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General law or charter?


Addison may decide future form of govt.



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July 13, 2011 - Addison is seeking input from its residents as to whether it should remain a general law township or incorporate as a charter township.

Residents are being asked to attend the 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15 township board meeting at which the topic will be discussed (see public notice on Page 26).

"I feel it's important for the public to attend the meeting, so that the board can listen to what the residents want," said Addison Clerk Pauline Bennett. "I always encourage public participation."

Given Addison has a population of 6,351 (including Leonard) based on the 2010 U.S. Census, the township was informed by the state that it's eligible to incorporate as a charter township, which basically has a broader scope of powers than a general law unit.

Any general law township with a minimum population of 2,000 is eligible for this change in government. The state is legally required to notify a township of its eligibility after each federal, state or special census. The township, in turn, is legally required to notify its residents via a public notice in the local newspaper.

Currently, of Michigan's 1,240 townships, 138 are charter and 1,102 are general law, according to the Michigan Townships Association (MTA).

Addison's now faced with four options:

1) The township board can adopt a resolution opposing incorporation as a charter township.

2) The township board can adopt a resolution stating its intent to incorporate as a charter township, then wait at least 60 calendar days to see if a valid petition opposing the idea and calling for a vote of the people regarding the issue is submitted. If no such petition is submitted, officials are free to adopt a second resolution that actually incorporates the township.

3) The township board can decide to place the question of incorporation before voters at the next regular or special election.

4) Take no action.

If Addison officials choose the second option, citizens who disagree with the board's intent to incorporate may circulate a petition calling for a referendum on the subject, but they must obtain at least 261 valid signatures from registered township voters. If such a petition was successful, the incorporation question would then be placed on the ballot at the next general or special election.

Bennett indicated that based on the research she's done so far, she sees no reason for Addison to change the status quo.

"At this time, I would be in favor of remaining as a general law township because what I'm seeing is a charter township has more control and I think less government is better," she said. "Why do we want more government? For the small community that we are, our offices are run very professionally and we're very aggressive about keeping up with things. I don't think there's a need to switch."

Supervisor Bruce Pearson expressed his opposition to Addison becoming chartered.

"I would stay general law," he said. "I know there are some special things you can do once you become a charter township such as taxing more, but we do just fine just the way we are . . . The other thing is (a charter township) can have a township manager. I think that's an unneeded expense at this point in our lives."

"My opinion is we do very well now," Pearson added. "We have a balanced budget and our township board pretty much manages everything that needs to be managed in an efficient way . . . I think we have all the advantages that we need (as a general law township) and it serves us very well, especially being a semi-rural area."

Addison Treasurer Dan Alberty indicated that he too is opposed to going the charter route. "I favor staying with the general law," he said. "I don't want people to think that we would unilaterally try to go in and increase the taxes. We're living within our means (despite) the drop in assessed value and we'll continue to do so."

In Alberty's opinion, incorporation is a "sneaky way" to try to increase the township's taxing power. "My name's not Obama," he said.

Bennett said the biggest benefit of being a charter township is the extra protection it offers against annexation by a city. But since Addison borders no cities and townships cannot annex other townships, the protection isn't necessary at this point, she said.

"I don't feel Addison is under any fear of annexation," Bennett said. "Let's say Oakland Township became a city and they wanted to annex us, there's nothing to prohibit (Addison) from becoming a charter township at that time, if it was necessary. But we don't need it now."

Pearson agreed that Addison's under no immediate threat of annexation.

"The only people that can take us over are village or cities, and I don't think the Village of Leonard is interested in taking over any more land from the township," the supervisor explained. "We're the only general law township left in this northeast quadrant (of Oakland County), but it's because we don't have any cities on our borders . . . (Fear of annexation) is generally why people become charter townships. We don't have any of those forces out here now. I guess if Oakland Township became a city and they started threatening to annex us, it would be a different story, but I just don't see it."

One of the most significant differences between general law and charter townships is their power to tax.

Right now, Addison levies 1.0748 mills for general operating purposes. That doesn't include separate voter-approved millages for police, fire and library services.

If a township becomes chartered via voter approval, the board is automatically empowered to levy a general tax of up to 5 mills without any subsequent votes of the people. It can also levy up to 5 additional mills (for a total of 10), but only with voter approval

However, if the township incorporates via a board resolution, the board cannot vote to levy more millage than it was authorized to levy as a general law township. The only way the charter township can levy additional mills in this case is if voter approval is obtained and again, the general tax rate can't exceed 10 mills.

The ability to tax more also gives the charter township greater borrowing powers than its general law cousin.

"A charter township that does not levy the full mills available to it shows bond purchasers that the township has surplus taxing authority. Consequently, the township could have greater ability to borrow at a reduced interest rate than a general law township," according to the MTA.

Charter townships also give their elected supervisors more power than their general law counterparts. "In a general law township, the township board retains most of the administrative authority. The Charter Township Act grants a charter township supervisor more authority over the day-to-day operations of the township," according to the MTA.

A charter township may also appoint a superintendent or hire a manager to oversee duties that would normally be the responsibility of the elected township supervisor such as enforcing ordinances; managing public improvement projects; overseeing township contracts; preparing and administering the annual budget under the board's direction; and administering all township departments.

It should be noted that unlike a home rule village or city, a charter township doesn't get to draft its own, individualized charter.

"A township is not authorized to develop its own charter; the Charter Township Act is the charter of the township. The act's provisions are uniform for all Michigan townships, and they cannot be altered by a particular township," according to the MTA. added.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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