Basement Beat: Support AAESA proposals

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

We don’t endorse candidates as a paper, here at The Allegan County News, and I as editor don’t publicly endorse candidates either.

I do, however, occasionally get behind ballot proposals—especially school proposals.

So, quick full disclosure: my father taught English in a public high school on the east side for the state for more than 40 years. I believe in the public school model and in more robust funding for public schools.

We got a letter Thursday, Oct. 30, from Allegan Area Educational Service Agency superintendent Mark Dobias reminding folks about the AAESA’s two ballot proposals.

While he can’t really outright tell people they should vote in favor of them, I will.

At least the special education one. It puts more money into local districts and strengthens a system strained by years of budget cuts.

Here’s how it breaks down:

A property tax is put in place. Millage amounts work by collecting a set amount of dollars for every $1,000 of the property’s taxable value.

For example: A 2-mill tax on a home with a taxable value of $50,000 will cost $100 per year (the math sort of looks like this: there are 50 $1,000 bills in value. You owe $2 for each of them)

When that taxable values rises, the Headlee Amendment actually reduces the millage amount to prevent what the tax collects from increasing too quickly. “Too quickly,” by the way, means faster than inflation.

Let’s try and simulate that. (By the way, there are tons of factors that play into how this is actually done; this is all a vast oversimplification).

Let’s say your home’s taxable value rises by 8 percent, from $50,000 to $54,000. Without Headlee, you’d simply pay more. It comes to (54 x $2 =) $108 on that 2-mill tax.

Headlee, however, is going to rejigger the tax to make sure the money collected by that tax doesn’t increase faster than inflation. So, pretending inflation is about 3 percent, Headlee is going to make sure the tax collects no more than $103 from you.

(A brief interlude, here, while I dust off high school algebra in some long-forgotten nook of my brain, aided largely by Google.)

To make it work, Headlee—in this oversimplified example—reduces the tax to 1.9074 mills. Thus: 54 x 1.9074 = $102.99.

So now you know the origin of all those really lengthy millage numbers; we’re dealing with fractions of fractions to calculate this stuff.

Anyway, if taxable value continues to rise faster than inflation, Headlee kicks in for each of those years. So our once pristine 2-mill tax gets “rolled back” to 1.9074 to 1.8905 to 1.8199 and so on.

Unfortunately for whoever’s collecting that tax, there is no automatic mechanism that increases that millage back to its original value. Say property values fall or stay flat. The millage stays the same; because it’s collecting on less property value, it ends up collecting less money. If this goes on long enough, pretty soon a millage of this size is effectively not collecting on tens of thousands of dollars depending on where it’s from. Take Martin Township, for example.

The only way to increase the millage is by vote. Either the proposal artificially increases the millage amount for several years or the millage expires and voters pass a new one.

AAESA is doing the former; Proposal 1 would increase AAESA’s special education millage by 0.5203 mill to 3.05 mills for 20 years beginning next year.

And this is a situation where small numbers can add up fast. Compared to Martin, the AAESA millage affects many more properties and thus is worth much more in revenue. When Martin was looking to increase its millage by about a fifth of one mill to collect about $15,000 more, AAESA is looking to restore about half a mill and that’s worth an estimated additional $1,387,442.

So, just to be clear. For a house with $50,000 in taxable value:

• current millage, 2.5297 mills: means you pay $126.49 a year.

• if millage is increased back to 3.05 mills: $150.50 a year.

So, for that house, it’s a difference of $24.01. Annually. That’s not even 50 cents a week. And for that price, the schools get a million extra dollars to spend on special education—which is a million dollars they don’t have to take from the general fund, which is a million dollars they can spend all over.

As Dobias points out in his letter, “It won’t cover all of the expenses that the local districts incur (for special education), but it will help.”

Anyway, support the AAESA proposals. It’s worth it.

Also, by the way, don’t get thrown by the language on the proposals; apparently, they will say “INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL DISTRICT PROPOSALS” (and not AAESA, for some reason).

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