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Posted on Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 9:21 p.m.

Sylvan Township residents defeat 4.75 mill tax levy

By Lisa Allmendinger

Read all Washtenaw County election results here.

Sylvan Township voters rejected a 4.75 mill tax levy that would pay for about $13.2 million in sewer and water system debt payments as well as $1.25 million owed to the Washtenaw County treasurer, 475 votes to 328 votes, according to unofficial results of Tuesday's election.

By noon, about 220 voters had cast ballots in what Township Clerk LuAnn Koch called “a steady turnout throughout the day.”

Of the 2,526 registered voters in Sylvan Township, 803 of them cast ballots.

Residents turned down a 20-year millage to pay off a $5 million water system and a $7.5 million sewer system as well as an about $1.2 million to Washtenaw County for money advanced by the treasurer to the township.

The funds were for “township sewer special assessment installments which were voided by court judgment and water special assessment installments which were declared uncollectible,” according to the ballot language.

Several voters approached for comments at the polls this afternoon respectfully declined to discuss either the township’s situation or how they voted.

Currently, the township only has enough money in its water and sewer fund to make the Nov. 11 interest-only payment of $175,000.

When asked what the next possible steps might be, Koch said the township board would discuss whether to place a millage question on the February ballot. The early 2012 election serves as the presidential primary. Recently, a group of township residents launched a website offering possible alternative ways to deal with the township’s debt situation.

Prior to Tuesday’s election, there were a number of letters to the editor from residents explaining why they planned to vote “no” on the millage proposal. In addition, there was a letter from County Commissioner Rob Turner offering his thoughts on why township residents should vote in favor of the millage.

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.

He and township Attorney Pete Flintoft held a series of informational meetings about the millage for residents prior to the vote.

If nothing changes, in 2012, the township will owe $350,000 for the bonds and in 2014 the payment will increase to $969,000 when the principal payments start to kick in.

In the first year, the proposed tax levy was estimated to raise about $853,860. If it had been approved, the millage would have meant a home with an assessed value of $100,000 would be taxed $475 per year. Currently, residents pay less than 1 mill for township operations.

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


Patrick Zieske

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 7:42 p.m.

Following up on the "Long Time No See" comment: This was more than just a failure of representative goverment. It was an ABUSE of representative government. Here in Michigan we have something called the Headlee Amendment which is supposed to protect citizens by requiring a vote of the people for a tax obligation. This never happened with the water/sewer issue because another law pre-dating Headlee exempted it -- a technicality. So instead, the Township Board contracted debt to the County without going to the people first. There was citizen opposition to the deal 10 years ago, but to no avail. The Township representatives told the taxpayers that the debt would never be dumped on us, repeatedly and as recently as the last election. Add in these false promises to the other allegations of all variety of irregularities over the past 10 years (some of which are almost definitely true) and it would be a lot easier to understand the anger. In defense of the simplicity of some of the "No" letters, all I can say is that sometimes a person's gut reaction is the right one. Fortunately we have a lot of people in this Township who can smell an injustice from a mile away... or two miles, or three miles, depending on how far we live from the Township Hall.

Long Time No See

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

I checked <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and read some of the &quot;vote no&quot; letters. There are one or two seemingly well-reasoned arguments (e.g. Tim Kelly's) that rely on facts with which I'm not familiar, so I can't really tell how justified the positions are. However, most of the letters seem to just say &quot;I didn't vote for that expensive stuff, so I don't want to pay for it!&quot;. These people don't seem to understand how representative governments work, and I have trouble sympathizing with them.

Patrick Zieske

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

As the article says, less than 1 mill for township operations. That's about where it should be, given the level of services that most residents here actually get (or even want). Except for about 100 people, no one is using the water system. When we started the &quot;freesylvan&quot; group, the purpose was for information-sharing and continued dialog following the conclusion of the townhall meetings. It was not intended to be an advocacy group for either Yes or No. But something happened... an overwhelming proportion of us, and the people we talked to, went solidly to the No camp. From my experience, I think it was more than just considering all the information carefully. There were two main factors driving people: 1. An emotional reaction that it was unjust to make us pay for this and we couldn't vote to compel our neighbors to pay unjustly. Let the courts do what they will, but we will not do it with our hand. 2. A general distrust of our public officials. With so much history on this issue over 10 years, many residents cannot believe anything they hear from the Board or accept any proposal. Credibility is gone, permanently. If there's going to be a new millage proposal with any chance of success, it will have to come from the next Board. Note for those who are interested: Rob Turner's letter, as mentioned in this article, as well as the other citizens' letters, are published on the freesylvan website: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> . We also have the distinction of being the only Internet location that ever published the actual contract voted on yesterday.


Thu, Nov 10, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.

&quot;We also have the distinction of being the only Internet location that ever published the actual contract ...&quot; What about the County's website: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Rod in Chelsea

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

And so everyone knows, 31% of the REGISTERED voters in Sylvan turned out for the vote!

Rod in Chelsea

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

As a township resident, I for one am glad to see it defeated. This will force the current inept board to look look at other options for which they never did before. The current board holds &quot;secret&quot; meetings for which there is no accounting to the citizens that they were elected to protect and work in their best interest for. There seems to be no accounting to the citizens for their activity.....good or bad. One of the board blows up every time they are asked about a delicate issue, which is very wrong. I witnessed the zoning inspector get right in the face of a Sylvan citizen at the last board meeting with a finger 2&quot; from her face yelling at her for asking pointed questions to the board. WHY??? They are accountable to the citizens for this as we were NEVER consulted or had an option in this sewer / water deal that 95% of us will never have the option of hooking into. PLEASE, for more info, visit <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>. Even Washtenaw County is wrong in this as they did not perform due diligence on this or it would never have been approved in the first place.

Rod in Chelsea

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 : 2:14 p.m.

Mick52......there are other options. If you live in Sylvan Township then feel free to join the group and get informed. The board REFUSED the other VERY viable option they had choosing instead to dump the unjust debt on the taxpayers.


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Other options? Such as? Yes I looked at the Free Sylvan Twp web page and it contains no other viable solution. So Sylvan has rolled the dice, deciding against deciding its own fate in favor of letting a court do so. I hope all real estate transactions in Sylvan Twp are required to alert potential buyers of the probable spike in property taxes for property owners.


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

I understand dotdash's point, and wish it would have passed to give us some predictability out here, but the story is oh so much more complicated than that. The county government bears significant responsibility for these problems - it never should have co-signed this inane bond in the first place (guess this is why Wash agreed to help). And I guess while there are comparisons with Europe, this is not really from years of extravagant overspending - it was from mismanagement thru a small number of really bad decisions. A quick search seems to say that there are 3500 residents of the Twp, many of whom are under 18, but still, a turnout of only 803 is really sad considering how important this is (IMO more effect than a presidential election). This is angering because it is the lack of public participation that allowed the Twp board to get us into this in the first place. It makes me wonder whether the days of Twp control should go away (Yeesh, am I getting conservative). Most of the Board members (now and before) seem truly incapable of governing and don't really care what residents think. It will be interesting to hear talk of a financial manager.


Wed, Nov 9, 2011 : 12:16 p.m.

Interesting. Sylvan Township appears to be the Greece of Washtenaw County, taking on debt (yes, Virginia, if your elected representatives take on debt, it is yours) and refusing to tax themselves to pay it back. I guess that makes us, the rest of the taxpayers in Washtenaw County who upfronted money, the French and Germans. Pas si bon...