Three local communities and two school districts are breaking what has become an unofficial rule — don't hold a millage election in the dead of winter when voters are less likely to come to the polls.

Hazel Park, Eastpointe and Plymouth are seeking millage hikes for public safety while the Dearborn Heights and Wyandotte school systems want bond issues approved on Feb. 24.

Placing a millage proposal on the ballot on off months is rightly called a "stealth election." Those votes should be on the November ballot, when other issues and races are decided. It is more convenient for voters and usually assures the biggest turnout.

While officials will give numerous excuses for holding an election earlier in the year, the main reason is they believe it will help them more easily win approval for the proposal.

All of the requests seek additional taxes when other options are available.

In the most deceptive ballot issue, the cities of Hazel Park and Eastpointe have formed the South Macomb Oakland Regional Services Authority to seek a 14-mill tax increase for fire protection and emergency services.

The Oakland County and Macomb County communities are miles apart geographically, so funds from the tax hike would go directly to the respective local governments instead of funding consolidated services. In fact, the authority does not coordinate any shared services between the cities. A 1988 state law allows communities to form such authorities and seek up to 20 mills for public safety.

The taxing authority allows municipalities to go beyond their statutory tax limits. Cities must restrict their general fund levies to 20 mills or less. Eastpointe's general fund rate is 19.17 mills and Hazel Park's about 19.5.

Plymouth seeks 1.5 additional mills for five years for public safety in an election campaign that has not been well publicized. In fact, there is no mention of the election on the city's website home page.

Exploring ways to save taxpayers money is a better idea for the three communities. Police and fire protection should be basic services financed by the first tax dollars collected, not extra millage levies. Consolidation, sharing services and privatization are proven methods of stabilizing governmental budgets without increasing the tax burden on residents.

The two school bond issues also need extensive voter scrutiny. Dearborn Heights wants $4.6 million for technology improvements, while Wyandotte School District seeks $39 million renovations and technology updates.

Purchasing technology is a questionable choice, given how fast it becomes obsolete. A more economical option may be to lease the equipment, which saves money and allows for more timely upgrades.

Again, the merits of these proposals aside, asking voters to raise taxes in February elections is always suspect. Voters should be skeptical of these proposals.

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