OCC operational millage renewal to appear on November ballot

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 29, 2019

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OAKLAND COUNTY — On Nov. 5, residents of the Oakland Community College district, which includes almost all of Oakland County and parts of Lapeer, Livingston and Washtenaw counties, will be asked to renew the college’s operating millage.

The property tax commitment would be 0.7545 mills for 10 years, from 2022 to 2031, to support Oakland Community College’s operations. The millage would generate approximately $45 million annually, starting in 2022.

For a home with a taxable value of $100,000, the cost for the millage renewal would equate to less than $76 per year. As it is a renewal, the tax rate would remain the same if approved by voters.

“It’s an operating millage, so it goes to supporting all of the incredible programs we have — programs like robotics, IT, health care. We do a lot with emergency services, as well as advanced manufacturing, and we offer programming in all of these areas to meet the demand for a highly skilled workforce,” OCC Chancellor Peter Provenzano said. “It will allow us to continue all of the amazing programming that we have been known for, for over 50 years.”

The funds will be used to create and enhance instructional programs; maintain and improve the college’s physical buildings; and support scholarships, academic programs and technology advances, according to OCC.

“We have five campuses strategically located across Oakland County,” Provenzano said.

He added that the expansion of the Royal Oak campus to house the college’s fine arts and culinary arts programs is going well.

“We’re actually planning within the next week or so to close on the property purchased from the city of Royal Oak, and we’ve already began working with architects on the design of the Royal Oak culinary institute,” he said. “It makes it much more accessible to the public.”

While the current millage is for 1.5303, the proposed millage is for 0.7545 because the remaining mills are not expiring.

OCC received 1.4 mills for its operations and debt service for most of its 54 years. With the passage of Proposal A in 1994, the mills it received decreased to 0.85222. The next year, voters approved an increase of 0.8 mills and renewed the millage in 2002 and 2010. Over time, Headlee rollbacks have reduced the current rate to 0.7545 mills.

If the millage renewal passes, OCC projects the 0.7545 mills will generate approximately 27% of its operating revenue. In fiscal year 2018-19, the college received 53% of its operating revenue from property taxes, 19% from tuition and fees, and 15% from state appropriations.

According to OCC, the college opted to maintain the property tax because “low tuition makes college education and career training accessible to residents who otherwise could not afford higher education.” The college’s programs include training for 911 dispatchers, police officers, firefighters, EMS technicians, nurses and health professionals, as well as positions in auto repair, cybersecurity, robotics and welding.

“A significant jump in tuition would have a negative impact on the entire community,” according to OCC. “There is no way to reduce operating expenses enough to offset the loss of millage revenue and still be able to deliver the quality, affordable and accessible education mandated by the community.”

David Ceci, dean of public services and director of law enforcement training for OCC, said the millage is instrumental in providing the level of training — including state-of-the-art equipment, training facilities and instructors who are experts in their fields — to give students the best opportunity for success.

The school offers programs for students, as well as advanced training for those already practicing as dispatchers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and medical professionals.

In the past five years, Ceci said, OCC has graduated 470 police recruits and 251 fire cadets.

“We can’t do it without the support from property taxes,” he said. “We don’t want to prohibit people who really have the calling to do the job from being able to do so because they can’t afford it.”

Provenzano said the college opted to schedule the ballot item for the Nov. 5, 2019, election instead of waiting for the 2020 general election due to planning.

“We have five-year capital plans, as well as five-year budgets. We decided to go a little bit earlier so that for whatever reason it doesn’t pass, it gives us the time to plan,” he said.

If the millage renewal were to fail, Provenzano said, the college would have to make decisions regarding programming, since the renewal would provide about 27% of the budget.

“We would survey the community once again to determine whether or not a different approach would need to be made and ask voters again between now and 2021 to reapprove the renewal,” he said. “The key takeaway is that it does not increase taxes.”