Judge rules in favor of GR in road tax case

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – A judge Thursday morning ruled in favor of the City of Grand Rapids in a legal challenge to put an income tax increase extension on the May ballot.

Barring further legal action, that means Grand Rapids voters will decide on that income tax extension meant to pay for road repairs on May 6.

The Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association is opposed to the extension and took the City and some city leaders to court, saying they violated election law by not filing paperwork with the Kent County Clerk’s Office before a February date that serves as a filing deadline in some instances.

The City had previously had the clerk certify ballot language by the deadline, but said it learned after missing this year’s deadline that step was unnecessary.

Thursday, Judge George Buth agreed. He ruled the City was not required to meet the filing deadline because the ballot issue does not fall under that section of election law. Only county and statewide elections fall under the statute.

“We have what I would call an exclusively city election,” Buth said. “Doesn’t involve anything beyond the City of Grand Rapids.”

“Regardless of what happened prior to this point in time, the court found in our favor that we had followed proper procedures,” Grand Rapids Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said.

But the Taxpayers Association maintains the state law has been misinterpreted and that the language should have been certified by the clerk by the deadline.

“We’re obviously disappointed the court ruled the way it did, but we believe the law is clear and we’re examining our options at this point,” Jeff Steinport of the Taxpayers Association said.

The group has filed an emergency appeal with the state.

“When the average citizen breaks the rules, the City requires you to follow them. And when they break the rules, they should be required to follow them, too,” Steinport said.

The income tax increase, set to run out in 2015, was initially passed to pay for programs to improve city efficiency. If the extension to 2030 is passed in May, the money collected from the tax will go to road repairs. The Taxpayers Association says the tax increase was supposed to be temporary and want it to expire so tax rates will fall.

Opponents says the May special election was scheduling tactic designed to take advantage of low voter turnout. The theory, supporters turn out in heavy numbers and those who may oppose stay home because there’s nothing else on the ballot.

As far as city officials are concerned, the matter is a done deal and the income tax extension in the City of Grand Rapids will be on the ballot. The city is already printing absentee ballots, which will be available Saturday.

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