After millage defeat, some Sylvan Township voters want tax proposal back on ballot
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.
Lisa Allmendinger | AnnArbor.com
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 AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Chelsea area stories, visit our Chelsea page.