Wayne RESA seeking county-wide millage

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Voters heading to the polls will be faced with a proposal from the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency for a countywide six-year, 2.0 mill enhancement millage.

As an “enhancement millage,” the millage would be assessed to all taxpayers in the county.

The regional millage is an alternative method for districts to generate more revenue through tax levies, as the passing of Proposal A in 1994 capped how much a school district could collect through an operating millage at 6 mills on homestead properties, 18 mills on non-homestead properties.

Proposal A also stipulates that any future operating millages above those amounts must by countywide.

If approved, the 2.0 mills are expected to generate $80 million annually for the duration of the millage, which would be collected based on property values but divided between the county’s 32 school districts according to student body count.

Dearborn Public Schools and all three school districts in Dearborn Heights — Westwood, Crestwood and District 7 — would receive funding.

According to Wayne RESA Supt. Chris Wigent, the millage will help struggling districts that have been receiving less money from the state because of lowering student counts by giving them additional funding for security, program support, technology upgrades and building repairs and maintenance.

“The per-pupil foundation grant allocated to each district has been greatly reduced over the past several years for every district,” Wigent said. “Despite substantial reductions in expenses, school districts are still struggling to balance budgets without cutting programs which are designed to produce college or career-ready graduates.”

Dearborn Public Schools Communications Director David Mustonen said the district would pay $6.65 million annually if the proposal passes but would receive $7.4 million in return.

He said the extra revenue could be used for technology upgrades, instructional time or to replenish the district’s fund balance.

“It would be $800,000 or so a year, so it would be a really good thing for the us,” Mustonen said.

Mustonen also said the school board did not have a formal vote to lend their approval or disapproval to the proposal like other county districts because they are concentrating their efforts on getting support for a renewal of the district’s two millages in November, one for 18 mills of non-homestead tax and the other for 6.17 mills of hold harmless millage.

“The board appreciates the county’s efforts to increase funding for the schools, but out of respect to local taxpayers they are concentrating on the November election,” Mustonen. “The renewals are critical to our schools because they provides us with over $38 million, which is 22 percent of our operational budget.”

Other districts have announced that they oppose the millage, including school boards at Northville Public Schools and Grosse Pointe School District which voted against supporting the proposal.

In a letter describing the board’s decision, NPS Board of Education Treasurer Matthew Wilk said that if the proposal passes the district would pay $5 million annually in new taxes but the schools would only receive $2.8 million.

“This local tax doesn’t fund local schools,” Wilk said. “Funds are collected based on property values and distributed based on pupil counts. As a result, districts that have attracted residents and businesses, increasing their tax base, will pay more. Others that have driven out development will pay less.”

Taxpayers in the GPSD would face new annual taxes of just under $5 million while receiving $3.17 million in funding.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)

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