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Lawmaker takes aim at special assessments



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September 26, 2012 - Atlas Twp.-A lingering debate over collection of taxes for police protection in the township may have prompted changes in the law.

Rep. Joe Graves, (R-Argentine) introduced House Bill 5914 on Sept. 19 that will amend a current law that requires municipalities to collect for police and fire protection based on ad valorem-- the value of the property.

The bill was referred to the committee on tax policy.

"It's a matter of choice for communities—there should be latitude for communities to decide what's best," said Graves. "Many municipalities around the state use the special assessment for collection of police or fire. It's not a matter of usage rather a matter of need. Why should a $1 million homeowner pay five times more than a $100,000 homeowner for police or fire protection? The residents of those more costly homes don't use the service any more then any other homeowner. It's no different then garbage pick-up—for the most part it's the same garbage."

Graves said a technical clerical error about 10 years ago in a similar House bill had never been corrected.

The 51st District in Genesee County includes Atlas, Argentine, Clayton, Gaines, Flushing and Fenton townships, along with the cities of Linden and Fenton. In Oakland County the 51st District includes Groveland, Holly and Rose townships in addition to the Village of Holly.

The township established a contract with the Genesee County Sheriff's Department about 13 years ago, funded by 1 mill from area property owners. Since 2007 the cost for police protection has risen from $432,205 to $538,653 in 2012, about a 24 percent increase. At issue is a special assessment that was established in 2006 which included $50 for every improved lot and $25 for unimproved lots.

Township officials implemented the special assessment to offset the necessary increase in police funding. The special assessment was renewed in 2010 by a 4-1 vote. There is one year left on the 1 mill.

Township officials and residents have been grappling with the legality of collection of police funding via a special assessments. Since 2006, when the $50/$25 special assessment was first implemented, a local resident has challenged the township in the Michigan Tax Tribunal Small Claims Division. They judged in the resident's favor from 2006 through 2011.

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