Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — It takes a village to calculate the cost of a millage.

Elmwood Township residents will head to the polls to determine whether they want to more than double their fire millage, from the current .78 mills to 2 mills.

It would cost $100 for every $50,000 of taxable value. How much that will mean to the average resident depends on who you ask.

Elmwood Township Supervisor Jack Kelly said the township’s assessor took all the residential taxable value and divided it by the number of residences. The result was that the 1.22 increase would cost taxpayers about $100 more than they already pay for the fire millage.

But such an average includes unusual properties like vacant lots and multi-million dollar properties.

At the request of the Record-Eagle, Leelanau County Equalization Department Director Laurie Spencer used the number of parcels with dwellings, took their total taxable value, and averaged it out to get about a $135 increase on household tax bills.

The number is a bit flawed because some residents do pay taxes on vacant land, and it doesn't include taxes on non-residential property.

"If you talked to somebody who had a home and wanted to know the average home value, it's closer to what it was than if you add in value of vacant land," Spencer said. 

Her number matches the cost of the increase for the median, or middle, taxable value of an Elmwood Township home.

Sarah Lucas, the regional planning department manager for Networks Northwest, said the American Community Survey, an annual part of the U.S. Census, lists the median value of an Elmwood Township house at $223,200 in 2012. 

“They basically choose the middle value rather than averaging it out because they feel that represents more accurately the spread of what’s out there,” Lucas said.

Spencer questioned the validity of using 1.22 mills to calculate increase, as opposed to the 2 mill total that the township is requesting.

"It's a little deceptive, I think, when what they're asking for is 2 mills. They're not asking for the renewal of the .78 mills plus an additional 1.22 mills," Spencer said.

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