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Northville-Mayfield school merger would bring aid, changes in taxes

Thursday, January 2, 2014
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— Northville residents will likely see a 10 percent property tax increase if voters approve a merger between the Northville and Mayfield school districts.

On Tuesday, residents of the two districts will decide whether to merge. The binding vote comes after a years-long merger effort.

With just a few days to go, Northville school board member James Beirlein has no idea how his town will vote.

“It’s definitely a toss-up at this point,” he said.

A combined Northville-Mayfield district would receive an additional $18 million in state merger incentive aid over 15 years.

“That’s a pile of money,” he said.

Even with that extra money, Northville residents would pay more in taxes.

According to Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel, the Northville school district has one of the lowest tax rates in the region. Mayfield’s rate is higher. In a merger, taxes would be leveled, which would result in a slight tax rate decrease in Mayfield and a 10 percent increase in Northville.

“That’s a few hundred extra dollars a year for the homeowners,” he said.

Beirlein said voting for a tax increase isn’t a popular move in his town, which leaves him guessing at the future.

There is less uncertainty in Mayfield. Residents of that school district came out in favor of a possible merger during a straw vote back in September 2012. It took Northville residents nearly a year and a second straw vote to OK just a study of a merger.

“It’s up to the residents,” said Mayfield Interim Superintendent Joseph Natale. “It’s their money, their kids and their school, but I think the numbers speak for themselves.”

Natale professed to have no opinion about a merger but laid out a number of advantages, including efficiency through economies of scale, more state aid dollars and a possible tax decrease.

“We’ve had to cut a lot over the last five years,” he said. “A merged district would maintain what we have and improve our programming.”

Beirlein expects Mayfield voters to approve the merger but worries his own town will miss an opportunity.

In a second straw vote earlier this spring, Northville residents voted in favor of revisiting the merger 307-199, but Beirlein said many did so out of curiosity rather than any real conviction.

“They wanted more information,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of those people since then who got more information and decided to vote against the merger.”

Beirlein himself is a longstanding merger supporter for a number of reasons. Over the past few years, he’s watched the school go through what he called “the death of a thousand cuts.”

Music, art, reading, sports and basically everything that’s not explicitly mandated by state law has been reduced or eliminated.

Without a merger, he worries that district taxes might increase drastically just to maintain current programs.

Michel said those worries are well-founded. A team at BOCES ran budget projections and calculated that Northville school taxes will likely increase by nearly 20 percent over the next five years if a merger falls through, while a successful merger would stabilize taxes for a decade after the initial 10 percent increase.

If the merger is not approved Tuesday, district officials will have to wait a full year before revisiting the idea.

Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. in the Mayfield gym lobby and at the Northville school.

 
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