Hancock mulls millage election

HANCOCK – During their regular meeting Monday, members of the Hancock Public Schools Board of Education took action to lower the cost of bond payments and discussed when to conduct the next millage election.

Christopher Iamarino, an attorney with the East Lansing-based Thrun Law Firm, which represents school districts throughout the state, was at the meeting to explain the details of the bond refunding and choices for the millage election.

Iamarino said districts have four possible dates for millage elections: February, May, August and November.

The current 18-mill levy expires this year, Iamarino said, so it’s important a decision be made about setting an election date for renewal.

“The operating levy is important because it is part of how you get your state per pupil foundation allowance,” he said. “The two don’t make up for each other. (The state’s) piece is calculated on you getting your full 18 mills.”

The current 18-mill levy brings the district about $925,000 Iamarino said.

Iamarino said there are pros and cons to each possible date for a millage election. It’s too late for February this year. There would be a greater cost to the district for a May election, if it’s the only thing on the ballot. However, if there is nothing else on a May ballot, it would be easier for voters to focus on that.

Iamarino said August and November ballots this year are going to be full because August is a primary election with many candidates and issues, and November is a national general election with candidates for federal, state and local political positions, as well as propositions. However, the cost to get on the August and November ballots is relatively low.

If the millage election was conducted in May, Iamarino said the ballot language can call it a renewal.

However, if the election is conducted in August or November, the ballot language must call it an increase, despite the fact it’s asking for 18 mills again.

Iamarino said the board could choose to have the millage election in February or May 2015, but if they fail, the district would be in a difficult position because the previous millage would be finished.

“I wouldn’t recommend (February or May 2015) because I’d want you to have a back up plan,” he said.

The ballot language he brought to the meeting asks for a renewal of the 18-mill levy for three years, Iamarino said. The state allows districts to ask for more than 18 mills, but only 18 mills can be levied at any time. However, districts can ask a separate question on the ballot for another millage to compensate for any “Headlee erosion.”

According to the state of Michigan website, “The Headlee implementing legislation rolls back the maximum authorized millage rate for each taxing jurisdiction, to the extent that the total tax base increases more than the rate of inflation. Headlee does not apply to a debt millage. The Headlee millage reduction can reduce a maximum authorized millage when tax base increases faster than inflation, but it may not increase a millage when tax base increases slower than inflation. The maximum authorized millage can only be restored by a vote of the residents.”

After discussion by board members about the pros and cons of the possible dates and time lengths for the millage, board Secretary Chris Heikkinen suggested a May election for a five year 18-mill levy with a separate 1 mill to compensate for possible Headlee erosion during the five years. Iamarino said he would have to rewrite the ballot language to that effect, and he could get it to Superintendent Monica Healy today.

However, the ballot language must be in to the Houghton County clerk’s office by Feb 25.

Board members voted to have a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to vote on the new ballot language.

As for the bond refunding, Iamarino said the bonds from 2002 and 2004 for school buildings can be refunded for a 7.285 percent savings, or $320,573.68.

The refunding is not something the district must do, but it does save money, Iamarino said.

“It doesn’t go to your general fund, but it’s a savings to you taxpayers,” he said.

Members voted 5 to 0 to refund the bonds with members Michele Blau and Kevin Kalinec absent.