By Sue Moore
Schoolcraft Township, which includes the village of Schoolcraft and part of the village of Vicksburg, is asking its residents whether it should become a charter township. The issue is on the March 10 ballot for voters to decide. Michigan voters will also vote in a Democratic presidential primary on that date.
Township attorney Mike Homier said that in some instances, becoming a charter township provides greater protection from annexation as the surrounding community continues to grow.
Homier, from the Grand Rapids office of Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith law firm, advised that passage of a charter township proposal provides a township the means to protect its boundaries. Currently, the township remains at risk of losing property within its boundaries to neighboring municipalities in the event of an annexation petition. “Nobody can predict what outside units of government might attempt to annex. They can make a statement today that they don’t intend to annex, but nobody knows what will happen in the future.
“There are no guarantees. We don’t want to sacrifice the jurisdictional boundaries of the township tomorrow by failing to act now.
“As a charter township, the board would expand to seven members rather than the five now and have better standing to provide additional municipal services. These might include water and sewer, perhaps 5, 10, or 20 years down the road,” Homier said. He pointed out that as a charter township it might be financially feasible to add sewers to serve properties that may have failing septic systems, which would benefit the environment. Further, infrastructure could result in desirable but limited growth opportunities.
“As an example: a developer might want to build 100 homes somewhere in the township. Right now, there is no sewer service, which may deter a developer, or encourage a developer to seek annexation to a neighboring municipality that has available sewers. So, in order to balance the needs of development, the township may desire to make sewers available not only for new development, but also existing property owners that may desire those services. The development of infrastructure need not happen now, but could happen in the coming years. But, once property is lost from a township due to annexation, it is difficult to get it back,” he said. While none of those decisions have been made, the township board is simply asking the voters to consider the issue for the future of the township.
Homier also says that there is no motivation on the part of the township to raise taxes if the township becomes a charter township. “There are opportunities for grants and loans and bonding that goes along with being a charter township,” Homier said. The operating tax rate for the township is currently 87 mills, 87 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation. There is a provision in the charter township law that allows up to $5 per $1,000, but does not require it. For example, Cooper and Texas townships are both charter townships, and they don’t levy the additional mills. Cooper levies .85 mills and Texas .84 mills for operating expenses. An increase in taxes is not the motivation for bringing this issue to the voters, Homier said. The motivation is the “benefit in protecting the township’s jurisdictional boundaries from further encroachment for years down the road.”