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Speer: Enhancement millage worth pursuing

November 16, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

Alpena School Superintendent Brent Holcomb understands a challenge.

He knows when the odds are against him. Likewise, he knows when he is playing a strong hand. He understands negotiation, diplomacy and strategic planning.

Holcomb, like all of us, paid close attention weeks ago to the election night results for the presidency, state ballot issues and local recall efforts. Yet he also had his attention on another race, to the county north of Alpena, and in particular, what was happening in Onaway. There, school officials were seeking a bond issue to upgrade computer labs and purchase new buses. The issue failed, 1,462-1,134.

Granted, what Onaway was seeking does not mirror a request the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District will seek from its residents in February.

The ESD is seeking enhancement millage that would help offset lost revenue from the state by taxing local residents more for school operations. In many ways we're talking apples and oranges.

Continuing in the fruit vein, for Holcomb, passage of the ESD millage would be "peachy." The enhancement millage calls for three mills over 10 years. APS makes up 60 percent of the ESD population, thus Alpena will play a key role in that millage's fate.

Everyone associated with millages of any kind right now understand the complexity of getting it passed in this economic climate.

"Finances for school districts is not good," Holcomb told his board of education recently. "The enhancement millage allows the community the choice to self-tax itself at a higher rate for education."

While that would be nice, he understands the financial reality across the region as well. As much as he and other administrators need the millage, he understands the sacrifice it would mean to taxpayers.

Onaway Superintendent Rod Fullerton, in discussing his district's millage defeat earlier this month, said the struggling economy more than likely was a big factor in its defeat.

"I"m sure that had an impact. It's not the greatest of times to be increasing any tax, that's for sure."

Fullerton went on to add that he thinks there is a contingent of citizens, no matter what the issue, who will automatically reject any proposed tax increase.

Unlike Onaway, which faced a larger than normal voter turnout because of the presidential race, in February the ESD won't have that same problem. Except in Alpena, where a city council election will share the ballot, no other issues should compete at the polling booths.

In such instances, chances for passage increase significantly. Still, it may not be enough.

As Fullerton pointed out well, there certainly seems to be a groundswell of public opinion right now against more taxes of any sort, regardless of the potential benefit. Those people are vocal, motivated and they do vote.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why.

In a release from the University of Michigan this week, researchers predicted personal income growth of only 2.8 percent next year. Factoring in projected inflation of 2 percent, it means that real income (income after taxes and inflation) only will grow 0.6 percent.

And therein is the reality facing all of us. While improving, the economy is nowhere near where it was operating in years gone by, and that disparity is even more exaggerated in Michigan.

The enhancement millage is an idea certainly worth pursuing.

Is is it the saving grace for school districts?

I certainly hope not.

So do area administrators.



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