Our choices for the March ballot issues
We fully recognize we are just one of many voice in the community when it comes to offering our opinions relative to elections, including the tax issues appearing on the presidential primary March ballot. But readers should know that we provide our endorsements after careful deliberation, conversations and meetings with principals involved, thorough reading of documents, including some received via Freedom of Information. For each issue, we took into account the specific community or issue, constituents, and how the millage would or would not affect their operations. Along with choices in the presidential primary, on Tuesday, March 10, voters in Bloomfield Township are asked to approve a renewal of a general operating millage of up to 1.3 mills to continue to fund general services, and those living in the Birmingham Public Schools district are being asked to approve a $195 million bond proposal to address facility needs and enhancements. In addition, all voters in Oakland County will be asked to renew a 10-year tax of .2 mills for the Oakland County Art Institute Autority millage to benefit the Detroit Institute of Arts. BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP Millage Renewal Request Bloomfield Township voters are being asked to renew a 10-year, general fund operating millage that generates about $5 million a year. In 2010, voters approved a 10-year, 1.3-mill property tax to fund all general operations in the township through 2019, with its final levy in December 2019. Bloomfield Township trustees unanimously approved language asking voters in the March 10, 2020 special presidential primary election to approve a reduced millage rate of up to 1.2401 mills for ten years, 2020-2029. It is a renewal of the previous millage, rolled back each year thanks to the Headlee Tax Limitation Amendment which says governments are held to the rate of inflation when property values rise. The ballot language reads: "Shall the millage previously authorized by electors in 2010 authorizing the Charter Township of Bloomfield to levy up to 1.3 mills as reduced by requiring millage rollbacks to a levy of 1.2401 mills in 2019.” Approval will simply retain the status quo and will not increase any taxes. A mill is equal to $1 in property tax per every $1,000 in taxable value, which is typically about half of a home's market value. Therefore, a home with a taxable value of $100,000 ($200,000 market value) would continue to pay $124 in taxes annually for the proposed millage renewal. The millage renewal is to be used for general operations of Bloomfield Township, including but not limited to police, fire, emergency medical services, department of public works, and all other functions and operations of the township. It is estimated the millage will generate approximately $5.1 million its first year if approved and levied. The first levy would be December 2020. While we are not fans of putting tax issues on primary or presidential elections, when voter turnout is lower than for a November general election, this is a crucial millage renewal request. If trustees had waited until November to put it on the ballot and it was turned down, massive slashes to public services and operations would be necessitated – and even if approved on the November ballot, it would be too late to collect the millage on December tax bills unless Lansing lawmakers approve a temporary change in state law, which they have done in some past election years. Already, residents have been faced with the repercussions of over $4 million in cuts in the township after voters in August, 2019, rejected a 15-year, 2.3-mill Special Assessment District (SAD) proposal that would have generated $9 million per year dedicated to public safety operations, including retiree benefits. If approved, the township would have terminated the final year of the 10-year general fund millage, resulting in a net tax increase of 1.05 mills, but with its rejection, it is even more necessary that Bloomfield Township residents vote YES to maintain crucial township services. BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC SCHOOLS Bond Proposal Those living in the Birmingham Schools district are being asked to support a School Improvement Bond Proposal to permit the district to borrow not more than $195 million over three series, and issue general obligation unlimited tax bonds to pay for brick and mortar improvements and enhancements. The bond cannot be used for staff salaries or general operating expenses. The annual debt millage is expected to remain at or below the annual debt millage of 3.8 mills levied in 2019, meaning there is not expected to be an increase in taxes for homeowners. The last time Birmingham Schools did a massive renovation of its buildings was in 2003. If voters pass the School Improvement Bond Proposal, the district will do main entrance and building updates at Groves High School; building renovations and a classroom addition at Bingham Farms Elementary; Pierce Elementary would get a new cafeteria and kitchen addition; Harlan Elementary, classroom additions; Birmingham Covington School, building updates and technology services infrastructure; BPS Annex addition and building improvements; bathroom improvements throughout the district; Midvale preschool and senior center would receive building additions and increased parking; purchase of buses; critical HVAC, roofing, plumbing and electrical improvements, and high school athletic fields, interior gym and athletic entryway enhancements. The plan was developed through strategic capital planning at the direction of the board of education in partnership with Plant Moran Cresa, with input from parents and staff along the way. Once again, this bond could have been put on the November ballot, but interest rates are more attractive now and delaying building projects generally ends up with increased costs in materials and labor. Residents choose to live in the Birmingham School District because of its high standards and ratings. We recommend a YES vote to help maintain the district. DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS Millage Renewal Request We have to emphasize we are big fans and supporters of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), and are grateful the dazzling and revered institution is in our greater community. However, that said, we are recommending voters turn down the request to renew the .2 mill on all taxable property located within Oakland County for a period of 10 years, from 2022 through 2031. It is estimated this millage renewal would generate $13.6 million in 2022, or about $26 million from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties combined. As we explained in December, before the Oakland County Art Institute Authority approved placing the millage renewal on the March ballot, for us it's more about the timing of the ask than the ask itself, although we have some questions and legitimate concerns about that as well. Anything short of November could rightly be called a “stealth election.” The DIA originally sought what was referred to as a “one-time” 10-year millage in August, 2012, in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties. We are not going to delve into the DIA's argument for coming back for another round of financing because we think there are some questions that need to be answered beyond the explanations we have heard to date. In 2012, the DIA had a $91 million endowment, and said they needed $300 million. Today, they're at $232 million – just $68 million shy of that goal. The DIA is coming back to voters – a move officials there had said they wouldn't – two years before they need to, at an election when there is lower turnout than at a general election. As an example, in the August 2018 primary, 34 percent of Oakland County voters turned out, while in November 2018, there was a 65 percent turnout. Similarly, in the 2016 presidential election year, 72 percent of voters showed at the polls in the November general election, while only 20 percent voted in August, and 40 percent in the March presidential primary. Voters should send the DIA a message and turn this down. That will assure that a larger percentage of voters will determine the fate of this request in November. In the interim, there needs to be a more detailed public discussion by officials at the DIA and Oakland's Art Institute Authority about this proposal, against the background that DIA officials say they now need $600 million for the endowment and the art institute budget has ballooned by 50 percent since this millage was first approved by voters. Once again, the DIA will not be hurt if this tax proposal fails in March. The current tax does not expire for two years. Vote NO and force the issue to a ballot that will involve more voters.