Escanaba schools to seek millage

ESCANABA — The Escanaba School Board unanimously approved seeking a 2.2 mill ($2.20 tax per $1,000 of taxable value) sinking fund millage at a special meeting Monday evening. The fate of the millage request will be decided by Escanaba voters in May.

Since late November, Superintendent Coby Fletcher and a group of administrative staff, teachers, school board members, and community members, have met to explore needs within the Escanaba School District that could be covered with a sinking fund.

In September, board members gave approval for Fletcher to research implementing a sinking fund and create a special exploratory committee.

At last week’s regular meeting, the Sinking Fund Exploratory Committee outlined the top three needs that could be addressed with sinking funds — improvements in school security, building improvements, and updating technology.

In addition, two millage rates were proposed — 1.6 mills ($1.60 tax per $1,000 of taxable value) or 2.2 mills ($2.20 tax per $1,000 of taxable value) over a period of five to seven years.

The average household in the Escanaba district holds around $44,000 in taxable value, according to research conducted by the committee. If the board had approved the 1.6 mils rate, the average payment for taxpayers would have been $70.40 per year.

With the approved rate of 2.2 mils, the average payment for homeowners will equate to about $96.80 per year over a period of five years, if approved by voters in May.

Over the course of five years, the district would collect approximately $1.2 million per year and over $6 million in five years.

Because Escanaba Area Public Schools has never had a sinking fund millage, the board could have sought a taxation period as long as 10 years. A majority of the board thought 10 years was too long, and agreed the five-year timeline fit.

“I think it shows the community that we’re not trying to max this out,” said Fletcher. “We’ve really put a lot of thought into it. We know where the money is going to be spent, and it can change with surprises and other things.”

Fletcher noted in his discussions with other school districts that have sinking fund millage, he hasn’t come across a district that hasn’t asked for renewal after its timeline is finished. He hopes that after five years, if approved by voters, the community will be able to see the improvements made and possibly re-implement the millage.

Trustee Cathy Wilson noted she also liked the five-year timeline because with as many changes that come with what districts can use sinking fund money for, the district wouldn’t be locked in for 10 years unable to change what it could possibly spend the money on. Wilson added many of the facilities within the district are very public, and improving them would be a real asset to the community.

Purchases that may not be made with sinking fund money are routine maintenance and operations costs, payment of district salaries or benefits, textbooks and supplies and buses.

School Board President Dan Flynn said he would like to see more structure within the list of approximately 80 improvements to let people know what the district wants to spend its tax dollars on.

With this, the board agreed to remove rebuilding the Igloo locker room and adding artificial turf to the Escanaba football field from the list because they are large expenses.

Vice-president Kathy Jensen expressed concern over raising property taxes, as some people within the Escanaba area are already struggling to get by. With an average $96 increase in property taxes each year, Jensen said it could be a hard for some.

Escanaba resident Steve Martin noted having the sinking fund millage gives the people of the Escanaba School District a chance to have more “local control” in the schools. Martin is also the principal at the Escanaba Upper Elementary School.

“I think its a good place to start,” said Martin. “A sinking fund is really a way for a local district to be proud of their school…”

Fletcher noted the next step will be meeting with the Delta County clerk to put the issue on the May ballot. From there, official ballot language will be hashed out between Fletcher and the school’s law firm. Ballot language has to be filed by Feb. 8, added Fletcher.

The board’s next meeting will take place on Monday, Feb. 12, at 6 p.m.