Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

My father loved history and musical theater.  He made it a point to introduce these passions to me in the years before he passed away.  So, I was intrigued when the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Hamilton was introduced last year.  I recently downloaded the musical’s soundtrack because the lyrics bring this time in America’s history to life for me … it also connects me to my dad.  He would have loved to see Hamilton.  I hope to make the pilgrimage to New York City with my wife to experience the show someday.

In the final act, after Alexander Hamilton dies, the entire cast comes together to sing the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”  This song explains to the audience what happens to all the remaining characters.  It explores their legacy and leaves the characters asking if they had done enough to have lived a worthy life.

Cast of the musical Hamilton (photo credit Joan Marcus)
Cast of the musical Hamilton (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

In my mind, I think of what the leaders of the City of Auburn Hills (our cast) have been doing to address the cards the community was dealt as the result of the Great Recession.  The challenge of our time.  Such as,

  • Loss of a staggering $2.3 billion in true cash property value (2006-2014) due to the required lowering of property assessments based on the market’s decline
  • The resulting 37% decrease in the City’s taxable property value, which is the value the City primarily generates revenue to operate and provide essential services like police, fire, utilities, and roads
  • Loss of industrial personal property tax, with no certain replacement
  • Unfavorable Michigan Tax Tribunal decisions and the insanity of the “Dark Store” phenomenon

It’s like flying a plane and having one of your engines go out when you least expect it.  You must remain calm, land the plane safely, and get the engine fixed so that you can fly again.

Well, Auburn Hills has landed the plane safely and we have been fixing the engine.  We have found that most didn’t even know the plane was in trouble, since they’ve seen little decline in their services.  Also, property values have bounced back and the economy is healthier, but most don’t know that this recovery has not translated into revenue growth for the City since Michigan law caps it.  Under these restraints, the City can’t “grow its way out” and recover the tax base lost during the economic downturn – although we have tried.  No Michigan community is immune to this struggle.

Fortunately, the City Council has had the foresight to see that the status quo will become unsustainable over time.  With the support of City Manager Tanghe and staff, the Council has methodically made some difficult decisions over the years to stabilize the finances of our community … and will continue to do so.  Recently, the Council authorized a Fire Department millage election, which will take place on August 2, 2016.  It’s a critical step forward in securing a strong future for the City.

Like the cast of Hamilton, it’s our hope that future generations in Auburn Hills will remember this time in history and tell our story of resilience.