Next Tuesday, voters in Scottville and eleven other townships in Mason and Lake County will see a 30 year Mason County Central (MCC) School bond proposal come before them for the second time in as many years in the month of May.  This article will explore this proposal and offer some insights you won't normally find in the area's corporate/establishment media, which to nobody's surprise, tend to be favorable for this proposal as they were last year if not embracing total advocacy for the ballot measure (yes, that's you Mason County Press).  

Last year, the proposal failed; it was seeking $33.6 million, just $2 million more than they are trying for this year, and structured it top-heavy (raising half of the money in the first of three series of bonds) in order to construct a performing arts center and install artificial turf at Spartan Stadium, among other projects, early on.  If voters approve this year's proposed bond, it is expected to generate approximately $10.7 million during the first series in 2023; $4.67 million during the second series in 2026; and about $16.12 million (approximately $31.5 million total) during the third series in 2027 for a smoother curve.  This will delay construction of the performing arts center until the last series rolls out and having high school/safety/security upgrades take place first.  

To pare down the amount raised they did an option play on the artificial turf idea and decided to only improve the drainage of the school's grass fields for a dramatic cost savings, as a turf field would need to be replaced three times during the next thirty years.  The district's FAQ sheet about this bond indicates that turf improvement was not well received in their feedback sessions held between proposals.  This is a proposal 'improvement' and may attract some voters that went 'no' last year, but it is also instructive to Ludington schools, as their turf installation is going to be a continuing drain on the school's funds to maintain over the course of their 2019 bonds and a source of probable future litigation against them.  

MCC is currently levying 2.42 mills, the proposal would require an estimated millage increase of 1.6 mills, or $1.60 for every $1,000 of taxable value for property owners. The estimated annual average to retire the bond debt in time would be 3.42 mills.  According to the COLDNews 2-6-23, the school district approved ballot language you will see this coming Tuesday, back in February.

The district has provided a website to inform voters, without any overt advocation of the proposal, including an informational booklet on particulars and how to find out how it may impact your taxes.  If you want full advocacy, the Mason County Press has approached that with propaganda pieces for a while with paid article/advertisements, more of those, still more, even more, and yet more.  Then there are letters in support by school staff, a board member offering support, and another board member choosing not to disclose he is a board member offering support, an Amber Twp resident supporting it, all of this within the last week. 

Surprise, everybody in MCP world is strongly for the proposal, and MCP is raking in lots of money from some outside source (likely one set to earn a lot if it passes:  the architectural and construction firms that bombarded Ludington with the same advocacy in 2019, GMB and Christman) to 'inform' you that it's good to raise your taxes for your children's education.  MCP's writer Rob Alway always fails to disclose his additional conflict of interest in supporting this measure, in that the City of Scottville, whom he serves as a city commissioner (albeit one who entered into his office illegally), will be receiving a bit of a stimulus package with that $31.5 million being spent, for not all of it will go out of county to the two GR based contractors.

The Ludington Torch knows that every voter seeing this proposal on the ballot is hurting from crippling inflation more this year than last and even though many may want to do whatever they can for their children having a better education, they also need to make sure they can afford this potential hit to their wallets.  Face it, if your property is worth $125,000 taxable value, this tax hike will cost you an additional $200 per year.  

Do you think the school district will use that $200 wiser than you, and do you honestly think GMB and Christman will do these projects with conservative use of your hard-earned money?  If you have kids or grandkids in the district, it may be easier to justify the tax increase, but your own household's financial security should be your first consideration. 

It should be instructive to see what the voters across the district did during the 2022 election.  The district spans the City of Scottville, nine townships in Mason County, along with Lake and Weare Twp in Lake County.  75% of the votes cast in Lake County were no, including all 13 votes cast in Weare Twp.  In Mason County townships, the measure failed in all but one, with lows at 25% for the proposal in Logan Twp, 29% in Grant Twp, and 35% in vote-heavy Riverton Twp. 

The measure passed in the City with nearly 60% of the vote and surprisingly in Eden Twp with nearly the same percentage, but much less voters.  Every other township voted against it, the margin of victory in Riverton would have more than offset the 'no' votes in Scottville, had they been 'yes' votes .  The two townships that had many more voters than Scottville's come out, Amber and Victory Twp, voted against the proposal, with only 47% and 39% support respectively.  

It's not surprising that outlying districts generally voted 'yes' less often, as they will not see any likely secondary effect of the constructions like the City of Scottville would, but has the MCC school district reached out to appeal more to them this time around?  I see nothing to that effect, and that may once again prove the difference when the vote totals are cast.  Three townships had the plurality of votes last May (847 of 1434 votes cast), so without any efforts made in those districts to make this appeal more to them or otherwise to lessen the vote in those areas, it is unlikely to change the outcome barring some election irregularities caused by all the potential money involved.

One can't help in noticing the focus of the marketing for this year's effort has been away from the performing arts center, which was the center point during 2022.  Their focus groups must have told them that the voters were interested more in safety and security, as this seems to be what they have lead with this time.  Being that safety and security upgrades are a very small part of the expenditures and could likely be covered by using excess ESSER funds, they are effectively deceiving the voters into thinking that it's what's driving this bond proposal.  

This seems to be a better measure than 2022s, but it can still be improved, and the public should get a transparent fully open list of where that $31.5 million is specifically being spent and precisely what it is being spent on.  This is absent in the literature and if you're part of the next focus group, providing this proposal fails, make sure you tell them you want full transparency on what and how their money is being spent, and insist on knowing where in Grand Rapids all that local money is going, when it would be smart to keep it here in Mason County.  Don't they teach those lessons in school anymore?

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Great coverage X. I have no skin in this game but if I were voting on this, I would make sure exactly where the money would be going. As usual there are just to many questions when it comes to explaining exactly what the money is going to buy. That's a lot of money for such a small school district. I would not vote for this if only because of the turf issue. This area must have had a traveling turf salesman come through a while back who fast talked his way into getting these school districtS to hand over millions for plastic carpet.

Perhaps I made it more confusing than I should have, but the 2023 version of the bond proposal has dropped the artificial turf field, only the 2022 version had it in.  School leaders for some reason love artificial turf, and much of it I'm sure is from the Astroturf marketers who make their products seem like the best thing since sliced bread.  Had Ludington's 2019 bond failed, I think they would have had to drop the artificial turf for their second try, but it turns out the MCC school district voters are smarter than LASD voters, and they didn't need to.

On the Ludington Pitchfork, I made a last effort to express why MCC's second attempt at the big bond bucks was more poorly thought out than the first, because it is and should fail solely on that principle:  

MCC School District voters: Tomorrow you are being asked to invest in the future of your public school district by voting for a bond proposal scheduled to raise $31.5 million over the next 30 years. All property owners are being asked to make this long-term sacrifice in order to provide "better school building security, better traffic safety, and facility upgrades that bring the school up to modern educational standards."
For making this choice during these uncertain economic times, the district has offered no specifics by providing taxpayers with a list of projects and their costs at any point, nor do they offer them in any of their information sites. Effectively, by voting yes tomorrow, you are allowing the two Grand Rapids based contractors already employed to spend this money until it runs out in any way they want within the very general guidelines given.
MCC district voters have historically been prudent, rejecting bond proposals that were excessive twice each time before they passed pared-back or better-described bond proposals in 1974, 1992, and 2006. There will be no shame in voting "no" against this bond proposal because the district has failed to tell you how the money is exactly going to be spent; this is no time for wasteful spending.
At MCC, the third time is a charm, so expect another bond proposal in the near future should this fail and let school leaders know beforehand that you want full transparency and accountability when they present you with their next one, because you care about the district's future.

As of 10 PM, it looks like the bond proposal is dead. The current vote is 722 yes, 856 against and every trend happens to mimic the 2022 vote in all of the townships that comprise MCC. The only two places where yes votes are winning is in the City of Scottville and Eden Township, just as we saw in 2022. The three small precincts left to report won't have enough votes even were they to go 100% for, which is highly unlikely from how they voted last year.

I actually called out how this proposal would fail in the article above:  "... has the MCC school district reached out to appeal more to [outlying townships]  this time around?  I see nothing to that effect, and that may once again prove the difference when the vote totals are cast."  Will MCC draft me as a consultant when they go after this the next time?  

No but here's some free advice anyhow, Superintendent Mount.  Sacrifice or pare down the performing arts center next time, then add one or two expenses that recognizes the rest of the expansive district as part of MCC:  purchase some new buses, invest in some township land for future use, make tennis/pickleball courts (since the City of Scottville isn't putting more than $20,000 per year to upkeep McPhail's Field and that won't ever amount to replacing the ruins of their tennis courts).  Improve the lame elementary school playground area.


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