Author Topic: Why Whitmore Lake annexation failed:Ballot language,tax rates likely top reasons  (Read 398 times)

chhaterdhari

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Poorly written ballot language and a tax increase likely doomed the proposed annexation of Whtmore Lake school into the Ann Arbor school district, officials and observers in both districts said.

"If we had to do it again, we would control the ballot language and would have evenly structured taxes," said Tom DeKeyser, Whitmore Lake High School principal.

Ann Arbor Public Schools voters rejected the Whitmore Lake annexation proposal by 57 percent across the district, with 27,502 voters saying no and 20,448 voting yes.

In the Whitmore Lake school district, 2,732 or 72 percent of voters said yes, while 1,058 or 28 percent of voters rejected the proposal.

Related: After Whitmore Lake annexation fails, school official says 'all is not lost'

DeKeyser said the ballot language, which asked Ann Arbor school district residents if their district should take on the Whitmore Lake schools' debt, didn't show the overall picture of annexation.

Bond lawyers wrote the ballot language, said Ann Arbor school board President Deb Mexicotte at multiple annexation forums in October.

She said the goal of annexation was to create a whole community of the two districts while improving education and stabilizing finances of the combined districts.

Jack Panitch, an Ann Arbor school board candidate who did not get elected, pointed said voters who weren't well informed on the issue were unlikely to vote for it.

He pointed to something that happened in the Ann Arbor school board race to illustrate the impact of the uninformed voter. Candidate Deirdre Piper withdrew herself from the election, but her name still appeared on the ballot. She garnered 6,350 votes. Panitch said that shows those voters didn't know she had withdrawn her candidacy.

Those same folks were also not likely aware of the annexation issue, he said, and would have been turned off by the ballot language in Ann Arbor, which read:

"Shall  the  Public  Schools  of  the  City  of  Ann  Arbor,  County  of  Washtenaw,  Michigan,  assume  the  bonded  indebtedness  of  the  Whitmore  Lake  Public  School  District,  if  the  electors  of  the  Whitmore  Lake  Public  School  District  approve  both  annexation  by  the   Public   Schools   of   the   City   of  Ann   Arbor   and   the   assumption   of   the   bonded  indebtedness  of  the  Public  Schools  of  the  City  of  Ann  Arbor,  which  annexation  and  assumption,  if  approved,  will  be  effective  as  of  July  1?"

"Who's going to vote yes for that? The language doesn't say we're going to build a bridge," he said.

The increase in taxes for Ann Arbor residents and decrease for Whitmore Lake residents as a result of the debt being spread across a larger school district was a point of contention among some Ann Arbor schools voters.

The tax issues made it look like Whitmore Lake schools were getting something and Ann Arbor schools weren't, DeKeyser said.

"It wasn't anyone's fault. That's the way tax code was written," he said.

Roland Zullo, an Ann Arbor school board candidate who was against annexation, said he was concerned about the Ann Arbor schools' strategy to deal with declining enrollment in the area through annexation.

"What was offered was vague and not verifiable, that development would be stimulated due to annexation, which in turn would reverse Whitmore Lake enrollment trends," he said "If this was indeed the plan, then proponents were essentially asking Ann Arbor Public Schools residents to accept a tax hike for the sake of developers and large Whitmore Lake property owners."

Panitch said the compressed timeline of the decision was another factor.

The Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake school boards voted on July 30 to put the proposal on the November ballot.

Glenn Nelson, the Ann Arbor school board treasurer, has said they wanted to put the issue in front of the most voters possible, which means a November election on an even year.

The short timeline before the vote meant people still had a lot of questions and the board and Citizens for Annexation group had little time to put together an effective coherent campaign, Panitch said.

Now that the voted is decided, Whitmore Lake schools officials are looking forward.

At an all-student assembly at Whitmore Lake High School on Wednesday, DeKeyser said, he explained to students annexation was a proactive idea.

"Proactive ideas get rejected, but it doesn't mean failure," he said.
Source-mlive