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Grosse Pointes, Mount Clemens

March 27, 2013

Clinton Township proposes increased Refuse Authority voting rights for itself

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

MOUNT CLEMENS — If Clinton Township is to remain on board with a post-sunset Grosse Pointes-Clinton Refuse Disposal Authority, it’s seeking a much greater say than it has now.

But whether the other member communities would be willing to agree to such a deal isn’t clear yet.

Clinton Township — the biggest of the eight member communities — has historically accounted for the largest amount of waste tonnage, averaging more than 50 percent of the total in the last five years alone. Although Clinton Township is the only GPCRDA member with two board representatives — the other cities have one — it’s looking for additional voting rights based on its tonnage, according to a proposed new agreement presented to the GPCRDA Board by Township Attorney Jack Dolan during a March 12 GPCRDA meeting in Mount Clemens.

That agreement proposes one representative from each member community, but it calls for voting rights “based on the actual tonnage for calendar year 2012, for each community in the GPCRDA, with a percentage assigned, corresponding to each community’s tonnage as a percentage of the total tonnage for 2012.” In keeping with that equation, Dolan’s proposal also states that a quorum for a meeting would be based on the “majority of the total voting percentages.”

“That obviously gives Clinton Township the largest voice in voting transactions,” Dolan said.

For sale of the GPCRDA’s former incinerator property in Clinton Township, a super-majority vote of two-thirds of the total voting percentage would be required, Dolan said. All other business would require a simple “majority vote of voting percentage,” the agreement states.

The agreement, as written, would also result in the creation of a nonprofit corporation formed by the constituent communities, instead of a governmental authority. It calls for operating as such for 10 years “or less, if prior to 10 years all real property has been disposed of and the long-term obligations of the entity” have been paid or prepaid, but Dolan said that timeframe “wouldn’t be cast in stone” if other members objected. Representatives from the member communities would serve on a board of directors, and all assets would be transferred to the new corporation, including cash and the remaining fund balance, which would sustain the nonprofit initially, he said. Liabilities and expenses would be paid using current funds, Dolan said.

As to remediation of the former incinerator property, Dolan said the burden of remediation would be based on trash tonnage of the communities as a percentage of the total, “which we think is the fairest way to do it.” As for a landfill that some of the member communities used for a period early in the Refuse Authority’s history, the agreement doesn’t determine remediation responsibilities.

GPCRDA Board Vice Chair Ken Pearl, one of Clinton Township’s current representatives, said his township board met March 11 and agreed to this proposal. He said it puts the authority in a trust and has them continue “in a different way.”

“I think it’s a positive way to handle it,” Pearl said.

GPCRDA Attorney John Gillooly told the GPCRDA Board that he couldn’t comment publicly on the township’s proposal, “as I just received it.” However, he said becoming a nonprofit instead of an authority would mean giving up government immunity and other fundamental changes that could be areas of concern. When asked, Pearl confirmed that the Clinton Township board wasn’t interested in extending the corporate existence of the current incorporated Refuse Authority.

Gillooly was also apprehensive about the proposal’s suggestion with regard to the former incinerator parcel.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult … to segregate the landfill from the gravel pit … for purposes of going forward as a not-for-profit,” he said.

The two main issues going forward are those of the property and those of a new waste disposal contract, Gillooly said. The disposal issue is the easier of the two to deal with because the majority of the member communities realize the benefits of bidding out disposal together to get lower rates. The simplest way to tackle the property issue would be to preserve the status quo, continue to operate an authority — which is a governmental entity — and work on the land question internally, he said.

“It’s going to be a challenge to transfer the property to another entity,” Gillooly said of the nonprofit corporation proposal.

Dolan said Clinton Township “was not unwilling” to extend the life of the Refuse Authority beyond the sunset date of March 31, 2014, but they were unwilling to do so under the existing voting privilege structure. He said if the GPCRDA board didn’t want to form a nonprofit, they could use Clinton Township’s proposal to amend the existing Refuse Authority bylaws. He noted that finding a qualified purchaser to assume liability for the incinerator property and redevelop it has proven impossible so far.

“We want to try to wind things down,” Dolan said. “What we see as an impediment to winding things down is the disposition of that property to a third party. … It’s just not a site that’s got a lot of reuse possibilities, especially in this economic climate.”

The GPCRDA Board meets every other month now, but board members informally agreed that they might need to increase the number of meetings — possibly setting aside time every month — in the coming months as they wrangle with issues about the future of the Refuse Authority.

At press time, board members were slated to present Clinton Township’s proposal to their respective municipal attorneys for review. In addition, the GPCRDA board voted unanimously to direct Gillooly to prepare a legal opinion on the proposal, which is likely to be up for discussion at the next regular meeting May 14 in Grosse Pointe Park.

“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered by all of the (member communities’) legal counsels. … They’ve got to get together and decide what’s best for all of the communities,” Pearl said.