Arthur Twp. sets aside fire assessment

May 31, 2018

By Pat Maurer
Many Arthur Township residents, up in arms over a proposal by the township board to enact an assessment district for fire protection, changed their minds after the board made a motion to “set the issue aside” at a special meeting May 24th.

Township resident Peter Sferro, who was actively against the assessment proposal, said, “This is a very good thing you are doing. In light of what you are doing, we are not against withdrawing (the assessment proposal). Withdraw that and we will help figure out a way to do this together.”

The township is under a contract for fire protection with the Harrison Fire Department. At the regular township meeting May 7th, Fire Chief Chris Damvelt spoke about the raise in fire cost – to help the department with the cost of updating equipment and a new fire truck.

The township board had sent out a letter to residents, which Sferro said was “confusing,” adding that the residents of the township should be allowed to vote on

Arthur Township’s special meeting was packed with concerned residents last Thursday evening over ways to raise funds for the township’s fire protection.

Arthur Township’s special meeting was packed with concerned residents last Thursday evening over ways to raise funds for the township’s fire protection.

the decision.

Sferro started a petition against the assessment proposal, garnering more than 100 signatures before it was later presented to the township. He said he believed that the assessment was “illegal”.

Several other residents spoke, some supporting a vote and others concerned that the assessment would only be for a “special district.” Cheryl Mielke asked for “the assessment to be for every piece of property, not a special district,” according to the May 7th minutes.

After the township board voted to wait and see what the township residents want the board to do at the special meeting May 24th, Supervisor Lee Schunk explained that the township does not have the money to pay for fire protection and will have to raise it somehow. “Everyone knows we need fire protection.” He said that was why the board was considering the special assessment. The annual cost is $16,000, an amount that will have to be paid after the end of the year, he explained, saying, “We’re glad everybody came. There’s gotta be a better way.”

He said, the township’s small population, declining funds from Revenue Sharing and less millage from property owners because of the Headlee Amendment has left the township budget depleted.

Don Reed said, “Without the $16,000 for fire protection, there is a deficit of $12,000 or $13,000 in the budget.

“Everybody has to stick together. We are a small community and we have to stick together. We have to start over,” Schunk added.

There was considerable discussion on how fire protection could be funded between the board members and an audience that filled the building.

Bob Mason said, “It seems as though a special assessment carries a can of worms. It seems much simpler to have a long term millage.”

Schunk said, “We can have an assessment based on millage. We could do a special assessment with or without districts.”

A millage was discussed and supported by several residents while others believed that any millage request would be voted down.

Township Attorney Jaynie Hoerauf explained, “Several townships have (voted) millage for special expenses like fire protection. They can be for as long as ten years.” She added, “Special assessments can be adjusted up to five percent if costs increase.

“From what I understand,” Chuck Shaler said, this is a situation that will affect everyone.” Hoerauf replied, “It does.”

Jim Williams questioned, “If additional (funds) (raised by assessment or a millage) aren’t spent could they just set in a fund?” Schunk said a millage could be reduced if it raised more than was needed.

Board member Lamar Gunden said other townships: Freeman Hatton, Grant and Surrey all have a millage for fire protection.

Schunk said different assessment districts can be set at different rates.

A suggestion that residents pay a different amount that non-residents brought a response from Jim Williams, who said, “We need a blanket coverage making it the same for everybody.”

Greg and Kathy Campbell, property owners that don’t live in the township said, “We pay property taxes, pay assessments and don’t complain, as long as it’s fair to everybody.”

Bill Carter said, “The board could set a fire protection fee/assessment for each district (for improved and unimproved property).

Mason replied, “I think the people in the township are going to want to vote on a millage.”

Sferro agreed. “When we were canvassing people, they wanted to have a say, a vote.”

Andrew Verhage suggested a special assessment until the matter could go to a vote.

Carter asked, “Which way is more simple?” adding, “I don’t have a lot of confidence in voting.”

Hoerauf replied, “A ballot is simpler. A special assessment is more complicated.”

Sferro was asked, “Are you opposed if the board voted on the matter?”

He said, “When the first letter went out people didn’t understand. Tell the people ‘We have a shortfall. How would you like to resolve it?’ I’m willing to work for that.”

Verhage asked the board, “Would it be possible for the board to put together a couple of proposals and have public meetings where they can be discussed?”

Former Extension Officer Lynn Gould said, “We need a little better information. This evening we have come a long way towards understanding. If we work together, we can solve this. We are looking at $16,000 spread across the township. We all know we need fire protection.”

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