• Gary Woronchak

Property tax proposal on November ballot

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Buried in the November ballot under federal elections with monumental and historic implications, and state, county, judicial and school board races, is a property tax proposal that would affect your tax bills for the next seven years.

It’s a renewal of the Wayne County RESA (Regional Educational Service Agency) tax that is divided among school districts in Wayne County. The tax is 2 mills, which means it costs the owner of a house worth $150,000 roughly $150 per year. More precisely, you can determine what this costs you by finding your home’s taxable value on your tax bill or assessment notice, and multiplying your taxable value by 0.002

The question is on the ballot as: “Intermediate School District Proposals, Regional Enhancement Millage Renewal Proposal.” This is a relatively new tax, first approved by voters in 2016, and it still has a year remaining of its original authorization. It is scheduled to expire after it appears on our 2021 summer tax bill. The proposal is to renew it for six years past the scheduled expiration, meaning from 2022-2027. Dearborn Public Schools receives nearly $8 million per year from the $83 million collected by the countywide tax. But – and this is an important “but” – the distribution formula is going to change if the renewal is approved, cutting Dearborn’s portion to under $7 million.

As approved by voters in 2016, the money all went to public school districts. The Legislature in 2018 changed the law to require that charter schools be included in the distribution if the millage is renewed, which naturally leaves less for traditional public school districts.

Each school district (and charter school, if the renewal is approved) gets a certain amount of money for each student enrolled. There are no restrictions on what a school district can do with the money – salaries, programs, building repairs, technology and so on.

Why is this done on a regional, countywide basis instead of locally? Michigan schools are funded by money that flows first to and then from the state, and local districts are restricted from collecting local millage for operations (local districts can get property taxes, if approved by voters, for school building construction and renovation). However, state law allows regional (countywide) school districts to ask voters for new property taxes, which can then be distributed back into local districts. Wayne County RESA first asked voters countywide for 2 mills in 2014, and that proposal failed by a narrow margin. The question was put on the ballot again in 2016, and it was approved with 54 percent of voters in support. The distribution formula in the 2016 proposal sent money to local districts based on student population. This set up winners and losers in relation to how much some communities paid versus what their schools got back. Some districts paid more into the RESA enhancement millage than they got back for their schools. Dearborn schools had an advantage with the distribution formula. The 2 mills cost Dearborn taxpayers $6.2 million collectively, but the school district received $7.8 million. However, again, adding charter schools to the mix will reduce Dearborn Public Schools’ piece of the pie.

Voters will probably see TV and digital advertising for the proposal, and mailings promoting the tax renewal have already begun.

A key selling point used by proponents is that this is not a tax increase, because it is a renewal of a tax already being paid. It is true that the renewal will not increase your tax bill from what it currently is. However, the renewal will provide Dearborn Public Schools with less money than the district currently gets. So, you’ll be paying the same amount in taxes, but the Dearborn school district will be getting substantially less as a result. FOR A LOOK AT WHAT IS ON THE NOVEMBER 3 BALLOT IN DEARBORN, CLICK HERE For information on voting by absentee ballot, click here.

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