Millages would support community education

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Courtesy of The Detroit Free Press

Community colleges in Wayne and Macomb counties are asking voters in November to approve property tax increases.

The Wayne County Community College District is seeking a 1-mill increase in its operating millage, while Macomb Community College is asking voters to OK a $56-million bond issue for building and technology improvements.

WCCCD currently levies 2.2 mills in property taxes. The school — like all Michigan community colleges — is largely funded by property taxes and tuition, unlike the state’s public universities, which are funded by state aid and tuition.

A 1-mill increase would cost a homeowner with a $100,000 house an extra $50 a year in property taxes. The college district covers all of Wayne County except for Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Garden City, Highland Park, Livonia, Northville, Plymouth and part of Canton. Chancellor Curtis Ivery, who has overseen key millage votes at the college in the past, said the Nov. 6 vote is particularly important. WCCCD’s annual budget has shrunk by nearly $30 million over the last several years, to $125 million, as the value of property in the district has dropped, college officials said.

WCCCD has cut staff, had furloughs and, this year, capped enrollment, especially in certain areas of study.

Ivery said the money raised by the tax, about $21 million a year for the next 10 years, would help WCCCD enlarge in-demand programs. For example, the school consistently hears about needs for welders, but its program only has one welding instructor. The other key area in high demand is health care, Ivery said.

“The question for us is, ‘How do you sustain this and add some programs?’ ” Ivery said. “We have a role to fill in training the work force in southeast Michigan. If we don’t, who is going to serve this population?”

Officials said that without the additional funding, they will have to take more steps to cut costs, including looking at possibly closing one of the college’s five locations.

That would be too bad, said Eric Washington, 45, of Detroit. He was at the downtown campus Monday afternoon to pick up his daughter, LaTisha, 19.

“I got family that’s gone to most of the different campuses,” he said. “It’s easier when it’s spread out, and not everyone has to come all the way downtown to take classes.”

The bond issue for Macomb Community College will be used renovate buildings and upgrade technology. School officials said the first phase of the bond would levy a 0.15-mill tax on property owners, which cost $8.94 a year for Macomb County’s average taxpayer.

The college’s current operating millage rate is 1.4.

Officials said the buildings needing updating were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and that installing all the wires and technology infrastructure can require taking apart walls.

The buildings also need to be updated to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Much like at WCCCD, Macomb Community College officials cite the need to keep current so the college can train workers for jobs.

“All these jobs require more technology, and we need to stay up-to-date with them,” college President Jim Jacobs said.

“Without the bond, we’d have to find a way to do the maintenance, but wouldn’t be able to purchase all the technology.

“We wouldn’t have to cut programs,” he said, “but we wouldn’t be as cutting-edge as we’d like to be.”

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