Our Editorial: Weigh value of tax hikes

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Before Metro Detroit voters consider the school bond issues and municipal tax proposals on next week’s ballot, Nov. 3, they should weigh whether the schools and cities have exhausted all other means of cutting expenses, raising revenue and making their operations more efficient.

Tax hikes are sometimes the last, best resort to keep services at levels residents need and expect. At other times, they are the easy option for officials who don’t want to make hard choices.

Looking at the proposals voters will decide next Tuesday, the one requested by Schoolcraft Community College in Livonia would certainly seem to fall into the former category.

Schoolcraft is asking for .6 mills for 10 years. The college has been a good investment for taxpayers, and the added funds will allow it to continue to provide essential skills to its residents.

Schoolcraft has been innovative in using its resources to support operations. Efforts to avoid seeking a millage have included a staff wage freeze, two buyouts and energy conservation efforts. In addition, the school has maximized the use of property and buildings by leasing them to local businesses.

But it has suffered from declining property values, and thus lower revenue from its tax millage.

Community colleges are in the vanguard of retraining workers. Schoolcraft, with its excellent culinary program and technical offerings, is a leader in helping put Michigan residents to work.

The millage should be approved. This would be the first increase in the millage rate in 29 years and would bring the total levy to 2.3 mills.

Several local school districts are asking for bond proposals, including Rochester Community, $185 million; Woodhaven-Brownstown, $57.4 million; Grand Blanc, $32.6 million; and Armada, $4.1 million.

Generally, all of the bond issues are for building repairs and technology updates.

Given how quickly information technology becomes obsolete, schools need frequent upgrades. That’s why leasing might be a better option than asking for bond money to purchase equipment.

A recent state law allows the creation of special retirement pay-down levies, and Lincoln Park is again asking voters for 6 mills to establish a retirement fund for police and firefighters. Among the problems is that the millage has no sunset date.

Farmington Hills wants to renew 1.4764 mill for 10 years while Van Buren Township wants a renewal of 6.5 mills for seven years, both for public safety. Our position has generally been that police and fire services are core responsibilities of local governments and should be funded with general fund dollars, not special levies.

Two street improvement issues warrant mentioning. Allen Park wants to restore its taxing capacity to 12.5 mills. The number had been reduced by the Headlee Amendment. It would earmark an additional 1.9015 mills for street work for 10 years. Meanwhile, Southgate wants to renew 2 mills for five years for street repair.

Considering the condition of the area’s roads and bridges and the fact the state hasn’t come up with a road funding solution, the requests seem reasonable.

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