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FLINT, MI — Flint voters are being asked to renew a 6-mill public safety property tax in the special election May 4, and officials are promoting its passage as a vital next step toward reversing a rise in violent crime.

The millage, which first passed in 2012, funds police and fire services in Flint and was overwhelmingly renewed by voters in 2016 with nearly 78 percent of the vote.

Although the millage would not increase the current tax burden for homeowners, it would continue to cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $35,000 approximately $210 each year until June 30, 2027.

The millage generates more than $4.7 million annually and supplements general fund expenditures by the city for public safety.

A city ordinance requires police and fire spending from the general fund to remain at least 55.5 percent, ensuring that the millage funds don’t simply replace money that would otherwise come from the general fund.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, dedicates 59 percent of general fund expenditures to police and fire, and some members of the City Council have said they want to add to that funding before the budget is adopted.

“This is something that’s critically important to public safety in our community,” Neeley said of the millage. “If you can’t keep up, you can’t catch up” with what needs to be done.

Flint reported 61 homicides in 2020, up from 46 in 2019, an increase of approximately 32 percent, according to the police department’s website.

That pattern continued through March 14 of this year, with homicides up 60 percent and violent crime up 4.1 percent compared to the same time period last year, according to the city.

Since March 14, several other fatal shootings have been reported, but the police dashboard maintained by the city hasn’t been updated to reflect those crimes.

Neeley has been outspoken on the issue of public safety and the need to engage the public to make the city safer.

He instituted a recruiting campaign to fill vacant police positions, ended the practice of reselling confiscated weapons at auction in an effort to reduce the number of guns on city streets, and has said plans are being made to reopen mini-stations in four quadrants of the city.

During budget hearings this month, Neeley said he plans to continue his push for pay increases to attract and keep public safety officers, an issue in both the police and fire departments.

Flint has 118 funded full-time positions in the police department and 83 in the fire department.

The city maintains Genesee County’s only full-time fire department and operates five stations. Just this past weekend, firefighters fought at least four commercial fires at vacant businesses in the city.

Staffing for both departments would be in jeopardy without the continuation of the public safety millage.

“It would leave a hole in the budget,” the mayor said. “This is the opportunity to get in front” of any such reduction.

Read more on MLive:

All you need to know about voting absentee in May 4 special election in Flint

Genesee County considers 911 surcharge while Flint public safety, MTA tax requests head to May ballot

Former Klock Korner among vacant businesses destroyed by fire in Flint over the weekend

Flint council considers police budget as violent crime continues to rise