigan have had to deal with their own personal budgets: First, figure out what is essential, then compare each expenditure with this list keeping only what’s absolutely necessary. Then if anything is left over, use the remaining money for non-essentials. If we have the will and determination to ease the tax burden on our citizens, we can figure out how.



What do you see as the challenges facing Portland in the near future?

In the short-term, the challenge is getting people out to vote on November 3rd.

In the long-run, maintaining essential city services during this economic downturn will certainly be a challenge. Another challenge is going to be dealing with the million dollars worth of farmland on the outskirts of town. The mortgage is going to come due and we need to figure out what to do about it.

And finally, rebuilding trust in city government. A responsive and accessible city council is essential for avoiding a repeat of the financial mistakes made in the last few years.


If elected, what issue or issues would you like to address?

Obviously the Income Tax. In addition to that I will dig through the city budget with a fine-toothed comb, being sure that each and every item is both necessary and makes sense. I will look closely at the utility department’s rate structures and how the costs are allocated between the city and the utilities. It’s important that the city utilities stand on their own without subsidies from the taxpayers.

We need to benchmark Portland against other similar communities. A look at how other communities operate can help us run our city in a prudent and cost-effective manner.

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