State Representative Urges Muskegon Heights Residents To Renew School Millage

Andrew Trzaska | October 9, 2012

With a ballot proposal coming up in November, the state representative for Muskegon Heights urged the council and city residents to renew a millage whose funds may be used to pay down debts of the local school district.

The millage in question is an 18 mill non-homestead tax, which is assessed on rental properties in the city.  It went toward paying off the new Muskegon Heights High School over the last decade.

The school district’s emergency manager, Dr. Donald Weatherspoon, proposed continuing the tax to pay down the district’s $16 million dollar debt, which ballooned over the last few years.

Marcia Hovey-Wright, the democrat representing the Michigan’s 92nd district, which includes Muskegon Heights, appeared at its city council meeting on Monday.

Hovey-Wright’s Monday address stated that a perception exists in the city that the state will bail out the school district’s $16 million debt if the millage is not renewed.  She said that reasoning is wrong:

“The state is not going to bail [the district] out, because it would set a bad precedent.”

Hovey-Wright stated that the state would be looking to recoup its funds any way it could, and it would turn to the city’s taxpayers for the money if the district could not provide them:

“The state could sue the city to get the $16 million,” said Hovey-Wright. “They could sue the school but they have no resources. The citizens are responsible for the debt.”

Muskegon Heights councilman Keith Guy pursued a line of questioning to confirm where Hovey-Wright got her information. Hovey-Wright indicated that most of her information came from Muskegon Heights Public Schools emergency manager Dr. Donald Weatherspoon, as well as “other people as well.”

“We just can’t take [Dr. Weatherspoon’s] word for it,” said Guy. “We need some legal perspective of what the options are. I’m not saying he’s wrong, but he could be.”

Paige picked up on another thread of Hovey-Wright’s comments: the 18 mill level is currently being paid, so the November ballot question would keep taxes at the same level, not increase them.

“When he says the renewal is just a renewal, that’s what it is,” said Paige. “The other option is that it is a possibility that everybody could be charged.”

Hovey-Wright pushed people toward approving the renewal while clarifying the language of the ballot:

“To say ‘yes’ means that that would be used to pay off the debt of the school district. To say ‘no’ would put the rest of the debt on the city.”

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst