TRAVERSE CITY — George Ford's five children attended public school in Traverse City, and eight of his grandchildren go to school here, too.
But family roots in Traverse City Area Public Schools run only so deep for Ford, of East Bay Township. He's already cast his absentee ballot: a resounding no to the district's request to boost the millage rate from 3.1 to 3.9 mills for a $100 million capital improvement package.
"It's never going to fly," said Ford, a retired insurance agency owner. "It's too much money, especially in this economy."
A sampling of local voters indicates strong pro and con positions on TCAPS millage request. Most voters will weigh in on Nov. 6, and the district's single ballot question asks them to pay to remodel and rebuild several schools, upgrade technology, and construct a new performing arts auditorium at Central High School.
The auditorium — its cost is pegged at roughly $18 million — appears to be the main point of contention for many millage opponents.
"To repair the schools, yeah, but not for a big, monster auditorium," Ford said. "It seems a little grandiose right now with this economy."
Others disagree and said they'll vote for the millage.
"I'm 100 percent for it," said Jill Martin, of Traverse City, whose children attended TCAPS schools. "We need that auditorium, I don't care what people say. At Central, lots of programs happen in the gym because there isn't enough room in the auditorium. It's not comfortable, it's not like a sporting event where you can just get up and walk around."
Local voters typically support TCAPS funding requests. If the latest proposal fails, it will mark the first such rejection in a decade. Since 1987, a 25-year stretch that featured 15 TCAPS requests for money, local voters said no only four times, two of those in 1992.
Those 25 years included several rough economic patches, but none as deeply rutted as the recession that engulfed the state and nation by mid-2008. The economy clearly is on voters' minds as they consider TCAPS latest plea.
The lunch crowd at Round's restaurant on Eighth Street recently voiced skepticism at TCAPS plans.
Traverse City retiree Carolyn Knopf said she isn't convinced the planned upgrades are needed, and worries about a higher tax load.
"I'm a senior citizen now, and I don't have any kids in school," she said. "At this age, I watch my money closer. I can't afford to spend it."
Rick Barthuli is a merchant seaman who lives in Florida but has property in the TCAPS district.
"If it's more taxation, it's bad," he said. "If you give them more money, they'll waste more money."
He believes taxpayer-supported bonding lends itself to haphazard spending.
"It's much easier for me to spend your money than mine," he said.
Garfield Township resident Linda Peoples has a daughter who teaches at TCAPS and a son who teaches at a downstate district. She supports the millage and believes the proposal will benefit students and teachers.
"I'm just like everyone else. I don't want my taxes to be raised," she said. "But I also want what's best for my kids and children coming up."
Kevin Whiting, Round's manager, believes TCAPS officials spent more money than necessary when they built West Senior High, among other issues.
"I just don't feel TCAPS spends their money wisely, so I don't think they need to be getting some more," he said. "I think they need to take smaller bites and prove they can spend it wisely."
Whiting has two children in the TCAPS system and two more who graduated from the district.
"In my mind, the community has been very generous to TCAPS, and TCAPS just keeps asking for money," he said. "This community supports the schools, but just jumping on every millage just because they throw it out there just doesn't make sense."