By Rosemary K. Otzman
At its July 15 meeting, the Van Buren Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved a motion to join a law suit against Wayne County with other Downriver Sewer System communities.
The vote had been postponed from the July 1 meeting when it was first proposed to allow board members to get more information on the issue.
Trustee Jeff Jahr, an attorney, had made suggestions for changes to the litigation, which were made, said DPW Director James Taylor.
Taylor said this is a last-ditch effort to bring issues to the forefront. He said the Wayne County assistant wanted a meeting with the supervisor on the issue and there was a meeting.
Clerk Leon Wright, Treasurer Sharry Budd, Executive Assistant to the Supervisor Karen LaMothe, Jahr and Taylor listened to what he had to say.
Taylor said Alan Helmkamp, Assistant Wayne County Executive, told them the county took funds that were in the sewer system’s enterprise funds and those funds have been restored with interest. He said it was legal and done at the advice of counsel.
Taylor said Helmkamp said the county was willing to put that restriction in place in future agreements.
“The board must understand that I’m recommending approving the resolution,” Taylor said. “But it won’t be filed tomorrow or the next day. Our attorney recommended this. We really have to go forward to protect the interests of Van Buren Township.”
Jahr said the original resolution said the county didn’t want to negotiate, but then Helmkamp came to the meeting and asked to meet with the board, so that was taken out of the resolution.
“We have to protect our interest in that system,” said Supervisor Linda Combs.
Jahr said the county commission approved the debt reduction plan, which included selling the wastewater treatment system for $120 million for the general deficit.
Jahr said he objects to the county shifting the general deficit to the back of the customers of the water and sewer system.
When Taylor was asked how many of the 13 communities involved have voted to join in the law suit, he said five or six are firmly committed and some haven’t yet met to discuss it. Some others want to wait and see if anything is resolved by the upcoming negotiations.
“Almost half are in favor of the suit,” Taylor said.
“I wanted to hear both sides of the stories,” Clerk Wright said. “Litigation is absolutely the last resort. If the bargaining fails, we authorize our attorney to do that (file suit).”
Taylor said the contract expired in 2010 and there have been unsuccessful efforts to meet with the county. Now that the law suit has been put forth, now the county wants to meet.
“No one wants litigation,” said Trustee Reggie Miller.
Taylor said the sewer system attorneys, the county attorneys, and other attorneys were due to meet on July 18.
“Our attorney will convey if there is an indication of moving forward,” Jahr said.
In other business at the July 15 regular meeting, the board:
• Approved extension of the 2014 Summer Tax bill without penalty through Tuesday, Sept. 30;
• Approved the 2014 tax rate request of .9144 allocated millage and 4 mills extra voted millage for a total of 4.9144 mills. The resolutions said the taxable value of the township (real and personal property) has a value of $954,621,814 and the tax amounts to $4,691,393;
• Adopted a resolution approving the Senior Alliance 2015 Annual Implementation Plan for Aging Services;
• Approved the application for Farmland Development Rights Agreement from William and Thomas Budd for land at 42500 N. I-94 Service Drive, with Treasurer Sharry Budd not voting or participating in the discussion because she is married to William. Those with Farmland Development Rights are eligible to claim a credit against their state income tax liability. Additionally, the township and other governmental agencies are prohibited from imposing special assessment on the land. Local tax revenues are not impacted by the Farmland agreement;
• Approved joining the MI WARN (Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network) Mutual Aid Agreement for Public Works Departments, as recommended by DPW Director Jim Taylor. Membership, which is without cost, provides the township with access to additional resources to respond to both FEMA and non-FEMA events;
• Approved purchasing a parcel of tax foreclosed property at 51352 Old Michigan Avenue, which is being offered by the Wayne County Treasurer by paying the taxes due of $5,782.16. The vacant site holds a water pit connection box to Detroit water for which the township has no easement to access, so the site is a good buy for the township. Two other proposed sites at 10001 Endicott Street ($8,842.84), right behind the future Menards site, and 40731 Edison Lake Road ($33,7666.25), an industrial site next to French Landing Park, were discussed at the work/study session on July 14 and found not to be suitable for purchase by the township;
• Was informed the annual free Shred Day for township residents by the Recall company will be on Saturday, Aug. 2, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the township hall parking lot. Residents may bring five cartons or medium-sized bags, but must have no three-ring binders; and
• Heard Tim King give an update on his mission to get the state government to pass legislation to fund a memorial for Willow Run Bomber Plant and the people who worked there to help win World War II. King left a petition with Supervisor Combs for other board members to sign. King listed other community leaders that had signed his petition throughout the area and said he has also contacted officials in Traverse City, Alpena, and others to the north.