On Friday, I coughed up $81 check to
Ayles Tree Service for grinding down that stump in my front yard … or
in the city’s right of way, to be more exact.

Up until May, the city would have taken
flattened out the remains of that 80-year-old maple like they’ve done
in years prior for my neighbors. Then they would have planted a brand
new tree right next to it.

Not anymore.

The millage failed. The city’s forestry
division got nuked and now I’m looking at another few hundred bucks to
get a decent-sized tree, if I want.

Lansing is known as "The City in the
Forest," having been designated a Tree City 23 times. But now the
city’s forestry chief tells me his depleted ranks can hardly keep up
with the demands of chopping down dead ones, let alone replacing them
one-for-one as they did in the past.

Failed millages have consequences, and
this is one of them. The shuttered fire station around the corner on
Jenison is another one. An e-mail I received a few months ago from a
neighbor about the creaky police response time to a theft down the
street is Exhibit C.

Yes, had the 4-mill increase passed in
May, I’d have had $211 more taken out of my escrow, but the
hypothetical $1,026 is just about what I paid in 2008, and less than
what I paid in 2006. Look at the cost … and I’m not talking about the
price of stump grinding, either. 

Like nearly 40 percent of Michigan
homeowners with an outstanding home loan, I’m underwater on my
mortgage. I couldn’t sell my house for even close to what I bought it

I’d love to refinance for a cheaper
interest rate, which would save me money, too. The banks don’t share in
my excitement, though. If I bail on the loan, they’re holding a house
that isn’t worth the note. I understand. It doesn’t make good sense to
do business with me.

Like just about every other city in
Michigan, we’re stuck in this death spiral, and canning local operating
millages only speeds up the spin. It’s a simple, unfortunate equation.

We won’t pass a higher millage rate = Services get cut.

Services get cut = Fewer reasons people
want to move to Lansing (bad schools, crime, blah, blah, blah). Housing
market gets worse.

Housing market gets worse = Home values keep tanking. 

Home values keep tanking = The deeper the bath we take on our home investment

The deeper the bath we take on our home investment = The more broke we are. 

The more broke we are = We want a tax cut, meaning we won’t pass a higher millage rate (see above).

Around and around the drain we go until one day we’ll wake up and Lansing will look like Saginaw or Flint.

On Nov. 8, Lansing voters have another
shot at stopping our dizzying journey into a city slum blackhole. This
isn’t about "giving Virg more money" or throwing more money at police
and fire unions (who have given up considerably in the last five years).

Be completely selfish about this
decision. Vote yes because you need to protect the biggest investment
you probably have — your home. Some day you’re going to sell that
building you sleep under today. When that happens, you’d probably like
you or your heirs to make money on it.

A home in a treeless city with spotty
police and fire service is about as attractive as a leaky roof or a
collapsed porch. A decently staffed police and fire department is money
in your wallet, not money out of your wallet.

Now is not the time to give up on your
home or your neighborhood. The state is going to clobber cities like
Lansing with more budget cuts, which means pitching in the same amount
you paid in 2008 can stop an even thinner Police Department or snow
plow staff.

Citizens in cities across the state saw
the wisdom in protecting their investments in May, passing their
millages while ours failed by 4 percent. Voters do realize that slower
police response times, unmowed parks, unplowed streets, shuttered fire
stations, don’t entice people to buy property.

The City Council gave us another chance
to approve this 4 mills. Don’t vote yes to make their jobs easier. Vote
yes to make your job easier when it’s home sale time.

A "yes" vote won’t mean a city-paid tree
in front of my house or a reopened Fire Station No. 6. But if my 2017
property tax statement has my assessed home value back to where it was
in 2006, I’ll declare victory.