September 17, 2014

Special assessment proposal draws criticism, support in Standish Township

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STANDISH TWP. — Opinions regarding a proposed 1-mill special assessment for fire protection in Standish Township were in no short order during the township’s March 10 meeting, with many voters saying the issue should be put on a township ballot.

The township board is considering passing the assessment without putting it on an ballot, which Supervisor Bob North said would protect the assessment from Headlee Amendment rollbacks and save on costs incurred by putting the measure on a ballot.

North said the township had been using its 1-mill operating millage to fund its share of the Standish Area Fire Authority operating budget, which has suffered from rollbacks and caused the township to have to use some money from its general fund to pay the full $52,500. Over time, roads and other projects have had to be put on the back burner in order for the township to keep its commitment to the fire department, North said.

“We are struggling to budget money to do anything with the roads,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that we have to pay the fire authority. We have an obligation to them, and until recently, it’s come out of our general fund.”

Township Trustee Dr. Ron Schwab said he had been researching the assessment, and that if the township eventually was unable to make its payment to the fire authority and no longer received fire protection, homeowner insurance would increase significantly in the township. He said he asked his insurance company, and found out insurance would go up more than 10 percent.

“The answer was that if they had to come more than five miles, it would cost me 15 percent on my homeowner’s policy every year to cover the cost of a fire happening at my house,” he said.

While many reasons were given regarding why the township wanted to pass the assessment, many township residents said they had an issue not with the tax increase, but how the township board was going about it. One resident was Standish Township’s representative on the county commission, Jeff Trombley.

“Once again I would encourage the board to put this on the ballot,” he said.

Trombley said he does not believe the cost of putting the issue before the voters later this year would be major.

“There is no exorbitant cost to putting it up for a vote on the August ballot,” he said.

Others, including Monty Gulvas, Paul Dake, Clarence LaLonde, Andrew Radatz and Chris Valley, echoed Trombley’s opinion that the issue should be up for a vote.

Valley mentioned that while paying the 1 mill would not be difficult for him, people who were unemployed or living on a fixed income would struggle to make the payment.

“I don’t have a problem paying that assessment, but I know quite a bit of people in this township that do,” he said.

Township resident Craig Warren said he was concerned because the law enabling township boards to pass emergency services assessments without a public vote — Public Act 33 of 1951 — gives boards the ability to levy up to 10 mills.

“One mill’s fine,” he said. “I’m not paying 10.”

While there were various criticisms and concerns, there were several people at the meeting who supported the township board’s proposal to levy the assessment. Curt Hillman, the township’s former supervisor who now serves as the city manager in Standish, said although the operating millage money had been earmarked for the fire department in the past, it was not enough, and something had to be done or the township would deplete its general fund.

“The township’s got to do it or you’re going to run out of money,” he said.

JoEllyn Pedota said the Headlee rollback has caused the operating millage to be rolled back from $1 per every $1,000 of taxable value to 84 cents per every $1,000 of taxable value.

“It’s taking a bigger bite out of the money that comes in every year,” she said.

Standish Area Fire Authority President Jerry Wenkel said during the meeting that the annual operating expense for the fire department is approximately $117,000. He said in the past, 25 percent of the monies was put aside for equipment upgrades, but due to rising costs and lower revenue, the amount being earmarked for equipment has dwindled.

Fire Chief Mitch Oliver said the more revenue decreases, the more the fire department will have to put off new equipment and spend on repairs.

“Equipment’s going to start getting older, and you’ll have to spend all of your money on repairs because you won’t be able to buy a new piece of equipment,” he said.

After hearing the public comment and rebutting or commenting themselves, board members did not make a decision on the assessment.

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