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Reluctant 'yes' on sinking fund tax issue

We ran the following editorial opinion in our April issue to capture absentee voters who might have been casting ballot before the Tuesday, May 8, election to decide the fate of 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 there was $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.

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. Since our April edition editorial appeared, the school district now says that they have created a partial list of projects to which they would direct this millage money. But our position has not changed.

The entire process for this millage has been ass backwards from how millages should be conducted. Voters should be able to see a specific list of planned improvements before anyone votes to put this on the ballot, 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 still 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. However, we also point out to voters that if this sinking fund millage is not approved, the current sinking fund millage can still be collected in the summer and winter tax bills and the district could still bring this back in the regularly scheduled August election this year.

We will state once again our position on such millages in the future, both for this school district and any other taxing authorities: This is the last time we will endorse a tax proposal without a specific game plan shared with the public before a millage is put on the ballot.

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