Voters to decide school, RTA funding in Wayne County

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Wayne County voters will decide next month two countywide funding initiatives — the Regional Transit Authority and the agency that supplements funding for local education programs.

The transit authority is seeking a 20-year, 1.2-mill property tax to raise $4.6 billion for public transit improvements, including rapid bus routes, a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, an airport shuttle service and a regional fare card system.

The millage is also on the ballot in Macomb and Oakland counties and must pass in all three counties to be assessed.

The Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency is seeking countywide support for a millage that would raise $80 million to be distributed among the 33 school districts in the county, serving more than 200,000 students.

Superintendent Randy Liepa said as Wayne County school districts have “struggled with declining enrollment and minimal funding increases from the state, their focus is to maintain all of the educational programs they can for students to ensure their success.”

The two issues are among several other Nov. 8 ballot questions across Wayne County.

The Wayne RESA proposal calls for a 2-mill, six-year property tax that, if approved, would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $96 per year, officials estimate. It would generate $80 million in its first year, or an extra $385 for every student in a Wayne County school district.

“(Our school districts) want to make sure they can maintain or reduce class sizes, they’re hiring quality teachers and make sure the facilities are in good shape,” Liepa said.

Two years ago, Wayne RESA put the millage on the ballot, but voters rejected it by 2 percentage points.

Liepa acknowledged asking voters to pass a tax increase is always tough. But the county’s school districts are getting $1,000 less than needed for each student, the superintendent said.

Meanwhile, voters in Van Buren Township will decide a seven-year, 6.5-mill public safety millage proposal. If approved, the new millage would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $125 per year, officials said, and generate more than $6 million.

Homeowners in the community now pay 4 mills for police, fire, emergency dispatch and ordinance enforcement services, but the millage expires this year. It generates about $4 million.

“The new millage won’t fund public safety services entirely, but it’ll get us three-quarters of the way,” Township Supervisor Linda Combs said. “We won’t have to make any drastic cuts to public safety.”

Grosse Pointe Park is also has a new public safety measure before voters. It’s seeking approval of a 15-year, 2.75-mill tax to pay for police and fire services.

Van Buren Public Schools has before voters the renewal of an eight-year, 18-mill operating millage. If approved, it will generate $9 million for the district.

“It accounts for about 21 percent of our budget, so it’s important it passes,” said Superintendent Peter Kudlak.

Elsewhere, Taylor Public Schools is asking voters to support a $5.9 million school improvement bond. The proposal calls for a six-year, 0.96-mill tax to pay for the bond, which will be used to pay for new technology, upgrading school buildings and buying school buses, officials said.

River Rouge Schools officials said the district needs 5 mills over 20 years for school repairs.

In addition, Grosse Ile Township has a 0.15-mill request to fund bike paths, Harper Woods is seeking 1 mill to pay for its library, Rockwood is asking for 2 mills for 10 years to fix roads and the Belleville District Library wants to borrow up to $14 million for upgrades.

Garden City, Inkster, Taylor and Wyandotte have city charter-related questions on the ballot.

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