By Sue Moore
The Brady Township board approved a South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority (SKCFA) special assessment district for Brady Township in a 3-2 decision at its July meeting.
Many in the audience urged the board to authorize the levy only for a five-year period instead of setting up the district in perpetuity. That alternative was left out of the final motion, with Malia Allgaier and Michelle Crawford voting no, and Randy Smith, Lee Philport and Tracy Locey, voting yes.
The cost for each of the 2,000 parcels in the township was set at $72 for the year 2016, with annual increases not to exceed 10 percent according to state statute, attorney Craig Rolfe explained.
That’s where comments from the audience became more heated. Some felt the fire authority board had not built enough trust with its management over the last 15 years of its existence. Those residents argued that the numbers being presented might be accurate over only the next five years. Several pointed out their taxes had never decreased and didn’t trust the board to act in that direction.
Smith, the township supervisor and authority board president, presented a budget that projected the numbers out 20 years, with the cost of equipment and inflation figured in for each year. He assured the audience that these numbers were based upon sound reasoning and used past experience to predict future needs.
Another area of concern from residents was that each parcel would be charged $72 whether it had a house on it, was farm land or even vacant swamp land. Smith said there was an avenue of redress if owners wished to consolidate all of their parcels by 2017, but that would not change the tax roll for 2015.
Those with multiple parcels, such as many of the farms in the township, are getting hit the hardest. The only redress is to combine the parcels in the future. Several speakers contended they didn’t have a voice in the decision and wanted an opportunity for a public vote on the assessment.
The data shows that the fire department answers 90 percent of its calls for emergencies as medical first responders, and 10 percent for fires. Smith cited car accidents, grass and brush fires in empty fields which can be just as costly as house fires. “Readiness to serve” is the rationale behind having the availability of services to every person or property in the township, he said. Philport, former township supervisor, explained that charging for each run had been looked at several times in the past. The problem of sending invoices and then trying to collect, especially from those who might not have insurance, was too difficult to predict to have a successful operation.
There were five exceptions to the one benefit unit figure for landowners: the Nazarene Camp on Indian Lake, Lemon Park on Indian Lake, Country Aire apartments, government buildings, and churches. Property owners in the township who object to their land being in the special assessment district have a right to appeal to the Michigan Tax Tribunal within 35 days of when the tax roll is confirmed, attorney Rolfe said. He told those in the audience that they would get another chance to hold the township board accountable every year. This is when the special assessment district tax role is up for approval in a public hearing over the budget which is held in March.
In other business, the board decided to hold off on agreeing to terminate its 425 agreement (which now is within the village’s boundaries) with the village of Vicksburg on the Gary Gray property on Spruce Street. This property has been obtained by the Kalamazoo County Land Bank for cleanup, due to suspected contamination. “Do we want to have a say as to what happens to this property?” Rolfe asked. “We now have zoning control and since the village has taken an action to re-evaluate its participation in the intergovernmental cooperation committee, it seems prudent to wait and see what their intentions are for the future.” The board voted to table the action until further notice.