July 23, 2014 - Atlas Twp.-Voters this November will get an opportunity to decide if pathways will be part of the township future.
By a vote of 5-0, the board of trustees OK'd ballot language asking voters for 1/8 of a mill to establish funding for the first pathways in the township.
The "Walk, Bike, Run Atlas Township" committee formed about a year ago has gathered 358 signed petitions from residents in support of recreational paths in the township. The committee reports trails are necessary to provide a sense of community, increase property values, offer a safe location for outdoor activities, attract young families to the community, and improve the health of residents. Much of the funding for the project will come from established grant sources such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. However, matching dollars are often needed—which will be funded, if approved, by the pathway millage.
During the June 16 board meeting several trustees balked at the concept of bike paths without the consent of the voters. As a result, the board suggested placing the bike path question on the November ballot. The township proposal had to be approved by the board before July 29 and submitted to the county board of commissioners before Aug. 12 to be on the November 2014 ballot.
David Lattie, township attorney, addressed the issue of ballot language regarding voting on pathways.
"Advisory votes are frowned upon by state officials," he said.
An advisory ballot question symbolically makes heard the general opinion of the voting population in regard to the issue at hand. In the case of the township, it would ask voters if they support pathways.
"We'll have some funding element which will be able to establish some ongoing funding source—either from the general fund or from a millage. However, ballot questions should have a millage amount attached to it."
The 1/8 mill or $6 per year for a $100,000 home will generate about $33,292 per year to fund the pathways in the township.
"I like the idea of $6 per year for five years," said Patrick Major, township trustee, who first suggested the vote at the June township meeting. "That money is committed for a recreational path. The money will now be designated for these paths and can accumulate for future projects."
Township Clerk Tere Onica called the millage very passable.
"I don't have a problem using general fund money," said Onica. "I just don't want an open checkbook. If we have $33,000 to spend each year on the paths it will demonstrate, too, the support for the paths."
While supporting the path project, Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones suggested using an additional source of revenue that are not through taxes, such as earmarking funding from the cell tower rental on township property.
"What if the 1/8 mill is not enough to get the project going?" she asked. "We could use some of the money from the cell towers or some of the state shared revenue to the development of the pathways."
June did not agree.
"We'd be deceiving the voters if we did that," he said.
Following the vote Bruce DeGrougy, co-chair of the "Walk, Bike, Run Atlas Township" was disappointed and expressed his disapproval to the board.
"We don't want a millage," he told the board after the decision. "You all turned this into a race by not engaging us."
DeGrougy's displeasure was reflected in a letter prior to the meeting.
"We are asking the board to join us in developing a plan to create these paths so we can invite people to safely enjoy the country charm of our community. You want numbers to show public support. Give us a number of signatures you need from the community in order to gain your support and we'll get them. We have had an average of 70 percent of the registered voters in the township turn out for the last four elections for an average of 4,176 voters. You need 51 percent of those votes in order to pass a ballot issue. So we ask, what is the number of signatures that show support and take action to help make this happen?"
Emery Bennett, township resident who served as a trustee for 20 years, was thankful for the millage request, but said it's not really what they asked for.
"I'm glad to see they decided go with the smallest of millages possible with 1/8th (of a mill)," he said. "When we first went to the township meeting we did not ask for money—they got off in another direction with the money. Actually, we hope to get grant money for the path. What we want is support from the board, but that did not happen."