Traverse City News and Events

A Look At The Local Ballot Proposals

By Craig Manning | Oct. 1, 2020

Ballots have begun arriving in mailboxes of local voters and, with candidate races from township trustees all the way up to the White House, ballots include a number of proposals and millage requests that stand to impact local infrastructure, education, emergency services, and parks. The Ticker has your rundown of what they entail.

Grand Traverse County
All Grand Traverse County voters will be asked to cast a ballot for a pair of countywide proposals.
The first county proposal would renew the previously approved millage rate of 1 mill ($1.00 per $1,000) for financing repairs and improvements of county streets, roads, highways, and bridges. State-required millage rollbacks, as part of the Headlee Amendment to the Michigan Constitution of 1963, have reduced the tax limitation on this particular millage to 0.9835 mills. The Headlee Amendment includes a millage reduction fraction, which requires that any operating millage be reduced year-over-year if total taxable property values in a local unit (in this case, Grand Traverse County) increase faster than the rate of inflation. The purpose of this reduction is to prevent an operating millage from producing more tax revenues, adjusted for inflation, than it did last year, as these extra tax dollars would count as a new tax under state law.

The extra tax proposed by this particular Grand Traverse County ballot measure would restore the previous 1 mill rate and levied against all taxable property in Grand Traverse County, beginning with the December 2020 property tax levy and lasting through the end of 2023. The county notes that, if approved and levied in full, the renewal millage “will generate an estimated $5 million in revenue [in its first year] to be disbursed to the Grand Traverse County Road Commission, the City of Traverse City, the Village of Kingsley, and the Village of Fife Lake for road, street, highway, and bridge repairs and improvements.”

The second county-wide measure is a proposal to increase the local 911 surcharge billed to all phone users. Since July 2015, the 911 surcharge in Grand Traverse County has been limited to $1.85 per month, assessed “against all landline, wireless, and voice over internet protocol services” in the county. The ballot proposal would increase that limit to $2.50 per device, per month, for a six-year period, with revenues funneled toward financing “facility, equipment, maintenance, and operating costs of Grand Traverse County 911 Public safety call answering and dispatch services.”

Jason Torrey, director of Grand Traverse 911, says significant increases in volume of local 911 calls – which are up 20 percent since 2010 – have created a need for more personnel, more 911 workstations, technology upgrades, and other new expenses. The new surcharge would generate up to $2,777,000 annually, which Torrey tells The Ticker would likely be enough to fund Grand Traverse 911 in full; currently, he says that there is a “small general fund contribution [from the county] that is supplementing the surcharge to fund the operation.”

Townships
The biggest local township proposal is a joint millage request between the City of Traverse City and the Charter Township of Garfield Recreational Authority, earmarked “for the purpose of providing funds for the continued acquisition, construction, operation, maintenance, and improvement of public parks.” The proposal, which is levying for an increase of up to 0.30 mills for a period of 20 years (from 2020 through 2039), would allow for continued operations at Historic Barns Park, Hickory Meadows, and the West Bay Waterfront; fund 20 years of historic preservation of the Historic Barns Park; and pay for the acquisition of a new property “to expand the public park area near Hickory Meadows.” The City of Traverse City and Garfield Township estimate that the millage will raise $644,000 of revenue in the first year levied.

Other township proposals have to do with emergency services. Paradise Township is seeking a millage increase of up to 1.9 mills for four years (2021-2024) to help pay for fire protection services. Grant Township is proposing an increase of up to 1.75 mills for three years (2021-2023) for its ambulance emergency services. Fife Lake Township has two separate millage proposals on the ballot – one to renew its existing fire millage and one to renew its ambulance millage. Each proposal would reestablish millage rates that have previously been approved by township voters (1.2 mills for fire, 1.3 mills for ambulance), both of which expired in December 2019.

Education
Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) is seeking to restore its non-homestead operating millage –which voters initially approved in 2014 for a 10-year period. The millage applies to Grand Traverse County’s secondary homes and commercial properties (rather than its primary residences) and is responsible for more than a third of the district’s annual operating budget. Due to Headlee Amendment reductions, the millage cannot currently be levied at the previously-approved 18 mills. TCAPS is seeking to restore the millage to its original rate, which would not represent any actual levy increase for homeowners. The increase would be in effect for five years, from 2021-2025.

Elk Rapids Public Schools (ERPS) and Benzie County Central Schools (BCCS), meanwhile, each have full bonding proposals on the ballots for their voters. The ERPS proposal is seeking authorization to borrow $49,995,000 to pay for capital expenditures, including safety and security upgrades, updates to educational technology, and building and site improvements. The debt millage proposal would increase property taxes in Elk Rapids by 1.55 mills over a period of up to 30 years. BCCS is seeking voter authorization to borrow $38,685,000, as well as a 1.99 millage rate increase over 25 years. The proposal, which follows failed BCCS bond requests from the May 2019 and November 2019 ballots, would pay for a new elementary school to replace Crystal Lake Elementary, which the district describes in bond materials as dated, inefficient, and too small for current enrollment numbers. Other improvements would include roof replacements for numerous BCCS schools, a new bus garage, and district-wide technology improvements.

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