School Tax Votes: When ‘No!’ Means … ‘Maybe Later?’

Districts that lose bond elections and quickly reschedule new ones

In May, 58 percent of voters rejected a 10-year, 0.5 mill tax for the Wyoming Public Schools. Three months later, they will be asked to vote on the same proposal: the Wyoming Board of Education just voted to put it back on the ballot for an August election.

Wyoming School Board Trustee Mary Vande Water blamed the first rejection on a competing ballot proposal for the Grand Rapids transit system. The voters from the city of Wyoming didn’t support the transit system proposal, but it passed anyway.

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Eric Larson, spokesman for the watchdog group Kent County Families for Fiscal Responsibility, called it “insulting” to the voters to infer that they weren’t aware of what they were voting on.

“It’s a lack of respect towards the voters and their voice,” he said.

Larson said that if the voters had passed the millage in November, the school board wouldn’t come back three months later to double check that vote to make sure that they wanted their taxes raises. He implies that it is a game of Russian roulette with the school board continuing to pull the trigger until they get off the shot they want.

“They keeping asking until they get ‘Yes,’ “Larson said.

Other schools have attempted to get millages back before voters within months of a rejection.

In Eaton Rapids, 57 percent of the voters rejected a $25.1 million bond proposal in November, 2010. In February, it was back before the voters again. The reason given for a second vote was that the district learned just after the November election that it was awarded a special funding package from the state that would save taxpayers $17 million if the bond proposal was passed.  

Voters weren’t swayed: It was rejected again, this time by 51.5 percent of the voters.

The second-bite-at-the-apple bonds strategy has caught the attention of legislators.

State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, said he is considering legislation that would mandate a year pass before a rejected bond could be put on the ballot again. And Agema said he’d also like to see all those elections happen in November when there is a bigger turnout.

Just over 6,000 people voted in November in the Eaton Rapids bond vote. Three months later, the turnout dropped to about 2,100.

“I could do that in a heartbeat,” Agema said about the legislation. “Most people in the legislature are sick of them doing it. If they don’t get their way, they put another one up.”

Wyoming School Board President Deborah Fewless and VandeWater didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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See also:

Anatomy of How to Kill a Tax Hike

Commentary: Five Easy Questions to Ask School Officials

Coverage of School District Claiming Cuts

Helpful Facts About Michigan's Public Sector