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Posted on Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 4:45 p.m.

After millage defeat, some Sylvan Township voters want tax proposal back on ballot

By Lisa Allmendinger

After voting down a 4.75 mill tax levy for 20 years in November, some Sylvan Township citizens are reconsidering their decision, and have appealed to County Commissioner Rob Turner for help in getting the question back on the ballot.

Rob Turner 002.JPG

County Commissioner Rob Turner speaks to Sylvan Township residents this week.

Lisa Allmendinger |

Several members of a group called Free Sylvan told the township board this week that the reason some of them voted against the millage was because “it was hurried, it was rushed; we didn’t trust the facts we were given, and we felt like we were being stonewalled,” one resident said.

Township voters rejected the 20-year tax levy, 475 votes to 328 votes, which would have paid for about $13.2 million in sewer and water system debt payments, as well as $1.25 million owed to the Washtenaw County treasurer for money advanced to the township when developers stopped paying for the utilities. Now they face a possible court-mandated 9-mill tax levy at the end of this year.

Only about one-third of the 2,500 registered voters in the township voted on the ballot question, and members of the group said they wonder how many people in the township are even aware of the problem.

Since the vote, members of Free Sylvan group, which some estimate to have 75-80 members,have spoken to attorneys and researched and analyzed the situation looking for possible alternatives. Some now believe that although they still don’t want to pay for the debt, a smaller millage over a longer period of time, seems to be the best solution.

Residents are angry because although they have to pay for these utilities, none of them will benefit from them, and they weren’t given a say in an agreement, which led to a lawsuit with three developers. Most of the township is on wells and septic systems with no ability to tap into either a public sewer or water system.

"Most of the group thought there was a way out," said Vicki Murdock, one member of the group, who is now in favor of getting a millage question back on the ballot. "We looked for loopholes."

She said that the group has gone through anger, frustration and "now we're numb, now we need to put it (a millage) on the table."

Sylvan Trustee Scott Cooper said he thought that since residents have had time to ask more questions and better understand the situation, a millage would pass the second tine around.

"It wasn't just a vote against the millage; it was a vote against the county," he said, adding that some residents thought the county should do more to take some responsibility for the situation.

Turner worked with the township and the county to find a way to “smooth” the debt payments over 20 years that would satisfy the county, pay off the water and sewer bonds and reduce the yearly tax on residents. But, he wants some sort of assurance that if the millage goes back on the ballot, there's a better chance that it might pass.

He told the citizens group members that if they would get 100 signatures and addresses of residents who would change their ‘no’ vote to a ‘yes’ vote, he’d work with the county and the township toward getting another millage proposal on the ballot.

However, because the new county equalization figures won’t be available until April, and assessed property value is a key component in the millage amount, such a proposal may have to wait until the August primary ballot.

A ballot question would also have to be approved by the county and the township boards and various attorneys by the end of February, and it seems unlikely that all those requirements could be met in time for a May vote.

By waiting until August, however, the township will have defaulted on its interest-only bond payment, which is something that also must be worked out between the township and the county.

As it stands now, how much residents will have to pay at the end of the year will be decided by the courts and there have been estimates that a 9- or 10-mill tax would be levied on the residents' December tax bill. And moving forward, each year, a new judgment would be sought by the county for payments in the courts.

In 2014, the bond payment will increase to $969,000 when the principal payments start to kick in.

Lisa Allmendinger is a regional reporter for She can be reached at For more Chelsea area stories, visit our Chelsea page.



Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

The Township should have allowed the area to be annexed into the City of Chelsea. Sort of stupid to drag a sewer line all the way from Jackson County. <a href=",%20Leoni%20Twp,%20Sylvan%20Twp.pdf" rel='nofollow'>,%20Leoni%20Twp,%20Sylvan%20Twp.pdf</a> Sylvan Township should have known better.

Peter Stone

Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 5:47 a.m.

While all other sciences have advanced, that of government is at a standstill - little better understood, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago. John Adams

Patrick Zieske

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 11:38 p.m.

As the original founder of the freesylvan group, I'd like to reiterate that our group did not promote or oppose the millage in November. We scrambled to produce as much information as we could, to educate our neighbors, continue the conversation after the townhall meetings, and we ran an alert campaign door-to-door the weekend before the vote. Many people did not even know there was a vote coming up three days hence. In talking to people, I encountered a wide variety of thoughts and feelings, most of which related to anger at the perceived injustice of the water/sewer project, alleged misdeeds of our elected officials over a 10-year period, and a desire to find another way to deal with the mess (the hope expressed by Vicki Murdock, and quoted in this article). Above all, there is an irreparable loss of confidence in our elected township officials. As the millage vote approached, we called for Yes or No letters. About a dozen No letters were submitted and posted on our website, along with one Yes letter. The millage did indeed fail. Members of our group have regularly expressed thanks to Rob Turner for his arduous efforts in a bad situation. It is only natural that some of us would reach out once again to Rob after being frustrated in our search down other avenues. Some of those avenues toward mitigating the debt burden are still potentially open -- but they will require quite a lot more effort to see them through. A lingering emotion is fear. We have to confront the fear head-on. I see that tales of an 18-mill judgment are still floating around. This fear has been thoroughly debunked. As recently as this Tuesday's Board meeting, the Sylvan Township attorney stated publically that court judgments would be applied only year to year -- not in a lump sum. The amounts will thus be only modestly higher than the 4.75 proposed last year, and this year's millage was 0. As a silver lining, citizens were not adequately involved in the past, but now we are!


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

Good to hear that involvement and attention is now a priority with citizens. Elected officials in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area have enjoyed and taken advantage of the apathy in the citizenry. Unfortunately it is only during and after crisis.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 11:13 p.m.

Township officials mismanaged this issue and of course the primary individual has since retired and a judge upheld his &quot;job immunity&quot; so he's free and clear while the residents are left holding the proverbial bag. I'd like to know how Washtenaw County Commissioners got involved to co-sign for a 1.25 million. Were there open meetings and hearings on making million dollar commitments without properly vetting the &quot;deal&quot;. Are there possibilities of this happening in Ann Arbor or other parts of the county? &quot;Court Mandated&quot; increases in property taxes due to mismanagement is not my idea of &quot;democracy&quot;. County commissioners need to come clean on this.

David Dixon

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 6:05 p.m.

Basic Bob asserts that this is &quot;not a County issue&quot;. Unfortunately it is. The County, along with the Township, approved a developer's financial project feasibility plan that simply did not meet the sanity test. The Commissioners relying on the expertise of County staff in the oversight review, then approved and issued general obligation bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the County. Had the plan not been approved at the County level, the bonds would not have been issued and the project would have been toe tagged as dead on arrival, and sent to the incinerator. There is more than enough blame to go around to be shared equally between the County and Township. Had this been fully acknowledged during the three hearing process, likely a majority of the voters would have found themselves in the same pew and voted favorably on the 4.5 mill proposal.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 8:35 p.m.

Had the County done more than ensuring the bond payments will be made (which they will), it would have been accused of meddling in a local (township) matter.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 4:45 p.m.

Rob Turner is doing a good job in a bad situation. This project was tied in with the mobile home park, which came in under the radar. Township officials held required meetings and advertised them, but no one I knew saw it coming. Had township residents been asked clearly to approve a multi-million dollar debt to allow for an unpopular mobile home project, it never would have happened. Townships should be forced to have ballot measures to borrow funds, and this wouldn't happen again. At this point, we should vote for a millage and pay for the system. In 2-3 years when development begins to move again, we'll get some of our $$ back.

Rob Turner

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 3:09 p.m.

This issue was brought to my attention just before I took office last year. People told me that they were about to be assessed between 8 and 18 mills because Sylvan was to default on their bond payment for the water system. As soon as I was in office I met with the County's administrator and legal counsel to find out what this was about and how a better solution to the problem could be found besides a court judgement of up to 18 mills. After meeting with them I investigated the issue and found that the county was not legally responsible for any of these debts and that the only solution was to try to smooth out the payments the township's taxpayers will have to make to a lower millage rate. To repeat this point the Township came to the county with their plan for the water system and asked the county for their full faith and credit to secure a lower interest bond saving Sylvan Township in interest payments on the bond. The county voted to do this and a contract was signed between the County and the Township which clearly states that the Township and not the County is solely responsible to pay off this debt. The County does not hold these bonds nor has it profitted from the sale of these bonds. The county also forwraded the payment to the township (as required by the State ) the non payed property taxes of the developers which later the courts ruled the township was not owed. The payments of these taxes are long over due to the County with interest. The payment of these taxes where also included in the millage. I spent over 100 hours of my personal time investigating the problem and pulling together a plan to pay off these debts at the lowest millage rate that the County would accept. I held three town hall meetings to inform the public and answer their questions. After the defeat of the millage I've been working to lower the judgement request and when asked to help by people who voted NO to put the millage back on the ballot I agreed if I had proof it might pass.

two canoes

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 3:43 p.m.

thank you Rob for all your hard work to make a complicated issue more clear. Bottom line, those of us living in Sylvan Township have to pay up. The lower the millage increase, the better for everyone.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

Seems like the residents of Sylvan turned down paying a 4.5 mil tax in exchange for paying a 9 mil tax. I hope they like that.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 2:10 a.m.

The township residents had to find out anything about this on their own and were not given much time to do so.The board was of no help of course, they did this. Would you sign papers for that amount of money without knowing all the facts and seeing what options were open to you, I don't think so. I hope you never have to go thru this. These residents will be paying for 20 years for something they did not do or know about or were going to benifit from than or in the future. The ones that should pay for this is the ones that got the residents into this mess without their knowledge or concent. How would you like someone to take your home as collateral for a loan with out your knowledge or approval?

Nature lover

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 11:57 a.m.

The township had three town hall meetings before the vote that were well attended. The voters turned this down proposal already. It wasn't &quot;hurried or rushed&quot;! So now Rob Turner says we can re-vote if we get 100 people who voted no to change their minds? First, how can one person dictate the magic number 100? Second, since voting is secret, what if people said they voted no to sign this petition but really voted yes? This doesn't make sense.

Basic Bob

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 4:01 a.m.

This is not a county issue. They provided backing for a township boondoggle, and they are covered by their ability to impose a millage on all township residents. Township officials messed up bad, voters messed up bad, and now the residents will pay 9 mills until their debt is satisfied. No way should this be distributed over the entire county, covered by folks who made wise (or at least different) choices with their investments.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 2:56 a.m.

This is a poster child example of why citizens have to pay attention to what their elected officials are doing. I watched it happen and only the very few pushing the idea showed up at the Board of Commissioners. If even just one citizen had come to the BOC and made a comment like, &quot;We haven't been informed and we have some questions about this&quot;, it would have slowed it down and maybe over time prevented this from happening. Let that be a lesson to citizens of local governments everywhere. Vigilance and engagement can't be ignored.


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 1:53 a.m.

Vivienne-I read a comment you made on this before and you said that you didn't like it and held it up but finally voted for it,why? The residents were not aware of this developer bond issue thing.We were only made aware of the lake sewer project and many residents were against it but the township board favored the want of the people of i lake. In that bond agreement the county states that they have concerns on how it was going to be able to be paid. So, why did they isssue it?The township meetings would be full of people and we were told nothing and if we asked questions, we were given the run a round.Several people were forced to hook to that sewer,but the majority of the residents are not and will never be. We elect officials to look out for the benifit of the township(residents) but they do as they please. If they would not be given inmunity, and were held accountable for their actions, than maybe they would not do things such as this. As a residrnt of sylvan I take offence to the fact that we did not pay attention. WE could go to every meeting,etc. and still would not be informed or have our questions answered. The board knew just how to get around the people. I say again, elected officials are suppose to look out for the people who put them in office. They are to be truthful and transparent and listen to the majority of the people and not the want of just a few. And most of all, to look out for the &quot;money&quot; of the residents and they didn't. We, residents.should not have to watch every move of our officials in order for them to do the right thing, they are suppose to be honest enough to do it on their on. Maybe a good idea would be to make it a law of the townships that before any bond is taken out for anything, the people must be made aware of it and approve of it. Than maybe another thing like this won't happen.

John Q

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 2:39 a.m.

No sympathy for the Township for getting into bed with developers. Too bad the voters weren't paying attention when Township officials were promoting these schemes. Now it's time to pay the piper.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

Doesn't seem that Turner totally gets it. The county approved these bonds hooking every county taxpayer in the process. Now he wants Sylvan taxpayers to pay 100%. Who made the most money off the sale of these bonds? Bet it was the county professionals. Why doesn't Turner try to find a compromise and accept some responsibility for the actions of the county. Come November it may be time to turn Turner out before he sinks Sylvan.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

When bonds are sold only about 80% of proceeds are left after &quot;expenses&quot;. Lawyers who sent up the deal get a big chunck as well as the bankers and brokers that sell the bonds. Selling bonds is great way for politicians to reward their freinds.

Steve Hendel

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

Yes, the County approved the bonds, as they (must) do for township-issued debt. The fact is that culpability for this boondoggle rests squarely on the shoulders of the Sylvan Township board, and if any of the people who approved this arrangement are still in office, they should resign immediately. BTW, what do you mean by the statement: &quot;Now he wants Sylvan taxpayers to pay 100%. Who made the most money off the sale of these bonds? Bet it was the county professional.&quot; Are you saying that somehow County professionals personally profited from the sale of the bonds? Do you have ANY evidence for this? The bonds were issued to finance a project in Sylvan Township,approved by the township board, whose members were elected by the voters of Sylvan Township.

Lifelong A2

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

Wow. The ignorance of the individuals who opposed this millage is shocking. The residents didn't trust what they were being told. Why not? Washtenaw County isn't corrupt. Elected officials don't ask for tax hikes willy nilly. They do so only after extensive discussion and research. Who did they think would pay this bill? The residents looked for &quot;loopholes.&quot; Wow. Taxation is the price of a civilized society. Deal with it. This entire issue -- the mistaken construction of an expensive sewage system to promote suburban sprawl, the lawsuit, the failed millage, and the residents now reconsidering their mistaken &quot;no&quot; votes -- illustrates that there's something funky in the water in Sylvan Twp....


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 11:55 p.m.

My suggestion, stay informed about government issues at any level,be registered to vote with a valid Id and get to the polls and have your voice heard through your vote.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 11:38 p.m.

Home schooling is the solution. I know people in Sylvan Township and, believe me, there is a book on almost every block.

mike gatti

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 11:26 p.m.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, Oh, we certainly voted against it but it was against our will.