Jul 5, 2007

Michigan taxpayers lost a good friend

Conservative Republicans, as well as all Michigan taxpayers, lost a truly class guy with the passing of former Livingston County Commissioner David Hamilton, 66, who passed away on July 1.

Dave was a Commissioner for 16 years, but the conservative Republican was perhaps more well known for his role as the chair of the Livingston County Taxpayers Association. Now, I have to point out that I never met any other members of this organization, but Dave took his role as the watchdog of the public funds very, very seriously.

I know my blog is dedicated to pointing out the faults, misinformation and hypocrisy of the Republic Party, and it can get pretty insulting and rough. But often when you personally get to know someone from the other side, it gives you a better perspective. I rarely agreed with Dave on his pet issues – which was any tax increase, and I still do not understand how anyone can say they love their country but do not want to pay their fair share to support it. But, I respected Dave’s role as a watchdog, and I never, ever doubted his sincerity or his love of country and community.

I first met David Hamilton in May of 2000 when I was a reporter for the daily newspaper in the county, and I had the county beat. All nine members of the board were Republicans, and often the votes were 8-1 with Dave casting the lone no vote.

It was nice to have some there just to say, “hey, wait a minute; let’s take another look at this.” It has been said that David Hamilton never met a tax increase he supported. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can’t recall him ever supporting one. That position at times brought him into conflict with a lot of people, but I never met anybody who did not respect him, although it may have been grudging respect.

I appreciated him because, as any reporter will tell you, it’s hard to get a meeting story written when there’s no discussion on an issue and no one to quote. He would also approach me after the meeting to explain why he voted against the majority, and more often than not he provided documentation to support his position.

Even after he left the board I could always call him at home, and he would patiently explain a complex tax issue to me. Numbers tend to make my head swim, so I appreciated the patience.

The last time I saw him was around this time last year when he showed up at a Hamburg Township Board meeting to voice his disapproval of a request by Livingston County to increase the surcharge on telephones to fund 911 Central Dispatch. His former colleague on the Board of Commissioners was there to take the opposite position, but it was a very civil debate.

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus did a wonderful editorial memorializing him, but I do have to disagree with at least one point in the editorial.

“He was particularly confounded as to why Livingston County taxing units — such as cities, townships and the county — needed to increase tax rates at a time when their tax base was increasing at a record rate.”

That ignores the effects of proposal A, the Headlee amendment of 1978 and constant cuts to local revenue sharing. The Headlee amendment included a provision that a community's total tax base should not increase faster than the inflation rate. In other words, Headlee kept the amount of money a local municipality collected from property taxes about the same every despite population growth by rolling back or reducing the millage rate each year, so local governments are serving more people with less money.

But that does not dampen or lessen the public service of a man like David Hamilton. I agree with the P & A: Livingston County taxpayers – and reporters – lost a good friend.

A gathering in David Hamilton’s honor will take place from 1-5 p.m. Sunday at Borek Jennings Funeral Home, Hamburg Chapel, 7425 E. M-36 in Hamburg Township. The Memorial Service will be held on Monday, July 9 at 3:00 P.M. at the Shalom Lutheran Church with Pastor Kurt Hutchens officiating, with a reception at the church to follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the family and envelopes will be available at Borek Jennings Funeral Home, Hamburg Chapel.

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