County commissioner launches campaign against school bond proposal

By: Thomas Franz | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published April 12, 2017

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, R-Macomb Township, is no stranger to fighting against higher taxes, and he has his eyes set on defeating another ballot proposal that would increase taxes for residents in the Chippewa Valley Schools district. 

Drolet, who is also the chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, launched a campaign the week of April 5 aimed at defeating a millage increase to fund technology and building improvements districtwide. 

“It’s just very fiscally irresponsible, and almost nothing in the proposal will last for the 25 years they’ll be paying for it,” Drolet said.

If approved, the bond program would create $89,950,000 in funds for Chippewa schools, and it would increase property taxes by 0.5 mills on district residents.

For a home with a market value of $200,000, that would mean a $50 increase in annual taxes, as the total millage rate for the district would be increased to 9.14 mills. 

The estimated simple average annual millage that will be required to retire each series of bonds is 1.34 mills annually, meaning that as previous bonds are paid off by the district a greater portion of the 9.14 millage rate will go towards the 2017 bond program. 

“They’re using very deceptive language to describe what the real cost of this is, and it’s a very poor financial practice to buy things that last for four or five years and pay for them for 25 years. This is how the district ends up with such a massive debt,” Drolet said. 

Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts disputed Drolet’s claim regarding using long-term bonds to pay off short-use items like laptops. The bond program would create more than $34 million for technology enhancements in the district, including 158 new laptop carts that each hold 30 laptops. 

“We follow all of the guidelines from the Michigan Department of Treasury and their rules about bonds. When computers are bonded, they’re paid off over their useful life, so computers are not paid for over 25 years, that information is just wrong,” Roberts said.

Ballot language states that the district has $424,095,000 of qualified bonds outstanding and approximately $31,696,908 of qualified loans outstanding under the Michigan School Bond Loan Program. As part of the 2017 proposed bond program, the ballot also states that the district expects to borrow $22,578,684 in total principal from the loan program, and pay $56,364,019 in interest.

The $424 million figure comes from previous bond programs that helped create funding for the construction of several schools, and additions to many more.

“The district has racked up the second-largest debt in the state out of 522 districts. We’re still paying for computers now that are in landfills from the last time they had a bond for technology purposes,” Drolet said.

Roberts acknowledged the district’s debt, and said it is due to the district’s quick growth over the last two decades.

“We have debt because we were the fastest-growing school district in the state of Michigan for a long period of time, so we have debt because we built buildings. Those buildings are expensive to maintain,” Roberts said. 

This year’s bond program would also create nearly $45 million to be dedicated to construction work throughout the district. That would include $17 million for site work, which includes six parking lot replacements and work on 13 others, plus work on sidewalks, athletic fields and playgrounds.

Drolet began the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance campaign against the bond proposal by distributing a flyer to residents and creating a website to share information.

Drolet’s organization also led opposition against last November’s regional transportation proposal that was defeated soundly in Macomb County.

Roberts said Drolet’s opposition campaign paints an incomplete picture of the district and the proposal. 

“Some of the information is just not correct,” Roberts said. “We’ve gone through the channels to do it properly, and what we’re doing is right for the community. We really looked at what we thought our community could afford and balance that with the kind of education programs they’ve come to expect for our students.”

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