Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 7, 2013

TCAPS to revisit capital plans after failed millage

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Call it a silver lining.

Voters rejected Traverse City Area Public Schools’ $35.2-million bond proposal, but district officials said they now know what they’re working with as they revamp the district’s long-term capital plans with far less available cash than hoped for prior to Tuesday night.

“For good news, we have baseline data,” Paul Soma, TCAPS associate superintendent of finance & operations said during a finance committee meeting Wednesday morning. “We have excellent baseline data on a ton of things. We know the parameters and the constraints we have to work within.”

That provided little solace to board members now tasked with finding money to repair leaky roofs and replace outdated technology while grappling with a general fund deficit, uncertain state revenues and a lean fund balance.

“There’s not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel right now,” board President Kelly Hall said.

TCAPS’ millage proposal was an attempt to raise tax money for reconstruction projects at three elementary schools, security improvements at Central High School and West Middle School, bus and technology replacements and other projects.

Voters also nixed a separate ballot measure to rebuild Central’s auditorium.

Now district officials will have to re-prioritize how to use the capital dollars remaining from a 2007 ballot question, Soma said. They also likely will need to spend general fund money on maintenance.

“If some of these aged infrastructures require considerably more maintenance, we might have to dip into the general fund,” board member Scott Hardy said. “And if we’re dipping into the general fund, that’s going to affect education.”

Most school districts in Michigan ask voters to approve a certain dollar amount and an estimated millage when they vote on bond proposals. The true millage rate is then dictated by the market. TCAPS does things differently by including an actual millage rate in ballot proposals.

District officials have long lauded that actual millage rate as a promise to voters -- tax rates won’t go up even if property values decline -- thought it’s not legally binding.

Board member Megan Crandall said it’s time for the board to take a second look at that promise and the district’s current rate of 3.1 mills.

“It’s not something I’m particularly interested in doing, but maybe we need to have that conversation,” she said.

Many TCAPS officials said every option is on the table for now. Board member Gary Appel said he would consider another millage request in the near future, though he admitted it could be “problematic” after losing the last two attempts.

Hall doesn’t think there will be another TCAPS millage for at least two years. She and three other board members are up for reelection next year.

Hall said she hopes the second TCAPS bond election loss in as many years will spur TCAPS supporters to action in the future, another possible silver lining.

But she and other board members remained shocked and disappointed following the district’s most recent defeat.

“I see a thriving community and a thriving TCAPS going together,” Appel said. “I see the health of TCAPS and the health of our community as deeply intertwined. Unfortunately, a lot of voters, especially those with no children in school, disagree with me.”