SAGINAW, MI — A Saginaw City Council committee will strategize how to educate the public about the city’s 44-year-old property tax caps.
It’s a move that could signal a renewed effort to abolish both the 7.5-mill levy cap and the $3.8 million dollar cap that Saginaw voters approved in 1979. For the city to remove the caps, voters would need to cast ballots in favor of a proposal to repeal the measures.
It’s been tried before, with no success. Seven times since 1979, the public voted against proposals to repeal the caps. The last effort failed 14 years ago.
A Saginaw City Council vote or a public petition is necessary to put such a ballot item in front of voters for an eighth time.
Saginaw Mayor Brenda Moore said she was not aware of any immediate plans to put the property tax caps’ abolishment on a ballot. She said it’s possible the council could consider putting the matter in voters’ hands in 2026.
Why the wait? Because, Moore said, she anticipated the city’s more immediate tax ballot-related campaign could involve a renewal of the Saginaw public safety millage voters last approved in March 2020. With that tax set to expire in 2025, another renewal could appear on ballots in 2024, she said.
Rather than confuse city residents with two tax questions in a short timeframe, Moore said it may make more sense to wait until after a public safety millage renewal vote before revisiting the property tax caps issue.
“That’s too much,” Moore said of the prospect of a two-pronged tax proposal push. “By (2026), that’s when we figured everybody could be educated (on the property tax caps issue) and understand what’s going on.”
Perhaps the first move toward delivering that education came during the council’s Monday, June 19, meeting. After a recommendation proposed by Councilman Michael Balls, the group voted unanimously to form a 4-member council committee to strategize how best to educate the public about the property tax caps.
Moore said she plans to announce which of the nine council members will join the committee at the next meeting, scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 10, at Saginaw City Hall, 1315 S. Washington.
“The council can help educate the public, but we don’t need to push (the property tax caps’ abolishment),” the mayor said. “The community needs to push it. They need to see how important it is.”
Saginaw City Manager Tim Morales said “the biggest hurdle” to removing the tax caps “has been the understanding of this information.”
“If we can work together and come up with a message that everyone can understand, that will be very important,” Morales said.
The education committee could spread that message by sharing it with neighborhood associations and other groups with influence on city residents, he said.
“The council can direct, strategically, where you want to have those presentations so you can have the biggest impact on getting information out,” Morales said.
History of the caps
Saginaw United Taxpayers, which began fighting city taxes in the mid-1970s, rounded up enough petition signatures more than four decades ago to drop the city’s 10-mill property tax limit to 7.5 mills while freezing tax collection at $3.8 million per year.
Voters in 1979 sided with the organization by a 6,729 to 3,484 vote, three years after they turned down a similar proposal.
The Saginaw City Council’s first attempt at removing the dual proviso — the millage and dollar limit — came in 1983, when residents kept the caps in place by defeating an amendment, 4,849 to 1,677 votes.
Five years later, citizens turned down the second attempt by the slimmest margin yet.
In April 2000, the City Council attempted to raise the 7.5-mill limit to the charter’s original 10-mill cap. Residents again rejected the idea, 1,077 to 4,690 votes.
Two years later, the council sent separate ballot questions to polls. The group wanted to remove the dollar cap and raise the rate from 7.5 mills back to 10 mills.
Both efforts failed by close to 2-to-1 ratios.
Another Saginaw voter-elected group, the Charter Commission — formed to review the city’s governing document — failed in its campaign to sway voters to remove the $3.8 million dollar cap in 2007.
The Saginaw City Council last put the tax questions on a ballot in November 2009, when residents by a 3-to-1 margin rejected repealing the 7.5-mill levy cap.
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