Voters living in the Bloomfield Hills School district are being asked on Tuesday, May 8, to approve a six year, $2.5-million a year sinking fund millage, to replace their current one, at the same rate, .7165 mills, because of new state legislation passed in 2017 that permits new sinking fund millage dollars to be used for safety, security and technology upgrades, which Bloomfield Hills Schools need.
They have been using general fund dollars to make safety and technology improvements in the district, and are eager to have another source to help fund those reforms, especially in light of recent school shootings and threats. The new state law only applies to new sinking fund millage proposals and cannot be retroactively applied to the current millage which could still be collected this summer and next winter if this issue does not pass.
We don't have an issue with the district having a sinking fund millage – although not all districts do, including Birmingham, Troy, Rochester and Farmington, among others – which is designed to pay for school building improvements and real estate purchases, along with emergencies that can come up during the year, like a boiler blowing or an air conditioning unit not lasting as long as expected. In the 2016-2017 school year, for example, out of the $2 million raised in the current sinking fund millage, over a half million dollars was spent on HVAC repairs. But the $750,000 spent to upgrade lockers, an elevator, and other compliance improvements to make East Hills Middle School similar to West Hills Middle School and accessible and appropriate for fourth graders were planned improvements.
We are disappointed that district officials could not tell us what planned building upgrades will be addressed in the next six years. Instead, when we asked, we were told a couple of items and that a list would be drawn up once the district knew that the millage was approved by voters.
Frankly, that is a bit ass backwards from how millages should be conducted. Voters should be able to see a specific list of planned improvements, with some allowance out of the annual $2 million for unexpected emergency needs.
Years ago, districts could simply put out their hands and say, “Give us the money just in case we need it. ” But those days are over. Voters need more specific information in the future or such requests should be turned down.
We will reluctantly support this millage, only because the district tells us that student safety issues will be addressed with sinking fund dollars, and we think safety is a key issue now at all schools.
But this is the last time we will endorse a tax proposal without a specific game plan.
In the future, we expect to see greater transparency and respect for voters. That trust will likely be returned.