TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College board members decided months ago to put a .4-mil request before county voters in August, a single-item, special election that’s expected to cost taxpayers about $70,000.
College trustees at the time said they chose an off-year, non-primary August election date — typically a time of light voter turnout — because they wanted to make sure there was enough time for an approved higher property tax rate to take effect this year.
But NMC College President Tim Nelson learned just after the NMC board’s April vote to secure the Aug. 6 election date that the same winter taxation goal could be achieved in November, information he failed to share with board members.
The timing matters because the August special election will cost NMC — and by extension taxpayers and students — about $70,000. If NMC had opted for the November ballot, there would have been no extra cost.
NMC Board Trustee Bob Brick said he doesn’t recall hearing a November vote could have made the winter tax rolls, but he still supports the August election, in part, because it puts NMC’s tax increase request before millage votes sought by other local governments. Traverse City Area Public Schools officials will have two bond requests on the November ballot, and the Grand Traverse County Road Commission likely will ask taxpayers for a winter maintenance millage.
“I liked the thought it would become forefront in the election, a stand-alone instead of merged in with other potential concerns,” Brick said.
August and other off-cycle or non-primary elections typically have much lower voter turnouts than November elections, said Grand Traverse County Clerk Bonnie Scheele.
In May 2003, for example, 17.7 percent of Grand Traverse County’s registered voters turned out for a 911 surcharge request, and 20.7 percent of registered voters turned out for a BATA special election that July. Those numbers compare to a 32.7 percent turnout in November for a city general election, said Sarah Lutz, the county’s chief deputy clerk.