Two Dearborn ballot measures are aimed at raising money for Henry Ford Community College, which has had state funding cut. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
Voters in more than 25 Wayne County communities head to the polls Tuesday to elect city leaders as well as decide on a host of proposals setting funding for schools, libraries, public works and other improvements.
Dearborn Public Schools officials are pushing a $76 million bond proposal to upgrade facilities. The measure is called “S.M.A.R.T.” since it addresses security, modifications, additions, renovations, technology and transportation. District officials said the bond, which is expected to be drawn over 20 years and would not raise the tax rate, is needed to help offset state funding cuts while overhauling aging buildings, updating technology and adding newer buses.
“This is not based on a wants list — it’s based on a needs list,” said David Mustonen, the district’s communications director.
Two other measures on the ballot are aimed at boosting Henry Ford Community College. One proposal would extend through 2024 two existing 2.5- and 0.5-mill levies for general operations, both due to expire next year. If approved, an estimated $10 million would be raised in 2015.
Another proposal to help the college’s operating expenses would raise property taxes by 1 mill, or about $1 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, from 2014-18. If approved, that would raise an estimated $3.3 million next year. A resident owning a home with a market price of $90,000 and taxable value of $45,000 would continue paying about $135 annually for the mill renewals and an additional $45 for the 1-mill increase, said Becky Chadwick, the college’s executive director of information, marketing and effectiveness.
College officials said the increase is needed to cope with receiving fewer state dollars, declining property tax revenue and a 25 percent enrollment drop from last fall. Despite renegotiated faculty contracts, staff cuts and other cost-saving moves, the college could lose about $13.3 million a year in revenue if the measures fail — risking the cancellation of programs as well as other efforts for students and the community, college President Stan Jensen said. “If we had to cut further, it would certainly impact our students.”
Some voters favor the measures, calling them an investment in education.
“A strong community has to support public education,” said Vida Chatila, who lives in the college’s voting district and has children in Dearborn schools. “When schools are strong, property values remain strong. When people look to invest in communities or open new businesses, they’re looking at things like that: How strong is the support for public education?”
Lincoln Park is asking voters to renew a 3.46 millage over three more years for police and fire operations and approve a $20 million bond proposal to pay for road and infrastructure repairs. If approved, the millage renewal would generate approximately $1.8 million in 2014; the bond issue, if levied next year, was expected to cost residents about $2.64 per $1,000 of their property’s taxable value.
The city is undergoing an audit and expects a deficit for the most recent fiscal year, City Manager Joseph Merucci said. Since Lincoln Park’s financial situation is “very desperate,” he said, there are not enough funds for large-scale road projects or to staff the police and fire departments at their diminished level.
Grosse Ile Township has four measures: Three renewals through 2017 of millages that would maintain police operations, continue off-island library service and improve drainage as well as stormwater management projects. Another proposal seeks a 0.36 mill increase through 2017 to keep the current operations of the recreation department, which township officials said has grown while grants and tax revenue have declined.
If approved, the measures would raise more than $1 million in the first year levied. Without voter approval, the township could consider cutting police staff as well as trimming recreation department programs, said Brian Loftus, township supervisor.
Gibraltar is asking voters to approve a $2.4 million bond proposal that would continue a millage rate of 1.3 mills, or $1.30 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, secured in the 1990s. That bond recently expired, city officials said. A resident who has a home with a market value of $100,000 and taxable value of $50,000 would pay about $65 a year, officials said.
The funds, repaid over 15 years, are needed to repair, replace or reconstruct several miles of local and major roadways. City officials said Gibraltar receives “minimal funding” from state fuel, registration and weight taxes each year, and “these funds do not support the costs associated with the major repair/reconstruction of primary roads.”
The measure targets some of the most traveled roads in the city, which appear to be “at the end of their useful life, or very nearly so,” Mayor James Gorris said.
Many communities also have mayoral races. Among the most high profile is in Taylor. Jeffrey Lamarand, who was elected mayor in 2009 and has faced recalls as well as criticism over administrative cuts, is challenged by Rick Sollars, a councilman who earned more votes in the August primary.
Sollars said he has a 25-point plan for his first 60 days in office, which includes creating a commission to suggest revisions to the city charter as well as hiring police officers and launching a neighborhood watch program to cut crime. Improving public safety is a top concern, he said.
Lamarand said 11 police officers have been hired in the past three years, and there are plans to add another group by year’s end. Meanwhile, his team has been exploring drawing more businesses to the city, and residential sites are being redeveloped, he said.
A projected $2 million surplus could also help shrink the city’s deficit, estimated at more than $5 million, Lamarand said. “We’ve handled everything in an approach that will benefit the city for decades to come. ... We’ve continued to streamline our operations.”
Other major ballot proposals:
Flat Rock: Voters are being asked to support a 0.5 mill-increase from 2014-18 for the library.
Romulus: Three city charter amendments involving limitations, material purchases and contract approval are on the ballot.
Woodhaven: Voters are being asked to approve a 1-mill levy through 2022 for street improvement.
Ecorse Public Schools: An 18-mill levy renewal on “non-homestead property” for operating purposes from 2015-25 is proposed. If renewed, the millage would raise an estimated $3.1 million in 2015.