March 06, 2013 - A lingering debate over collection of taxes for police protection in the township may soon prompt changes in the law.
In September 2012, Rep. Joe Graves, (R-Argentine) introduced House Bill 5914 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.
Conversely, in 2006 the township implemented a $50/$25 special assessment to collect for police protection. Since that time a local resident has challenged the township special assessment in the Michigan Tax Tribunal Small Claims Division. They judged in the resident's favor from 2006 through 2011.
Township officials and residents have continued to grapple with the legality of the collection of police funding via special assessments. 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.
Graves said a technical clerical error about 10 years ago in a similar bill had never been corrected. Due to the change in the legislative session, HB 5914 died.
However, on Jan. 31 the same legislation, now named HB 4147, was reintroduced by Graves and referred to the Committee on Tax Policy. On Wednesday former Atlas Township Supervisor Paul Amman, along with current Township Clerk Tere Onica, testified supporting the bill.
"This is about local control of taxes," said Amman. "We collect for our garbage and we need police and pay for it. Let us decide. If Lansing is gong to tell us how to pay for our police or fire protection—let them come pay for it. Atlas Township is not worried about going bankrupt. It's obvious the State of Michigan, Genesee County and Flint can't manage their money—there's a budget crisis. Almost all the area townships have a healthy fund balance—and they want to tell us how to spend our money? Really? They can't run their own business and they want to run ours?"
"The state should be required to show their taxes are fair and prove it. Right now there are five townships in Genesee County that use a special assessment to collect police and fire funds. Let them decide," he added.
Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones also testified regarding HB 5914.
"I'm not in favor of services on a per parcel basis," said Jones. "Other than garbage collection—libraries, airports, schools are all collected ad valorem. People can argue benefit of services. But, if you want to live in a half million dollar home there are costs that come with that," she said. "How fair would it be to charge a Walmart $50 for police protection, if there was a Walmart in your community? No one likes to pay taxes, but that's how the system works. People make choices on what type of home they can afford."
In a special meeting on Feb. 21 the board of trustees voted to ask voters to approve 2.1 mills for four years on the May 7 ballot. The one mill, which generated about $262,000, has expired. If approved, the 2.1 mills will generate about $565,000. A township or village taxpayer with a home valued at $100,000 will pay about $105 per year if the new millage is approved.
"In the township our special assessment and police millage is expired," said Jones. "We need a plan that works for us. The ad valorem method is the most equitable way to do it."
Graves sees it as a matter of local choice.
"It's not whether the special assessment is good or bad; rather, 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 than any other homeowner. It's no different than garbage pick-up—for the most part, it's the same garbage."
Graves said the bill could be voted out of committee as early as March 13, and sent to the full House of Representives for debate and vote.
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.