Slipped into the Aug. 5 primary ballot is a proposal to raise taxes for Wayne County residents. Enhancement millages, as they are deceptively known, override constitutional limits on school property taxes. This proposal is a raw deal, and here’s why:
If approved, taxes will increase by about $80 million per year. While proponents attempt to minimize the increase by dividing it into “only $50 per year on a home with a $50,000 market value,” that’s like breaking up your 32-ounce soda into “only 100 calories” in each of six servings — that’s deceptive when you finish the bottle at one sitting. It’s still a $80 million annual tax increase which will remain in place for the next six years.
That’s a total tax increase of $480 million, and that’s a big pile of money out of the taxpayer’s pockets, no matter how it’s sliced up.
This local tax doesn’t fund local schools; 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 often driven out development will pay less. My district, Northville Public Schools, will receive only $2.8 million per year on $5 million in new taxes.
It’s no wonder that our Board of Education voted 7-0 to oppose this new millage, and 43 percent of the districts in Wayne County voted against even putting this income redistribution scheme on the ballot. The biggest winner is the Detroit Public Schools, which, while having made strides to improve the school and its finances, remains significantly behind other districts in enacting necessary reforms.
DPS will receive nearly $4 million more than their residents are being asked to contribute.
Cheerleaders of this proposal have gone so far as to celebrate that the new tax revenue will come without “strings.” Those “strings” include necessary reforms, like competitively bidding non-core services, adjusting healthcare benefits to reflect market realities, and disposing of surplus property. Some districts like Northville have enacted those reforms, and the state has rewarded our district and others with extra financial resources. Many districts that voted for this millage have surprisingly not reformed, turning away additional state funding. Those same districts, after turning down state funding, are now asking their residents, and ours, to pay more taxes.
Rather than making the difficult choices and often heart-wrenching changes that Northville Public Schools has over the last five years, these districts have kicked the can down the road. Now the road is at its end, and they are again asking voters to part with their hard-earned money so that unpopular but necessary changes need not be made.
They ought to instead seek their residents’ advice, many of whom adjusted their own lives to reflect today’s economic conditions. It’s not too much to ask that our school districts undergo the sometimes painful changes that our hard-working residents already endured. Raising taxes by $480 million isn’t the answer, fixing structural financial problems is.
Matthew J. Wilk, Treasurer
Northville Board of Education