Bloomfield Hills Schools will hold a special election on Tuesday, May 8, for a new sinking fund millage to replace their current one, at the same rate, .7165 mills, in order to incorporate its use for safety, security and technology after state legislation was recently passed to permit sinking funds to expand their uses, and if passed, to have the benefits available from 2018 summer taxes.
Bloomfield Hills Schools first levied for a 10-year sinking fund in 2004, at 1.5 mills. This will be a six-year sinking fund replacement that would generate $2.5 million each year, for specific purposes, as set forth by the state of Michigan, explained district spokesperson Shira Good.
A schools' sinking fund is a savings account into which a local district can deposit voter-approved local millage revenue in order to pay cash for urgent building projects or repairs as they arise.
“It's like a homeowner's unplanned emergency's fund for repairs,” Good said.
The difference between a school's sinking fund millage and a school bond is that a bond is a form of borrowing, meaning that taxpayers must pay back the borrowed funds over a period of years, with interest. Because a sinking fund millage is levied and not borrowed, the revenues are generated from taxes, without the district incurring additional debt.
For example, she said, last year, the district moved the fourth grade out of Eastover Elementary and into E. Hills Middle School, in order for the grade levels to match W. Hills Middle School. “We spent almost $750,000 in compliance and in the move to make it suitable for fourth graders,” she said. “It's the stuff no one wants to do but has to do.”
There was also $75,000 worth of roof repairs in 2017, water and drainage improvements and repairs, HVAC and sidewalk repairs, among others.
Good continued, “We have to be educational stewards of the original investment. It's for the 'uh-oh,' unforeseen events, not for basic maintenance.”
Recent state legislation now allows for sinking fund dollars to be utilized for safety, security and technology upgrades, including security cameras, acquisition or upgrades in technology, including wireless technology, she said.
“So a building can be wireless so kids can bring multiple devices to school,” Good explained. “It's a huge load on a WiFi network that needs to be maintained.”
Because these uses are not grandfathered in, the district is asking voters to replace the current sinking fund millage at the same rate, “so that we can take advantage of the expanded uses of the sinking fund. We would forego the last bit of the current sinking fund so we can levy this in the summer taxes,” she said, explaining why they are asking voters to go to the polls in May.
If the district waited until August, when there will be a primary election, or November's general election, the district would have to wait an entire year, until summer 2019, to benefit from the expanded uses of the sinking fund.
“It's a great fund that helps us keep the district moving,” said Good.