Approval of two-part millage request ‘imperative,’ Shibler says

District seeks renewal and restoration of authorized millage

Superintendent Michael Shibler said renewal of Rockford’s non-homestead property tax and restoration of the state-authorized 18 mills would mean $5.5 million for district operations
Superintendent Michael Shibler said renewal of Rockford’s non-homestead property tax and restoration of the state-authorized 18 mills would mean $5.5 million for district operations

Superintendent Michael Shibler has confidence in school district voters’ traditional support of tax requests. However, he’s a little worried that confusion over a two-part millage renewal request on Nov. 6 could unintentionally undermine that support.

Voters are being asked to renew the non-homestead tax on properties other than their primary residence, which expires this year. Although voters previously approved the state-authorized 18 mills, in 2014, the rate has since been rolled back to 17.1268 mills due to the Headlee Amendment, a law from 1978 which limits local tax revenue increases to the rate of inflation. Increases in Rockford district property values exceeded that.

The Tricky Details

Rockford voters will see a two-part millage request for Rockford Public Schools on their Nov. 6 election ballot.

Proposal 1: To renew the 17.1268 mills currently levied on non-homestead properties, which include land, businesses, rental properties and vacation homes.

Voters last approved the non-homestead millage in 2014, at the state-authorized level of 18 mills. However, the millage has since been reduced because property values increased faster than the cost of living, as required by state law.

Proposal 2: To reinstate the full 18 mills through an increase of .8732 mill, which would be worth about $270,000 per year above the current rate.

However, if voters were to approve Proposal 2 without approving Proposal 1, both proposals would fail and the non-homestead tax would not be levied. If both proposals are approved, the 18 mills will be restored.

So the district is asking for two things: a renewal of the existing 17.1268 mills, and restoration of the state-authorized 18 mills.

The catch: Voters who want the millage restored to the 18 mills must approve both requests. Voters who want only to renew the existing, reduced millage, would vote just for Proposal 1.

Got that?

“Of course it’s a concern,” Shibler said of potential confusion over the two-part request. He noted it’s the first time the district’s 18-mill levy has been reduced since 1994. That’s one reason he and Assistant Superintendent of Finance Michael Cuneo have given over 40 informational presentations.

“I’m encouraging that they vote on both proposals,” Shibler said. “The first one is renewing, and that has to pass. The second one is restoration back up to 18 mills.”

Millions at Stake

The stakes are high. Defeat of the renewal would cost the district more than $5.5 million, or 6.8 percent of the current school budget, effective Jan. 1. It’s “imperative” that voters not let that happen, Shibler said.

“At this point it would be almost impossible to identify where that $5.5 million would come from,” he said.

Also of concern to him: That voters never get to the proposal in the voting booth. On a two-page ballot that includes races for governor, Congress, state legislature, a school board race and three referendums, the Rockford proposal appears last.

Shibler’s advice: “I’m encouraging people to go through the whole ballot, and don’t get voter fatigue.”

CONNECT

Rockford Public Schools information on millage request

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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