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Wednesday, October 23,2013

Money for schools

Voters to decide on financial help for schools in Okemos, Williamston, Perry and Webberville

by Walt Sorg
Decisions on a new middle-school roof, general repairs, renewing operating funds and a new tablet-computer-based curriculum face voters in four Ingham County school districts.

Okemos Voters will be asked to approve $7.5 million in new bonds for maintenance and equipment. About half of the money will be used to equip each of the district’s 3,980 students with a tablet computer as Okemos joins a national trend to replace and supplement textbooks with tablets. Passage would not increase the local millage. The bond will be added to existing bonds, extending repayment by one year. The refinancing also allows the school district to take advantage of historically low interest rates.

Williamston Williamston School District voters are being asked a second time to approve a one-mill, 10-year tax increase for repairs. The list of needed maintenance includes an estimated $1 million to replace the roof at the middle school; $1.2 million is budgeted to repair heating, cooling and boilers; $550,000 is needed to repave school parking lots. The Williamston “sinking fund” millage request was rejected by a margin of 117 votes in May. The millage would raise an estimated $4.1 million in the next decade.

Perry The school district is asking voters to authorize returning the operating millage to 18 mills. Education leaders stress that the millage only applies to commercial and industrial property and does not add taxes for homesteads or agricultural properties.

The proposal is in two parts: Voters will be asked a second time to renew 14.7771 mills for operations, which lost by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin a year ago.

The second request restores the automatic 3.2229 reductions that were triggered in stages over 20 years by the Headlee Amendment. An effort to restore the Headlee reductions was defeated six years ago as a result of strong opposition from some businesses, including two of the city’s three largest taxpayers, Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy. The millages will raise an estimated $634,000 and $138,500 respectively for school operations.

Perry is on the state’s fiscal watch list as a district that is running a deficit. Over the last six years, Perry has reduced its schools budget by one-third due to state budget cuts and declining property tax revenues. Teachers volunteered to take a 10 percent pay cut to help balance the budget.

Passage of the full millage would allow Perry to climb out of deficit status. Failure of the operating millage would likely result in major cuts to transportation and athletics.

Webberville The district is seeking renewal of its 10-year sinking fund maintenance millage. The proposal maintains a 0.9807 mill tax (reduced from 1 mill due to Headlee limitations). The money is needed for routine maintenance and does not include any major new construction or equipment.

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