Charter Township Concerns Expressed at Meeting

By Sue Moore

Sunset Lake weed control and the Schoolcraft charter township referendum both came under fire at the board’s February township meeting.

The issue of Schoolcraft becoming a charter township, on the March 10, 2020 primary ballot, was hotly debated by a few members in the audience. Some felt the township was overreaching its authority by placing the question on a ballot in March when, theoretically, fewer citizens would come out to vote.

“This is a classic example of a solution in search of a problem,” said Steve Fryling, a former township planning commission member. “There is no indication of where this proposal came from or its perceived advantages. It sounds like an attempt to prevent annexation, but chartering a township opens up residents to very large tax increases and the imposition of services that residents may not feel they need or want to pay extra for. We need a citizens group that can study the issue and find the best way to proceed. If chartering has advantages and fits with an overall plan, then I will be all for it in the future but I encourage voters to reject this current proposal.”

Also speaking against the ballot question was former township attorney Craig Rolfe. He lives in Brady Township but owns property in a part of the village of Vicksburg that is also under the taxing authority of Schoolcraft Township. Rolfe said a change to a charter township would mean more compensation for the board as it would increase from five to seven members with the potential to hire a superintendent to serve under the township supervisor and the expanded board. Other cost increases would involve further publication of ordinances.

Rolfe was especially concerned that becoming a charter township would expand the taxing authority of the Township by nearly 600 percent (from about 0.8 mills presently to 5.0 mills) without any further vote of the people, ever. He also noted that merely becoming a charter township would not even address the Board’s supposed underlying concerns about annexation, because the Township doesn’t meet all of the statutory criteria for a charter township to enjoy some protection from annexation.

Jack Wiley, a township resident, felt the issue had been pushed through without information given out to the public. Denny Olson thought the threat of annexation had come from the Mill who would want to ask for such consideration. It’s just a little chunk [of their land] but could lead to bigger types of request for annexation, he said.

Don Ulsh, township supervisor, offered to adopt a resolution that the board would not raise taxes if the vote passes. “We live here too. Do you think we want to raise our own taxes?” Township Clerk Virginia Mongreig cited what is done for the residents on .8 mills. “We have a balanced budget and have money in reserves. Our budget is out there so all can see what [taxes] pay for.”

Ulsh read from his prepared text about why the township wants to be a charter township. “It all started when the village of Vicksburg annexed the 400 acres that the Allen Edwin development company built on 22nd street in 2002 when sewer and water was extended to the property. In 2005 we were approached by the village for another development called the Renda property on V Avenue and 22nd street.

“We put together a 425 agreement with the village that was a first for Kalamazoo County. It allowed for anyone in the area to have sewer and water as long as they paid for it and the village would not require the property to be annexed to the village. It stipulated that the village and township would enter into a growth management agreement for 10 years that was signed by both entities. In 2015, the village got angry and said they wanted out of the agreement. The township was left with three options. The last one was to become a charter township, so here we are, at this crossroads.”

A 425 agreement under Michigan law, ordinarily between a township and an adjacent city, provides for a temporary transfer of control of specified functions without annexation.

Trustee Ken Hovenkamp said the two entities need to work together. He thought the village didn’t like that the township Planning Commission wouldn’t rezone the 80 acres west of the Mill for an industrial park in 2015. The request was denied when commissioners chose to keep the property as it was, a blue heron rookery. “We are a little nervous about what the village has in mind. What’s going to happen when the paper mill gets going again? If we have a chance to become a charter township, it moves us up a notch and makes people play a little harder,” Hovenkamp said.

“I applaud what you have done with your money,” said Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery. “But a resolution is only as good as your word. You can pledge to not raise taxes and a majority of the people would trust you. However, a future township board could change a resolution just as easily as you could pass one here tonight, as a resolution is not binding on them. An ordinance would give me a lot more comfort than a resolution. You need to have a trust factor with citizens. I believe that your word is good. This nation was founded on the written word.”

Ulsh answered that it would take some time to develop an ordinance but he would be willing to delve into it with the township attorney. Mongreig said she would like to work together with the village.

Others in the audience are residents of the Sunset Lake Association, seeking to have the special assessment district for weed control renewed for 2020-2024. It would cost each homeowner $400, the same amount as before. The village of Vicksburg decided to discontinue the $6,000 it has put in each year. Instead, the village plans to treat the weeds in the ponds that have become unsightly in the summer. Mallery said it was rare that a governmental unit would make this kind of a donation to a waterway, saying it would pay the $1,200 assessment for its three parcels. “We are not going away from the problem.”

Township Treasurer Teresa Scott, who would have to make up the assessment rolls for the 48 residents around the lake, was dubious about doing this without more input from the residents. She said only 14 residents had sent her emails in support of the assessment package for 2020-24; she didn’t feel that was enough input. Perhaps the lake residents should start over with the petition process to indicate whether they wanted to be assessed as they have been since 2010. She said it would take up to four months to collect the signatures which the township needs to begin the treatment plan. “We need to collect the money for the treatment in advance and not afterwards as has been done previously,” she said.

Audience members felt that this approach would take too long; the lake wouldn’t be treated in the summer of 2020. This would set back the whole program of weed control as the permit to do the work needs to be applied for in March. Ultimately, the board voted to move ahead with a March public hearing, setting the assessment roll in April and collection of the fee by June 1.

Ulsh announced that J. Rettenmaier with manufacturing facilities in the township on U.S. 131, would be naming their offices there as its USA Headquarters. It will be investing $2 million to enlarge the headquarters and $7 million in a warehouse addition. “We are really happy about this,” Ulsh said.

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