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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2005

Bedford Township: Schools caught in home price hikes

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - Realtor Sean Shikwana says he sees it pretty regularly, that look that comes across his clients' faces when they get their first look at the cost of homes in Bedford Township.

"We do notice a little bit of sticker shock when people realize that they can't get a $100,000 house up here like they can in Toledo," explained Mr. Shikwana, who works in Danberry's office in Temperance. "But we tell people that when they move to Michigan, they're going to pay a little bit extra off the top, but that they'll make it up in lower taxes and utility bills."

But that "little bit extra" tacked onto the cost of homes in Bedford Township may actually be hurting the local school system by making it harder for those with families to afford to live in the district.

A Blade study of Bedford Township's demographics over the last 30 years reveals a virtual rip tide that seems to have trapped the local school district in two opposing currents: one where higher home values mean more tax revenue and another where higher home prices lead to shrinking enrollment.

While the township's population since 1975 has grown by almost 40 percent and the number of homes almost doubled, there are more than 1,100 fewer students enrolled in the local school district.

And while a nearly 60 percent rise in median housing value might have meant better economic times before Proposal A passed in 1994, the falling enrollment figures are putting a greater hurt on the school district now that the majority of its funding is based on head counts.

"Declining enrollment is really hurting us, because the only way we get our money is if we grow," Bedford Acting Superintendent Jon White explained. "With expenses on the increase, the only way we can match them is to have increasing enrollment to meet those demands."

The district is facing a $2.4 million shortfall in next year's budget and is taking steps to make up that gap through a third straight year of cost reductions.

One complaint that many local realtors hear is that homes, especially those in newer subdivisions, start out priced tens of thousands of dollars higher than a similarly-sized home might be south of the state line.

Township supervisor Walt Wilburn, who himself holds a real estate license, said that the township's economic realities and nationwide demographic trends share responsibility for making the township less affordable to families. But, he said, if the trend continues long term and continues to harm the school district, residents across the board will pay the price if the quality of local education begins to suffer.

"If you don't have a good school system, it's going to bring your property values down," Mr. Wilburn said.

"Most of the land here in the township, with sewer and water hookups, you're looking at something like $35,000 or $40,000 for a lot. Then you've got the cost of building the house on top of that," Mr. Wilburn said. "What we're seeing is more and more condominium projects coming in, and as a general rule, people with families don't usually live in condominiums."

Still, there may be little that the township can do short of a radical overhaul of its longstanding zoning ordinances that would attract more families with school-aged children, Mr. Wilburn said.

"We have to remember, too, that if you increase population, that also means you're going to have to increase services as well, and we're already strapped," Mr. Wilburn said.



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