Cynical Synapse

Mon, 22 Feb 2010

Contentious Millage Issues on Ballot

Filed under: Budget, Economy, Education, Government, Politics, Take action, Taxes — cynicalsynapse @ 10:39 pm

Voters locked in by taxes

In case you didn’t know, February 23rd is an election day in Michigan. For metro Detroit, 4 school districs and 2 municipalities have tax proposals on the ballot. Usually only about 5% of registered voters turn out for off-cycle elections in February and May, but officials expect anywhere from 25-40% in some communities. At issue? Raising taxes to counter declining property tax revenue. Public officials are claiming adding mills to the tax won’t actually raise your taxes because property values have declined. There are two problems with that logic. First, about half of homeowners haven’t seen tax cuts due to depreciated housing values because their property hasn’t been equalized or gone through a sale to adjust the tax levy. Second, even if they’re enjoying lower taxes, homeowners may be affected to lower pay or even unemployment, so a tax increase is still hard for them.

Here’s my first concern with this election. It’s a special election. Usually there is only the general election in November, but there can be 3 additional elections each year under Michigan law. There is a cost to hold elections. From my perspective, each special election has an unnecessary cost because the matter could and should have been deferred to the general election. Needing a special election is evidence of poor planning by officials. Except for elections in Van Buren Township, which involves voting on recalling 2 trustees, the clerk, and supervisor, and Hamburg Township’s vote to fill a vacant clerk’s term, metro Detroit’s elections are all about tax increases.

666--highway to hell

Most egregious of the millage requests to me is the one for Pinckney Schools. They’re asking the current 7.35 mills for about 10 years to 2037. That should support a $59.5 million dollar bond issue the district wants to use for building improvements, technology upgrades, and to replace a 50-year-old athletic facility. My issue with this? Voters turned in down last November. Why is the district wasting money on a special election when voters already said no? Superintendent Don Danosky says they have to sell the bonds by June in order to take advantage of being able to save $375,000 in interest payments through the federal Stimulus. What’s different today from last November? Nothing! I hate how schools continue to put millage issues on the ballot until they wear voters down and it passes. Pinckney voters need to get out and ensure the school district understands the word no.

Next up on my list of despicable voter bludgeoning are the millage proposals in Troy and Bloomfield Township. Troy seeks a 1.9 mill increase while Bloomfield Township is after an additional 1.3 mills. That’s about $190 and $266 extra per year, respectively. In both cases, officials are using public safety as human shields. Troy says 150 positions, including 50 police officers, will be eliminated, along with closing the library, community center, and historical museum. Similarly, Bloomfield Township threatens 25 positions, saying 2/3 of their payroll is police and fire/EMS. Opponents of both of these millage requests say officials haven’t done enough to reduce costs. In Bloomfield, a 2009 Plante + Moran study said the township could save $10 million over 10 years by consolidating DPW services with surrounding communities. Opponents in Troy suggest cutting management before cutting workers, reducing hours at the library and community center, and using volunteers instead of paid staff.

the old school

Berkley schools are asking for a whopping 4.27 mills to raise $167 million so they can upgrade buildings and build a new middle school. The cost is about $213 per year for a typical $100,000 home. Officials claim energy efficiency improvements will save operational costs, but I’ve already posted on the fallacy of such cost savings. Opponent Bob Williams, 62, who has lived in the district his entire life, says there’s no need to spend a lot of money on the buildings.

I’m an architect, and I know a little about buildings. I think they’re trying to scare the public into thinking we have to do it this way or the buildings might not be safe or appropriate for a kid’s education.

Chippewa Valley and Hartland Consolidated Schools are both asking to extend existing millages for 5 years. Chippewa’s 7.65 millage would last until 2031 while Hartland’s 7.6 mills would be extended to 2035. Each district says they need the millage extensions to fund school security and technology improvements. In both cases, homeowners would continue to pay about $380 per year for an additional 5 years. The question for voters is whether they’re getting their money’s worth.

If you live in one of the jurisdictions holding elections on 23 February, you need to get out and vote. You have no right to complain otherwise, and you deserve what you get.

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