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Ballot language for recreation mileage approved by Dexter board

DEXTER, MI – Dexter Community Schools will place a recreation mileage on the August election ballot that could pay for the Dexter Senior Center, youth and community recreation facilities and programming.

The Dexter School Board has unanimously approved the proposal for the Aug. 2 election ballot that would increase the amount of taxes assessed on all property in the school district by 1 mill, or $1 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation, for 20 years.

If approved, the mileage would provide funding for operating a system of public recreation and playgrounds, levying approximately $1.44 million in 2022.

The Authority Act 321 of 2000 allows a municipality, school district or combination of two or more municipalities or school districts to bring a ballot proposal to voters of not more than 1 mill for 20 years on all taxable property within the territory of an established recreation authority.

Because Dexter Community Schools cuts through eight different townships within its 84 square miles, it is uniquely positioned to be the recreation authority via a mileage, as opposed to the City of Dexter, which would only be able to serve citizens of the city, Superintendent Chris Timmis said.

“The only way to generate what turns into a multi-generation activities mileage is for the board to recognize under the recreation authority laws to go forward with the mileage,” Timmis said. “The board can work through the next several months a structure to set up determinations for how those dollars are spent.”

Timmis previously noted the Dexter Senior Center receives just 20% of its funding from local agencies, with approximately 80% of its funding coming via grants. With DCS currently serving as the community’s primary source for community education and recreation programming, Timmis said DCS currently is100% fee-based, costing participants about $200,000 annually, which limits the types of programming both entities can offer.

With the district informing the senior center it would help find it a new home for senior activities after it sold the old Copeland school building where it currently leases space from the district, Timmis said a millage would help all community entities involved.

“The problem (the senior center has) is that they receive $13,000 a year to operate from the rest of the municipalities in the area,” Timmis said. “You can’t operate anything on $13,000. So, the only mechanism for senior funding in this area is through county recreation mileage, private donations, fundraisers or a recreation mileage.”

While board members generally supported the concept of a mileage and establishing a recreation authority, some questioned why the district would ask for the maximum 1 mill increase instead of a smaller tax levy.

Board member Daniel Alabré said he thought it was a good idea to get the proposal on the ballot, but stressed the importance of educating the public on what the mileage would pay for.

“Whether the (proposal) passes or don’t pass, this is basically a new tax at the end of the day, and no one likes a new tax,” he said. “Being a new mileage, people are going to want to know what they’re getting.”

Timmis said the process of going through a mileage proposal is extensive, making it a risk to ask for a partial mill with the idea of ​​asking to increase the mileage down the road. It also wouldn’t be able to generate enough funding to be able to help operate both senior and youth activities in a significant way.

“It is quite a process to be able to go for a mileage,” he said. “If you go for a partial mill and then you turn around a few years later and say you want to increase the mills, the challenge is (residents) will (ask) ‘Well, what did you do with the last part?’”

Interim Operations Manager Jim Carson said the Dexter Senior Center is the only of its kind in the region that is primarily self-sustaining, making it reliant on donors and grant funding to maintain its $75,000 annual operating budget. Other school districts in Washtenaw County like Saline Area Schools, Whitmore Lake Public Schools and Lincoln Consolidated Schools each have a recreation mileage in place.

The Dexter Senior Center has operated out of the old Copeland building, leasing it from Dexter Community Schools for $1 per year for the past 27 years. With its lease in the building expiring on Jan. 31, 2023, Carson said the senior center does have the option to re-lease its space, but it would not be a long term solution.

Board President Mara Greatorex said after attending a community forum last month and discussing the impact of a potential mileage with the community, she wants to prioritize seniors who have trouble generating funding for their own programming.

“Our senior center is basically non-existent and our seniors fundraise for their own senior center,” she said. “They are doing their own bake sales and rummage sales and they get very little stipend from the city and the communities they serve. It would be really nice to be able to give something back to the seniors who have really created a foundation of community here.”

The district previously laid out several ways mileage funds could be used in the community, including:

  • Stable funding for Dexter senior activities and a location in a Dexter Community Schools facility ($300,000 per year)
  • Elimination of participation fees for district athletics through a support of facilities and maintenance to offset the cost of operating athletics ($200,000 per year)
  • Support for youth and adult enrichment through a funded community recreation program ($500,000 per year)
  • Support for a potential future Dexter Community Schools community center open to the DCS Community during the day and in the evening ($400,000 per year)

Putting the proposal on the August ballot, rather than in November, Timmis said, would allow Dexter Community Schools to collect tax revenue for the full year of 2023, rather than pushing it back a year.

Timmis said he anticipates a good voter turnout for the August election in a primary year. Between now and the time of the election, he said it will be the district’s responsibility to spend time building the structure of how a recreation authority would operate, as well as inform the community about the mileage.

Board member Dick Lundy said the approach of a recreation mileage is different than a traditional school bond in that it is a response to a community need, even if it would ultimately benefit the school district.

“In this case, we are really responding to an interest in the community, which addresses quality of life within the community,” Lundy said. “Instead of us driving this, we are responding to something that has been indicated the community wants.”

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