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Macomb Township

May 14, 2014

Nine years later, township to collect 24 Mile sewer fees

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — An internal error that led to annual sewer tax bills for some properties along 24 Mile Road not being collected for almost a decade was recently remedied by township officials.

On April 23, the Macomb Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously to renew the tax roll for a special assessment district (SAD) that consists of a group of homes along 24 Mile just west of Foss Road. The SAD only includes six parcels altogether, but property owners within the district were surprised to receive mailings notifying them that they would be charged sanitary sewer fees that they were supposed to be paying for the last nine years.

Township Engineer Jim Van Tiflin explained that in 2004, one of the homeowners in the SAD petitioned the township to have a sanitary sewer system installed in the area. His petition was supported by the Board of Trustees, which voted to establish the new SAD and construct the sewer later that year. Tax bills for the sewer were supposed to be collected annually beginning Sept. 1, 2005, but those bills were never sent out for some reason.

“Essentially, the township was never reimbursed for the cost of installing that sewer system 10 years ago,” Van Tiflin said. “But we didn’t discover what had happened until another resident requested to be added (into the SAD) just recently.”

SAD requests for sanitary sewers are very common in developing areas like Macomb Township, which has been evolving from a rural farming community to a modern suburb for decades. In January, the board accepted an informal petition to establish a SAD along a half-mile stretch between Card Road and North Avenue just north of Hall Road, from the north branch of the Clinton River to Deneweth Road. Residents within the district will share the project’s cost — which Van Tiflin estimated at about $340,000 — with the township.

But residents of the 24 Mile SAD have not shared in the cost of their sanitary sewer up to this point. At the April 23 board meeting, Township Attorney Larry Scott pointed out that he needed the board’s permission to correct this error.

“In researching the state statute, it allows us to go back to where we last left it and continue from that point forward,” he said. “This is basically reapproving a resolution that the board approved several years ago but that wasn’t properly spread on the (tax) rolls or collected.”

Rich Sawyer, a homeowner who lives in the 24 Mile district, approached the board to inquire about the large tax bill that he received in the mail.

“The gentleman here (Scott) keeps saying that this was several years ago, but this was 10 years ago,” he said. “I wasn’t even the owner of the property (at that time), and you guys have got me paying $10,000 for this when I didn’t even live there. I’m not understanding this, so I’m here for some kind of explanation.”

“The best I can do to explain it,” Scott said, “is that the sanitary sewer was installed, and it benefited these properties. The people who were there (in 2004) and the subsequent property owners benefited from that (sanitary sewer) and were asked to pay for it. Unfortunately, as I indicated, there was an error committed in the sense that (the assessment) wasn’t collected on a timely basis, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be paid for.”

Sawyer appeared frustrated by Scott’s explanation.

“So you’re telling me I’ve got to pay for (the township’s) error?” he asked.

“No, I’m telling you that you’ve got to pay for the sanitary sewer that’s there that increased the value of your property,” Scott responded.

Sawyer clarified that his biggest problem was not necessarily the bill itself, but the fact that his bill was so much higher than that of some of the adjacent properties.

“My issue is, without dropping names, one of my neighbors, his (bill) is $200 a year, and mine is $900 a year,” he said. “I understand your comment that (the sewer is) going to increase my home value, which is ludicrous. I paid $410,000 for this house and now it’s worth peanuts on the dollar, relative to the economy. I don’t feel that this is an adequate assessment at all.”

Scott further explained that property owners’ SAD tax assessments are based on the total acreage of their parcel. He added that he would be willing to sit down with Sawyer to discuss how his SAD assessment was calculated and make any necessary corrections.

Van Tiflin later elaborated on the reason sewer fees are based on the acreage of the property rather than the square footage of the home, as well as why they are not equally distributed among all properties within the district.

“The larger the parcel, the more waste water is circulating through it, and the more pipe is passing underneath it,” he said. “With bigger parcels, you can build a bigger house that will use a lot more water. Everyone (in the SAD) benefits from the sanitary sewer system, but we’re trying to recognize that a larger parcel will benefit more than a smaller one.”

He also pointed out that the mistake that was committed, with township officials not charging residents in the 24 Mile district for the cost of their sewer, is extremely rare.

“I’ve been doing municipal work for 22 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen,” Van Tiflin said. “It’s hard to even pinpoint what might have caused the error. But weird things happen sometimes, and you just have to deal with them as best you can.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.