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District seeks millage renewal



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February 15, 2012 - Voters in the Brandon School District will more than likely see a request for a non-homestead millage renewal on the ballot this November and a few years from now, voters may be asked to approve a sinking fund millage.

All school board members were present at a finance committee meeting Feb. 14 during which these issues were discussed.

Since 1995, the state has allowed the district to levy up to 18 mills on non-homesteads—essentially businesses or secondary residences in the community. The millage was put in place for districts as part of Proposal A, the Headlee Amendment. The district currently levies about 17.9 mills on non-homesteads, which represents about $1,678,307 in funding annually, said Superintendent Lorrie McMahon.

"It would be devastating to lose that," she said. "Our revenues have been shrinking and we have cut back so much already."

Without renewal, the millage would expire in 2013. McMahon expects the board to make a decision by May to put the issue on the ballot in November, particularly because recent changes in election laws would force the district to pay the bill for a special election. The cost of putting the issue on the ballot by itself next year would cost the district roughly $10,000.

"It's a necessity that the constituents vote on it and it's a necessity that it passes," McMahon said.

Passage of the non-homestead millage renewal will not change the current tax bills of business owners in the district or owners of cottages used as secondary residences. The tax does not apply at all to primary homeowners.

"A yes vote does not affect local homeowners, but a no vote would, because it would affect their students," said McMahon.

A sinking fund millage, also discussed at the finance committee meeting, would affect all voters and the board has agreed to contract with French Associates, an architecture firm based in Rochester at a cost of about $5,000 per year, to assess infrastructure needs in the district, including the maintenance of buildings, parking lots, etc.

"The sinking fund is a tax for infrastructure maintenance," said McMahon. "We are looking at will need repairs, which roofs will need to be replaced or whether a building will need a new heating system."

McMahon and Finance Director Steve Lenar noted that voters approved a $73.4 million bond extension in 2006, which was used for several major renovations, including technology upgrades, construction of the new Oakwood Elementary School, and activities complex. The bond extension did not increase the 8.24 mills residents pay per year in school taxes, but added six years to a loan that at the time had $29 million owing and which would be paid off in 2026.

"The sinking fund will provide an opportunity to keep the buildings current over the long haul," said Lenar. "This is just a preliminary discussion. It's a few years down the road. The law says that you can ask voters for up to 5 mills for 20 years, but we will not ask for that. My guess would be around a mill, and not for that many years. It's something we need to talk about and prepare for."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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