Board shifts part of inside millage
Alissa Widman Neese
Nov 14, 2013 at 9:36 AM
In an unexpected move Wednesday, Perkins school board members reversed course on plans to pursue new buildings, and they instead adhered to the majority will of Perkins Township taxpayers.
Board members voted 4-1 to return a portion of moved millage — 3.2 mills of 5.2 total mills — back to the district’s operating fund. Newly re-elected board member Terry Chapman voted against the measure.
The vote backtracked on a 2011 decision to move the operating funds, called “inside millage,” into the district’s permanent improvement fund, a separate account intended for building projects. The move quickly depleted the district’s operating fund, which is used for salaries and other day-to-day operations. Voters rejected three tax levy proposals this year to restore the operating fund, most recently on Nov. 5. Many “no” voters said the millage move prompted them to reject the tax levies.
On Wednesday, board members contended the decision to move the millage back was a “political move,” and not the most “fiscally responsible” decision. They discussed the tough choice with almost 100 community members for about two hours.
“This will cost you more money in the long run, but we’re elected by the people to represent the people, and this is what they want,” board president Matt Kosior said. “What you’re asking us to do is a very difficult decision.”
The 3.2 mills was a “comfortable amount” to move, leaving some funds available to repay a district loan to conduct a new building study, Kosior said.
Moving the millage back will return about $1.4 million to the district’s general operating fund each year, superintendent Jim Gunner said. The district will receive about half that amount in the current school year, with the first payment collected in February.
To pursue future building projects and maintain operating funds, voters will still likely need to approve several tax levies or bond issues.
“This is not a long-term solution,” Kosior said.
Board members haven’t determined what they will do with the new operating funds this spring, but it’s possible they could restore some recently cut faculty members or reduce the district’s costly pay-to-participate fees.
Prior to Wednesday’s move, Perkins Schools faced a dire financial dilemma, with only an estimated $23,500 in reserve cash left at the end of the current school year, according to a five-year financial forecast. Its budget is about $21 million a year.
Voters rejected a 10-year, 6.73-mill levy proposal last week, with 61 percent voting against it, according to unofficial election results.
The millage move and the series of failed levy attempts effectively divided the Perkins Schools community, pitting levy supporters and opposers against each other in heated debates.
During Wednesday’s meeting, however, about a dozen individuals on both sides of the issue discussed their views, with most agreeing on at least one thing: the enlightening conversation was long overdue.
“This is the best meeting and back-and-forth dialogue we’ve had in the two years I’ve been on the board,” board member Brad Mitchel said.
Board members cleared up some misunderstandings Wednesday, such as the notion taxpayers voted to create the “inside millage” funds, when the state actually established them in the 1930s for districts to use as they pleased.
Community members Bob Weichel and J Franklin, who voted against the Nov. 5 levy, said Wednesday’s move and conversation was the best way to restore taxpayer trust in the district moving forward.
“Until we stop fighting and labeling each other, nothing good is going to happen,” Weichel said. “This will restore our trust in you. It’s a step in the right direction.”
The millage move was not initially listed on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. Board members amended the agenda following a two-hour closed-door meeting to discuss personnel. A closed-door meeting also followed the regular meeting, with no action taking place afterward.